Round and Black

Sitting in traffic the other day, beside one of Canton’s well-known if modest eateries on Cherry Avenue, I was staring at the tires on the semi-tractor idling beside my 911. Given the relative heights of the vehicles, the top of the truck tire was just about even with my line of sight. I briefly wondered whether the trucker took as much pleasure buying tires for his rig as sports car enthusiasts do for their less utilitarian vehicles, and immediately doubted that he did. Just another expense to him.

I then recalled (it was a long light) a truck tire experience of my own, about three decades ago, when I convinced my father that his International Harvester delivery truck needed radial ply tires on the back end. Four of them. And that he assented to my recommendation, probably only to keep from stifling my interest in the mechanicals of the truck I was driving, delivering compressed gas to the deserving businesses of Southeast Ohio.

When fitted the big black Michelins made an interesting experience of driving this straight-back piece of iron through the rolling and twisting roads of Athens County. Especially with bias ply tires on the front. Entering turns the back end would shift noticeably as the sidewalls flexed, and the truck would take a bit of a set before I motored onto the next straight. If you have never driven a machine with a multi-speed differential then you have never enjoyed the ability to shift gears, while backing up. I did it just because I could.

But back to tires:

Making the connection from those huge Michelins on which I rode in 1972 to the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires I recently acquired for my RS-Look coupe was easy, at least for someone for whom buying tires is recreational rather than purely practical. I have Tire Rack’s number and they have mine. Moving from an old and rather hard set of R1’s to Michelin’s latest track tire was a real treat. Driving MidOhio on them for the first time, while working as an instructor for TracQuest, was an exercise in confidence. Rather than sliding through the exit of the Keyhole my car hooked up and launched down the back straight with élan, verve, or some such sensation. Simply put, it was much better. Its all so much more enjoyable when you have confidence, and grip imparts confidence.

EBR’s Rick Houck once commented to me, in response to an inquiry on tires, “They’re round. They’re black. They’re tires.” An amusing observation from someone who often lives on the edge of adhesion. But a perfect counterpoint to the near-religious fervor some bring to the subject. And also antithetical to the reputation EBR members have of being willing to launch into a discussion of tires at the drop of a hat. Put two or more of us into a room with a few spare moments to fill, and tires or tire pressures or something related to both will inevitably break out.

The more information one has in hand when buying tires the better. And Tire Rack serves us well by including ratings and commentary from customers. I also found a wealth of information from Michelin about their new competition tire. This included not only the predictable sales pitch, but very useful information on tire pressures and temperatures. Road racing should get the tires up to 32-36 hot (front and rear) starting with 25-28 cold. The sweet spot is found in the range of 160-220F. Auto-crossers are advised to start with slightly higher pressures since the short runs at an AX result in less pressure gain. These tires are supposed to last longer than other competition tires. If this proves to be true, the premium price for these tires will be justified.

© W. S. Cline/Rose Lane Garage 2002

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