Michelin Lithion Tires
We generally view tires in what is often termed these days as Manichean. More accurately, it's binary. In such a world, the Michelin Lithion doesn't exist.
Our rolling rubber is either a racing tire or a training tire. Racing tires are light, possess low rolling resistance, are easy to cut and wear out fast. Using a racing tire for daily riding would result in wearing out several tires over the course of a year. Training tires are heavy, roll slowly, are hard to cut, and can last a long, long time. Ride a good training tire daily, and you might be able to go several months, maybe a season, before wearing a set out. Race a training tire and you are hating every pedal stroke, unless the course is gravel.
But the binary view is a gross oversimplification. Few really see the world in such stark terms. They might say the choice is that simple, and only two kinds of tires exist, but even such people hedge. Only the jejune are unable to see the nuances, the compromises, the tradeoffs that make tire selections and life possible.
For example, there are some racing tires that are too light. 150g clinchers are scary-thin. If you see 150g tubulars on your wheels, you better have your mechanic wipe them off before you attempt breaking the hour record. On the other side, there are tires that are too heavy to ride. We've owned three pair of Specialized Armadillos, but they ride like the solid rubber tires on our Schwinn Pixie when pumped up to the proper pressure. Durable, yes, flat-proof, almost entirely, but rob life from a ride. We ride them, but generally minimize our time on them.
Even with a racing tire, we want some flat-protection. With a training tire, we want it light enough to have some life when we ride hard. Where this puts us on the tire matrix is not such much at the ends, but near the ends, working towards the middle.
The Michelin Lithion is heavier than our racing tires. The casing isn't quite as supple. The tread is thicker. But it is also lighter than our training tires. It has a folding bead. It doesn't have a particularly durable casing. It's very much middle of the road.
Middle of the road is not a place where people claim they like to be. This is where compromising politicians are said to exist. Compromisers might not make heroes, but they can make good policy. As for tires?
The Lithion is nothing you'd want to brag about. It's not sexy. It's not lovely to behold. It doesn't win any category, unless doing everything decently is a category.
We pulled the 700x23 Lithions out of their packaging and weighed them. 230g each. Exactly what Michelin promised. Not exactly heavy. A fair number of race tires come in the 220-230g range. The casing felt supple, at least compared to the winter tires we were swapping out. Kind of feel like Vittoria's Rubino Pro, but with less tread rubber. There were diagonal sipes, which not only means extra rubber, but even Michelin doesn't claim it really helps with grip. The folding bead stretched well and went on easy over our Mavic rims.
We rode them. They felt faster than our training tires. A little more zing that we were used to riding on our daily efforts. Despite lots of junk on the road, the tires didn't cut easily. Cuts appeared, certainly, but we have yet to flat on them. Nothing has gone through.
Spring is a time when we're changing tires around quite a bit. We had on our heavy winter tires, switched to the Lithions, rode them during the weekdays, swapped in our racing wheels with race tires for weekend racing, and back. When we prepped for a trip to Belgium, we swapped out the Lithions and put on the Challenge Criterium Nerones. Rode them in Belgium, and when we came home swapped back on the Lithions.
If you read our review of the Criterium Nerones, you'll see that one of our test tires weighed nearly as much as a Lithion. In terms of ride quality, the Nerone is better, but not dramatically. We're pretty confident that the Nerones have a much lower rolling resistance, but in terms of feel, they both give a ride that seems active, zippy and grippy.
In terms of grip, we haven't had a problem with the Lithions, and we've ridden them in rain, on gravel, on dirt. Haven't been trying to push the limits of the tire, but hard cornering and chattering pavement hasn't revealed any issues where the traction is suspect.
After over 1,000 miles on the tires, the front still looks pretty good. It looks about as it did 900 miles earlier. The back tire is flattening a bit on the crown, but it, too, still appears to be pretty fresh. Yes, we can show you cuts in the tread. They don't appear to be serious; they're the kind we can live with on a daily tire. The sidewalls still look great.
While this doesn't strike us as a tire we want to ride in winter months, as it doesn't seem as hearty as our Conti' Gatorskins, or the tough Armadillos, the Michelin Lithion has proven to be a good day-in/day-out tire for the rest of the year. We've been impressed by its middle-of-the-road features. The grey areas, like the grey areas of the tread, can be a fine place for rolling rubber.