Specialized claims new Turbo RapidAir tubeless tyre is faster than a tubular and has more grip

Is the end of tubulars nigh?

Road bike tyre on deep section carbon rim

Specialized has announced an all-new high-performance tubeless road tyre called the S-Works Turbo RapidAir, claimed to be faster than the tubular tyres usually favoured by pros.

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Launched on the second rest day of the 2019 Tour de France, where a select number of Deceuninck-Quick-Step riders have used the tyre, Specialized seems poised to consign tubulars to the dustbin of cycling history.

Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir key features and specs

  • Claimed to be the all-round fastest, lightest and most puncture-resistant tyre Specialized has ever made
  • 700×26mm and 700×28mm widths
  • 120tpi casing with butyl-wrapped bead
  • Specialized Gripton compound
  • BlackBelt puncture protection layer
  • 260g claimed weight (700×26mm)

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article gave the claimed weight as 240g for a 26mm tyre, as quoted in Specialized’s press release. A brand representative got in touch to say that this was an error.

Better than tubulars in every way?

Specialized’s press release on the new Turbo RapidAir quotes Wolf Vorm Walde, director of tyres and tubes, as saying: “Our goal was not to develop a tubeless tyre, but a tyre that is faster, more comfortable, better handling and self-sealing”.

Citing lab testing which pitted the Turbo RapidAir against Specialized’s own S-Works Allround tubular, the brand claims the tubeless tyre offers more grip as well as lower rolling resistance.

Specialized claims its new tubeless tyre is both faster and grippier than a comparable tubular
Specialized claims its new tubeless tyre is both faster and grippier than a comparable tubular.
Specialized

At a claimed 260g for a 700×26mm tyre, it’s reasonably if not exceptionally light. Of course you need to compare the whole system weight to make a meaningful comparison between tubulars, tubeless and standard clinchers; while a good tubeless tyre is typically lighter than a tubular, a tubeless-compatible rim is generally heavier than one designed for tubulars.

Pros have traditionally favoured tubulars for their combination of low weight, ride quality and the fact that you can, if you must, ride on a flat tyre.

Weight and ride quality are debatable these days depending on exactly what you’re comparing to, but, on that last point, Specialized counters with the following: “While pros love the run-flat capability of tubulars, we thought to ourselves, ‘Why not eliminate the flat in the first place?'”

It’s a fair argument, and one we’re intrigued to see put to the test in the real world. As it happens, select riders of the Specialized-sponsored team, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, have already ridden stages on tubeless this Tour, although the current race leader, Julian Alaphilippe, isn’t among them.

Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir tubeless road tyre
The S-Works Turbo RapidAir tubeless road tyre has been tested by the Specialized-sponsored Deceuninck-Quick-Step team.
Specialized

Michael Morkov, Kasper Asgreen, Maximiliano Richeze, Enric Mas and Dries Devenyns all used the S-Works Turbo RapidAir on stage one, with the new tyre subsequently used by an alternating cast of riders on nine of the following 14 stages. Morkov appears to have adopted the role of chief tester / early-adopter, having used the RapidAir on all nine of those stages.

We’ll doubtless hear all about it if one of the team takes a stage or suffers a spectacular tyre-based failure.

Do you think tubeless has a real future in pro cycling? Let us know in the comments.

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Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir pricing and availability

The new tyre will be available to buy this autumn, with pricing to be confirmed.