Just because cross season is in the books doesn’t mean it’s time to hang up the bike. No racing means it’s time for mixed terrains, unpredictable conditions, and urban trail exploration.

Tackling these rides with your standard cross tires isn’t the best idea. Knobby tread rolls poorly, and actually have less traction on pavement. Plus the quick wear can make for an expensive ride.

To get the most out of mixed terrain riding, you’ll want a set of tires with good road manners but substantial enough to hold up to some single track and gravel grinding.

Here are four options I’ve tried over the last year or so. They’re all under $50 a piece and readily available.

Michelin Jet


Untitled-3The Jet is my goto training tire. Marketed as a cyclocross tire for a dry fast course, it’s a
semi-slick tire with a chevron fin center tread and subtle cornering knobs. This adds up to an on road feel rivaling some road tires, with minimal rolling resistance. Off the tarmac, the tire has more grip than belies its tread pattern. On hard pack dirt or grass, it just won’t let go. The volume is relatively low, so at my usual 28-30 PSI, feeling rim is a regular occurrence on single track.

For mixed rides that are half paved, the Jet is a great choice that will outperform your expectations. If you’re expecting wet conditions, look elsewhere.  

Pros:

  • Great on road rolling resistance
  • Exceptional traction on dry surfaces
  • Easy tubeless conversion

Cons:

  • Tread wears quickly
  • Not for mud or loose surfaces
  • Low volume

Width: 33mm
Weight: 340g
MSRP: $41
Tubeless compatibility: Not officially supported, but excellent on most rims.

Clement LAS

Untitled-1The tire is named for the host city of Cross Vegas, where it shines on the velocro like grass. I first started using the LAS tubulars as a race tire, and liked them so much I ended up getting a clincher set for training. The progressive side knobs give you a bit more confidence, and the extra volume is a noticeable benefit. Push them too hard and they will let go without warning, though. At 30 PSI, these tires rival tubulars as far as ride quality. Unfortunately you’re also flirting on the edge of pinch flats.

Since the LASs are a no go for tubeless, it limits their attractiveness as a trail tire.

Gravel grinders should check out the MSO and USH, also from Clement, which lack enough cornering prowess for cross, but are higher volume which provides a stellar ride.

Pros:

  • Exceptional traction on dry surfaces
  • Excellent ride quality

Cons:

  • Noiser on road than the Jet
  • Short tread life
  • Not recommended for tubeless applications

Width: 33mm
Weight: 350g
MSRP: $45
Tubeless compatibility: Not officially supported and not recommended.

Kenda Happy Medium

Untitled-1The Happy Medium is an extremely versatile tire. I rode the 35mm version, converted to tubeless. The diamond tread down the middle is similar to the LAS, but the beefier shoulder knobs make them much more predictable on loose surfaces. The squarish profile means you really need to lean into a corner for the tire to bite, which can take some getting used to. I race on Challenge Chicanes, which have a similar tread, but a rounder profile. This gives them a more progressive feel in the corners, where as the Happy Medium is more on/off.

The Kenda lacks the ride quality of a plusher tire, but is a great option if you need more traction than other options provide.

Pros:

  • Enough grip for all but the muddiest rides
  • Easy tubeless setup

Cons:

  • Noticeably heavier than the Michelin or Clement
  • Ride quality is rougher, even at lower pressures

Width: 32 or 35mm
Weight: 380-469g
MSRP: $45
Tubeless compatibility: Tubeless version available, and the non-tubeless converts easily.

WTB Nano 40c

Untitled-2The Nano is a bit different than the others on this list. While the others are all cyclocross tires that will take you places, the Nano is a dedicated monster cross and gravel tire. Its 40mm volume rolls over anything, and a smooth center strip keeps the tire rolling on blacktop. The Nano rolls noticeably heavier than the file tread options, and really suck the watts trying to hold pace on the road.

The flaw of the Nano for me is the complete lack of cornering knobs. The tread is concentrated along the center of the tire. Lean too far into a corner, or try and hold a line on slick grass off camber, and the traction is gone.

If your mixed terrain rides include just a bit of pavement to connect your trails, the Nano is great. You’ll want to swap back to something with a bit more cornering prowess before hitting a cross practice, though.

Pros:

  • High volume turns your cross bike into a new machine
  • Easy tubeless setup

Cons:

  • Heavy ride on pavement
  • Poor grass cornering
  • Measure your frame clearance – at a full 40mm, they won’t fit many race oriented bikes.

Width: 40mm
Weight: 530g
MSRP: $45
Tubeless compatibility: Tubeless version available, and the non-tubeless converts easily

My Verdict

I really wanted to love the Nanos. I used them a fair amount this summer, and put them back on for the #Stevilshred ride a few weeks ago. The volume is great, but I spend too much time on pavement to push a tire that heavy. If I really want to tackle rough trails, I’ll take a mountain bike.

I’m sticking with a new pair of Jets for now. The low volume may dissuade some, but if you’re comfortable on a traditional cross tire, these will feel right at home.