Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Techie Tuesday: Michelin vs Conti Update

I did this review back in August, and since then have settled on Michelin Pro 3 Race in front, and Michelin Pro Optimum in back. Being of German heritage, I was expecting Conti to really impress. Instead they were a huge disappointment. The Optimum tires, by contrast, continue to impress me, and it's hard for me to imagine how the rear version could be improved on. It's as close to perfection in back as the Pro 3 Race is in front.

My search for a better rear tire was launched by my skidding through, and ruining, a brand new Pro 3 Race in back - the 2nd in about 1 month's time - so I am pleased to report that the Optimum(rear) is almost impossible to skid, and seems pretty impervious to tire cap wear on the rare occasion when it happens. The tire is just crazy sticky, and will actually reintroduce you to your back brake.

Surprisingly, since the rear tire is optimized for braking and driving wear, as well as bearing the extra weight of riders in upright positions, the tire is very stable and sticky in turns. This is probably due to the 25mm size, which is the only size it comes in. In technical conditions, and especially with sand, stones, small twigs, or leaves going through the many tight turns of the ARPT, the back wheel stays planted so much better I can carry more speed through the turn, so the 25mm size makes me faster. Instead of hopping all over the place, it just sucks up the debris and keeps you locked into your line.

The Gatorskins are so harsh in comparison, that you have to run them below 80psi to match the supple ride of the Pro Optimum(rear) at 110psi. (the pressure limit) The larger, 25mm tire holds more air, and this means it goes flat sitting around the house much slower. Rolling resistance is not as pressure sensitive either. I especially liked this on the one occasion I had a flat, as my little hand pump has a hard time going beyond 80psi. (the reason I will never run Vredestein tires)

My concern with the 25mm width, was wind and rolling resistance. In the rear, at least, I cannot detect any additional wind drag, and the rolling resistance is either the same, or on old, rough chip-seal roads, less. The bigger tire just floats over pebbly surfaces better. I haven't tried the Optimum(front), but suspect it would offer a smoother ride, better grip and more wind drag than the Pro 3 Race. I think Michelin should conduct and publish tests to make this determination. It would help them sell sets instead of just rear Optimum tires.

If I do the Davis Double this year, it will be on an Optimum(front) tire, as the bigger tires just do a better job of sucking up road vibrations, and I'd expect the Optimum to offer a little more puncture resistance, just because there is less surface pressure on any given surface point on larger tires.  The Pro Optimum are in Michelin's top of the line Pro series, so they give you the best possible performance. They're the perfect Century tire.

I have only had 1 flat on the Optimum(rear), and that was after goat-heads, thorns, and broken glass all coming at me in a single 3-mile section. I feel very confident the Optimum(rear) are as puncture resistant as Gatorskins, and in every other way, far superior.

I've never given it much thought before, but I think this tire helps reduce rear tire slippage, especially when climbing steep grades. (you have to reset your cyclocomputer for the larger diameter) Even after resetting my cyclocomputer, my rides are still just a bit shorter because of reduced slippage. This is most noticeable when really flying down the bike trail, pushing 300+ watts through turns, or just flat out on straightaways. It's worth about a half a tooth on the rear cassette.

The only downside I've seen to the larger diameter is some pitting on my SRAM Force rear brake because the tire surface is much closer to the brake's bridge area in the middle. I don't blame Michelin for this, as it's a SRAM QA problem. The clear plastic protection film on the brake just wore off under constant sand spray and cleaning with Turtle Wax car shampoo.

I have ~ 1,500 miles on the Optimum(rear) and it has a definite flat spot on the tread cap, but it hasn't impaired the tire's performance in any way. I'm guessing it will go 2,500 miles, and wear in lock-step with the Pro 3 Race up front. That feature alone is worth switching tires for. For me, the two best features, in order, are the phenomenal braking grip, and planted-like-glued stability in turns.

No comments: