I saw this tire for the first time on the loaner bike that was assigned to me during the Sram Open the Road Tour in Boulder a few months ago. The ride was set to cover a mix of pavement, dirt, and some rocky bits on the Switzerland Trail between Four Mile canyon and the Gold Hill area in Boulder county. Full disclosure – I did not verify the exact size of the tire that was on my SWEET Santa Cruz Stigmata. If memory serves, it was the narrower 32mm version. After riding the mixed terrain of that day on the tire, I decided I needed to dive in and invest in a pair. Here are my thoughts so far.
How did I get to the point of buying these things?
Finally after a few years of intermittently riding in Boulder county with my older 2×10 Specialized Crux, I experienced an epiphany. It occurred to me that I had naturally settled into what was almost the perfect equipment setup for the type of riding I love. A ‘cross bike with compact 2×10 gearing and higher volume tires offer the perfect mix of attributes for a big day of pavement, climbing, dirt, rocks, and even some extra clearance in the unfortunate case of a busted spoke (my wheel truing skills are sub-par, especially in the field). A 46×11 will spin out on the descents, but not too bad, and the lower end of the cassette with the 36 tooth up front leaves plenty of room to gear down for all but the steepest, loosest climbs. The biggest thing missing was the right tire, so I became interested in finding the best option to round out the perfect bike for my favorite rides.
I had been defaulting to the Specialized Tracers (32 mm) that came stock with my Crux. They are great all-around tires that I actually love in dry CX conditions, but they feel pretty sluggish on the road, especially for any length of time. My other go-to tire is the Continental Gatorskin (25 mm). I know the Contis come in a larger size, but I never got around to trying them. The Gatorskins are obviously very durable and roll great on the road, but on trails and through rocky bits, they’re really lacking the characteristics needed to excel as a viable option.
After getting some quality time with the Clement X’PLOR MSO on the aforementioned Sram ride, I decided to pick up a set and give them a try after having a great first day out with them in mixed terrain. I got the 40mm tires because I’ve not ridden tires with that much volume for any length of time in quite a while. I figured they’d be more forgiving (cushier), and would surely roll better over the bigger rocks and roots when hitting the trails. I already had plenty of saddle time on skinnier tires of several varieties, and I wanted to get more quality time with this “gravel/adventure” oriented product.
I opened them up and grabbed my Hed Belgium (rear) and Belgium + (front) wheels to mount them up. Like other Clement tires I’ve tried, these were not particularly supple, especially for “120 TPI”. They’re folding (not beaded), and definitely nice, but Clements always feel a bit thicker and more robust than other tires of similar advertised TPI counts. I don’t think this is a drawback here, though, as it can be with their tubular CX tires. They mounted up with the relative ease for a clincher, even on the wider Belgium +. No tire iron needed, but some umph and hand strength was – perfect in my book. The recommended pressure is 65-90 PSI, and in anticipation of a longer road ride with them the following morning, I pumped them up to around 85 PSI.
The next morning, I set out for a friendly, easy-paced group road ride of approximately 60 miles. To put it bluntly, they felt great. As you can see from some of the pictures, the center track of the tread is pretty dense, and it rolls well on the tarmac. This was observed when I first tried them, and confirmed with another solid day of use.
Should I try them on a faster group ride?
Hell yes. It’s August, and I’m trying a new approach to my CX season prep. In addition to being attentive to my overall conditioning and improving skills, I’m trying an approach I first heard suggested in one of my all-time favorite interviews about bikes. From now through the end of the season, it’s the ‘cross bike only for all rides. I loved the idea of extra resistance provided by these beefy 40mm tires, and I know they don’t hold me back on an easy-paced endurance group ride, but what about the Hour of Power hammerfest?
