Review: Michelin Road 5 tyres in Seville, Spain
The Road 4 is an extremely important tyre to Michelin. It is the French tyre maker’s number one selling big bike tyre, selling 1.5 million units, and the best selling Michelin tyre in South Africa. Indeed, the road-sport tyre market is a massive one, and there is a gaggle of competition out there clawing for a piece of it. The Road 5 needed to be special, with clever new materials, clever new underlying designs and the use of 3D printing. Michelin saw it as special enough to send Donovan Fourie to Seville in Spain to give it a go.
Michelin Road 5 or die
So here we are, then – in Spain, in winter and with a road tyre, riding along the Andalusian roads that are narrow, twisty and lined with either steel barriers or a cliff. More so, we have former 500cc Grand Prix rider Dominique Sarron leading our group, followed by Rob Portman, the ex-National racer from RideFast Magazine, Karel Taborsky, the Czech journalist whose Instagram annoys the living daylights out of me because his photos are usually of him doing things on a motorcycle that I cannot do, and then there was me in third, followed by another 17-odd journalists, all on a variety of sport street bikes armed with Michelin’s Road 5 tyre.
This is my first proper outing on Michelin road tyres this decade, and it was undertaken with some trepidation, if I’m honest. The last time I road on Michelin road sport rubber was somewhere around 2009 and it was bloody awful. They gave us some speech about how technologically advanced they were, and what science went into them, and then they sent us out on a variety of the latest superbikes on Kyalami race track.
The best word to describe them was “wooden”. Not only did they slip and slide around the track like a Jack Russell on a frozen lake, but the woodiness translated into feeling as though you are on the brink of disaster on every corner as every little bump or nudge comes storming through the bars.
At the time I put it down to this being a road tyre, and they had been more concerned with tyre durability rather than track performance – I might’ve mention that the road would wear down more than the tyre – but I did wonder about Michelin’s logic in launching this tyre on a track.
So here we are again, on Michelin tyres, having listened to another speech about technology and having to go round corners quickly, without a choice. Some people may query why I simply do not take it slow, enjoy the Andalusian scenery and take in all that is good and wonderful in this world, but this would be impossible. You see, motorcycle journalists are mature, sensible, objective and confident – I promise – and that’s why I have to ride fast.
Every few kilometres the leader, the good Mr Sarron, would stop at a turn off and wait for the entire group. The journalists following him will also stop, turn around and see who’s keeping up. The last thing you want is for them to turn around and see you some distance behind. Even worse, there are 17 journalists behind me, and you don’t want to be “that guy” that’s holding up the group that will politely sit behind you, despite massive agitation. See – very mature.
And so, on this freezing road, on Michelin road tyres, with death on either side of us, Mr Sarron sped up and Karel sent some sparks flicking off his titanium knee sliders.
Oh dear, here we go.
The trick to road riding is to test the surroundings, and the best place to do that is in the longer corners where you start off at a medium lean angle, and as the corner goes on you open the throttle, increasing speed and increasong lean angle until something start going awry, then, hopefully, you still have time to save it.
One such long corner soon appeared, I tucked in to the lean at the obligatory medium pace and awaited my fate. As the speed increased, everything went well, and as lean angle got more and more everything continued to go well. There was grip, the bike felt solid and comfortable and the only woodiness was in the array of trees lining the road that I was not being flung into.
It’s cold, my brain told me, so surely these tyres must have the consistency to marble, and any second now they are going to remember this and send me to greet the scenery below. Still the lean continued and no such greeting arrived. Finally, the joyous feeling of my knee slider tickling the tar arrived, and from there it was all Isle of Man in Spain for the rest of the morning.
Everyone knows that a good, soft compound and a bucket-load of heat is needed for tyres to grip. What is this new witchcraft?
The truth is that during the long speeches and slide shows by the Michelin people earlier that morning, a lot of sense was being spoken.
Michelin Road 5 Cleverness
Michelin is a massive company. Seriously, they have factories everywhere around the world and 118,000 staff, 3000 of which have funny letters after their names signifying that they spent many years after graduating school with their heads still in books instead of drinking beer and pursuing members of the opposite sex. With a team like this they are able to register 400 new innovations every year, which is a lot of innovation for “round bits of rubber”.
