Gravel Gear

Cyclocross tire review: three good clinchers for ‘cross

VeloNews' Matt Pacocha picks out three solid choices for a broad spectrum of conditions.

You might have noticed that the VeloNews crew often preaches the use of tubulars for cyclocross, particularly if you’re serious about the discipline. Tubulars do offer tangible advantages over clinchers, largely because of the ability to use less air pressure. That single feature offers many benefits that can play into the results of a race, including, greater resistance to flatting, a more comfortable ride and more traction.

A darn good trio of ’cross clinchers: Kenda’s Small Block Eight, Michelin’s Mud, WTB’s Cross Wolf.
A darn good trio of ’cross clinchers: Kenda’s Small Block Eight, Michelin’s Mud, WTB’s Cross Wolf.

Tubular tires aren’t cheap, of course, but we aren’t saying  that your tubies need to be mounted to a $2,000 set of carbon wheels. Quite the contrary, a set of new or gently used box-section rims laced three-cross, found at VeloSwap, EBay or your local shop, will afford 90 percent of the advantage for less than $200.

Still, there are valid reasons to use clinchers. Tubulars are a headache — there’s no doubt about that — and maybe it isn’t worth your effort. Maybe you want a quiver of tires and even with traditional wheels the investment of multiple wheelsets is too much. Maybe you only do a couple of ’cross rides a year. Whatever the reason, we’ve got what we think the perfect three-tire selection of ‘cross clinchers. While there are other good cyclocross clincher tires out there, these are the models we’ve had the best luck with.

Our clincher trio breaks down in a similar manner to our tubular tire selection for ’cross: Fast and dry, mixed conditions and mud. I’ve found that with clinchers, as opposed to tubulars, you depend more on the tread pattern and rubber compound than you do the casing and tire pressure for performance and traction. For this reason, our selection of clinchers has a much more aggressive look than our tubular quiver would. Here are my choices for a solid trio of ’cross clinchers.

Fast and Dry

Kenda Small Block Eight: $40
Sizes: 32mm, 35mm (tested)
Measured Width: 31.5mm
Knob Height: 2mm
Weight: 335 grams

Kenda’s Small Block Eight is a great substitute for a semi-slick or file tread.
Kenda’s Small Block Eight is a great substitute for a semi-slick or file tread.

While I’ve ridden semi-slick and file tread clinchers for cyclocross, I find them much less useful than their tubular counterparts. Much of the advantage that a file tread offers has to do with its utilization of a large volume casing and low pressures. Since the risk of pinch flatting a clincher is significantly higher, you lose the advantage of adjusting the pressure low and are forced to rely on the tread. If there’s no tread, generally, there’s not much traction.

I’ve found that I can’t ride semi-slick mountain bike tires for the same reason. Instead, I, like many other cross-country racers, have found that tires with low, tightly spaced knobs offer a good balance between rolling fast and providing adequate traction. For this reason I highly recommend Kenda’s Small Block Eight as a substitute for a file tread clincher ’cross tire. I would absolutely recommend it in its larger 35c size, as the large tire only measures 31.5mm in width. The Small Block rolls really fast on pavement and hard dirt surfaces and it gives good traction on most dry surfaces, including sand and the dreaded loose over hard surface. I find that it’s more versatile than a tubular file tread when it comes to dry soil. I wouldn’t recommend it for slick grass, though.

Kenda manufactures the Small Block with its Dual Tread compound and is one of just a few manufactures that offer more than one compound in its cyclocross tires. While we haven’t been able to notice an increase in grip when transitioning to the side knobs, the tread has held up very well, possibly due to the difference in compound. Kenda uses a 120tpi casing with a folding bead.

Mixed Conditions

Michelin’s Mud 2: $55
Sizes: 30mm (tested)
Measured Width: 31mm
Knob Height: 2mm center; 2.5mm side
Weight: 326 grams

Michelin’s Mud 2 is a better all-rounder than its name indicates.
Michelin’s Mud 2 is a better all-rounder than its name indicates.

Michelin’s premiere cyclocross tire is hampered by its name, Mud 2. Reason being, it’s a fabulous all-conditions tire that’s not just for mud, probably the best I’ve used, and the first clincher I recommend to anyone who asks me what I think is the best, most versatile clincher cyclocross tire.

Michelin’s original Mud was a true mud tire. It had taller knobs and was molded with the brand’s famous green Silica rubber. The Mud was redesigned a half decade ago, to the disappointment of many, into the Mud 2, which has lower stepped knobs and a longer wearing black tread. The changes gave the Mud 2 greater overall acceptance, but made its name a bit confusing.

The Mud 2 employs a 127tpi casing and Michelin’s Silica Energy tread compound. It rolls fast on all surfaces and it isn’t as squirmy as the Mud was on pavement. It’s the best clincher I’ve found for grassy and loamy courses and it doesn’t do too bad in deep mud either as its side knobs efficiently clear mud, though, the shorter knobs reduce its overall bite. It works well in dry conditions and would be the right choice for a slippery dry course that puts the Small Block 8 out of its element. The Mud 2 also works well in fresh snow and packed, but penetrable snow surfaces.


WTB’s Cross Wolf is a very aggressive cyclocross tire.
WTB’s Cross Wolf is a very aggressive cyclocross tire.

WTB Cross Wolf: $50
Sizes: 32mm (tested)
Measured Width: 30mm
Knob Height: 3mm center; 4mm side
Weight: 355 grams

Ever since Michelin redesigned its Mud tire, I’d been looking for some sort of suitable replacement. And until I experienced WTB’s Cross Wolf this year, I hadn’t found one. The Cross Wolf is a very aggressive tire with a tall, narrow profile that makes it the best clincher mud tire I’ve found on the market today.

Despite its aggressive tread and tenacious grip, it actually rolls very fast on pavement due to its ramped center knobs. The tall side knobs do make cornering squirmy under moderate pressure on hard surfaces, especially pavement. Similar to what you might experience with a Dugast Rhino on pavement with too much air in it. Soft soil and deep, thin mud bring out the best in this tire, as it bites like no other clincher I’ve ridden.

Thick, peanut butter mud will render it useless, because its tall side knobs are reasonably tightly spaced and cannot clear it. WTB uses its “race-level” 60tpi casing and DNA 60a durometer rubber. I did not have a chance to test the Cross Wolf in snowy conditions, but it seems like it would be good in fresh snow, but not on a hard packed surface where the Mud 2 would likely be better.