Big bold claims are commonplace in the cycling industry. Rarely a day goes by when the RoadBikeReview inbox isn’t populated with at least a couple press releases bellowing the benefits of this new gizmo or that ground breaking gadget. Buzzwords such as compliance, stiffness, and efficiency are mind-numbingly overused, but rarely backed up by more than a power point presentation — or just a spew of marketing fluff.
And that’s why my eyes rolled when just such a press release came through on email a few months back. Michelin, the monolithic French maker of all things tire, was set to release a new four-model Power series of road cycling rubber, claiming among other things that due to improvements in rolling resistance (another buzz phrase), the top-end Power Competition model could save its rider 10 watts versus the outgoing Michelin Pro4 Service Course. That, Michelin proclaimed, is the equivalent to 85 seconds when traveling 35kph (~22mph) for 40km (~25 miles), which is no small amount of savings.
My first thought: Prove it. A few months later, Michelin did.
After getting the chance to put the tires through their paces at a small press event in Austin, Texas, which you can read about here, Michelin invited us to its North American headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina. The plan for the trip was to literally put rubber to road and find out exactly how much faster the new tires were.
The testing process was fairly straight forward: Utilizing a closed track at the company’s massive Lauren’s Proving Ground facility (that’s usually reserved for vehicles with engines), we’d be using Stages power meters to do apples to apples comparisons of the new and old tires.
Outside of changing tires, all other equipment was constant. Same bikes (Scott Solace 20 Disc), same wheels (Rolf Prima Victor), same helmet, shoes, and kit (POC, Mavic, and Bontrager in my case), same PSI, and even the same gearing. The test lap was a 3.2km loop on a near dead flat track; we’d do two laps per tire, utilizing a flying start and maintaining (or at least doing our best to maintain) 180 watts the entire time. There was no braking and no drafting. The only significant wild card was the wind, which was blowing steady, and thus made it hard to always maintain that steady 180-watt output. Instead, the focus was on the average watts metric displayed on our Garmin head units, making sure it read 180 at the end of the second lap.
Despite my best efforts, a steady 180 reading was all but impossible. On sections with a tailwind you’d get spun out and really have to whip up your RPMs just to stay in the ball park. When the wind swung around to your face, cadence dipped into the 50s, lest the power number spike too high. At the end though, myself and a handful of other attending journalists were all able to hit the 180-watt average mark dead on, giving the test at least a modicum of validity.
Before diving into the results, an admission: Due to some combination of perception and reality the new Power Competition definitely felt faster. Coming off the bike I was certain my lap times would be significantly different, maybe 20-30 seconds for a two-lap effort that took around 13 minutes going 30kph. The ride quality also had a distinctly smoother, more pleasing feel, like the difference between a new Cadillac and a beater Chrysler. There was no doubt in my mind which tire I’d buy. And for the most part the final results backed up that perception.