The most coveted cyclocross tire is back, two decades after it was first released.
Michelin quietly unveiled the green Michelin Mud on its website in early 2019, and since the day we noticed, we've been working hard to get our hands on a set.
While the tires have been rolling through European dirt for a few months, U.S. cyclocrossers have had to wait. We've got some miles on a pair now. Were they worth the wait? Should they be your tire of choice for the expected-to-be-muddy Nationals outside Tacoma, or your late-season races? Read on for our initial review.
Missed the Boat, or Fashionably Late?
A lot can change in 20 years.
Two decades ago, Michelin had a good thing going. The French tire company released two cyclocross clinchers to replace its unique but narrow Hi-Lite Cross, and they were an instant hit.
The 30mm Michelin Mud and Sprint tires gave racers easy access to two treads that collectively had racers ready for almost any type of course. More importantly, they were huge compared to other 30mm offerings, and would inflate to 32 or 33mm on many rims. Most importantly, they were green and instantly recognizable.
The tires, as clinchers, would help American Matt Kelly win a snowy Poprad Cyclocross Worlds, and pros would pick them over tubulars in certain muddy or icy conditions.
When Michelin halted production in the early 2000s, and replaced the tire with the black, narrower Mud2, just like any celebrated vintage wine, the green Mud 2, and to a lesser extent the Sprint, rocketed up in value. NOS eBay listings commanded over $100 per tire at their peak, while tire geeks like Brook Watts and World Champs like Niels Albert stashed the treads away in their virtual tire cellars for future conversions into tubulars, and others gifted their toddlers better grip for mixed-terrain balance bike adventures.
Albert's hoarding would pay off with another World Championship, this time with Wout van Aert doing the pedaling. Yes, the tires played a huge role in Van Aert riding away from a flat-plagued Mathieu van der Poel, even if it wasn't the color, compound or tread pattern that made a difference.
Way back in 2009, at the Sea Otter Classic, I spoke with Michelin about their coveted green cyclocross tires. The representatives from France had no idea they were in such demand. "Can you prove it?" they asked. A story about eBay listings was not enough. They wanted to see a petition. Seven pages of comments over two years might have moved the needle or planted a seed, but as cyclocross exploded and tubeless tires took market share, Michelin sat on the sidelines until now.
Worth the Wait? The Michelin Power Mud by the Numbers.
Anyone who was dreaming of seeing the same iconic green color and generous volume return in a tubeless version is in luck. The Power Cyclocross tubeless clincher comes in a nearly identical color to the original Mud, in a slightly different compound, according to Michelin. Its casing, while now airtight and featuring a tubeless bead, also shares an identical bead-to-bead width (89mm) as the original oversized tire. On a 23mm internal width rim, the tire inflates over 35mm at 30psi.
On a muddy day, many of us will ride such a tire at a much lower pressure, but you may want to check your own setup before lining up for an age-group or singlespeed race at Nationals, assuming USA Cycling decides to enforce its 35mm maximum tire width again as it did in Louisville after nearly a decade of looking the other way.
If you're more worried about measurements like knob height or weight, you might be disappointed. The newest Mud has gained a bit of weight, thanks to its airtight tubeless casing and beefier bead. Our two test samples varied quite a bit in weight but averaged out at about 40g more than the original, and a whopping 66g more than the 335g list weight:
While the weight has gone up, knob heights have gone down. It's almost as if Michelin modeled its latest version after a well-worn original. While the early Michelin Mud tires featured tall side knobs nearly 3mm tall, and a center tread of knobs over 2mm tall, all the latest incarnation's knobs measure out around 1.3mm tall.
I asked Michelin about this surprising choice for a tire named "Mud" and the French engineers cited suppleness as the determining factor. While it's true that shorter (and smaller) knobs help a tire better conform to the ground, racers looking for maximum grip may be disappointed.
Tubeless fans should be excited by the fact that the Power Cyclocross Mud is very easy to set up. The bead was relatively tight but didn't break levers, and inflation was easy with just a floor pump on a Hunt rim. It held air overnight—a promising sign.
Enough about history and numbers. Those mean little if the tire rides like crap, right?
In my initial rides, I've been impressed by three things: cornering grip, burp-resistance and overall volume.
Riding the tires at 21 psi (I weigh 165 pounds) on a dry, bumpy, loose course, the tires were burp-free, gripped in the loose corners, and still offered substantially more air volume than your average tubular.
Sure, my first race was not in mud, but I came away impressed by the Michelin Mud's versatility. It didn't feel like a slog on hardpack or pavement, helped me ride a loose, sketchy run-up a few times that most had to run, and gripped well in grass, loose off-cambers, hardpack and baseball field dirt.
Might the new Mud, with its shorter knobs be a better mixed conditions tire than a pure mudder?
Thankfully, an errant sprinkler, and then in the last 24 hours, Mother Nature, offered up "true cyclocross conditions," and I took advantage to test the tire's ability in mud.
My initial impressions are that the tire is an excellent choice in sticky, peanut butter conditions. The shorter knobs and round profile are conducive to shedding organic material and help shed the sticky stuff.
What about in wet, slippery conditions where you want maximum grip? The Michelin Power Cyclocross Mud, like its knobs, falls a bit short. You're left spinning in areas where other more aggressive treads, like the new Specialized Terra or Challenge Limus, with their bigger, taller blocks, offer more bite.
That might be a good tradeoff for self-reliant racers without a pit bike. Keep the wheels spinning, in more ways than one, rather than choose ultimate grip but a more-clogged bike?
For tubular loyalists, Michelin also offers a tubular version, listed at 380g, which we have not yet tested but saw at JingleCross.
The (Early) Verdict
Michelin also offers its Power Cyclocross Jet tire (stay tuned for that review), with a more intermediate tread for harder conditions. With this option available, I'm disappointed Michelin didn't bring back its more aggressive original tread, or at least its original knob heights that warranted the Mud name.
Still, the new Michelin Mud, while it may not be my new favorite mud tire, has plenty going for it. It's got a good tubeless casing, a versatile tread and a color that will leave a few old-timers green with envy.
If you're looking for one good, mixed conditions tire to race in any condition, the Michelin Power Cyclocross Mud is worth a look. With its short knob height, it won't last forever. But if you've been waiting forever for its return, you better stock up.
Michelin Power Cyclocross Mud Tubeless Clincher Tire Specs:
Weight: 401g actual, average (335g list)
Casing: Bead 2 Bead Protek tubeless, 120 tpi
Width: 33mm list, 89mm bead-to-bead (actual). 35.6mm on a 23mm internal width rim at 30 psi
More info: michelin.com (site has errors in width and non-tubeless designation)