I first tried them on a Monday, which are typically an “easier” day on my local weekday ride. To my delight, I was able to hang in there and even pull through a fair amount without feeling like I was pedalling a fat bike. Again, with the higher pressure (75 PSI, not very far off from my normal 95 PSI on my 25mm road tires) and the fast-rolling center track, I felt fast. A few glances down at my power meter confirmed that I wasn’t putting in an insane amount of extra effort, either. Awesome! I’m starting to love the tire at this point.
Buoyed by the nice ride on Monday, I set out to attend the Tuesday version of the same ride which typically is a more difficult day. about 5 minutes into the ride on a local gravel bike path on my way to the ride start, I got a flat. Unfortunately, it was more than just a flat – I had a wicked gash that I didn’t realize I had until after I busted through my spare tube. It required the old dollar bill trick to get my home with my skinny tertiary spare tube I happened to have in my seat bag. I have to admit, this was a wicked downer. I was just getting into a groove with these tires as a confidence booster on some faster road rides and I wanted to keep the mojo going. Undeterred, I went home and ordered up a third tire. I needed to give these a real go before ditching them altogether.
What about the trails?
After receiving and mounting up the replacement tire, I decided to create a ride option that would encapsulate all of the elements that led me to this tire in the first place. It would be a 90 minute road ride out to Schaeffer Farm trails, hit the dirt for an hour or so, then 90 minutes back home on the road. I was able to rope some teammates into joining me, so away we went. The ride out was smooth, and at the main parking lot at the trail head, I made sure to let out some air. I didn’t want to be hitting some off-camber, rooted single-track with 75 PSI in these suckers. Without the use of a pump, I used the old “cyclocross handshake” technique to get a feel for how much I had left. With the tire budging under my thumb a bit, I felt like I had around 45 or 50 PSI or so and we hit the dirt. Great joy and happiness ensued! All three of us had ‘cross bikes, and we all had a blast through what I would consider fairly easy and not-too-technical terrain (with a few limited exceptions). Only one flat occurred among us, and I’m pleased to report it was not me or my new MSOs.
Conditions were warm and dry that day, and the tires felt great. The extra volume made negotiating the larger roots and rocky sections way easier than with the traditional 33mm CX clincher I would normally ride these trails with. Even though the tread on the MSO appears to be pretty small and condensed, it actually held traction quite nicely for everything we hit that day. It was mostly dry single track, but there were a few stream crossings, some loose uphill power climbs, rocky and rooty descents, pretty much the whole gamut. Stoke! As we borrowed a pump in the parking lot to restore our original pressure for the ride back, I decided I loved this tire. I was also surprised to learn that I had been riding it on about 30 PSI. I believe the different tread and added size threw off my usual ability to guess pressure with my hands, but happily, it didn’t result in any issues. Indeed, as an added bonus, the tire runs nicely at low pressure with no problems.
Since we were feeling so psyched about our great ride the previous day, my friend and I decided to do a repeat on Sunday. That day turned out the same, with the added bonus of finding some new corners of the trail network that we had not covered the day prior. On our ride back home, we discussed why we would bother with any other kind of ride. Our love of single track was renewed, and for someone who doesn’t own a mountain bike, I have to say for me it was in part due to the new equipment choice.
I have no idea how this tire would hold up for “adventure” or “gravel” rides (as advertised) in the long term, but I can say that it’s held up pretty nicely with about 3 hours of low-pressure single track riding and about 20 hours of road and dirt road riding, with the lone exception being the catastrophic puncture that shredded one of the first two I bought. I’m hoping that was a fluke due to hitting some foreign object that I just didn’t see, but a longer term test will tell. At 120 TPI, I would characterize it as feeling less supple than advertised, but a rider is going to want some toughness and durability in a tire like this. The tread is indeed fast-rolling on the road, and offers at least good (in some cases, excellent) traction in the dirt.
I plan on sticking with this tire as my all-around training tire this CX season and plan on taking it to Colorado for some extensive riding there on some of my favorite mixed terrain – I’ll report back with a long term update. If the shredded tire I suffered in the first week was an anomaly, I suspect it’s going to be mostly positive.