It’s been a good while since I’ve done a pointless review. On my most recent two-wheeled outing I had the luxury of riding multiple surfaces, from freshly laid tarmac to gravel and even a short run on some rooty trails, all done in the spirit of x’plor’ing, or in language of a non-graveleur, trespassing. I’ll follow the same format used in previous reviews (Fake Snickers, Freebie Arm Warmers), judging the quality of the tire in four categories: name, appearance, function and durability. Let’s dive in.
Honestly, the name sucks. These tires first made my radar under the Clement brand, a nod to a French brand with a lineage extending back to the primordial days of the bicycle. Clement sounds neat and it has that bike history cachet. Apparently the brand was licensed to Donnelly, a Boulder, CO based company that makes the tire. As a result you can find the same tire with two separate brands.
This is a bummer on two levels. For starters it’s confusing. This confusion only affirms that the maker of the tire has someone else make it. Sure, there are plenty of great tire manufacturers out there, but not knowing which manufacturer it is leaves plenty of “this thing could suck” room for doubt.
Furthermore, the more common brand name, Donnelly is odd. To me it seems more fitting for an Irish equivalent to John Deere tractor equipment. The model name isn’t any better. X’plor, an intentional misspelling, brings to mind a rash other stupid millennial brand and model names rampant in modern day commerce. It’s a lingering reminder of an era of reformed spellings, that I wish had died alongside their commonplace in the newspapers. Tack on MSO and you’ve got another non-inclusive reference. An abbreviation to the cycling laymen that looks awfully similar to a useful wheel-related abbreviation, ISO. (In case you’re curious, MSO stands for “just plain dumb”). (2/10)
The tire looks good. It’s got a good tight tread pattern in the middle for smooth rolling on tarmac. It’s got another good tread pattern on the shoulders that does things like grab dirt when you’re riding the rough stuff. It appears to be a tire that can do what you want it to do, which is great. A little extra mental assurance never hurts when you’re going hard into a sketchy corner, wondering if you’ll end up rubber side up.
I’ve got the 40mm tire mounted on my bike and it looks pretty mean. It adds a nice profile to my black rims, reminiscent of the days when all I could dream of was putting 50mm deep section rims on my fixed gear. They come in a gumwall which is nice and on-point trend wise. Pretty satisfied in this department. (9/10)
For me, this is the hardest category to make a meaningful judgement. Namely because I think it unfair to blame my lacking abilities as a rider on the tire. That said, I’ll try my best and break this category into three parts: tarmac, gravel and trail.
Riding on tarmac with a 40c tire would leave the usual roadie feeling pretty wary. How can a tire whose max PSI is 60 really roll fast? Well, it seems to. It also doesn’t have that sluggish weight you’d imagine with your traditional hybrid bike style tire. It’s got a decent tread to it, but doesn’t spin like there’s a ton of weight to it. Certainly can say it doesn’t feel as fast as a slick, but then again I’m not winning any crits, so in terms of ripping on a road and being able to keep up with that Sunday bunch, I think it’s pretty good. (2.5/3.3)
There’s a nice stretch of gravel I’ve had the pleasure of riding a half dozen times. It’s the archetypal representation of what gravel should be. It’s sort of a traveled road. It’s kind of groomed for/by such use. It features a mix of dirt, cropped grass and aggregate in packed and loose patches. Riding on these tires has been a blast. It hums over the surface nearly as smoothly as the chorus of a Crash Test Dummies single. Granted, when I neglect to pump my tires up it makes for a less bumpy ride, its wide footprint does just fine when I have the tire pressure maxed out. (3/3.3)
Finally, this tire does a-ok on trails. I come from a background of ripping whatever while riding whatever, but I’ve learned the value of having a tire that’s suited for its environment. The X’plor toes this line. Generally, unless I’ve refused to top my tires up and am riding low, the tire is a bit stiff for single track and doesn’t handle technical features like roots or bigger rocks with the grace of an actual 29er tire, but it seems to do just fine despite.
I think the fact is highlighted when compared to my old tires. They refused to grip anything that wasn’t a packed, dry surface. They were also slicks, so you can’t really blame them. Regardless, it’s neat hitting loose dirt and feeling the tires grip when I stand up out of the saddle to push it. Finally, no matter the condition of dirt, mud or gravel you’re riding it tends not to throw a bunch off the wheel.(2.5/3.3)
These are holding up well, so far. Again, to draw an irrelevant comparison to the ultralight casing tires I was on before, I have a little more confidence rolling a sharp rock and walking away, casing unscathed. Considering they’re more purpose-built for the type of riding I like, I think I don’t have to worry about booting a gash anytime soon. I’d imagine I can get the same 6k kilometers out of them as I did my last tires or more, no problem. So you could say the price to mileage parity is pretty good. (9/10)
It rides well for a mixed-use tire. I have faith it’ll hold up to some shenanigans. Would I come back and buy this tire the next time round? I think I would, but that might be a while. I think this tire’s a good bet for anyone who’s interested, as long as you can get over how stupid the name is. With a final score of 70%, I’d say pick up a pair from your LBS, if that’s what they’re offering.