By Eric McKeegan
So recently I headed down to Birmingham, Alabama, for the Michelin Press Camp. I don’t know much about the state, and I’m pretty sure the last time I was there involved old vans, good-cop/bad-cop routines and a drug-sniffing dog. I’m a few years and a few haircuts removed from then, which is a good thing, since the fancy pants golf resort we stayed in might have thrown a younger me out. Anyway, other than one presentation, our time at the resort was mostly spent eating, drinking and sleeping, a fine thing since I don’t know a nine iron from a polo mallet.
The whole Michelin engineering team for bikes, cars and motorcycles are all together in a big compound in France, with on-site test tracks and lots of labs and computers. This is a good thing, as discoveries in compounds or tread design are easily shared among the divisions. French engineer Rudy Megevand, on his first trip to the US, did the majority of the presenting. With the XC/trail/all-mountain markets square in their sights, Michelin offers the Wild series of tires in three tread patterns and in various widths to handle any kind of terrain most riders are likely to experience. A few UST tubeless versions are available, but all tube-type tires are tubeless ready, just add sealant. The tubeless tires are redesigned too, with extra rubber in the outside of the tire to seal in the air, rather than a butyl liner inside. Michelin claims this improves sidewall protection, drops weight, improves ride quality, and decreases air loss due to seepage. Talking about tires is fine and dandy, but riding them what we all like to do, so we headed off the Oak Mountain State Park. I’d shipped my bike ahead and it was set up with a new set of Wild Race’r Advanced UST tubeless tires.
Available in a variety of widths, diameters (26" and 29") tubelessnesses (that’s a word), the Race’r is the replacement for the XC Dry tire. The center tread is shallow for speed and the side knobs are substantial for cornering confidence. After various tire and suspension pumping, helmet strapping and map consultations we were ready to ride. The tail system was a whole heck of a lot better than I expected from Alabama, thanks to the work of people like Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers (www.bump.org). Fast and dry, some rocks, some high-speed fire road, an extended climb and bunches of singletrack was a perfect test course for this tire. Rudy the engineer lead the ride and he is no slouch, the pace was fast enough to see how the Race’r worked when ridden with a bit of anger. After some initial adjustment on my part to short travel and small wheels, I had no problems pushing these tires right up to the drifting point, and was even able to catch a couple of pilot error-induced front end pushes with little fanfare. Predictability is a good trait in a tire and the Race’r got high marks on dry trails. We’ll see how they work up north here, as spring time slop season is underway…
Should the Race’r prove to be a bit underknobbed here at home, I’m also set up with the Grip’r, which looks to be a solid all around tire. I love all around tires, and before my days at Dirt Rag usually picked a tread and stuck with it, weather and trail conditions be damned.
The third tread pattern in the line up, the Rock’r, looks to be a likely candidate where things are steep and rocky like Sedona or Moab. No 2.0 or 29" sizes in the Rock’r and Grip’r, but they do get a 2.4 for proper plowing through rocks, roots and other various chunder.
Another cool technology unveiled was this redesigned inner tube. When punctured the bumps and square shape are designed to push the cut closed rather than force it open, which helps the pre-installed sealant to stop the air loss right quick. Expect more info on these tubes as they make their way to the U.S.
Later on we ate, in preparation for the next day where we would see another side of Michelin. Beside high performance tires for bikes, Michelin makes high performance tires for high performance cars. The resort we stayed in also happened to be the host hotel for the Porsche Driving School, which happens to be sponsored by Michelin, and they happened to have some slots open for a few journalists and Michelin employees. This was no coincidence; Michelin wanted to show off this side of their business also. It also just maybe might have been a wee little bit of a bribe to go to Alabama. Whatever. I’m not going to turn down the opportunity to drive someone else’s really expensive cars really fast. This was not boring. The Porsche school was incredibly well run. We were busy all day, but never felt rushed, and we were trusted to be responsible adults while acting like kids, if that makes any sense. Got some disposable income? Sign up here: www.porschedriving.com.