The secrets of Michelin’s fastest-ever tire compounds

How Michelin Power Competition tires shave time off the competition

After a quick two-day launch in Austin, Texas, to debut its new Power line of road tires, Michelin flew a large group of international cycling journalists to its world headquarters in Ladoux near Clermont Ferrand, France, for further information and testing. The site is impressive, with new buildings under construction at present and more than 3,300 people working at Michelin’s research and development headquarters.

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Michelin was the first tire manufacturer in the world to build test tracks for real-world review and development of its products. Today, in Ladoux, Michelin has 20 different such tracks covering 43km on its 450-hectare (1,112 acres) facility. The Power line was developed and tested here.

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Michelin’s new power line of tires includes three tires for europe and four for north america:

Michelin’s new Power line of tires

As US editor Ben Delaney mentioned in his first-ride review of the Power Competition, Michelin is making big claims about its new Power line. The company claims the new tires are faster than their Michelin predecessors and quicker than similar models from many competing brands (though Michelin wouldn’t name names). To help back up these claims, Michelin sent its new range of tires to Wheel Energy, an independent, third-party testing lab in Finland.

Bold claims need backing up

All the quantified claims Michelin is making are based on the results of those tests. For instance, the Power Competition is 10W faster than Michelin’s own Pro4 Service Course, while also boosting grip and puncture resistance.

Karl de Quick, director of bicycle activity at Michelin, said that the Power line offers “performance that has never been equaled in the bike world. The Power line is the new benchmark.” This sort of swagger requires skepticism from cycling journalists. To counter that, Michelin organized a quantified test on one of its outdoor test tracks, the flat, curving loop known simply as “number three”.

The track has an exceptional surface and easy bends that required no braking. Because we were on a closed circuit we experienced no traffic and the turbulence inherent with passing cars. Riders were spaced out to avoid any drafting.

We performed two timed tests, each consisting of two loops of the 2.75km flat track for a test distance of 5.5km with a flying start. With Stages power meters and Garmins installed on each bike, we were instructed to maintain 180W being careful to wear the same clothing and hold the same position for both tests. The wheels, tubes and cassettes were all normalized as well. The only variable was the tire installed, either the new Power Competition or the Pro4 Service Course, the same models involved in the 10-watt improvement claim.

While the effort wasn’t particularly high, the hardest part of the test was riding at a consistent 180-watt output. A stiff wind made this trickier than it may sound. With a curving loop, the breeze changed from block headwind, to cross, to tailwind and back each time round. Speeds varied by a large margin and made spikes in power hard to avoid.

To cut to the chase, I was 23 seconds faster on the Power Competition compared with the Pro4 Service Course over 5.5km. The average for the group of 30 journalists was 18 seconds faster on the new tire, while three testers went faster on the Pro4 Service Course (I didn’t have the opportunity to review their power profiles.

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Legan’s test results showed a consistent power output and a time savings of 23 seconds:

Legan’s test results showed a consistent power output and a time savings of 23 seconds

Perhaps they went too hard on the Pro4 test. Perhaps the wind played havoc with their consistency. (Or perhaps the Power Competition isn’t faster for everyone…). That 18-second margin translates to 0.8 kph faster on average, 28.6 vs 29.4 kph. The average power output for the group was an impressive 181.1W across all the tests for both the new and old tire. The test group was amazingly consistent in its efforts.

Impressive consistency

Prior to our testing, Michelin had performed the same protocol nearly 125 times using its in-house test riders. Average for all the tests that Michelin has performed on Track #3 was 18.6 seconds faster on the Power Competition. This again confirms the journalists’ consistency in power output, with us at 18.0 seconds faster.

I did get a photo of my power profile from the two tests. I managed to average 180.8 watts on my first run, completed in 12 minutes four seconds aboard the Power Competition tires. My second run I averaged 181.3 W, finishing the 5.5km in 12 minutes 27 seconds on the Pro4 Service Course tires. So even though I went a tad harder on the older tire, I was 23 seconds slower on it compared with the Power Competition.

Results for other journalists varied, but every tester I spoke with said that the new tire “felt” faster even before reviewing the test results. They are, in my opinion, quieter and feel much more supple than the Pro4 line.

After announcing the results, a wave of relief was noticeable on the faces of Michelin staff. They admitted that they were taking a bit of risk with the test. They were happy to see the results so close to those they had previously performed.

So, what does it all mean? Well, Michelin has improved its tires and by quite a large measure when it comes to rolling resistance. Of course rolling resistance is only one metric of a great tire. But Michelin’s new tire compounds, casing materials and architectures are working. These came from Michelin’s experience in car and truck tires where natural rubber, new generation elastomers and silica, and optimized of the casing materials reduce rolling resistance.

While extrapolation can be a dangerously misleading exercise, it’s also a lot of fun and helps many of us with smaller-than-normal craniums wrap our heads around the numbers. Here are some ways to view saving 10 watts (this claim is made with a real-world 35 kph in mind). Of course, these figures assume that you compare to Michelin’s Pro4 Service Course.

  • 54 seconds saved on World Championship time trial
  • 1 min 4 seconds saved on Alpe d’Huez (equal to a loss of 1.5 kilograms in weight)
  • 4 min 30 seconds saved over and Ironman bike course (3x the gain with an aero wheelset)
  • 776m farther in the conditions of the hour record

As Michelin was quick to point out, to make a tire that rolls faster is actually quite easy. To make a low rolling-resistance tire that also offers grip and puncture protection is quite a bit tougher. While I can’t validate the puncture resistance without further testing, the Power line does seem to offer what Michelin claims it does.

Power Endurance: first impressions

We were able to test the grip of the new Power Endurance though, at least to a small extent. The day after our time at the Michelin test tracks, we mounted up Power Endurance tires and headed to the area’s hills.

The Power Endurance is the model I would most likely recommend. Michelin claims that it in addition to being faster than its predecessor and competitors, it also has better grip and increased puncture resistance. I can confirm that the grip is excellent. We climbed for several kilometers, finding ourselves in a fog bank, making the roads damp in places.

Even on a foreign bike, I felt surefooted and descended with confidence, perhaps taking risks I shouldn’t have. Based on my time on the Endurance, I also look forward to testing the All-Season, the model with the highest level of grip.

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The second day of riding was on the roads outside ladoux, a winding, hilly area perfect for tire evaluation :

The second day of riding was on the roads outside Ladoux, a winding, hilly area perfect for tire evaluation 

In conclusion, Michelin put its money where its mouth is. They doubled down, pulled back the curtain and allowed journalists to perform the same tests Michelin used in development, using third party power meters to validate their claims. This transparency and willingness to quantify results is to be applauded.

Stay tuned for long-term tests, and perhaps third party testing with Michelin’s competitors.

Tire specs

Power Competition

  • 23mm (195g), 25mm (215g)
  • Three 180tpi plies
  • New Michelin Race compound, slick tread
  • Aramid Protek breaker under center of tread
  • Tread Wear Indicator
  • Black
  • 10 Watts faster than Michelin Pro4 Service Course

Power Endurance

  • 23mm (220g), 25mm (230g), 28mm (255g)
  • Three 110tpi plies
  • Dual compound tread using Michelin’s new X-Miles Compound
  • Aramid Protek+ breaker under center of tread
  • Ship’s Bow” grooving for enhanced grip
  • Tread Wear Indicator
  • Black in all widths, Black/Red/Blue in 23/25, White in 23/25
  • 8.6 Watts faster than competing brand as tested by Wheel Energy Finland
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(Pricing has yet to be announced for any of the new models.)