Of the many loops I used to ride in Los Angeles, one of my faves was a half road/half dirt loop through the Santa Monica Mountains. Actually, the loop was more like 65/35 road to dirt, but time-wise, it ended up being half and half. Except for one birthday ride, I tended to do this ride by myself, in part due to the climb up Paseo Miramar where, several hundred meters after the gate that signals the beginning of the fire road, the pitch turns north of 20 percent. Even with a 34×32, the climb is a leg breaker to the point that when it settles back to 12 percent I found myself thinking, “Oh, this is totally doable.”
With so much mileage spent on the road I liked running tires that would still permit me to do 20 mph on the flat and yet still have enough air volume that they didn’t flat on every sharp rock. That meant selecting tires that weren’t 40mm wide and had as smooth a tread as possible. Those two details forced a third and even a fourth; they required me to run a fair amount of air pressure and to be comfortable with the bike drifting in turns.
Then I ran across the Clément X’plor USH. At 35mm wide, it’s big enough to allow you to pass over plenty of rock without flatting, while that nearly slick center ridge rolls almost impossibly fast. The small pyramid-shaped knobs on the side gave plenty of purchase in turns before breaking away gradually on dustier and looser terrain, which is just a descriptive way of saying all of California these days.
The Achilles heel of any big tire is that it can turn into a rubber flywheel, which is nice when you’re at speed, but can be Rubik’s Cube difficult to get up to speed. And if they use a low thread count to keep the price down and durability up, the feel of the tire can be as sensitive as trying to type with winter gloves on. Not much fun.
The USH comes in two versions, both of them 35mm wide, one with a 60 tpi casing, which would probably be good for loaded touring, and the other with a 120 tpi casing, which is the tire I’ve been riding. It weighs in at 372 grams. My desire to claw through terrain quickly has caused me to experiment a bit with pressure—with 55 to 60 psi in the front and 60 to 65 in the rear. Pinch flats may be the best reason to keep pressure up, though.
Since my move, this tire has been a manna-like gift, allowing me to ride roads at a reasonable pace and then taking off on gravel and dirt diversions as I encounter them, which is with the regularity of freeway exits. Most riders I know don’t get to roll down dirt roads within a mile of leaving home. The reality is that we find ourselves linking up bits of dirt with significant stretches of pavement. Why there aren’t more tires like the USH is a mystery to me. This seems as all-purpose a road tire as one might desire. The only thing anyone can say against it is that it’s not tubeless ready.
Suggested retail for the USH is $65 with the 120 tpi casing and $45 for the 60 tpi version. I think of tires as consumables and unless you’re spending $80 or more on tubulars, it’s pretty easy to experiment, making a tire like this a low-risk investment. There will be times when I’m going to want something bigger, given all the rock I encounter here, but most days, this tire is my new go-to.