Saturday, July 13, 2013

Clement X'Plor MSO Review

(NOTE: Please forgive dodgy formatting and mediocre photos. Main laptop is down,and this post was compiled using various devices.)

Regular readers know that I've been a huge fan of the Kenda Small Block Eight 35 mm tires that were on my Salsa Vaya when I bought it, lightly used, in 2011. For the mixed-surface rides I love in the Pioneer Valley, featuring choppy paved roads transitioning to loose gravel surfaces, they have just the right amount of tread, and are wide enough to offer a bit of cush. They also had plenty of clearance under my 50 mm Civia fenders.
My Eights still have some tread left, but I decided recently to replace them before it was too late. I wanted to be able to keep them in my quiver.
I knew I wanted a wider tire, since I was curious about what more girth would do for ride quality. As noted here recently, there's been an explosion of epic gravel riding events in the last couple of years. This has led to a profusion of wider tire choices. Where there were only a few back in 2011, I found far too many this time around, and took weeks in deciding. 
In the end, a dirt-road ride with friend Will, from Hampshire Bicycle Exchange, made the decision easy. He was sporting a brandy-new Vaya 2 (bought through his shop) featuring Clement X'Plor MSO's. I noticed that, in sections where my tires came up wanting, he seemed sure-footed and relaxed. Hmmm...
And, well, yeah -- they're also a gorgeous tire. Let's be honest: Glossy black rubber with bright, bold graphics can influence a purchase pretty profoundly.
I did the right thing and purchased the tires through the Bike Exchange. They mounted easily, despite the wire bead. Though these initial shots shows that the fenders needed some re-aligning with the new tire, they also demonstrate how much more ample the tire looks, evoking stability and readiness.

And now, the first impressions, formed after a handful of gravel, trail, and paved rides:
Fuggedabout it. Drop-dead gorgeous. Perhaps the crowning touches are the colorful World Champ-style stripes and the accent over the first "e," evoking Clement's storied Continental history.
Tread and Profile
Even though I saved a little scratch by going with the 60 TPI version, I am impressed by the pliant sidewalls, giving the dirt-road feel of a more expensive tire. Yet in all the reviews I saw, durability got decent marks.
The tread surface is nearly semi-circular, and extends well down toward the rim. The tread on the MSO is what differentiates it from its X'Plor USH brother; its chevron pattern features a concentration of small, tightly-spaced parallelograms forming an ample central ridge. When the tire is more fully pumped, this band makes for relatively smooth paved-road riding.
When I let 10 psi or so out of the MSO, though, it's ready for the gravel roads Clement vaunts as its natural setting. The outer edges feature slightly larger, well-designed knobs. At semi-soft pressures, these tend to bite hard-pack and gravel enough to create some security. Yet they're low-profile enough that lowering the pressure yet another five or so pounds delivers a somewhat tubular footprint which flattens out reassuringly over the large, loose stones of Western Mass back roads.  
All of this promises a good balance for my go-anywhere bike and my local road conditions. What I've seen so far delivers on that promise. In loose-to-washed-out gravel, riding about 38 psi in the front and 45 in the back (I weigh about 160 pounds), I found myself surprised by the sureness of grip, leaning dreamily into sharpish downhill turns. 
The paved-road ride is good enough, though the extra weight and less-expensive construction is evident. Every decision involves trade-offs, and I'm hoping this one just needs a little more time to adjust to the natural consequences of a step up in tire size. Much of my time on this tire will be spent commuting, so I'll have more to say about that later. Watch this space for a follow-up review on this handsome rubber.

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