Been a long time since I rock 'n road. There's been a lot of great new tires coming out recently. The Clément X'Plor MSO 40 came out a month or so ago. Before that, the Panaracer Fire Cross 45 was (and still is) a hot tire. Vee Rubber came out with a 47 and a 50 earlier this year. One of my all time favorites, the WTB Interwolf 38 was discontinued a while back. There were other tires in the 35 to 40 range on the market, but most of them were more touring-like and the type of terrain I ride requires something with a bit more traction. I ride these tires where most folks use mountain bikes. For me, the tire has to have a certain feel and tread pattern. I can pretty much tell by looking at a tread pattern how well it's going to work for me. I like rounded tires. I like lowish profile knobs. I like knobs in the center of the tire to be somewhat close together so it rides okay on the road.
My enthusiasm for the Vee Rubber tires has waned a bit. Not because they aren't preforming well, but because I like to use and support companies that I have somewhat of a relationship with. I've known the guy who developed the current Vee Rubber line for quite a while. Before he was at Vee Rubber, he was the guy who pretty much put Kenda's mountain bike tires on the map. After he left Vee, my connection with Vee wasn't quite there. Good tires. No personal connection any more.
My list of favorites just got narrowed to two tires. The Clément MSO 40 and the new comer (which is actually older than all the new tires combined), the Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road. While similarly sized, The Clément and the BG tire are two different tires and you really couldn't go wrong with either. I got a delivery of the Rock 'n Road tires on Friday and was out on my favorite loop on Sunday.
Like the first rides for the Vee Rubber and the Clément tires, I headed to my favorite loop on the new BG tires - the Inverness Ridge loop. If you're familiar with the various manufacturer's tires, you know some have a really sticky, fresh feel. Panaracer tires have a certain stickiness to them so that the first miles on the road they feel slow because they sound like you are rolling through sticky tar. That goes away after a mile or so. The one interesting observation on the road came when I rolled down a short hill and the sound coming off the front tire was really odd. I determined it was the tire catching the air in the scoops the knobs make and making a decidedly wind blown sound. I'd not quite heard that before. These tires are probably not the most aerodynamic, but no one who uses these tires should be concerned about aerodynamics.
The loop consists of about five miles on the road before the dirt climb. On the road, they tires roll okay. Not as fast as the Clément MSO, but faster than the Panaracer Fire Cross 45. It's when I hit the dirt that these tires really impressed me. The loose, decomposed granite climb that was a challenge for the MSO tire was a non-issue for the Rock 'n Road. I started the ride with about 40 psi in the rear and 42 in front. More in front because on the skinny Open Pro rim, they felt like they needed more than the 24mm Dyad in back. I think this was the result of the more supple casing than the MSO tires. Whatever the case, that combo worked well.
When the MSO went beyond it's point of traction and spun freely, the Rock 'n Road lost it for a fraction of a pedal stroke and then hooked right back up. Same for descending. The Rock 'n Road had great downhill braking traction. It made the steep twisty, loose descent much more confidence inspiring. The Rock 'n Road tire performed a lot more like a mountain bike tire - which by the virtue of it's more aggressive knobs is, compared to the MSO.
Descending down a steep paved road, the Rock 'n Road worked well. I could definitely hear and feel the knobs working hard to maintain traction around steep fast corners, but they didn't squirm. Overall, the Rock 'n Road tires are fantastic and having these tires in a quiver with the MSO tires gives one's bike a complete range of go anywhere, do anything, do it all.
Bottom line: how do you decide which to get. Easy. Get both. However, here's some key items to consider.
1. Can your frame accept a 43mm wide tire? If not, easy, get the 40 MSO tire and you won't be sorry.
2. If your frame can accept a 43mm tire and you want to get out and show those mountain bikers how it's done, get the Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road and enjoy the hell out of a great tire.
There's no doubt the Rock 'n Road performs better in the dirt than the MSO. But that's not going to make me not still dig the MSO. These two tires are a real conundrum for me. I really like them both. I guess the choice of the two comes down to if you spend more time riding on the road and your dirt roads are hardpack and not too steep, the MSO might be a better option. If you ride about 25% on road and 75% off-road and your off-road sections are more challenging in steepness and soil condition, the Rock 'n Road would by the better option. For me, I have both and will continue to use both because the are both great tires, and I have a great personal connection to both the guys at Clément and Bruce Gordon.
There are a couple other cool things about the BG tires. One is the old school, tan colored skinwall. If you are familiar with Panaracer Pasela tires, the skinwall is pretty much the same since Panaracer made these new tires for Bruce. And how can you go wrong with a proven tread design that was created in the early 90s by Joe Murray. Worked great then, works great today.
I've got a bunch of the Rock 'n Road tires in the shop - $50 each.
(What's playing: Tom Waits Nighthawks At The Diner)