The StarCross off-road/motocross line of tires by Michelin has been a successful one, appealing to riders on cost, wear, and performance. The new Michelin StarCross 5 tire line uses performance and technological advances gleaned from street bikes, agriculture, and off-road truck Michelin tires and combine them with innovative thinking for off-road motorcycle applications.
To appeal to a larger number of riders, the StarCross 5 comes in four flavors–Sand, Soft, Medium, and Hard. The Sand and Soft versions run in a bit narrower window than before, while the Medium covers a much wider range–performing better in compact, grass, and mud–and the Hard stays about the same. For our first ride test, we slipped a pair of StarCross 5 Medium tires on a KTM 350 EXC-F.
An important new feature in the StarCross 5 line is the lighter weight of the tires (about 10-percent across the StarCross line, with the Sand losing 15-percent). The casing has been redesigned, going to two-ply from three, though the two plies are denser than before. This allows for lighter weight without compromising the strength of the tire.
Although we tested the StarCross 5 Mediums, we did take a look at the three other versions. One feature all share is fine horizontal tread lines on the carcass between the knobs, which are designed to help dirt release from the tire. Another is great attention to the side knobs, which aid in cornering.
The Michelin StarCross 5 Hard uses, as you would expect, closely spaced knobs to get maximum rubber on the ground. The rear has an unusual alternating pattern of knobs that allow for cleaning, yet still have a strong terrain presence.
The Soft has alternating pairs of center knobs, with two different gaps between the knob pairs on the front, and two similar knob alternating knob pairs on the rear, along with a small blades (alternating one center, and two wide) between the knobs, along with the tiny tread lines. This helps break up any dirt or mud that may want to attach itself to the carcass. The tire’s self-cleaning attributes and terrain penetration are intended to be improved by these features.
Not quite a paddle, the Sand version uses a scoop-style pattern on the rear that maximizes the depth that it bites into the terrain, with a consistent pattern for a predictable feel.
Looking at the Michelin StarCross 5 Mediums on the KTM 350 EXC-F, they certainly appear to mean business. In the front, there are widely placed knobs in the center to allow for self-cleaning, and two alternating rows on both sides to give serious cornering traction. The rear Medium tire has a similar style, though with much different knobs. The center row knobs have a gap down the center for cleaning. Again, there are plenty of knobs on the side with the farthest outside knobs pointing nearly sideways. All knobs on the rear have a lateral cleaning grove.
Pit Pro Cycle MX out of Santa Clarita, California did the tire swaps for us at Cahuilla Creek Motocross in Anza, California. We could tell by watching that they weren’t having much problem mounting the tires. Michelin worked to improve the bead profile for easier fitting, and it appears to have worked.
Inside the tire, where you can’t see without cutting in half, the two-ply tire means the carcass is thinner and lighter. Polyester replaces nylon for strength at a lower weight. Michelin calls this Comfort Casing Technology, as the French company says it improves shock absorption by the tire.
Taking the KTM 350 EXC-F out on the long Cahuilla Creek Motocross track—loamy, but muddy in places due to watering–plus some ultra-hard dirt roads and a short single-track run, left us seriously impressed with the Michelin StarCross 5 Medium tire.
Straight-line acceleration is impressive, as less effort is needed to spin up the lighter rear tire. The center knobs dig into the track’s loam, and tore through the mud without any additional slippage. Just when you think enough gas has been added to spin the rear, it continues to grip and propel you forward.
That’s not to say that you can’t steer with the rear wheel–you can, once you adjust to the added traction and the weight shifts needed to break the grippy StarCross 5 Medium loose coming out of a corner.
For me, cornering is where the StarCross 5 Medium truly shines. You can lean the bike over at ridiculous angles, and the side knobs dig in with the tenacity of a bike standing straight up. Drive is spectacular when leaned over, making it that much easier when exiting from a corner to set up for the next jump.
Braking was equally predictable, with the front allowing for serious hand level pressure without the thought of sliding out. Stability is outstanding, as the carcass doesn’t distort, even when slowing down quickly on the hardest of hard pack. It’s not hard to slide the rear when needed, though anyone with a reasonable touch can add rear braking without losing traction.
I’m not a big air guy and the KTM 350 EXC-F has suspension professionally set-up by WP, so when I say that the StarCross 5 Mediums felt perfect on landing, the suspension certainly has much to do with that. Regardless, there is no tire bounce and the bike stayed perfectly settled upon touch down. At the same time, the predictable tire made launches a no-drama affair, a crucial ingredient in jumping confidence.
I came in hot a few times into braking bumps and the back end would step out a bit, but no more. Again, the suspension is part of the equation, but the lack of unintended tire bounce helps the back end maintain its composure.
Ultimately, confidence is what the Michelin StarCross 5 Medium tires are all about. They are fully and completely predictable, and gave me the feeling that I could do whatever I wanted to the EXC-F on the track, single-track, and hard-pack road. Railing the berms was fine, or I could square off knowing that the front end would neither tuck nor wander out. There’s a little front end skating on the hard-pack with a bit of dirt cover, but nothing that a more aggressive move to the front of the bike couldn’t cure.
When I twisted the throttle, the StarCross 5 tires did exactly what I expected and wanted. Lap after lap, they performed with consistency, and I was able to up my game as I progressed, especially in corners and when setting up for jumps.
All of the technology and R&D is great, but a pair of tires really come down to how they make you feel. The Michelin StarCross 5 Medium off-road/motocross tires gave me the confidence to ride harder, yet stay comfortable and in control.
Available in a wide variety of sizes to fit almost any full-size off-road bike, Michelin will make the StarCross 5 tires available to the public in September 2015.