A few weeks ago I received a heads-up that Michelin was about to unleash a whole new series of tires, called Power. They were going to ditch the Pro series of tires in favor of a new rubber formulation. It was the first significant overhaul to Michelin’s road tire platform since the original Michelin Pro was introduced before the turn of the century. Yeah, it’s been that long.
What I found especially interesting about this is that unlike many brands that contract with outside factories, like Cheng Shin, to produce their tires, Michelin, as one of the two largest tire manufacturers in the world, is able to conduct all their own research and development. And because they make tires for everything that has rubber tires—cars, trucks, motorcycles, farm equipment (hell, if NASA ever decides to take the Space Shuttle off mothballs, they have tires for it)—their resources go far deeper than you’ll ever find in a contract factory.
Here are the basics:
Michelin’s Power series includes four different tires. Competition is for racers and has the lowest rolling resistance while also offering excellent grip for cornering. Endurance is a durable tire for everyday riding and training. All Season is the grippiest formulation, but also offers excellent flat protection and surprisingly low rolling resistance. Power Protection+ is their most flat-resistant variety, but is said to offer a more supple ride than similar tires, i.e. not like they are filled with concrete.
Notably, Michelin has increased the number of sizes in which they offer their tires.
Competition: 23, 25mm
Endurance: 23, 25, 28mm
All Season: 23, 25, 28mm
Power Protection+: 23, 25, 28mm
All of the tires are available in black, while the 23 and 25mm Endurance tires are also offered in white, red and blue.
Michelin’s performance claims on these tires are not just notable, they are eye-catching. From a lesser company, I’d be suspicious. In every instance, rather than compare their tires to the competition, each of the claims is made relative to the equivalent tire in the Pro 4 series.
One of the riders coming into timing. (Image: Brian Black Hodes)
Michelin brought a selection of press to their Laurens Proving Ground about an hour outside of Greenville, South Carolina. A number of press outlets had done a similar trip to Michelin’s headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand, France. The big focus of the visit was to get us riding the new tires on a test track and verify for ourselves the improvement in rolling resistance of the new tires vs. the old tires.
The protocol was pretty simple. Matt Pacocha of Stages Cycling had set up each of our Scott Solace 20 Discs with a Stages power meter and Michelin Pro 4s. Michelin called in an event services company to time our laps thanks to transponder chips fixed to the forks of the Solaces. We would start at 30 second intervals and do two laps around the track, averaging 180 watts for the two laps. We’d then switch wheels to Michelin Power Endurance tires. Both sets of tires were 25mm wide and were set up on Rolf Prima wheels; tires were pumped up to 7 bar. Finally, we were to run the exact same gear on both runs. We’d go back out, do two more laps and again average 180 watts. What ever the difference was would be attributable to the difference in rolling resistance.
On the track. (Image: Brian Black Hodes)
On my first pair of laps I was able to average 181 watts. Conditions were windy and it was hard to find a gear that you could pedal reasonably into a headwind and not be completely wound out when being pushed by the tailwind. In practice, my cadence dropped down to around 60 into the headwind and I struggled to keep my power down below 220 watts. With the tailwind my cadence was up around 120, maybe higher, and I had to grit my teeth to even keep my power up around 140 watts. My second pair of laps saw me hit exactly 180 watts. I did everything I could to ride the white line on my side of the track so that I recorded the exact same distance in both runs. We were all told to do that.
(Image: Brian Black Hodes)
After lunch we got to check out our numbers. The wind had made the test hard. It was blowing consistently at between 3 and 4 meters per second, with gusts to 5m/s. One of Michelin’s test drivers spent the day with us and told us they shut tests down once the wind hits 5m/s consistently as that will throw off the data.
I was amazed to learn that I was a full 30 seconds faster with the Power Endurance tire. Not everyone recorded such favorable numbers, but it put me in league with the testing done in France which had averaged over the group of testers to 31.8 seconds. Half a minute in four miles? I’m still trying to wrap my head around that.
Matt Pacocha from Stages, walking us through the data. (Image: Brian Black Hodes)
Several of my colleagues noted that they thought the new Power tires were quieter on the road. That seemed truthy, but it’s not something I’d been thinking about before someone mentioned it, so the power of suggestion could have caused some bias.
In the afternoon Michelin turned on a set of sprinklers around a different test track. I got the bright idea to ride a set of Pro 4s around the track and initiate slides, then do the same ride with the new Power All Season tire. Because I didn’t want to try to control a skid in Speedplay cleats, I took one cycling shoe off and wore a sneaker on the inside foot. I’d pedal up to a fair amount of speed, then cut hard to try to make the bike slide. There was just one problem. I wasn’t really willing to go faster than 20 mph in pursuit of this slide and as it happens, I couldn’t get the Pro 4 to slide at that speed. Needless to say, when I went back out on the Power All Season, I couldn’t get it to break loose, either.
I was provided with a wealth of information about the new tires, data I’ll be reviewing as we get into our first reviews of these new tires. For now, I’m impressed enough that I could gain a half a minute in four miles that I can say these tires are worth a look—even without a full review.
A little perspective: there’s a story I heard from a Michelin staffer at dinner. Michelin makes the Prius tire, reported to possess the lowest rolling resistance of any automotive tire on the planet. Toyota decided to spec some Chinese tire as a way to save money. Months later they were back to Michelin. The competitor couldn’t hit the same rolling resistance figures and as a result, the Prius’ mileage had dropped noticeably and the customers were not happy. Put another way, the Prius isn’t such a big deal without Michelin tires.