For those of you who follow my travels you know that this year I changed over from my long running BMW R1150RT and chose the BMW F800GS as my new touring bike.
This was a big change, but my riding and road lust has started to lean ever more towards the roads less travelled, or as the French say “Bison Futé”.
And in my case, the idea of the “roads less travelled” is in the fairly remote areas of Europe, specifically in France, Spain the Alps and the Pyrenees. Inevitably such roads are narrow, twisty and most importantly poorly surfaced if maintained at all. Throw in some “light” off-roading – a few dirt roads and forest tracks and you can understand why I’ve opted for the F800GS. It is a light, affordable, easy to manage dual purpose bike, which is well capable of touring on everything from A roads to no roads at all.
So, with a dual purpose bike in hand and an intention of trying some rougher roads and tracks it stood to reason I needed to choose a dual purpose tyre like the Metzler Tourance – an 85/15 road biased tyre or the Tourance EXP – 95/5 road-biased tyre.
There are other tyres in this category from other manufacturers, but I’ve never used them so I can’t comment on them. When I bought the F800GS it came with the Metzler Tourance tyres that favoured by many as they are a primarily 85/15 road biased tyre with some off-road ability which offer the dream of adventure touring. Personally I’m not a fan of either of the Tourance tyres for a number of reasons, which I’m not going to go into just yet. Simply put, as with many tyres they either suit you or they don’t.
Either way I was shifting around the Interweb trying to decide which might be the best rubber for the touring season. Rubber that would both suit the F800GS in all weathers, my riding style, long distances on all types of surfaced roads, weather-broken mountain roads and un-surfaced tracks. Another priority for me was good feedback, tracking and road handling as I obviously wanted to enjoy those wonderful smooth French and Spanish twisty rural D and Na roads. All things considered that’s a fairly tall order with the most likely candidate for the job being the Metzler Tourance EXP tyre – a 95/5 road biased tyre, even though I’m not that keen on this tyre either. But with the F800GS’s 21 inch front wheel I was facing very few tyre choices.
For full on, balls out, 100% no compromise off-road riding ye obviously need the real knobbly deal like the E-09 from a knobbly specialist manufacturer like Mitas. However, if you try riding this type of tyre on a wet tarmac road you can likely find yourself doing an impromptu impression of road kill.
Then there’s the adventure or dual-purpose touring tyre. So if you are heading to Morocco on a 1200GS, where your suspension is going to get a workout on rough roads and battered sandy, gravely tracks ye might well choose the Metzler Tourance, an 85/15 road biased tyre. If however you are heading into the Alps on the new gutsy 1200 Multistrada and want to match its looks with a pretend knobbly-ish tyre then you would definitely be better off on the Tourance EXP – a 95/5 road biased tyre. Now, on the face of it there might not look like there is much difference between the Tourance and the Tourance EXP, but I assure you there is. So choosing the right tyre for your grand summer tour is really important.
To get the best road handling experience possible and maintain a good level of safety for my touring season I needed to choose a tyre that suits my bike model, my riding style and for every type of surface I’m likely to ride on. Also, as I’m likely to ride 10,000 km – 15,000 km over the summer the tyres need to last and they need to handle potential weather extremes, which have already played a big factor this May and early June.
The Tourance and EXP
As far as I’m concerned the Tourance and EXP are fine for light off-road stuff, but they are not a great tyre for touring on surfaced roads! Comparing to a proper road tyre they square off too quickly, they’re not great when cornering – even when not squared off. And of course they also have less grip on wet tarmac then pure road tyres. As I will enviably spend 95% riding on surfaced roads I really need to choose the best tyre for road use as I can possibly get. I wanted to do some light off-road tracks and trails, but the emphasis needed to be for a strong road biased tyre. Of course I needed to accept a compromise in road ability in a dual propose tyre – but not much.
The Michelin Anakee 3
It was round about this time that Michelin announced their new offering – the Michelin Anakee 3 – a 95/5 road biased tyre! I immediately thought to myself that I had to get my hands on a set for my 2013 tours of France and Spain – the Pyrenees and Alps. I wanted these tyres not because I’d heard great things about them, but simply because Michelins fantastic Pilot Road 3 tyres have placed me firmly in the Michelin camp.
The Anakee 3′s were so new to the market that there were no real world reviews as yet, but on the back of the PR3’s I felt justified in choosing a relatively untested tyre. When the PR3′s first hit the market most people including myself thought the thread pattern looked bonkers, and as for the sipe technology, well what the hell was that all about? It was a radical new design, but it worked very, very well! Looking at the first promo photos of the Anakee 3 tyres it looked like Michelin took their inspiration from the Texas Chain Saw Massacre with those big deep gashes slashed across the tyre. To me it seemed evident the engineers at Michelin were thinking well outside the box yet again designing a dual sport tyre with absolutely no hint of knobbly patterns but a completely new pattern for shedding water and mud!
Unfortunately I could not have ‘em as no-one had ‘em, yet!
Weeks of ringing suppliers led nowhere, but eventually Mark at Platinum Motorcycles somehow managed to find and fit a set of this newest of rubber and I was all set to go on my latest of adventures to find the roads I’d been dreaming of all the long winter.