The reason for this new success on the freezing roads is a combination of a new tyre make up and casing design. As you might know, each tyre is made up of layers of rubber – actually, it’s usually not the rubber you milk from a tree, but a range of synthesised materials – on top of a casing. The rubber provides the grip and the casing provides the support.
The “rubber” part is made of two major materials – silica and carbon black with each having an advantage. Road tyres are usually made of silica because this material sticks better in the wet and at low temperature, but usually suffers at the higher temperatures normally associated with track riding. Race tyres are carbon black, because they will grip like hell but need to be heated up first and they don’t like water.
Each option has an up and down side, and to overcome this the people at Michelin have simply thrown both into their Road 5. The front tyre is made entirely out of silica, mostly because it doesn’t experience the pressures nor heat of the rear. The silica in the front still makes use of Michelin’s famous 2CT system whereby the middle of the tyre has a harder compound silica than the sides.
The rear tyre has Michelin’s new 2CT+ system, whereby the middle is silica, as is good for road riding especially at low temperatures and in the wet, but after 46º of lean angle, the tyre becomes all carbon black, meaning it is a good road tyre when riding on the road, but should you get to race angles, it becomes a track tyre.
That’s the grip, what of the stability? The previous (ten years ago) tyre had so much stability that it made it feel rock hard. For the Road 5, Michelin have overcome this with the clever use canvass folding. The centre part of the tyre as an ordinary single layer of canvass, meaning it has a good deal of flex and can better absorb bumps and things resulting in a more comfortable road ride. On the sides of the tyre, though, the canvass overlaps and is then folded back to create a double layer with double the support. This is, of course, needed for hard lean angles.
Michelin Road 5 at full tilt
With the Isle of Spain concluded, we returned to our point of anchorage which was the Monteblanco Circuit near Seville, the single worst track I have ever ridden. The surface is good, there’s very few bumps and the facilities are brilliant, but the layout is inspired by the blasted Hermann Tilke model.
Gone are the days where track designers linked series of smooth, flowing and fast corners together, with the likes of Assen, Silverston and Brno coming to mind. No, these days the trend is to have long straights followed by ridiculous hairpins, because those glorified nancy boys in their Formula Yawn cars enjoy it. For example, on this specific track, there is a kilometre-odd long straight, where the latest 1000cc superbike can happily reach 280km/h, however this rapid bliss is interrupted by a barrage of heavy braking as the bike is slowed down to a woeful 50km/h for the ridiculous first corner hairpin.
The rest of the track is similar.
Still, we are not sitting in a cubicle doing paperwork, so let’s do our best to enjoy it. Sitting in the lengthy pitlane were two rows of motorcycles – one with Ducati Supersport machines and another with BMW S1000XRs. Note that neither of these machines, nor any of the machines ridden throughout the day, were superbikes. This is ultimately a road tyre, as is its namesake, and yet now we were making our way round an actual track, and a tricky one at that.
In Michelin’s words: The Road 5 CAN be used to go around a track. They stayed very clear of the word SHOULD. We left the pitlane and followed the Michelin test rider, and within half a lap – need I remind you that it was a cold day and there were no tyre warmers to be seen anywhere – his knee was hitting the deck.
Remember, motorcycle journalists are responsible…
In the next corner, I took a deep breath, let go of the brakes and tossed it in, and was met by something that was not quite death. The bike leaned, my knee made contact and the bike didn’t crash. This is indeed a victory, and the bravery level increased every corner until we were scraping the entire way round.
The silica part of the rear tyre works until 46º and then it’s all carbon black. Also, the tread pattern ends at this point, meaning you are riding on what is effectively a slick.
At this high point, it would probably be responsible of me to point out that the tyres did manage this track feat, and this should be applauded, but they didn’t have the same feel as a proper track tyre. While they did manage some heavy lean, they did also feel as though they were taking strain, and if you really push it to the level of a track tyre, they will let go.
Although, the pace we were going had just superceded the B Group and we were now venturing cautiously into the realm of the A Group. That takes some doing for a tyre made to last the miles on the long road. And it is convenient having a tyre that could happily lap in the B Group and then get you to work the next day.
Michelin Road 5 in all conditions
We had sampled everything the Michelin Road 5 CAN do, and now we move on to its real party trick. After the track antics, we were shuttle to a cordoned off short track that had been drenched by sprinklers to leave it appallingly wet.
