Traction Without Exception: the Michelin Wild AM

Traction Without Exception: the Michelin Wild AM

After a few years of watching road tires improve by bounds, if not leaps, the advancement seems to be leveling off, save for the incremental improvements I’m seeing in tubeless road tires. However, gravel tires and mountain bike tires are categories that seem to show no signs of laying off the gas pedal.

In the riding I do near my home, I face plenty of rock, soils that run from loamy to hard pack and sometimes have a layer of dust powdering the surface, and this time of year stretches of mud that wash the tire in the wet such that grip on rocks can be defeated like a tired father trying to get his kids to bed. No names, of course.

Finding a single tire that has good grip in versatile conditions and rolls quickly is a tall order to this day. When I went to Costa Rica recently, the riding there was unusual among all my mountain bike adventures. There was no singletrack. The dirt roads we road on were often populated with rocks in sizes ranging from apple to cantaloupe. It was not the sort of riding suitable to a gravel bike.

In that circumstance, I needed a tire with a soft compound to grip the rock as the bike rolled over, but also with substantial knobs to grab the soil on the occasions I wasn’t on rock. I chose the Michelin Wild AM Competition. The terrain we were riding was steep in a way that was surprising, with sustained 16 percent pitches, short stretches that were more like chutes or couloirs than something you’d build a house next to. What I noticed was that the tires grabbed a line and held it, rarely breaking free under hard braking.

And as we spent some miles on blacktop (most of our longest day was on the road), if the tires were too aggressive, they would have generated a lot of noise and rolled slowly. Certainly a road tire would have been faster, but I didn’t feel like I was riding an electric toothbrush.

Back home, I’ve had the rare opportunity to ride these tires in dust, loam and mud. Only once, when pushing hard in a turn, did I manage to break the front wheel free, but to my astonished delight, I managed to steer in and get the bike upright, without putting a foot down.

In designing the tire, Michelin boasts that they took 250 prototypes to 150 different races around the world. How you distill that much data into a single design mystifies me. I’ve got some great Excel chops, but srsly. The tire employs Michelin’s Gum-X3D tread, which features a dual-density compound that employs a firmer compound in the center blocks and a softer one on the side knobs.

While it seems to be pitched as an enduro tire (hence the All Mountain designation), I’d say it isn’t that but is a solid trail tire. It comes in a full suite of sizes with 27.5 x 2.35, 2.6 and 2.8 as well as a 29 x 2.35 (which I reviewed). Suggested retail is $74.99. I’ll say that on a 22mm-wide rim they came in just a hair narrow, more like 2.25.

The casing features a 3-ply, 60 tpi construction and includes Michelin’s Trail Shield technology, which is a high-threadcount, bead-to-bead protection layer.

According to Michelin’s literature, this tire should do better in mud and mixed terrain, but I found it to be surprisingly capable on hard pack and dusty trails. Its versatility is the reason I chose to review it. Super aggressive riders will find it lacking, but for garden-variety trail riders (present company included) it rides more like two tires than one.

The texturing on the casing does seem to help reduce some of the abrading that happens when riding through really rocky areas. I may actually have to ride these until the knobs are flat.

Final thought: A veritable Swiss Army Knife of a tire.

 

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