Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Product testing: Clement Cycling- LAS clincher cyclocross tires.

For many of us, the 2013 cyclocross season was kicked off by racing the Nittany Lion Cross race at the Trexlertown Velodrome. The course promoters did their best to provide a course worth of satisfying Elite racers who attended such as Laura Van Gilder and Todd Wells. I believe they hit the mark with this event. 

I've typically raced the MABRA Super 8 CX series in the lower Mid-Atlantic but this year with my move-up in race category, have decided to do a smattering of races in the Pennsylvania region as well as a handful of the Super 8 events. This is a building year for me, mentally and physically so I'm not focused on any points series like last year which ended me in the number one slot in PA for the Mens Cat 4/ 40-45 age division. I'm now a Cat 3.

I've been running the same 'cross bike the last two seasons and have been very pleased by it's handling and performance. After all, it is about the engine along with a smattering of gear selection to keep things interesting. Much like the sport of golf where players are looking to drive that ball further and improve their short game, cyclocross is partially about small gains through equipment selection. Some racers make the leap to carbon wheels and/or tubular tires, others have joined the disc brake movement in hopes of being able to brake deeper into the corner, getting that edge on their competitor who has traditional canti style brakes. Whatever your choose to run, run whatcha brung, have a good time, and be sure to cheer on the field that goes off after your group as the encouragement is always appreciated whether you're in 5th or 50th place!

Back to the topic of equipment. I've used the Challenge Grifo tires for the past two seasons and have been impressed by their ride quality. The thing to remember about tires on a bike, no two riders drive the cx bike the same way. One cyclist may be on a tire that he raves about and another might hate that same tire and say that it pushes in the corners too much or washes out in the corner too easily. How you set up your tires is your unique situation and mine is based on my style of riding (light), body weight (180lbs @6'5") and brand of wheels I choose.


 That being said, I picked up a set of Clement LAS tires recently. With hopes of not suffering as much in the bushy grass course at Cross Vegas, these were an easy choice. Actually, the original tires I wanted were out of stock by another manufacturer as well as their distributor so I went with Plan B. The bike team I raced on last season was directed by a good friend of mine who ran the LAS tires last year and through his feedback, I took the leap. 

The primary wheels for the Clement LAS tires are my HED Ardennes LT. These have been a terrific all-arounder wheel set for 2013 and with their 23mm wide rim profile, knew they'd work well for 'cross. The challenge would using the LAS tires at the low tire pressures I run and NOT have the bead burp off the rim. In an effort to combat this, I installed two layers of Schwalbe cloth rim tape under the stock HED rim strip to lock the bead in as best as possible. Also I coated the inside of the tire casing and the entire tube in baby powder to promote lateral tube slippage in the casing and reduce the chance of pinch flats. This has worked so far in practise and at the Nittany Cross race. The true challenge will be on a greasy course where rear wheel drifting when met with sudden tire hook up can easily yank a bead off the rim when running tire pressure in the high 20 psi range. 

The weather for Nittany Lion Cross was favorable; temps in the 80s and lots of sun. I journeyed over to the local park for some grass drills and to dial in the tire pressure. Keeping things conservative, I started off with the front tire at 27 psi and the rear at 29 psi. Ran a few laps, hopped the portable cx barriers several times, then scrubbed a bit more air out of the tires. The lean angle of the LAS tires is as confident inspiring for me as much as the Grifo tires. In fact, at the cornering limits, the LAS tires do not exhibit that sound of grass tearing out of the ground which many times spooks riders into feather their brakes or tensing up their shoulders, leading to washing out the bike instead of staying loose and reactive with your upper body. 


Race Day-
I warmed up on the trainer with the LAS instead of swapping out to a road wheel, yeah- I'm lazy at times. The tire was quiet on the Cyclops. With 25 minutes to go, I aired the tires to 26 psi front and 28 psi rear and pushed off to get in a practice lap before the start. 

The Nittany course is a power course with a smattering of some technical sections. There was a wooded section with some really ugly roots that stuck up a couple of inches where you either clipped them or bunny hopped them if you weren't too gassed. In my case over the course of the 50 minute race, I bottomed out my rear wheel every lap on the big one, cringing each time. Cringing that I may flat-spot my rear wheel and cringing that a snake bite flat may occur. That day, neither happened and luck was on my side along with the baby powdered tubes, which I swear by. 

Under race pace of 13.5 mph for the entire race, the tires were awesome! They slice through the grass and held a line exceptionally well on the 'dust over crust' off cambered parts of the course near the finish line area. Note- the LAS on 23mm HED rims measure 35mm casing width. Still though, on the race days that are wet and greasy, I'll go back to a more weather suitable tire for the slop. For this it will be the Vittoria XG. I have a clincher and TNT (Tubes No Tubes) version to test out as well. 
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