Time to hit the road and see how good the Michelin Anakee 3′s really are…
I’ll get into the full story on this with the trip reports later, but suffice to say the weather was perfect for a wet and extreme weather test. From Bordeaux to the Spanish border the flooding was the worst I’d ever seen, even on the A63 south of Bordeaux saw prolonged riding through surface water anywhere between 5cm and 40cm deep.
For the next 3 days navigating the Pyrenees I experienced sub-zero temperatures, sleet, snow, washed out and badly flooded roads, and visor-smashing hailstones. Some of the roads in the Pyrenees “or any mountain region” can be a challenge due to weather. But bloody hell, Mother Nature was having a full blown of psychotic episode this year!!!! On my life I’ll tell ye this, due to the weather and road conditions I gained a new insight into the abilities of the F800GS as a touring bike.
To get back on track, how did I feel about the Anakee 3′s on weather-battered French A roads, D roads, and Pyrenean back roads on both side of the border?
Well they safely took me over flooded roads covered in debris, mud, sleet and the usual cow shit without the slightest hint of loosing grip. Comparing them against the Metzler Touranse they had far better handling ability on those narrow and steeply banked hairpins, in this scenario they were undoubtedly a better tyre. Wet weather grip on slippery roads was actually far better than expected, not PR3-good, but again definitely more confidence inspiring than the Tourance. Right now I’d say without hesitation that the Anakee 3 is as close to a proper road tyre that it makes little difference.
By the 21st of May the weather was only getting worse and some of the roads and areas on my intended tour were now cut off by either floods or snow. The conditions in the Pyrenees were simply becoming too dangerous so I cut my losses and rode south into Alicante and Murcia until the weather picked up and I dried out.
The Anakee 3’s on long motorway days
A long day on the motorway at high speeds is not something I looked forward to on any dual-purpose road-biased “pretend knobblies” as the noise and vibrations, while liveable, can get annoying after 400km. But the Anakee 3 proved a strong road-biased pedigree here too.
The Anakee 3′s on ideal, dry twisty roads
Hanging around the Alicante region for a bit allowed me to hook up and take a ride out with one of the local bike clubs and get to grips with the Spanish roads inland from the coast. Again, the Anakee 3′s were in their element allowing me to easily keep up with some very experienced riders on more powerful bikes. This time the roads were blissfully dry, and with the panniers and luggage unloaded I could let loose the reins of the F800GS for some speedy shenanigans. Running fast on smooth twisty dry roads I honestly could feel the Anakee 3’s acting 100% like proper road tyres allowing me to forget about them and fully enjoy hairpins.
The Anakee 3′s off road
Well not being one for lounging around on the beach and soaking up the sun I ran back up to the Pyrenees after a week or so. The weather had warmed at this stage, but rain storms and severe weather warnings were still in place throughout the Pyrenees. However as I was riding the epically capable F800GS and now having fully bonded with the Anakee 3 I was in a good frame of mind for an attack at the rougher roads.
The 14th of June saw me rising early in the medieval fortified town of Ainsa in the Aragon Pyrenees. The night before I had a chance encounter with a couple of mud splashed, bearded and hard core off road types from Madrid also on F800GS’s – which is how we got talking in the first place. These lads recommended I try a forest track leading from Ainsa up into the mountains. They promised me it was an amateur friendly track and nothing I could not safely navigate. Unfortunately for me it had rained heavily the night before and the track was thick in the type of sticky red mud used for making terra cotta pots! I spent the first hour profusely sweating and swearing in equal amounts with many moments of “Oh dear Jesus get me home alive”! All this of course was down to my own insecurity and limited experience in this type of riding, but by the time the track dried out a bit I was flying along.
Anyone who is used to riding on muddy tracks would probably laugh at my efforts, but please take into account that I was alone, well out of my comfort zone and really hadn’t a bloody clue what I was doing. However despite the really slippery track, the 800GS with a little help from the Anakee 3′s safely carried me along my first Pyrenees track with little effort.
I fully admit here and now that I’m not in anyway qualified to judge these tyres in an off-road environment. However my experience is this, not once did I drop the bike in the shit as the front tyre did grip on the slippery mud track. Neither did the rear tyre clog up and become slick, and by the time I got onto drier stuff my confidence was soaring. During the next few days I took more opportunities riding dirt tracks of the dry dirt and gravel variety and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, it’s certainly given me more of a taste for it. I’ll be back in the Pyrenees in September for more of the same…
Hmm, looking back on all that now I recon that was a fairly good real world, if armature road test of Michelin’s new Anakee 3 dual sport tyre. But I’m not finished yet, after 7,000km they still look new and that does not qualify as a long distance road test yet. So in September I’ll ride the F800GS from Alicante to Briancon in the Alps for a few days in the lesser known passes before returning to the Pyrenees to see if I can do a bit more off road stuff. After that it’s back down to Alicante.
Thanks again to Mark at Platinum Motorcycles in Bray Co. Wicklow for getting me the first set of Michelin Anakee 3′s to grace the soggy shores of Ireland…