Tire Futures

C3M vs. MIRS and more

Competition-tire development has driven street-tire development almost since the first time two riders decided to race for pink slips. That's precisely why today's best street-legal supersport tires are the equal of the pure racing slicks that won Grand Prix world championships less than a decade ago. And that's not just our opinion; Mick Doohan, five-time GP roadracing world champ, has also said as much.

The latest step in the unrelenting smoky burnout of progress comes from Michelin, winner of 24 500cc/MotoGP world championships since 1976. Recently the French tire-maker introduced its Pilot Race tires, which it claims are the first road-legal multicompound racing tires. (Bridgestone was the first to create dual-compound streetbike tires back in '88.) The reason for two compounds is simple: The center of the tire's tread undergoes extreme forces from fierce acceleration or braking; cornering forces, focused on the tread's shoulders, are not as harsh. Logically, then, the center should be made from a harder compound and the shoulders from a softer one.

Michelin has taken the dual-compound concept several steps further with its Two-Compound Technology, or 2CT. With the Power Race it offers seven compounds and six tires, with soft, medium soft and medium choices for both front and rear. Interestingly, the softest four compounds are used for the front tires, the hardest three for the rears. Claimed advantages include the best balance between faster warm-up, stability, grip and durability.

Michelin claims the compounds in its Power Race tires are identical to those used in its MotoGP tires. Indeed, dual-compound tires have been used in racing for some time. (Michelin's web site even offers an interactive tire guide that recommends the correct choice of Power Race depending on temperature, weather, use, type of track or road and engine displacement.) What's more, Dunlop recently leapt onto the dual-compound bandwagon with its Sportmax GP, although it offered dual-compound D364 DOT racing tires to club racers as far back as the mid- and late-'90s.

More importantly is the technology that has made the Power Race tires possible. Michelin calls it its C3M process, and the majority of details are impenetrable state secrets. Michelin does say C3M is the same process it uses to make MotoGP tires, and that it utilizes a single step or procedure compared to the seven or more steps necessary to make conventional tires. Furthermore, Michelin claims with C3M it can make a tire on a single solid mold, so that a raw tire has the same form as a cooked one. This apparently permits applying optimum quantities of tread with pinpoint accuracy. It also allows extraordinarily rapid prototyping. If on a Friday during a MotoGP race Michelin's tire techs find a slight compounding alteration will prove advantageous, they can phone the company's C3M operators in Clermont-Ferrand and have new tires shipped Saturday for Sunday's race. As two-time vice-MotoGP champion Sete Gibernau said (tongue firmly in cheek), "Sometimes when we get them they're still warm."

Michelin's C3M process, however, seems quite similar to Pirelli's MIRS system, which was revealed a couple of years ago. Both Michelin's C3M and Pirelli's MIRS are extremely compact and portable, allowing optimum use of materials as well as precise application for a finished tire of shape, size and balance unavailable via more traditional tire-making techniques. Pirelli also claims an astonishing increase in production speed: three minutes from compound to finished tire.

In MIRS, the mold and rubber don't move, but instead are processed by robots that orbit around them. The similarities suggest both methods might be identical. In fact, a Michelin spokesman said in concept they are the same. One primary difference is the systems' genesis: Pirelli plainly says its MIRS came about in order to eliminate wastes of material and time that are part of the traditional tire-making process. Michelin developed C3M to create an easily transportable means of making tires.

So while motorcycle tires will certainly continue to be round and black as they have been for ages, it's the technology that creates them--whether it's for manufacturing efficiency or simply to create a better MotoGP tire virtually overnight--that will improve them. And, just as it always has, racing will continue to give street riders grip they never before dreamt possible.

Think of that the next time you complain about the high cost of performance tires.

Michelin says its multicompound Pilot Race tires, created using MotoGP compounds and technology, offer faster warm-up, more grip, better stability and greater durability than competing tires. Those aren't mere idle claims, either, as confirmed by our experience at the introduction at the Dubai Autodrome.
Conventional tire-making is a long, slow process that's inefficient in terms of scale, materials and power usage.
By comparison, Michelin's C3M process is vastly streamlined and far more efficient. Michelin developed C3M in the 1980s to create a transportable means of making automobile tires. Only somewhat recently was it discovered that the process's resultant speed and precision made it a natural for creating MotoGP tires.