In this age of hyper-specialized bicycles and components, do-it-all products sometimes get overlooked–or downright ignored–by gearheads. While it’s fun searching for the lightest or fastest gear, most of us are better served by equipment that performs well under a variety of conditions. For gravel and mixed-terrain riding, having the right tire can mean the difference between a great ride or drudgery. Drawing on the company’s deep cyclo-cross and gravel roots, Clement Cycling designed their X’Plor USH tire to excel in mixed conditions.
Clement offers the X’Plor USH in just one size: 700×35. Why 35 mm? Clement wanted a tire that would be compatible with cyclocross, commuter, or touring bikes. Despite Clement’s one-size-fits-all approach, the X’Plor USH is available in 60 and 120 tpi versions (MSRP $47 and $72, respectively). Both versions feature black sidewalls and folding beads, and my 120 tpi samples weighed 330 and 328 grams. Inflated to their maximum 105 psi, the tires measured 33 mm when mounted on 19 mm internal-width rims (several other tires also measured narrower than claimed on those same rims).
Having ridden my share of multi-purpose tires over the past six years, I can tell you that really good ones are few and far between. Some all-around tires have tread that’s largely ornamental, and others are better suited to cross-like conditions than pavement or hardpack dirt roads. Puncture resistance often comes at the expense of ride quality, and superior durability usually translates to excessively heavy. Clement must have done their homework, however, because the company’s X’Plor USH is one of the best mixed-condition tires I’ve tested in recent years.
On pavement, the USH feels much closer to a true road tire than its tread pattern would indicate. The tire’s thick center section produced a near-silent ride, and the shallow chevrons offered good traction on wet pavement and damp trails. Leaning the bike over in sharp turns felt extremely predictable, with no unwanted knob squirm or excessive flexing. Many all-around tires have a sizable gap between the center and side knobs, but not so with Clement’s USH. Instead, the tread that’s immediately adjacent to the center section is very tightly spaced. The flat-top knobs help insure a smooth transition, and eliminate the dreaded dead zone found on many mixed-surface tires.
Even though the X’Plor lacks the flotation of larger, higher-volume tires, it shines on hardpack dirt and kitty-litter-sized gravel (as long as the latter isn’t too deep). Drop the pressure and you’re treated to a smooth, sure-footed ride. That smooth ride does come at a price, though. Due to the USH’s shallow center tread, straight-ahead traction and braking on dirt isn’t on par with a knobbier tire. That said, I only noticed the reduced traction when climbing out of the saddle on steep, gravel-covered trails (where I would normally use a wider or more aggressive tire).
With an inflation range of 65-105 psi, you might be tempted to overinflate the X’Plor USH. Resist the urge to automatically pump the tire up to 105 psi, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a smoother ride and more traction and control. I weigh 200 pounds and never inflated the tires over 80 psi during normal use. For dirt and gravel roads, I found that 50 psi up front and 60 psi in back worked well as long as the terrain was relatively smooth. Keep in mind that Clement’s X’Plor USH isn’t tubeless compatible, so you’ll want run the tires with enough pressure to avoid pinch flats.
If your riding includes mixed–but not extreme–conditions, Clement’s X’Plor USH is definitely worthy of your consideration. While the X’Plor may not be the fattest, knobbiest, or fastest tire on the market, it proves that an all-around tire doesn’t have to compromise ride quality for versatility.
Disclosure: Clement Cycling provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.