Adam John Bell



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Michelin Pilot Road for Adventure Tourers

aka changing Timberlands for Nikes

Background

This year I have been enjoying a 2005 Triumph Tiger, which I bought as a touring and two-up weapon that would perform the roles that my 2001 Daytona is not that great at. So far I have thoroughly enjoyed it as a sport riding tool, and it has proven to be a very capable and practical long-distance bike.

Soon after I did the Minuteman 1000/24hr ride on it, the homologated Michelin Anakee rear was getting ready to throw a seven. They lasted about 7000 miles, which was probably slightly fewer miles than I might have anticipated based on the Anakee's extremely thick tread depth and what I'd been reading, but naturally still a lot further than I've ever seen out of a set of sport tires on my Daytona. I had been impressed with the tire overall. Designed for grand-scale adventure touring bikes (a la BMW GS, Tiger, V-Strom), the Anakee uses a silica-charged compound to provide far better road performance than most dual-sport tires, while still facilitating off-road excursions.

The twist is that I never bought the bike for off-road adventure. Obviously, this being New England, I will ride gravel tracks or dirt roads on it, but I don't need a dedicated tire for that kind of work. So, I had been looking around for a road tire that would serve my purposes without trading off any road performance.

Here I get as close to treating the Tiger as an off-road adventure bike as I expect to, on an unpaved road with my friend Rupert on his Sprint ST with sport-touring Avons, during the Minuteman 1000/24 ride. The point is, there is no point. I could do this on my Daytona with a pure sport tire.

Tire selection

As an all-purpose tire with a definite road bias, the Anakee had lived up to all expectations, but I was keen to see what a 100% road-oriented tire could offer. In fast sport riding conditions, the Anakee had done a good job in terms of traction, and it had supported spirited use through Winter and Spring months in New England impressively.

However, as I began to explore the limits of the bike, I began to feel that the Anakee did not offer the cornering confidence that I have come to take for granted. Specifically, the bike turned in less progressively than I would have liked, didn't track as positively through corners, and easily broke traction (particularly at the back end) under above average braking. In short, I was keen to find out how many of these characteristics might be remedied by mounting more aggressive road tires.

The Tiger eyes up the Michelin Pilot Power tires on a ZX-10R and suffers a sudden bout of hoop envy

I felt the Tiger was capable of more. Well, to be fair I knew it was capable of far more. I know a bloke called Mick who's been running wider Dymag rims on a Tiger for some time now, and has earned a reputation for setting an incredible pace on the thing. He swears by Pilots, albeit in different sizes for his aftermarket rims, and knows a few things about making his adventure bike do things they ordinarily don't.

So off I went on a hunt for some pure road tires for the Tiger, which would be a straightforward task if not for the 19-inch front wheel. Although as a 2005 bike mine has cast rims so I don't have to worry about spokes and tubes, I do need a tire of the proper diameter for the front, or I am on a hiding to nothing.

The Bridgestone BT020 has been available in the right fitments for a while now. It is generally regarded as a great all-round tire, and I have used the more aggressive BT010 and the BT014 that superceded it on my Daytona for a while and been happy with them. But the BT020 has been around a long time and I was keen to have a pop at something fresh. I'd heard that the Conti Road Attack was likely to be available for the 19-inch rim, but unfortunately everyone seemed to be talking about introduction of these fitments in the Fall timeframe at best.

Then came the good news. Only available since this Summer and in apparently limited initial production quantities, the Pilot Road is now manufactured in a 110/80V19 size that supports the 19-inch front rim, offering me the opportunity to combine with a 150/70V17 rear and try out a pure sport/touring tire that isn't sacrificing on-road performance for a degree of off-road capability. The manufacturer's description of the tire also promised that wet performance would remain excellent, and that they offered at least equivalent durability to the Anakee, offering the hope that I would not be sacrificing tire life for outright grip.

Problem was, I could not find a set anywhere. A couple of the big resellers replied to emails saying Michelin only made about 50 of the things and that they were currently getting beyond their best-before-date in a warehouse somewhere, so why didn't I just settle for a set of 020s. Which as it turned out was clearly not the case. I finally found a source for the tire (cheers to Superdave at Motorace), which was good news. I was really starting to look forward to what they might do for me.

Ein Moment of Minor Validation

Interestingly, a couple of days later, at Moto Market in Acton, I bumped into a cool German bloke on an Aprilia Caponord who had heard of the promised availability of the Pilot Road, and had been hoping to find a set. He was running Metzeler Tourances which were doing well but not ideally suited to his road use of the bike, which is apparently sport road and the occasional track day. When he found out they were available, he threw a complete wobbly and started getting very excited. I mean excited in a way that I had previously only seen German people be when they managed to throw their beach towels over every single available sun lounger at a Spanish vacation resort before 7am in the morning, then promptly disappear for a day of sightseeing in a rented Fiat Panda, returning around sunset to reclaim their beach towels before attacking the local nightlife like it was made out of sausages.

Anyway to cut an irrelevant story short, this was all positive stuff so I decided to have them mounted right up, rather than squeeze the last 1000 miles out of the Anakees.

