Thursday, October 2, 2008

Long-term product review: Michelin XC Road 26 x 1.4 slick

It's been a great summer. I've spent a lot of time on this somewhat unimpressive Peugeot, but since I'm not a serious cyclist I don't know anything about serious mountain bikes, so minor things like lack of suspension don't bother me. Really.

Actually, a rigid mountain bike has a certain purity about it, a stark simplicity that appeals to me. Sure, traction is definitely limited at speed over rough terrain, and it takes some effort to avoid destroying wheels and tubes over really gnarly stuff. However, like most mountain bikes, this bike will never see really gnarly stuff. It sees a wide range of surfaces: packed dirt, gravel, grass, sand, and of course pavement - and it turns out the XC Road is almost perfect for almost all of those surfaces.

This is a light tire, both in terms of total weight and in terms of the thickness of the rubber at the contact patch. Rotational inertia is very low for a 26 inch tire, as is the rolling resistance. In fact, it doesn't feel like you're riding a mountain bike at all. Low inertia and rolling resistance are only part of the story, though. The compound of the tire surface is soft and very sticky. This means excellent traction on all but very soft and wet surfaces, and amazing road feel. Yes, this tire has good grip on gravel, on packed dirt and dry grass. This may seem incredible, but the soft compound conforms perfectly to rough surfaces, and the rubber is wonderfully sticky. When things get wet, on soft surfaces, the lack of tread becomes apparent. On hard surfaces wet conditions make no difference. Hard rubber compounds may offer greater flat resistance, but you will pay a penalty in grip, and a larger penalty still in road feel.

Of course, flat resistance may be the key issue (or indeed, the only issue) for some. In this case, much as I love these tires, I can't recommend them. The sticky compound that grips the pavement so well also grips glass quite well. I encounter a fair amount of glass, and I've punctured twice with it in some 750 miles of riding. I don't think that's a lot, actually. On the other hand, if you're commuting, any puncture at all is one puncture too many.

I should also note that these steel-beaded tires fit rather snugly on the Sun CR-18 rims I have. Yes, you can and should change them without tools, but it may take some time and require some cursing. Putting a tiny amount of dish soap on the bead definitely helps. Of course, if you're on a ride, you probably don't have dish soap handy, but the first time you mount these, it's a good idea.

Since it's now fall in lovely Seattle, these tires will be coming off in favor of something with slightly more tread. It's a shame, really.


alex said...

sicc. What are you looking at for a treaded tire?

All I care about now is flat prevention. I've actually had no luck with the Continental GatorSkin Ultra, a tire what gets insane love...I flatted them things like three times (yes, three times too many). Switched to Vittoria Randonneurs, and love them. I'm only running 700c tires in my stable, not sure if they are in mountain bike sizes, but check them out. I've had 25s and 28s, and put some 32s on my dad's bike path roller. No issues with any of them.

My commuter has some Michelin "city" tires in 35c, and they're nice also (the reflective strip is amazing).

oh yeah: those Vittorias have a dynamo strip. I don't have a sidewall dynamo, but dammit if it isn't fun to say, and nice to think I'm ready, should I find a sidewall dynamo on the side of the road...


deprogram said...

I have some WTB Slickasaurus 26 inch semi-slicks that I'll be mounting this weekend. They have some tread, but not a whole lot. We'll see if they're any better.

Well, the winter project will be to finally build up a proper road bike in 700c. My Sekai has 27 inch wheels, so I'm really limited in tire selection there. It's running some cheap Serfas (Secas, I think) which are actually quite nice. No flats yet.

Sidewall dynamos are a cool idea that is terrible in practice. Tons of friction, tons of noise - but you know that already. Get a dynohub built into a wheel by Harris Cyclery for a vastly more elegant and efficient solution.

alex said...

yeah, my super randonneur friend won't build a front wheel without a dynamo hub in it...I'm almost ready (the lighting systems are ellza)

dr2chase said...

Hey, if you're still looking for tires, get Schwalbe Big Apple, either 2.0 or 2.35. Kevlar belted, very low rolling resistance, fantastic on bad roads.

I put a thousand or so miles on a pair between flats.

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