We were greeted in the pit area by Alexis Masbou who some of the real Grand Prix pundits will remember as a 125cc GP front runner for many years, and is now under the employment of Michelin as one fo their test riders between riding in the Endurance Championship.
He gave us some explanation about the way silica grips in the wet and some in-depth analyses of the complicated tread pattern. While the sides beyond 46º are slick, the rest of tyre is strewn with sharp, deep and aggressive looking tread. This tyre actually looks mean. I know that sounds like an overreaction to a round piece of rubber, but there is something angry about the tread pattern, as though it is daring you to test it
We were placed on board Triumph 765 Street Triples and Yamaha MT-10s, and told to have fun.
Riding in the wet can be fun, especially on full-on rain tyres. While you have to be smoother, the pace you can run on them is remarkable, with knees scraping and front wheels lifting under acceleration. But these are bloody road tyres, I kept thinking as I crept cautiously around the first sodden corner, awaiting a tractionless tragedy, but as is the theme today, said tragedy never materialised, and the blasted bike just cruised around the bends without the slightest bit of drama.
Technically, these tyres could lean to 46º before the hugely accommodating tread runs out, and I can’t even pretend I got close to 46º, but trying some hard acceleration out of the bends led to not a single squirm or fishtail from the rear, which is good, very good.
But the party trick was just warming up.
Down the back straight of the short track, Michelin had been good enough to lay two lines of cones. We were instructed to approach them at 110km/h and go into full emergency braking mode…
As if! Every bone in my body knows that that would mean certain death. But these machines are equipped with the latest and greatest ABS technology, so I will hit the cones and start squeezing the brakes until the ABS so much as flickers at which point I’m abandoning this ridiculous exercise.
Okay, hit 110, keep the throttle steady, reach the cones and start squeezing the brakes, awaiting the immanent judder of ABS…
The bike just stopped. No ABS, no drama, nothing. It just came to a calm and steady halt.
Okay, next lap I’ll be a bit more aggressive and still keep an eye on that ABS. I was more aggressive. The bike just stopped quicker. And quicker still the next lap. Eventually, we were going full anchors on the brakes and the bike just stopped.
Michelin Road 5 finale braking test
The party trick finale was held at the back of the main pits where a strip of tar was again drenched, and this time a Michelin test rider would do the honours because we certainly weren’t giving this a go.
Michelin were not only concerned about achieving wet grip, but achieving continual wet grip, even when the tyre is warn, and their ingenious solution was inherited from their truck division that really takes this sort of thing seriously.
The tyres work thusly, in lay man’s words – the tread grabs all the water, allowing rubber to make contact with the tar without a layer of water interfering. When the water is snatched up by the tread, it is further whisked off by little channels that guide it into little ducts, meaning the tyre’s capacity to scoop up water increases massively.
This is not a new trick from Michelin, but the problem is that as the tyre wears, the tread, the channels and the ducts become shallower and cannot hold the same volume of water, and thus the tyre loses grip as it wears.
Michelin has overcome this by means of 3D printing the tread moulds, instead of the traditional method of building them mechanically. The advantage of this is that they can create far more intricate tread designs not just in terms of the shape of the tread, but they can also change their shape within the layers of the tyre.
What they have done is taken the channels and ducts, and made them widen out deep within the tyre, meaning that even when the tyre wears down, it will still have the wide underlying channels disposing of water and providing grip.
This was demonstrated on this strip of sodden tar in a braking duel between the Michelin Road 4 and the Road 5. First, a bike with Road 4s was ridden at 120km/h onto the wet strip and brakes were applied as hard as possible. The stopping point was marked and the rider climbed onto an identical bike equipped with Road 5s, but there was a further trick here. These were not simply new Road 5s, but a set that the factory had already graced with 5000km, and were a good deal worn down.
The rider approached the wet tar at the designated 120km/h, hit the brakes at the marker and came to a rapid and graceful halt…
…two metres before the new Road 4s.
This is an extraordinary achievement by Michelin – they have good feeling, they have good grip at various temperatures and they work in the wet, even with a load of wear and tear.
The Michelin Road 5 tyres will be on sale in South Africa later this year. To see a video on the wet braking test on the Road 5, click here.
Gallery – click to enlarge: