I have a special place in my heart for Michelin and its tires. My first-ever moto-journalism gig was a Michelin event – attending a local release for the Pilot Road 4 tire. I spent the day tearing around the Peak District on a first-generation Triumph Tiger Explorer XC and ended up being wined and dined at… uh… Alton Towers.
RELATED: Michelin Pilot Road 4 – Tire Review
For those of you playing along in Not Britain, Alton Towers is a Six Flags-like resort in the heart England’s Midlands. It’s a strange place to host a bunch of motorcycle-riding dudes, but Michelin paid for my booze, so I had no complaints. The company also sent me home with a set of PR4s, which is the real reason it is so near and dear to my heart. PR4s are the bee’s knees.
‘With 3,000 miles of wear it still performs as well or better than a brand new PR4.’
The tires are so good – so much better than their competition – that I thereafter refused to equip my bike with anything else. It became one of my guiding requirements for a new bike that it be able to wear PR4. Folks who have ridden with me will know I am somewhat evangelical about it; for me it was the perfect tire.
The engineers at Michelin, though, felt they could better. Back in 2014, even as I was swilling Budweisers at Alton Towers with its PR team, the company had already begun development of the PR4’s replacement: the Road 5.
First unveiled at EICMA back in November, the tire is aimed at the sport-touring market – or, well, whatever it is that’s replaced the sport tourer in the modern era. It drops the word “Pilot” from its name because Michelin worried customers were confusing it with the Pilot Power series of road-sport tire (which has also undergone a name simplification, becoming the “Power” series). The Road 5 Trail tire for adventure tourers (eg, BMW R 1200 GS, Triumph Tiger 1200) was unveiled at the same time. Michelin have promised to send over a pair of Road 5 Trail as soon as they become available later this year, so look out for that report in the summer.
Before that, though, Michelin brought journalists to Seville to experience the Road 5. I’ve had a quick check of ye olde internets and it appears there is an amusement park in the Spanish city – Isla Magica – so the company missed a trick in failing to take us there. Instead, we started our day at the motorcyclist playground that is the Monteblanco race circuit.
You may know that I have a pet peeve about touring/road-focused products being introduced at race tracks (Ducati SuperSport, Kawasaki H2 SX, et al), but it made sense in this case because it afforded us an opportunity to test the tire’s abilities more aggressively. Thankfully, we also got to rack up about 100 miles on actual roads.
The primary advancement of the Road 5 comes in its wet weather performance. Michelin sent me home with a USB stick full of jargon-laden phrases like “Michelin XST progressive sipe technology,” “elastomer,” and “Adaptive Casing Technology,” but that stuff causes my eyes to glaze over. The relevant take-away information is this: Michelin says its new Road 5 is so good that with 3,000 miles of wear it still performs as well or better than a brand new PR4.
To do this it uses dark magic to get the tire to regenerate tread over its lifetime. OK, the company doesn’t say it’s using dark magic. Its explanation is that sipes have been designed to gradually widen with wear, thereby increasing the tread pattern’s “sea-to-land ratio” and maintaining the tire’s water-clearing abilities. But if you ask me, “sea-to-land ratio” is exactly the sort of gibberish phrase you’d think up when trying to hide the fact that, in truth, your tires are made by a sorceress.
Actually, come to think of it, perhaps it’s not magic. When Michelin turned on the sprinklers at Monteblanco and encouraged us to take to the track to see for ourselves how well the tire held up some of us did so with a greater sense of aplomb than others. Within two laps, one of my fellow mo-jos had sent a brand new Triumph Street Triple RS sailing into the grass. It was at this point that Michelin reminded us that no sane person would attempt to be getting his or her knee down in a rainstorm. Keep your lean angle within 35 degrees, however, and everything should be fine.
I’m inclined to believe this is true, if not simply because I know how confidence-inspiring PR4s can be. Ride like a normal person with the Road 5 and you can keep riding like a normal person in the rain. I’m not really a knee-down kind of guy, but being on the relative safety of a track (if you crash it still hurts but you don’t have to worry about sliding into a tree or under a car) did allow me to push myself beyond my normal wet-weather comfort levels. The tire held firmly to the tarmac without any give whatsoever.
As with any tire, the Road 5 is a lot more fun when conditions are good. After a dozen or so laps around the track (where the only thing I really learned is that the Ducati SuperSport is kind of a disappointment) we finally ventured out onto public roads. Here we dealt with the imperfections and gravel and so on that these tires will actually be facing on a regular basis.
I am happy (and not terribly surprised) to say they performed amazingly. Like their predecessors, the Road 5s offer a fantastic riding experience – feeling equally softer and stickier than competing tires. Going into a corner you feel rooted and secure. There’s something about the sensation that is reminiscent of having gum stuck to your shoe – except, rather than being annoyed, you love it. You feel confident and more eager to push. Again, then, the Road 5 manages to hold on to the best aspects of the PR4. If you’ve not had a Road series tire on your bike before the confidence it brings will make you a better rider. That was my experience when I first rode with PR4s.
Of course, the best compliment a tire can have comes when you don’t think about it. Sitting astride a grunting BMW R nineT and speeding through the Spanish countryside, I was soon able to forget all about the spinning rubber beneath me. I knew I could rely on the tires, could trust them in every corner, so thoughts turned instead to the simple joy of riding. And that’s the point.
I’m pretty glowing in my praise of the Road 5, but I will admit to being just a tad disappointed that no real changes have been made to improve tire longevity. Perhaps “disappointed” is too strong a word. It’s just something the skinflint in me would appreciate. Good tires don’t come cheap, after all; I like to go as long as I can without having to pay for new ones.
According to Product Technical Manager Tony Charlton, Michelin’s engineers’ tests found the new Road 5 holds up slightly longer than a PR4 but the improvement is so nominal it isn’t really worth mentioning. So, we’ll just say it has the same road life. What that life is will depend on who you are and where you ride. For someone like me, that works out to a solid 7,000 miles before the tire’s wet-weather properties fade. There is still plenty of tread left on the tire at that point, however, and if you live in a dry climate you’ll get quite a lot more out of it. I have a friend in the States who managed to get 14,000 miles on a set of PR4s.
That’s an extreme example, though. Truthfully, it’s unrealistic to expect a Road 5 to hold up as long as the tires on, say, a V-twin tourer. But that’s OK because those long-distance touring tires are notoriously not fun in the wet. For me, the compromise in longevity one has to make for the Road 5 is more than worth it. I’ll be able to pack a hell of a lot of fun into those 7,000 miles.
Rider: Chris Cope