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In the late 1990s and early 2000s, green meant go — fast. Michelin’s legendary green Wildgripper tires were common beneath heavy-hitting World Cup stars like Rune Hoydahl and Bart Brentjens.
Today, the global tire manufacturer is looking to stake a claim in the 27.5” wheel category with a variety of options in the modern size. However, the new tires are best for average riders, not Olympic hopefuls.
Like the new wheel standard, Michelin’s 27.5 tire line strikes a balance between speed and traction, efficiency and rough trail capability. While tread patterns vary between the Race’R and Grip’R, both are tubeless-ready, which greatly reduces garage headaches.
Race’R 2.25”: Fast but sturdy
The Race’R 2.25” has a low-profile tread pattern, featuring small, stiff, diamond-shaped knobs that are ramped to reduce rolling resistance. The treads have XC race written all over them, but they are noticeably wide for 2.25’s. Also, the Race’R is only offered with lower-end 60 tpi casing and conventional rubber formula.
These factors, combined with its 700g weight, have us wondering whether the Race’R really is a racer. Priced at $65, we’d expect it to go head-to-head with something like a Maxxis Crossmark, which costs about the same but is 125g lighter.
That being said, the Race’R feels fast and has healthy cornering knobs, which help overcome the squirrelly tendencies that plague race tires on loose surfaces.
You can’t expect it to bite under extreme braking, and pedaling traction is suspect on puddly bits of trail, but it’s predictable.
For riders and racers who expect to ride mostly dry hardpack, the Race’R is a good option. It would be great for marathon-distance racing, but it makes less sense for traditional cross-country circuits.
Grip’R 2.25″: Soft-terrain specific
Moving over to the knobbier side of things, the Grip’R is suitable for a variety of trail conditions, but size does matter. Although the 2.25” and 2.35” options have similar tread patterns and both cost $65, they ride quite differently.
The smaller of the two has noticeably flexy knobs, and the lugs are shallower. This translates to a ride feel that is a little sketchy when charging hard on loose, dry and fast terrain.
A brand new 2.25” is capable, with Gum-X rubber and the 120tpi Advanced casing. But, once the knobs begin to wear and deteriorate, the Grip’R broke loose more often under heavy cornering and braking.
The 2.25” would be best for softer, occasionally wet terrain — it wasn’t ideal for the high desert here in Colorado, but the tire would fit in well at either coast. Its flexy knobs are suited for loam and slippery surfaces. Cross-country riders wanting a more aggressive front tire than the Race’R would be happy with the Grip’R 2.25”.
Grip’R 2.35”: Reliable trail tire with heavy-duty option
Where the 2.25” size fell short, the Grip’R 2.35” delivers. Tested on a 150mm travel Scott Genius, this tire’s deep, heavy knobs were trustworthy and stable, regardless of how deep the moondust, how loose the gravel, or how slippery the duff.
The 2.35” rolls a bit slow without tightly spaced center knobs, but it delivered traction by the hand- or pedalful. The Grip’R 2.35” is great for all but the most extreme trail, and it shares the 2.25’s rubber compound and 120 tpi casing.
Speaking of which, if you’re the type of person who needs to carry three spare tubes and a handful of tire boots, Michelin makes a reinforced version of the Grip’R 2.35”, offered at $70. You will, however, pay a weight penalty for durability — each reinforced tire weighs 1,070g, compared to 800g for the 2.35 with standard casing. The 2.25” option is a tad lighter at 720g.
New tires, new wheel size
With today’s competitive tire market, Michelin can’t assume it will return to the dominance it enjoyed in mountain biking’s early days. Fortunately, the company is on track to stay in the mix.
While its new models can be faulted for being a bit heavy, we love how easy and durable Michelin’s tubeless-ready tires are. Also, the Grip’R’s Gum-X rubber is versatile, albeit prone to faster wear on the 2.25 models.
Michelin’s approach addresses mainstream mountain bikers quite well — the type of rider who has a 4-5” travel full-suspension bike and is slowly warming to the idea of riser bars and a dropper post. Pure racers or freeriders won’t be satisfied, but the Race’R and Grip’R lines both hit the meaty part of the bell curve.
Now, the only question is: when will they make them with green rubber?