Words and photos by Zach White
Michelin’s mountain bike program has been busy in the last few years creating and fine-tuning four new tire models that multiply to a total model count of sixteen new products when the various wheel sizes and widths are thrown into the count. While the Jet XCR, Force XC, Force AM, and Wild AM won’t be available in shops until October, May, May, and June, respectively, we were lucky enough to give the Force AM and Wild AM a skid or two on some of Santa Barbara’s classic trails. It should be noted that the trails we rode were in all-time prime conditions due to recent rainstorms, providing more traction and packed-down trail than I’ve ever witnessed in the normally dusty and loose Santa Barbara.
“We’re an engineering company that makes great products that we eventually get around to selling. Maybe.” said Ross Shields, VP of Michelin North America’s Two Wheel Division, about the company who’s main R&D team for mountain bike tires is based in Les Deux, France. That long-winded title of Shields’ speaks volumes on how large Michelin is, and how many resources guys like Vincent LeDieu, Mountain Bike Tire Designer, can draw from. “We have the support of a 25-billion Euro a year company behind the program” Shields added, stating that there’s been engineering input from all divisions of Michelin’s design teams.
The latest version of Michelin tires being introduced for 2017 are said to have been raced 150 times and extensively tested in 2016 in both cross-country and enduro arenas. Michelin states they’ve been working on these four latest tires since 2014.
On the XC side of things, the Jet XCR and Force XC are ideal for hard and dry terrain, and designed to offer as much grip as possible while still keeping rolling efficiency at the forefront of the equation. Michelin’s Race Shield is the lightest casing of three, with a 3x150tpi build that’s said to offer protection in the high-density ply, while still using light enough material to weigh in at a claimed 560-grams for the 29×2.1. The Jet XCR also gets its own Gum-X2D tread, equating to a dual compound design with their Race Compound as an underlayer, providing stability and structure to the tire. An outer compound is said to provide grip and general traction in the low- profile knobs. The Jet XCR is still a few months out on being available, so all any of us can do is read about them, and take Michelin’s word for how they handle.
At a claimed added weight of 70 grams for the same 29×2.1 flavor, the Force XC offers a bit more knob for improved bite out on the trail or race track. It also uses a different 3x110tpi Cross Shield casing, and Gum-X3D, which(you guessed it) has not one, not two, but three different compounds mixed into the tread. The added compound is focused around the side knobs for added stability and durability in turns. These weren’t available for a test ride in Santa Barbara…well, maybe they were, but when shuttle runs are offered on long, notoriously techy and chunky descents, nobody on the editorial or Michelin side of things wanted to put lightweight kicks on their bike.
Blurring Michelin’s model categories is the Force AM, which comes in both the Cross Shield as stated above, and a 3x60tpi Trail Shield casing, which is the stoutest of the three new mountain bike casings for 2017. With the same Gum-X3D compound, widths get slightly fatter at 29×2.25 being the narrowest, which weighs in at a claimed 760-grams. By comparison, claimed weight for a Force XC 29×2.25 is 680-grams. We did get a chance to ride the Force AM in 29×2.35 flavor for a few miles, and on smoother, hardpacked and freshly watered conditions, it rolled along very efficiently, and still offered nice braking and traction for a relatively low-profile tire that was somewhat mismatched with a 140-mm travel bike. It’d take more time on more familiar—and more variable–trail conditions to get a true feel for them, but it’s safe to say, at the very minimum, they’re not total duds.
On the burlier end of Michelin’s 4-model spectrum is the Wild AM. Available in just one 2.35” width for 27.5” and 29” wheels, it uses the Trail Shield and Gum-X3D compound, and the most bite out of any of the new tires. Claimed weight for the 29er version is 800-grams, and 760-grams for the 27.5.
With several rides on prime dirt conditions, the Wild AM was by far a favorite front tire when compared to the Force AM, and seemed much more appropriate for a 140-mm YT Jeffsy loaner ridden on several mostly-downhill runs. Set up as a combination with a Force AM on the rear and a Wild AM on the front, traction in the perfect post-rain dirt turns was all-star on both ends of the bike, and the tires got predictably and controllably loose in the few loose and rocky sections. According to LeDieu, the Force’s long and narrow center treads not only help the tire roll quickly but also act as essentially dirt rudders, reducing fishtail effects of braking. This seemed like a legit claim at some level, though it felt like the actual braking bite of a Force AM on the back didn’t dig in at speed like tires with larger and/or wider knobs down the center. Always a compromise between rolling speed and traction. Over embedded rocks and occasional roots, the Gum-X3D rubber stuck rather well, even in off-camber situations.
Overall, Michelin’s new range seem to be on target for their intended design and didn’t cause any immediate concerns or showcase any major shortcomings. Curiosities raised at the launch would be how they hook up in less than ideal conditions, and how the relatively low-volume casings will hold up while riding rockier terrain. In light of the direction the bike industry is pointing with plus-size this, semi-almost-plus-half-fat sized that, Michelin’s stance at only offering a 2.35 width in their burliest Wild AM tread pattern with Trail Shield casing seems to be an interesting one (Noted, there is a 27.5×2.6 Force AM available).
Pricing is TBA.