Michelin Pro 3 Race Tire
Considering the huge role tires play in the ride of any bike, we would love reams of objective data on them. Unfortunately, the data doesn't exist. What does exist is subjective data. Lots of it. Everyone has an opinion on their tires. But these strong opinions are usually formed with very few data points. Anyone who has worn a tire down to the casing without cutting the sidewalls probably says those tires are "durable." If someone else installs the same make and model tire on their wheels and cuts two sidewalls in a week, they will probably tell you the tire is prone to sidewall cuts and thus not worthy of use. Not to discount both experiences, but they amount to anecdotes. The problem is that comprehensive testing, while it can be done, is too expensive for a disposable part that costs as relatively little as a bike tire.
Before we picked up a pair of Michelin Pro 3 Race tires, we knew a few things. The Pro 3's predecessor, the Pro 2 Race, tested very well on both Bike Tech Review's and Roues Artisanales rolling resistance tests. No current test has the Pro 3 Race evaluated. Looking at the Pro 2 data, Michelin was the bargain tire of the lot. It rolled very close to expensive "open tubulars." We also knew that Michelin was touting the tire as both rolling better and gripping better than the old Pro 2. Velo News, in a tire review, gave the Pro 3 great marks as well.
We're not without our own strong opinions. With tires, we'd like to believe that our opinions are rational, logical, and come with lots of experience. We were Michelin fans for years until we cut three Michelin sidewalls in a short period of time. We sold the unused fourth tire and said goodbye to Michelins. We've also cut sidewalls on many other tires, yet haven't banished those. In all cases, the issue was probably bad riding habits and bad luck, but since the cuts transpired within a short time frame, we probably unfairly blame the tires.
Our experiences aside, Michelins have a widespread reputation for being both light and durable -- in the past we'd worn a few down to the casing -- easy to install and remove, and pretty inexpensive as high performance tires went. In recent times, we had heard chatter that the tires had a waxy finish that made them slippery in the wet, but always knew people who rode them year 'round and sang their praises.
We tried to put past experiences, rants, and rumors out of our head and start with a blank slate when we tested these Pro 3's. First, we weighed the tires. The advertised weight is 200g. Our two tires were 197g and 209g. Michelin says to expect up to a +/- 10% variation, which means some tires could weigh in at 190g and others at 210g. We then installed them. We tried them on a few different wheelsets. With a little effort, we could install without tools, though the removal necessitated a tire lever.
Aesthetically, we felt the tires looked smaller than the advertised 700x23 size. It might have to do with color; the black sidewalls, black shoulders, and grey tread are slimming on the sides and then disappearing on top. Whatever; the tires roll pretty close to our other 700x23 tires.
The potential of slippery tires did give us moments of pause. But this is another place where we should probably discount opinions based on few data points. A ProTour rider can probably corner faster in the wet with a "slippery" tire than the average rider can corner on a "grippy" tire. Even if we could determine how well tires corner in the rain, most of us probably don't take our tires to that point. Even if we could physically determine where that point is, tiny changes, like road paint, a drop of oil, a pothole, could change a corner from safe to disastrous. We once did a crit that used the infield of an auto racetrack. Not surprisingly, the races that day that went off in the rain saw huge pileups on the infield. This isn't to suggest that there aren't differences, just that unless you routinely push the limits of your tires and can tell when your tires are starting to slide, you might not notice wet weather traction issues.
We asked people at Michelin about tire grip. They told us what we heard from people who like riding Michelins. "The white aspect that can be noticed on the tires is effectively wax, but it migrates during the life of the tire in order to protect the tires from ozone damage. This wax is not only on the tire surface, it is inside all the compounds and it is released bit by bit to protect the tire throughout its lifespan. Some tires can have more wax on the surface, depending on how long and in which conditions they have been stored. Once the tires have been ridden a few kilometers, any wax buildup on the surface is mitigated and grip is as it should be." Lennard Zinn recently backed this up in an online Q&A on Velonews.com.
We can't report on wet-weather traction, as, amazingly, we didn't have a rainy ride during our test period. But we did do plenty of riding on rough roads, doing hard downhill corners, and braking hard behind cars. Plenty of high-speed descending on smooth, sinuous roads as well. We did slide the rear wheel once, but that was when drafting a truck that suddenly braked.
Michelin has done a smart thing for consumers. They have produced a tire pressure guide that is printed on the packaging every tire comes in. We got the guide on a business card from a Michelin rep. What is smart about this is they've figured at what pressure the tire rides to best represent the qualities Michelin says are present in the tire. We don't know if this is the pressure at which the rolling resistance is lowest, or the grip is the best, but it is good to know all the same. We found that their recommendations are lower than what we typically set our tire pressure, but as has been pointed out before, too stiff tires are slower than those that flex a bit and a little extra grip can do a world of good when you need it most.
The tires feel pretty fast at the recommended pressure. We just came off the Zipp 808s and didn't want to go back to the slow training tires we generally prefer to ride. Since we had them around, we put in latex tubes as well. While the wheel and tire setup couldn't match deep dish tubular goodness, the tires had nice zing on accelerations, felt fast climbing and motoring on the flats.
After quality time on the road and at the races, the treads look in very good condition. Usually, after several hundred miles, there are many micro cuts in the tread of our tires. Places where a piece of glass or a sharp rock cut a little, but not entirely through down to the casing. The front tire has almost no micro-cuts at all, while the rear has some, though not as many as we're used to seeing. The front tire, after a good cleaning, looks almost new.
Michelin also provides one great factoid about "smooth" tread road tires. "The oval shape of a bicycle road tire contact patch permits effective water evacuation to help keep the tire from hydroplaning…The footprint of a 23mm tire (approx. 7 sq. cm) is so small that the bike would need to be traveling at about 120mph in order to hydroplane." 120mph.
Our objective subjective assessment of the Michelin Pro 3 Race tires is that they're darn good. They are light, easy to install, roll well, grip well, and seem pretty durable. What rubber hits the road matters. These tires will stay in the quiver and continue hitting the asphalt for us until we destroy them, which we hope will mean retirement when the casing shows through.