Mounting

This was the third or fourth time I've had tires mounted by Galen at Bikeworx in Maynard. I go there because the cost is competitive even with Internet prices, because the mounting is never outrageous money, because he does an excellent job, and because he will even mount tires you take along from elsewhere if needs be. Once again Galen earned the business, replacing the brake pads on the back in the process. I've saved a lot of wedge going there rather than bending over for main dealer MSRP pricing on tires, and the service is fifty times better. Additionally, I'd rather give the business to a small shop run by an expert than a large business run by a hands-off business bloke and staffed by unskilled teenage muppets.

Tire Characteristics

Interestingly, Michelin illustrates the differences between the tires as follows. In short, these diagrams seem to indicate that the Pilot Road will offer equal wet grip, more durability and comfort, but slightly less dry grip and handling ability.

This has not been my experience at all based on my first few hundred miles of Pilot Road experience. I have to question whether these admittedly generalized charts represent an apples-for-apples comparison of the two tires for sport/touring use, because in my opinion the Pilot Road offers at least equal dry grip and distinctly better road handling than the Anakee. Looking at the tires side-by-side, the Pilot Road clearly puts more rubber to the road, particularly where it counts on the shoulder of the tire where the Anakee's large block open tread pattern is clearly compromised by its DP-wannabee intent. Again, there's nothing wrong with this, unless you don't plan to exploit the capability that you are compromising your road performance to achieve.

As far as I am concerned, one look at the tire's cross-section says it all. The Pilot Road clearly has a more traditional road tire profile. This is clearly evidenced by its performance; with the Pilot Road mounted, the Tiger turns in easily and much more progressively, continuing to do so in a much more linear fashion as you get the bike over into a deep turn. Turn-to-turn transitions seem smoother and easier, and the tires seem to convey the impression that there is less rolling resistance being presented by the surface of the tire.

In a nutshell, the Tiger is a riot with the Pilot Road tires mounted. As always the triple rips, and once on the move, the bike is tremendously nimble and requires little effort to hustle about and tons more stability in the rather hooligan neighborhood of a ton up. The grip that the tires promise makes me think I could get away with stronger brakes up front, whereas the Anakee made me wish for more but occasionally wonder whether my mind was writing checks that the grip of my front tire would not cash. Either way, with the Roads mounted, I now feel able to use all of the available stopping power afforded by the stock anchors, which enables more speed to be carried in the confidence that it can be shaved off effectively if push comes to shove.

Compliance of the tires is also impressive, and if anything the Tiger handles dodgy road surfaces even more readily, carving lovely smooth lines across the tarmac much more deliberately than it did previously, and enabling all the leverage of the wide handlebars to be brought into play while really working a good road.

What's more, they give an adventure bike a monster motard look and mean you can stop spending money on cans of spray-on dirt to maintain credibility.

In performance terms, it's all very good news. If Michelin are to be believed, the cold and wet performance should be up there with the stellar performance that I had come to expect from the Anakee. While it is still early days in terms of tread life, I have chatted with a few guys lately who've been running Pilot Roads, and the indications are that they'll equal or surpass the lifespan of the Anakee. A friend of mine used them on a cross-country trip last year on his Suzuki SV1000, and after 7000 miles of America and a track day they are still in the game, if seriously squared off from all the superslab miles out West.

In a Nutshell

What Michelin has in the Anakee and Pilot Road is two exceptional tire models. I was impressed with the Anakee as a street tire, and would have been very happy to buy them again if I was a fit for the target user profile. Like many owners of big-bore adventure bikes, I am not going to be plugging three inches of mud on Saturday or bouncing across tree roots on Sunday. I see my Tiger as a long-distance sport tourer with upright ergonomics, and I want a road-biased tire that's on the same page as I am.

The market for the Pilot Road as a fitment for adventure motorcycles is surprisingly large, and owners of bikes like the Tiger, BMW GS, Aprilia Caponord, and Suzuki V-Strom who use their motorcycles as all-rounder touring devices should consider this tire in the future. If you treat your adventure machine like a dual-sport, this is not on your options list anyway. If you use it as a road and touring bike, you will ride better, faster, and more safely on the Pilot Road. This should not come as a surprise. You wouldn't go out to run a road race with hiking boots on, if you wanted to perform at your best. They are just not the most effective tool for that job.

I am really looking forward to the next few thousand miles, and to exploring the capabilities of the shockingly versatile big cat now that it has more asphalt-focussed shoes on.

Ride safe - abell955@comcast.net

Miscellany

Links

Michelin USA Motorcycle Website:

http://two-wheels.michelin.com/

Motorace:

http://www.motorace.com/

Getting Pilot Roads

This is trickier than you might imagine. I am informed that as of now (July 2005) the only dealer currently geared up to sell the Pilot Road in the 19" sizes is Competition Accessories. Here is the link:

http://www.compacc.com/category.cfm?Category=2245

Mounting Tires

If you happen to be based in or around Eastern MA, you can (and most people do) do worse than calling Bikeworx when it's time to buy and mount tires. Email bikeworx@tech2010.net (brace yourself for a motorcycle shop that actually reads and responds to email!) or call (978) 897-0044.

http://www.bikeworx.com/