After years of specializing in cyclocross and gravel tires, the boutique brand Clément has created a set of purpose-specific tubeless wheels for cyclocross and gravel with stout rims.
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Designed to handle abuse, the 1,620g wheels feature wide rims (23mm internal) to better support broad tires. For reference, most road wheels these days are about 16mm internally, which works well with 23-28 tires.
Clément’s alloy Ushuaia, with a hookless tubeless rim, can handle everything from 28mm up to a monstrous 50mm. To help prevent burping, the rim bed has a small lip to keep the tire pressed up against the rim.
The wheels can be used with clincher tires, but they come with tubeless valves and rim tape; you’ll just need sealant and tubeless tires, from Clément or any other brand.
While fairly specific in purpose — namely getting rowdy on drop-bar bikes — the Ushuaia wheels are broad in compatibility. To mate with frames, the wheels work with quick-release and thru-axle (including 142x12mm rear as well as 135x15mm) with thread-on end caps. And to mate with rotors, the wheels are Centerlock or six-bolt, to play nice with Shimano and SRAM. They can also accommodate SRAM's XD driver for use with a 10t cassette.
For durability, the wheels use 28 J-bend spokes front and back, with flanges that are angled in line with the spokes to reduce stress. It’s a subtle but sensible design. The hubs have sealed bearings.
Clément Ushuaia wheels ride impression
Clément invited a small group of journalists for a three-day gravel ride across the high desert terrain of southern Utah in the US. Deep washboards, rattling descents and rude rock sections provided plenty of opportunities to dent rims or knock wheels out of true, but the Ushuaias didn’t flinch.
Over the course of 210mi and 15,000ft of elevation gain, often on gravel roads, I punctured just once, and the sealant did its job after some air pressure was lost. I had the 36mm Clément X’Plor MSO tires between 30 and 40psi, depending on the terrain.
As a 185lb roadie with all the off-road finesse of a drunken rhino, I wasn’t always taking the cleanest lines through rocky sections. Whether because the Ushuaia’s rim design, the tire’s construction, or the Effeto Mariposa sealant, burping was a non-issue.
On a few descents, I and others bottomed out the tire on rim multiple times. On one particularly fun stretch, we dropped 3,000ft on gravel and I bashed more than a few good-sized rocks at speed, causing horrible noises, but no visible damage to the wheels.
Further, the wide-stance rim provided a stable base for the wide MSO tires. Even at low pressures, the big casing didn’t feel squirmy. In corners, the tire’s big, soft footprint offered sure grip, not the feeling it was about to fold over.
With 36-point engagement, the rear hub has a pleasant sound when coasting, but more importantly, minimizes the lag between when you start pedaling and when the wheel kicks forward.
With a 26mm external width and a 25mm height, the rims offer a nice visual balance for gravel tires’ girth as well as structural support.
"We tried to look at what features in a wheel are best suited for a gravel wheel from the ground up," said Clément product director Johs Huseby. "We preferred a profile more similar to something used on the road and a width more similar to that of a conventional mountain bike. The tubeless features we are also usurping from the MTB side."
Clément Ushuaia wheels pricing and availability
The wheels will likely come stock on 2017 bikes from Raleigh, Kona and others. They will sell alone for $650 / £499 later this year. Compare this to Mavic's Allroad Pro Disc tubeless wheels, which are skinnier (19mm internal width) and pricier ($1,250 / £820).
Clément Ushuaia wheels early verdict
While I can’t yet speak to the long-term durability of the wheels, I can attest that we beat the hell out of the things over our three days of desert riding — and, after a wash, they were no worse for the wear. The wheels aren’t Gucci carbon hoops, but they are quite light for the purpose and the price.
If you are looking for a no-nonsense tubeless wheel built to handle a wide tire and a wide range of abuse, the Ushuaia seems to be a great option.