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Friday, June 06, 2014

Review: Michelin Pro Race 3 Tire

The problem with reviewing bicycle tires is that they take a long time to wear out. For instance, after my review of the terrible Continental Gatorskin tires, it took at least another 4,000 miles to wear out my current stock and then another 2000 miles to wear out the replacement Michelin Pro Race 3 tire at my current riding rate. The net result is that in between Michelin retired the Pro Race 3 and has now introduced the Pro Race 4. If you think my tire wear rate seems excessively long, I weigh about 150 pounds, ride lots of hills, and ride 700x25mm tires, which are about 10% wider than the usual 700x23mm tires in use. As with all tires, the place to buy them is one of the UK vendors like Wiggle or Chain Reaction Cycles. All these vendors take US dollars, offer free shipping to the US, and charge much less than US vendors, beating even Amazon most of the time.

The Pro Race 3 is a folding kevlar bead tire, which means that they're significantly lighter than the Gatorskins they replaced. Those were 300g, while the Pro Race 3s are  245g. That loss of 18% weight is significant, and noticeable. The tires are stiff when first installed, requiring the use of a tire jack to get them mounted, but after you've ridden them for a while, they loosen up and can be mounted with just your hands. Interestingly enough, the Pro Race 4s are 215g per tire at the same nominal width, but apparently measure wider. That could mean that the Pro Race 4s could be better for touring.

These tires use a silica based compound rather than carbon black in order to get them in pretty colors to match your bike. The problem with silica rather than carbon black is two fold. First, the tires don't wear as long. While I could get 4000 miles per tire out of the Gatorskins, there's no way I exceeded 2000 miles in the Pro Race 3s. Note that I ride my tires in all conditions and nearly every ride has an off-road component, so if you're a road only rider, you might get better wear rates. On a long bike tour, however, you might have to rotate your tires to avoid riding into the treads, or carry a spare, which is a good idea anyway.

The other problem with silica is wet traction. Living in California, I don't see a lot of rain, but having tested them in wet conditions, I don't think the loss of traction is significant to most riders. I don't push my tires that hard any more though, since loss of traction does lead to loss of skin.

The tires don't puncture significantly more than the Gatorskins, but more importantly, they also don't wear out on the sidewalls the way the Gatorskin does. Now you might argue that's because they only stay on the bike for half as long, but while I've observed any number of Continental tire blowouts (some of which led to hospitalization), I've yet to observe a single Michelin tire blowout. I consider the Michelins much safer for a normal rider who doesn't push traction limits in wet conditions than any Continental tire.

Of course, they're not perfect. If I had a choice, I'd love to see a return of the 1990s Michelin Hi-lite Comps using a carbon black tread, and priced at $13 per tire. (I'd also love to be able to ride like I was 35 again as well :-) Those days aren't ever coming back, though, so for now I'm happy to stick with the Michelins for the forseeable future, especially now that I have a cheapish source for them.

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