Michelin Pro 3 Race 700x25 Clincher Tire
We're kind of hating ourselves right now. Back in March, we bought a set of these tires for assaulting the Ronde Van Vlaanderen Wielertouriste ride. People told us 25mm race clinchers could make a big difference in comfort. We hadn't given such balloon tires any thought and had barely remembered they existed. If they did, it was to go on "adventure" road bikes, one that has mounts and space for fenders and a geometry that is more 1950s than it is modern. Comfort for riding on dirt roads, that sort of thing. To us, 25mm road tires were the bulletproof kind for commuting or touring. 25mm road tires seem almost like a duck-billed platypus, a racing station wagon, that sort of thing. But the thought of not being able to keep rubber on the stones of the Koppenberg loomed in our head, so we got a pair of 700x25 Michelin Pro3 Race tires and headed to Belgium.
There, yes, the pavé can be bad. In our rides before the race, the stones were pretty rough in places, particularly in the middle of Brugge and Ghent. We could see why old utility bikes are so popular there; the long wheelbase and narrow-diameter frame tubes really minimize the impact felt on sprung leather saddles. But the Wielertouriste is some 260k, and there's only 28k or so of cobbles. The weather was also forecast to be dry. That sealed the deal; the tires stayed in the bike box and our Challenge Criterium Nerone's were ridden; we figured the supple tire would ride well on rough surfaces.
While 28 out of 260 doesn't seem like much, just over 10% of the total, it's different when you're in the middle of a rough pavé sector. Every rough patch was so bone-jarring that once you were on for a few seconds, you started thinking you had been on for miles, and your only dream was of the pounding ending immediately. After entering our first long sector, we entertained the idea of gutting it out over the roughest sections of the road to get our hardman bona fides, maybe impress the locals, but sanity got the better of us and we were diving for the gutter like most everyone else. The only way to impress is to ride away from others, as some people we thought we had better fitness then, did to us on some false-flat cobbles. There is a skill to riding the stones, it might take years to learn.
We finished the ride feeling great. We praised ourselves for sticking with the 23mm tires. We criticized ourselves for not bringing faster wheels -- our old box-sections held up perfectly. Walking around the team cars the next day checking out the gear before the Pro Ronde, we saw a fair number of deep-section wheels, many with 24mm tubulars mounted. That surprised us, and gave us pause. Maybe the larger width wasn't as much of a penalty as we imagined. We knew that some riders went with 27mm tires for Paris-Roubaix, but it's a different race, where the rough pavé is the dominating race feature.
Then, we were asked to review the 25mm Pro3 Race tires. And now that we've spent a month on them, we wish we had wired them on for Flanders.
These tires are fast balloons. We pumped the tires up to 85psi, which is close to what Michelin recommends for our weight, though it's probably a bit over. Did a slow roll on the first day to make sure they were right tolerable. They were. And the next day, we rode them on our regular timed training loop at tempo. While we initially could feel the tires flexing underneath us, we settled into a rhythm and knocked out a 10k lap at our typical power in a time that came within seconds, certainly within a margin of error given wind, temperature, and humidity, tire pressure and lines through the curves, of what we can do it on narrower race tires on the same wheels.
Overall, the tire gripped just like the Pro3 Race we tried in 23mm.
You might be thinking, as we had been, that smoother ride is fine and good, but the tires must carry a weight penalty. We were surprised to find out that there was almost no penalty. We measured our two tires at 216g and 215g. Our Pro3 Race tires in 23mm came in at 200g and 208g, and our Michelin Lithions, a fast training tire, came in at 230g. 215g is also pretty much in the middle of the weight range for race tires, which typically run from 210-230g.
We then looked at Bike Tech Review's Crr Study (Revision 8) and found that 25mm clinchers are definitely close in rolling resistance to pretty fast tires. They measured a 23mm Deda tire at 25mm, and found that with a latex tube, it rolled on par with a number of fast clinchers with latex tubes and faster than some tubulars. Our tires measured 26.5mm in width. There's one catch to this, however, and it is the following; Michelin specifically does not recommend using latex tubes with their 25mm tires.
So we went with butyl tubes. And the tires not only rolled fine, but took up bumps rather nicely. Many a jarring pothole lost its edge. And we certainly could ride the tires for over a week before pumping them up again. By the end of each week, the tire pressure was in the 60s psi, and while sprinting out of the saddle on particularly low pressure could result in some notable tire flex, the tire certainly wasn't folding or pinch-flatting.
If there were any notable drawbacks, there was only the clearance issue. Not with the brake calipers and the stays/fork, but with the pads. With our SRAM Red calipers, we needed to not only open the quick release all the way but totally open the barrel adjuster to get the inflated tires out of our brakes. For some this might necessitate loosening up the brake cable, dialing out the barrel adjuster, and then re-tightening the bolt.
While comfort for us has rarely been much of an issue on the bike -- we're partial to non-padded or minimally padded tape, don't wear gloves, and ride non-gel saddles -- we can see where those who have been taking any number of comfort measures could probably stop where they are with padding and just install a set of these tires. These tires seem like a simpler, lighter, more elegant solution than many of the other measures, including raising bars and lowering saddles, for getting a little more comfort on the ride.
Back when we first got the tires, we told a friend about them and our concerns they were going to be slow. He told us he'd been riding 25s for over a year and he considered them his secret weapon. We hadn't realized it; they don't look as big when they're not on our bike and when the bike is moving. If gaining comfort without a cost of reduced speed is his secret weapon, then he's been doing really well.