I’ve burnt through some gravel tires in my time. LOTS of them. Back before “gravel tire” was a thing, we rode cyclocross tires. I fell in love with the Michelin Mud, a light, fast tire with minimal tread and a decent line of gripping knobs on the side. These tires were made for doing laps around a closed course for an hour, not for riding 10-12 hours straight on rock roads. They lasted accordingly, aka not very long at all. I caused many dead Muds, but man did they roll. I, along with many of my dirt riding compatriots, needed something that would last and not break the bank.
As time meandered on, companies started introducing more durable tires that were gravel specific like the Kenda Small Block 8, and Clement’s Xplor Series. Clement caught my eye. I started of with their smaller offerings, but soon the MSO 40 was in my sights. I got a pair. It was mildly life changing. Here was a voluminous tire that wasn’t TOO heavy, rolled fast, and felt supple on the dirt roads. It performed well on pavement. I felt that it looked pretty sexy. My first pair of these adorned my Salsa Fargo for training and ultimately riding Trans Iowa 10 (TIV10), I fell in love with their performance in the racing realm, and riding 40’s on a MTB allowed for zipping through muddy B-level roads with ease, giggling to myself as others were off to the side with their various “scrapin sticks” trying to get their wheels free of their muddy bonds. Gotta love a little extra clearance, Clarence.
All was well through miles and miles of riding, then the MSO’s were transferred to another bike, my Warbird. The Bird was the new kid on the block, and took over the brunt of my mileage. I finally got a flat. A flat that thwarted a perfectly good sunny century day at mile 35. Now, I will admit that checking my tire condition before riding is not really on my list. It should be, I keep a close watch on tire inflation (which is subject for another post for another day), but don’t think about inspecting the outer casing. Noted: will change this. I didn’t just flat, the casing of my tire either split or was cut. The tread was also just chewed up, all the way around, which lead me to believe is was more the tire than some errant object in the road which made cause for this pause. I was close to a town, so I booted the tire, got it rolling, stopped for lunch, then limped another 20 miles in to Des Moines to Rasmussen Bike Shop for a replacement. I was so burnt out that I just handed them the bike and said “go for it.” They got me back on the road and disposed of the tire accordingly.
I rode the new rear tire for another 500 miles or so (not in a row) before encountering any more problems. I had another flat, this time a pinch flat that you can read about here, which I quickly fixed and got home for lunch. A few days later I was on the Gent’s Race, you can read my race report here, having fought through some difficulties in the beginning I was well on my way to finishing with my team, and BOOM flat. Fixed it. We rode another mile or so, within 2 miles of the finish, and BOOOOOM a total blowout. Upon inspection, the kevlar bead and sidewall had separated. Race Over. Good Day.
I talked over the life of these tires with a good friend and team mate, who has a very keen knowledge of gravel tires. We came up with the hypothesis that the Clement MSO is not durable or reliable enough to be pulling long miles on gravel, at least not for someone my size (read:large). He told me other people have had similar issues with these tires, and I’m not surprised. This is the only tire since I started riding “gravel specific” tires that have done such things. I’ve gone years and thousands of miles without flats. This all leads me to…
My final thoughts on the Clement Xplor MSO 40mm: Fast, Light-ish tire that is best suited for equally light-ish riders that ride low mileage, or for shorter circuit-style lapped gravel races that won’t leave you stranded out in the middle of nowhere. I absolutely would not used these again for any type of distance or “adventuring” as they are more volatile than most other gravel tires I’ve had the chance to ride. In fact, they kind of remind me of the good old days of ripping through tire after tire on those Michelin Muds.