Gear Gear Reviews

Gear review: Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires

It appears Bibendum (aka “the Michelin man”) is attempting to kill these people by throwing tires at them. 

It’s been a few months since the good folks at Michelin gave me a set of Pilot Road 4 tires, and in that time I’ve managed to clock up roughly 2,700 miles on them, in pretty much all weather, so I thought now might be a good time to offer a review.

If you have attention deficit disorder or don’t like to read, the short version of my review is simply this: Buy yourself a pair.
I say that without reservation for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it was the Pilot Road 4 that taught me tires do actually make a difference. Oh, sure, I had read plenty of articles in which moto-journalists were yammering about the feel of a tire and how long it takes to warm up and so on, but my general feeling was that this was gibberish — stuff they were just saying because, you know, they’ve got to say something. Or, perhaps, I felt, if it was not total gibberish it was irrelevant to anyone who rides a bike at anything near legal speed.
I mean, a tire’s a tire, right? I’ve replaced plenty of tires on my cars, pickup trucks and bicycles over the years and I honestly could not tell you what brand I used on any of them. Had you asked me, I would have said: “Uhm, the one that fits and that costs the least.”
It’s like regular oil. Don’t buy an expensive bottle of the stuff just because you’ve heard of the brand name. That’s stupid. Oil is oil. It all comes out of the ground. There’s no difference (a). And I figured rubber couldn’t be too terribly different, either. Certainly I had not noticed a difference between the Bridgestone Battlax tires that had been on my Honda and the bargain-bin things that had been on the bikes I used in my training courses. Nor had I noticed differences in the tires on the various bikes I had to that point test ridden (b).
But then I had the Pilot Road 4s fitted to my bike and suddenly, instantly, I understood that a tire matters.

The main selling point of Pilot Road 4 tires is that they perform 17 percent better than the competition on wet roads. As luck would have it, I got to test this claim right away because it was raining on the day I had the tires fitted (of course, it is always raining in Wales). Despite the tires still being well within their break-in period, I could feel the difference in the first roundabout I navigated. The tires just held.

A few months later, as I was riding through torrential rain in Scotland, the tires just held. Through mud that had washed onto the road, or cow manure left there by inconsiderate farmers, and on the overpainted surfaces of British roadways, the tires have just held. Obviously, I am continuing to be cautious in these scenarios but the difference in feel, and the confidence that delivers, is notable.

The reason the tires stick so well has to do with the siping and the rubber compounds used in the tire. If you’re like my spell check and have never seen the word “siping” before, that’s OK. I hadn’t heard of it either until one of the Michelin guys spent some time explaining that they are the lines in tires that push water away. The siping on the Pilot Road 4 is so effective that it results in my one and only, and very insignificant gripe about the tires: Your boots and trousers will get a little more dirty because of all the stuff the tires are pushing away.

Meanwhile, the rubber compounds are magical in the sense that just in touching the tires they feel sticky.

They stick amazingly well to dry roads, too. And the confidence they have delivered has had a dramatic effect on the quality of my riding. OK, yes, my chicken strips are still pretty wide but it is now incredibly rare for a car to catch up with me in corners. Whereas not so long ago, a ride on a twisting Welsh highway would have involved frequently pulling over to let other traffic pass.

The other selling point of these tires is that they last 20 percent longer than their predecessors, the Michelin Pilot Road 3. What that actually means, though, is hard to gauge. When I had the opportunity to share a few beers with (c) some of the Michelin folks they were pretty unwilling to give me any sort of mileage figure. Different people ride differently, after all. And on different road surfaces and with different bikes.

In my own case, I have, as I say, put roughly 2,700 miles on the tires so far. Within those miles are some pretty long stretches of motorway, a goodly amount of curving A roads (i.e., two-lane roads with a limit of 60 mph), some even curvier B roads (roads most Americans would describe as a bicycle path), plenty of crumbling urban surfaces, and even a tiny bit of off-road stuff. Despite all of that, the tires still look quite new. I’m certain I’ll get another 2,700 miles out of them, at least, and wouldn’t be at all surprised to not find myself even considering replacing them until they’ve gone past the 10,000-mile point.

Another positive, which may just be luck on my part, is that they hold pressure quite well. I check my tires before each ride and have found myself making far fewer adjustments with my Michelins than I was with the Bridgestones.

Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires do tend to be a little more pricey than some others but I feel it’s worth it. Honestly, I love these tires so much that they affect my thinking about which bike I want next. For example, the BMW F800GT stays on my list simply because it comes equipped with Pilot Road 4s as standard.

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(a) Note that I am talking about regular oil here. I pretty much feel the same way about synthetics but if someone I trusted had a strong argument in favour of a specific synthetic I’d probably take his/her advice.

(b) Admittedly I’m not terribly aggressive when I test ride a bike. I don’t want to end up having to pay for any damage.

(c) And by that, I mean they drank me under the table.