Michelin Revamps Their Rubber

Michelin Revamps Their Rubber

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.

IMG_1638

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.

_BH10771One 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.

_BH10832On 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.

_BH11125(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.

_BH10934Matt 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.

IMG_1672

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.

, , , ,

15 comments

  1. winky

    This kind of “real world” testing really doesn’t tell us much. Too many uncontrolled variables. A controlled lab test where everything else was kept constant would be the best way to tell if these tyres really did offer improvement.

  2. bramhall

    Agree with Winky in theory and DEFINITELY on philosophy. In practice, every bike company has wind tunnel testing and rolling resistance testing. While those are compelling (and more than likely accurate), I feel like the narrative of an attempt at a controlled test really delivers a better bang for their marketing buck.

  3. Cody L Custis

    Interesting story about the Prius and Toyota. That strikes me as the kind of thing that Toyota never would have done when it was becoming the world’s largest automaker, and the sort of thing it did constantly to lose that title.

  4. Seth

    I really appreciate the attempt at a real world test. It can sometimes be a trap designing for specific lab tests, in that results don’t always translate to the real world.

    Did they give you the average time savings for everyone there?

    I don’t see any mention of tubeless, are there any tubeless versions of the power tire?

  5. MattC

    I used to run the Kryillion’s exclusively…loved them, and they got great longevity. But then they became hard to get, then impossible so I’ve switched around, nothing yet has grabbed me like the ol’ Michelins. Glad to hear they are back w/ an endurance tire…(and that it’s FASTER is quite a nice bonus!)

    Interesting tidbit on the Prius tires (what type were they btw, the Energy series? They quite making those a few years back, can’t remember what line they replaced them with). My 03 VW Jetta TDI came w/ the Energy tires, which were touted as their LRR (Low Rolling Resistance) passenger car tire. They were good tires and I always got great mileage (right around 50), but only averaged around 40,000 miles on them before replacement. I’ve run a few other LRR tire brands in my 245,000 miles on the ol TDI (still purring like a kitten btw), and interestingly enough, my mileage variation between brands has been very small.

  6. Tim

    As a supplier to the Rubber market, I can tell you that you are right about Michelin doing all their own development work. But you are wrong about Cheng Shin. They have world class labs and facilities as well. They may have the tires built at a contract factory (Kenda’s if I had to bet) but the compound is designed and specified by the headquarters.
    n.b. I have no financial or interest in either company, other than to develop new materials for them.

  7. Dustin Gaddis

    Interesting test for sure, but like others I have doubts as to how meaningful those 30 seconds are, as far as what can be attributed to the tire itself. The wind is a big factor. I also wonder about other differences in the tires – are the new ones larger or smaller than the old style? I mean actual size, not stated size. My Pro 4’s ran big. I also wonder about running both tires at the same pressure, I know it’s ‘one less variable’, but, IMO it’s better to run them at the ideal pressure for that tire (for each rider). Stiffer tires require less air pressure to give a similar ride, and again if the sizes are different it makes sense that the ‘perfect’ tire pressure for each would be different.

    And yes, what about tubeless? Is Michelin joining the party yet?

  8. Les.B.

    30 second improvement in 4 miles, assuming 20m/h, ballparks at ~4% improvement in elapsed time.
    What I would like to know in this context is what the total contribution of rolling resistance is, generally for road bikes. That would put more meaning to this 4% time improvement.

  9. Nik

    The problem with lab tests for tire rolling resistance is that they don’t include all the aspects of riding a bike in the real world. Some of those tests are conducted with a wheel being pressed against a smooth steel drum. That kind of test tells you that higher pressure leads to lower rolling resistance, up to 150 or 200psi. In reality, that is not the case. The test that only involves a wheel and a steel drum does not measure suspension losses at all. In reality, the road surface is not as smooth as a steel drum, and there are suspension losses both in the tire and (more importantly) in the rider’s body. You get a much more meaningful test result by having a person riding the bike on a real surface (asphalt or concrete or dirt or whatever). This is what Michelin was attempting to do. Too bad if it’s windy that day, but the correct response is to try again when it’s not windy.

    1. winky

      So test them on replicas of real surfaces in the lab. Load them as if on a bike, using appropriate mounting and a simulated rider weight (or even a an actual rider, but just for load, not for power). But the point is that things like the wind and rider’s judgement in terms of hitting specific power numbers are eliminated as variables. The only variable should be the type of tyre being tested. Sure, in the real world other factors make the small differences in tyre performance hard to discern, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.

    2. shiggy

      Totally agree. Give me real world testing, even if it has more variables. I do not ride in a lab on simulated surfaces.

  10. Uri

    I know Prius has had OE spec’d Michelin, Bridgestone, Yokohama and Goodyear in the US, but none of these are Chinese. Was it for the Chinese market or something?

    The Pro 4 Endurance is my all time favorite road tire, all the reviews suggest the Power Endurance is all improvements, which is exciting. If it rides as well and lasts as long, I’m sold.

  11. Geoffrey Knobl

    You might check out w w w bicyclerollingresistance dot com to see what the tests show for these. The Pro 4s still offer less, at least for the 25 tires. I usually ride Gatorskins which are tough and last but I’ve been putting out extra watts for quite a while it seems! Well, that endurance comes at a cost. The Vittoria Rubino III seem to offer a nice balance of price/rolling resistance/puncture resistance.

  12. Pingback: Old Michelin Man Winter | RKP

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *