MICHELIN DH22 TIRE REVIEW
DELICIOUS GRIP FOR THOSE WHO CAN STOMACH IT
Review by Robert Johnston
You only get two chances to connect with the ground, meaning your choice of rubber is absolutely critical to ensure you get grip on whatever terrain is below. But with great grip must come drawbacks, meaning a massive, spiked monster isn’t the correct choice for everyone. One of the more monstrous options on the market is Michelin’s DH22, a tire designed for ultimate grip when descending in mixed conditions. We’d heard countless good things about the performance of these on the trail, so were stoked when Michelin agreed to supply a set to be reviewed in the testing conditions of the Scottish Fall and Winter. Read on to see how they fared.
The Michelin DH22 tire is the most versatile in their range, designed to offer great stud penetration into softer and looser terrain without sacrificing confidence on hard packed trails. This is achieved by a 2-2-3 pattern on the 6mm tall central tread, with minimal space before the staggered 7-8mm side knobs. A slightly ramped leading edge on the center knobs should ease the rolling speed, with some shallow sipes in varying directions aiding the deformation of the knobs to maximize grip on variable surfaces.
These knobs make use of Michelin’s stickiest rubber, named MAGI-X DH. As you may guess by its name, this is a compound designed to offer grip for downhill riding, meaning ultimate grip is prioritized over rolling speed and durability. The compound is designed to offer this same high grip in all temperatures, meaning those winter laps are covered all the same. Michelin only offers the DH22 in a 2.4” width, to suit either 27.5” or 29” wheels.
The carcass is full downhill spec, with provisions throughout to ensure there’s protection to withstand the hardest riding on the gnarliest terrain. A high-density puncture protection layer sits directly below the tread, keeping the air in the tubeless ready tire without being too stiff and limiting the ability of the carcass to conform to the trail below. A 4-ply double defense sidewall is added to fend off any slashing from sharp objects on the trail, and a bead-to-bead protective layer wraps around the whole carcass to offer further protection. A final low-pressure reinforcement is added to the area close to the wire bead, adding stability to the tire and helping to protect the rim from impacts with the terrain below. This all stacks up to a weight of roughly 1500g for the 29” version, but who’s counting at these weights.
Michelin gives all their tires a star-rating out of 3 for their grip, robustness and longevity. They consider their DH22 to be a 3/3 tire for the grip and the robustness and drop it down to 2* for longevity. The DH22 retails for £59.99 /$79 /€71.99, placing it in the average realm of a premium mtb tire.
These days, the majority of tires arrive neatly folded and require a bit of manipulation to get the bead to resemble a tire shape. The DH22s buck this trend entirely – I’m not convinced you could physically fold this wire beaded monsters in any way, they’re impressively sturdy. Thankfully the stiffness of this bead doesn’t mean they’re impossible to fit. That’s not to say they pop on without any coaxing, but they’re not the tightest tires I’ve ever had to fit. With an insert it’s a slightly different story, as the stiffness of the sidewalls means the “tucking” of the bead is much more difficult, but with the careful yielding of a tire lever or two you can complete the task. That said whether you need an insert or not is a story we’ll get on to later. It’ll come as no surprise that a tire with a bead that’s so inclined to be circular will then pop into position without too much fuss, with a few strokes of a track pump making the bead snap into place without issue, with or without insert. A quick check of the width put them a fraction under the claimed 2.4” width, with a nicely rounded profile. Beginning with a conservative tire pressure of 23F/25R, it was time to hit the wintery trails to commence testing.
With a lack of uplifted downhill riding and accompanying downhill bike during the test period, the DH22s were fitted to a host of trail and enduro bikes and pedaled up the hills to earn their turns. The DH22s are a downhill focused tire, and so their performance in trail or enduro style scenarios should not come as a huge surprise. 1500g of weight and their ultra-tacky rubber combined to make smooth terrain pedaling hurt. A lot. When the climbs get technical, with rock steps and roots in your path up the hill the DH22s can work in your favor as they latch onto just about anything, but if you let your speed drop below a certain threshold and you’re tasked with accelerating again their weight becomes very apparent.
Downhills are what the DH22s are designed for, and unsurprisingly where they begin to make a lot of sense. The carcass is incredibly solid, requiring some of the lowest pressures of any tire on the market in order to conform to the terrain and damp the micro chatter effectively. The magic numbers for my 200lb kitted mass proved to be 18psi front and rear when running a Cushcore XC insert out back, which would usually have my rims hurting badly on some of the ragged Scottish rocks but was no problem thanks to the various reinforcements of the Michelins. Down at these pressures the tires still feel more like the lower 20 psi range in other burly tires. I ran them without the insert in the rear for a period of time too, confirming that the low-pressure reinforcement does much of the work of an insert, taking the sting off of hard hits. But without an insert the tires do still allow for rim to rock contact when hits get as hard as the DH22s encourage, so I still felt the inclination to run one out back.
When down at the correct pressures, they offer incredible planted grip across a wide spectrum of surfaces and obstacles on the trail, avoiding being phased by the smaller trail features that you’d normally pay close attention to. You can go balls-out and throw them hard into the sketchiest terrain and they’ll spit you out the other side more often than not. On the rare occasion they do give up and ping off a slimy rock or root, it takes a significant lean angle to exceed the point that they’ll hook up on the next patch of dirt, so if you’re loose enough on the bike you can dance through some pretty insane terrain.
When you lean the DH22 over, there’s no sense of a drop in traction that can plague some tires with a channel in the transition zone, keeping things predictable both when tipping the bike into a turn and when hooking onto an off camber straight. Down at the low pressures required, the slightly more supple casing under the tread does allow for some deformation to the terrain below, increasing comfort with the small edges ironed out and feeling more solidly connected to the ground below. Braking traction is stellar as you’d probably expect, with the tacky rubber and hard braking edges latching on and often exceeding the power of your stoppers.
On flow trails you’ve got to work them extra hard to overcome the resistance they produce, but they’ll zip you around a corner so hard that braking zones begin to disappear at times. Their tackiness requires a pronounced effort to break traction for a scandi flick or whip around a tight corner, much preferring to ride in a manner that makes use of their high traction. Much to my surprise, under hard cornering the soft rubber and low pressures didn’t result in any vague feelings, with a stable and predictable nature that encouraged the limits of the Velcro-like grip to be tickled whenever possible.
In the greasiest mud the DH22’s doesn’t penetrate through to the firmer ground below as well as the likes of the Maxxis Shorty or Schwalbe Magic Mary. They feel more like the intermediate Maxxis Assegai in their ability to scoop their way through a boggy patch on a climb or offer steering and braking control on a sloppy descent. This is undoubtedly the trade-off of their impressive hardpack performance, with the slightly tighter spaced knobs than a dedicated mudder leaving it harder for mud to be flung out. That said, I rarely got to a sloppy section of trail nervous that my tires were going to limit my abilities.
The DH22s leaked sealant from the bead area on the first rides after each wheel swap, as the ultra-stiff bead worked its way into the perfect spot on the rim. This was after seating them at 40psi and happened every time they were swapped between various wheels. I had one instance where the tire lost its air overnight for no apparent reason, and the bead managed to pop off the side of the rim leaving the tread area deformed. A combination of the tight fit and sealant aiding the bead’s “stick” meant it took a terrifying 60psi before it popped back into place, after which I didn’t suffer from the same issues again.
The sticky rubber combined with many miles on abrasive fire road climbs have produced significant wear to the DH22s, but not beyond what was expected. There’s some slight cracking showing at the base of some knobs, but the feel remains largely the same and crucially the carcass has fended off countless impacts with rocks and roots without showing a single thread. For downhill focused riders and especially racers, the wear rates would be less of an issue, and that toughness and the confidence on the way down the hill should ensure the DH22s go straight up to the top of the list. We can’t leave this review without a mention of the hot patches on the tire sidewall, which have split opinions here at the Wolfden. I’m a fan personally, but I’ve been informed that they’re certainly not to everyone’s tastes.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Offering predictability, traction, and resilience through all but the worst conditions, the Michelin DH22s represent the pinnacle of downhill performance. With a high wear rate, slow rolling speed and heavy carcass they won’t suit less aggressive riding or less demanding terrain, so those looking to add a set to a bike that will see climbing best be sure they are accepting of the trade-offs to obtain this downhill excellence.
Price: £59.99 /$79 /€71.99
Weight: 1510g (average measured, 29×2.4”)
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