On the heels of last year’s road bike-tire push, Michelin unveils a fresh line of MTB tires for 2017. Our editor put the new rubber to the test along California race courses and Minnesota singletrack.
Bike tires are one of the easiest upgrades to make, and they can drastically change the way a bike rides. Nobody knows that better than the engineers at the French tire behemoth, Michelin. And with an increasing focus on the world of bike rubber, the company is making better riding more accessible to everyone.
With four new MTB-specific tire builds for this year, we chose to take each for a spin and see how much they improve over the competition. Our editors have been testing them for a few months, both at a test camp in California, and on their own.
In short: Michelin’s all-mountain tire is among the best in its category. There are distinct performance differences among the four tires, each of which has specific applications — from cross-country to race to all-terrain mountain.
Engineering Over Marketing
Michelin, headquartered in Clermont-Ferran, France invests in engineering and testing its products before it invests in marketing them.
The brand claims that although its bicycle business is merely a tiny fraction of its overall business, both the knowledge and the physical facilities it owns cross over into the bike category and result in a superior product.
According to Ross Shields, marketing manager with Michelin, its bicycle division was recently infused with a big budget increase, resulting in new products for road and mountain bikes.
This coincides with Italian-based tire manufacturer Pirelli launching its own bike tire division this year.
New Mountain Tire Launch
The rubber compound on the four new MTB tires, as expected, is great. After all, Michelin is a leader in the automotive industry.
But we didn’t love all four of the new models. We loved the Wild AM, liked the Force XC and Jet XCR, and didn’t particularly care for the Force AM.
Michelin designed each tire for a particular focus, naturally. The letters after the name specify their purpose: XC for cross-country, XCR for cross-country race, and AM for all-mountain riding.
Jet XCR Review
The Jet XCR is a lightweight and low-rolling-resistance cross-country race tire. We didn’t get much time on it, but enough to feel that the rubber compound grips well on slick rock and pavement, and carries speed well.
The Jet XCR weighs 560 grams in 29″ x 2.1″. This is light, but it’s not feathery. You can run a Schwalbe Racing Ralph which has more traction and weighs 525 grams, but has less protection if you are willing to risk some security for performance.
It’s tubeless-ready, and we found that the Michelins set up tubeless much easier, as the sidewalls of the Schwalbe tires are notoriously thin.
The Jet uses a very light and supple 150 threads per inch (tpi) casing, covered with a high-density reinforcing ply. This results in a light tire that holds its shape well when pushed to the limit.
This is the only one of the four that is made with the same exterior rubber throughout. The other three tires use standard rubber down the center channel, but a softer compound on the outer edging tread. The tire offers a lot of damage protection per gram.
We like this tire. It’s great for hard surface terrain where increased protection is needed, but not taller knobs. We would reach for the tire for riding areas with cactus or sharp rock edges without much loose soil. The tire is also a good rear-only if conditions are mixed.
The Jet XC cost $65.
Force XC Review
The Force XC weighs 630 grams at 2.9″ x 2.1″. It offers more grip than the Jet and more protection.
Although these tires are not in stores yet, they have been in development for three years. Notably, three Olympians in the 2016 summer games raced in these tires. In fact, they were on Maxime Marotte’s bike when he crossed the line of the Olympic Cross-Country race in 4th place!
The Force XC uses a 110 tpi casing, which is similar to the industry standard (for premium tires) at 120 tpi.
We rode the tire aggressively, and found it stiff and durable enough to maintain its shape when pushed. But, the knobs were too shallow to provide enough grip when things got loose.
So overall, it didn’t ride much differently than the Jet. It’s a bit heavier, grippier, and has an excellent rubber compound. We overall liked it.
Is it better than the best tires in this realm? We think no, not yet. Unless more protection is needed, the Schwalbe Racing Ralph and the S-works Fast Trak offer a bit more grip at a lighter weight.
The Force XC cost $65.
Force AM Review
The Force AM uses a very similar tread pattern as the Force XC, but weighs 760 grams in a 29″ x 2.25″. It’s 130g more because it uses a heavier 60 tpi casing.
The tire offers a lot of protection against damage, but not a lot of grip in soft terrain. The rolling resistance was good, as was the tread compound, so it makes a good rear tire. In most circumstances, though, we would recommend running the Force XC instead; therefore, we were least excited about this model.
The Force AM cost $70.
Wild AM Review
The Wild AM is the best MTB tire Michelin makes, and among the best tires made in the category overall.
It weighs 800 grams at 29″ x 2.35″. Its aggressive tread combines well with the traits this entire group share: A grippy, yet durable compound over a casing that holds shape when pushed thanks to reinforced ply.
The Wild AM totally changed the way our YT Jeffsy demo bikes rode at the California test camp.
We heard great things about the Jeffsy, a “Bike Of The Year” award winner. But it did not come alive until wrapped in a pair of Wild AM tires.
Immediately, the bike felt more capable and my confidence increased, carrying massive speed through corners and braking far better, too.
The Wild AM is expected to cost $75.
If you have ever put a pair of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on your car, you know what Michelin is capable of. It’s an engineering firm first, capable of making a better tire than everyone else.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t invested enough in the last 10 years or more to bike tires, but it comes a long way to return to the years when its tires were on World Cup podiums in multiple disciplines.
These four new tires should not be ignored, and the Wild AM belongs in the discussion of best in class.