After a five hour train journey from west Wales, it was a relief to get to Gatwick Hilton and grab some shuteye before the early flight to Seville. 4.30am arrived far too quickly, and the combined sleep of the original group of two delegates (myself and Rita) and one Michelin organiser (Lisa) came to around two hours.
This travel-weary band were joined by another three less jaded journos (Paul, Lel and Jonathan) in the lobby of the hotel, and we all made our way to the South Terminal to join the lengthy check-in queue. Charlotte, Michelin’s UK motorbike tyre PR agent, then joined us and we were ready to leave the smog-ridden southeast of England for the promise of sunnier climes.
Descending into Seville, it became obvious that southern Spain was not gripped by a heat wave and that Surrey was probably a warmer proposition. The forecast was great for the next couple of days so we put our initial misconceptions down to tiredness.
We arrived at a smart looking hotel a short distance from Seville and booked some lunch before retiring to our rooms for an hour or so to settle in. Seville had now started to shine. The sun was out and there was a warm breeze blowing across the balconies in the hotel room that invited you to go out and ride. Unfortunately this was going to be a day of rest so that meant no motorbikes. That would have to wait until Saturday morning.
Lunch was interesting. Maybe we could put it down to the tiredness-induced grumps but we all agreed that the tuna starter, tuna main and tuna pudding (I’m joking on the last one but there was a definite theme going on!) and the staggering array of different melons that the hotel was able muster up was both impressive and tragic at the same time.
The tourist web sites did nothing to sell Seville to a bunch of overtired, cynical motorbike industry ‘influencers’ but we had to do something to prevent cabin fever. We grabbed a cab into Seville to work out why this was the best place that one of the world’s largest tyre manufacturers could pick to launch their new baby.
While walking around the town it struck me how traffic interacted with people. The centre of Seville is dotted with small squares surrounded by tall, gothic buildings. There are no road markings and nothing to stop direct interaction between people and vehicles. Into this mix you throw cars, push bikes, people, trams, horses and carts (Seville is filled with bright yellow carts to haul fee paying tourists around in) and, of course, motorbikes. I started to feel that this is an area that respects vehicles and that the local populous understands that there is a need to have them around.
I was now looking forward to getting out there and testing those tyres on roads with sympathetic fellow road users. We made our way back to the hotel for dinner (considerably better than our lunch) and hit the hay early.
Saturday morning we grabbed some breakfast and caught the coach to the circuit at 7.30am. Today was looking a lot brighter than Friday and it was going to be a good riding day, you could tell. We’d already been given our schedule and it was obvious that it was going to be a full-on event. A four hour ride out followed by lunch and the on-track workshops – wet braking, wet handling and track-based dry tyre confidence – in the afternoon. Our presentation went through a number of important points about the new tyre and the technology used, including a brand new way to create the tyre carcass, offering the same benefit as a Bias-based tyre (rigidity of tyre wall) and the comfort of a regular radial; Michelin’s patented Sipe technology which works to channel water away from the contact patch using very thin, angled channels and larger holes; and the widths of the dual compound which the regular and GT versions share while the Trail gains a slightly softer compound around the middle of the rear to cope with higher torque.
The use of tapered / angled front edges to the Sipes is used to help reduce tyre wear by ensuring the whole of the tread remains in contact with the surface under braking and not causing undue wear on the leading edge. Very clever and, if the diagrams and videos are to be believed, very effective.
Michelin went to great lengths to explain that the new carcass structure took five years to bear fruit because each experiment along the way needed new machinery to be built to build the prototypes. This sounded like a very lengthy process but one which the ever-enthusiastic Michelin team seems to have relished. They appear to be a fastidious lot so their pedantry over giving us this detail didn’t surprise me.
The important thing is, though, does any of this actually make a difference?
I guess that without a side by side comparison with a competitor’s tyre on the same roads on the same bikes it is difficult to say without a shadow of a doubt. The range of bikes made available to us was quite extensive and would offer some great comparisons from bike to bike, even if we couldn’t compare directly with other tyres.
With the pleasantries duly over we were shown to our changing areas where we each poured, eased and squeezed ourselves into whatever outfit we were going out in.
It was obvious we had a good array of riding styles amongst us so all of our opinions would be different depending on what we expect from a tyre. The range of bikes to choose from was also extensive with everything on offer from the relatively lowly and lightweight Yamaha Diversion, through the extremely popular Triumph Street Triple, quirky KTM Duke to Triumph Trophy, BMW R1200RT and the mighty BMW K1600.
Our choices were as varied as the options with our team of British riders choosing the R1200RT (a natural choice given Michelin’s recent tie-in with the brand), Kawasaki Z800 and Z1000SX, KTM Duke, Triumph Street Triple and Yamaha Diversion. A good mix of light, sporty numbers and heavy tourers.
Our route would take us from the Monteblanco Circuito outside of Seville north to the Sierra Pelada y Ribera del Aserrador national park, taking in a loop of the park with guided and unguided sections. The roads were awesome, and the Michelin team had managed to incorporate a host of different surfaces and terrains from tight forest sections on potholes to long sweeping bends on pristine tarmac.
There were even unplanned events like greasy roads from a lingering morning mist. Regardless of what was thrown at them and on whatever bike I was on the tyres behaved impeccably. On the big Beemer I resorted to fiddling with the menu options for heated seats and stereo system to keep me amused as the bike and tyres did pretty much everything else for me.
This is not to say they make riding boring. After experimenting with the other bikes I finally landed the Z1000SF. Being more sports than sports tourer, this bike was going to offer a very different outlook on the tyres. I’d already been warned that it had a twitchy back end so taking charge of it in the damp wooded section in the national park was probably foolhardy, but I just had to ride it. True to form the rear end skipped out just once. I’m blaming this only just having hopped off the R1200RT where the weight and length keeps everything under control – and possibly the overall suspension being a bit too tight for the road surface and conditions. Five minutes later it was a different story.
Confidence restored and dry, smooth tarmac with wide sweeping bends and crests and the bike was flying. There was no hint of the hesitation in the forest and the tyres were holding reliably at every lean angle and speed. These things are not deigned as outright sports tyres but despite trying quite hard I could not get them to show any sign of moving. Accelerating out of corners was smooth with the back end completely planted and the front end went exactly where it should. I had some initial worries about the Sipe technology adding to tread block movement under hard cornering or manoeuvres but even when they had warmed up a great deal there wasn’t a hint of it. There was consistent traction right across the gamut different loads – from brake force and driving force through to lateral loads.
The trip back to Monteblanco Cuircuito saw me playing around at the back of the group with a grin from ear to ear which I’m still wearing over 24 hours later.
Unfortunately we had to go for lunch and leave the open road behind us in favour of some scary looking test situations on track. The three workshops would cover wet braking on a low-traction surface, wet handling on a damp track and some dry riding that Michelin called ‘tyre confidence’. I’ll expand on these more in the full tyre review tomorrow.
The day was brought to a natural conclusion with some very tired writers enjoying some time in Seville with a well-earned beer or two. A perfect end to a very rewarding and educational day.