Saying the Commander II is important to Michelin is an understatement. Launched in 2012, it helped Michelin establish a foothold in the North American cruiser market, a niche where its presence was lacking. Eight years later, the Commander II has earned its stripes with riders and 85% of Michelin’s cruiser tire sales are in the North American market. For the last four years, Michelin has been working on the II’s successor, and in 2020 the Commander III was launched.
The Commander III’s are made with a new silica compound designed to improve grip in the wet. The 100% Silica Tread Compound has a deep tread with a higher void ratio than the Commander II which reportedly improves water dispersion. The Commander III tread grooves look deeper than the II’s but they’re the same depth. Michelin contributes the striations in III’s tread for the optical illusion. The new Commander has a more rounded tire profile, and when cornering provides a bigger contact patch than its predecessor.
The Commander III features proprietary Amplified Density Technology (ADT). Michelin defines ADT as “A highly dense, more rigid tire casing which helps deliver excellent feedback and handling. Aramid tread plies on the rear tire resist centrifugal growth, reduce weight and provide excellent stability. ADT’s 90-thread ply is 25% more dense than conventional 71-thread ply.”
Michelin reps also hyped its Premium Touch Technology. By touch they mean styling. The design of the Commander III was in large part consumer-driven with the question “how does it look on the bike” at the forefront of research. As a result, the Commander III’s sidewall designs are patented. Apparently, V-Twin riders want a good-looking tire on their good-looking bikes, hence the emphasis on the Commander III’s styling.
Before our gathering of motojournalists got our hands on them at the press launch in Daytona Beach, the Commander III’s had already undergone rigorous testing. Michelin conducted a wet road stopping performance test (front brake only) internally using a 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 where the Commander III was pitted against Metzeler’s CruiseTec and M888 Marathon and Dunlop’s Elite 4. Michelin's latest cruiser tire reportedly bested its competitors’ stopping distance by an average of 16.5 feet. The Commander III’s also won a wet weather stopping test held by Motorrad, one of the most reputable European motorcycle magazines.
Michelin had an outside company from Texas do a tread life test on the touring version of the Commander III as well. Michelin Tire Designer Elina Gelibert said the touring variety has different compounds and a different tread design than the cruiser version of the Commander III. This time a 2017 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic was used on surface roads around Dallas, Texas. Testers laid down 17,681 miles on the Commander III tourers and though the middle of the tire was well-worn the treads still had enough depth for a few more laps around the proverbial block.
I’ve ridden three different motorcycles shod in Michelin Commander III tires, a Harley Sportster 1200C and Heritage Softail Classic equipped with the cruisers and a Harley Ultra Classic kitted with the tourers.
On the 2004 XL1200C we were already running a Commander II on the front, giving us a good baseline for comparison with the updated III’s. We made a run over to N/A Performance Cycles to have our buddies Durham Allen and Duane Clark spoon them on for us. Having a healthy relationship with your local shop is always important, and small independent shops like N/A are the heartbeat of the motorcycle industry.
Windows of opportunity to test tires in Oregon during the winter months are few and far between, but I finally got a chance to scrub the tires with an 80-mile run on a local loop. Though I never broke traction, I erred on the side of caution, applying throttle judiciously and cornering carefully. Confident with the break-in process, I next took the Sporty out on one of my favorite runs, a twisty stretch along the Rogue River through Hellgate Canyon. While I kept the motorcycle upright the first outing, this was not the case the second time out. The road rises and falls as it runs through the woods and canyon, breaking down to one lane at times, blind switchbacks in other spots, followed by fast rolling turns as it spits out on the backside of the tiny town called Wolf Creek. It’s the type of road only locals know about and nobody was out because it was mid-week so I ripped it hard. The Commander III’s have an impressive amount of grip on their edges. Some of the corners on the shadowy side of the canyon were still damp from a recent storm but the tires held true and didn’t slip. It was the funnest ride I’d had in a while, and attest that you can confidently flog the Commander III’s hard.
My second experience with the Commander III cruiser tires came the first day of the press launch in Daytona Beach. Michelin had mounted them on a Harley Heritage Softail Classic and had given our group the freedom to roam some of the popular Bike Week destinations since the rally was in full swing. I opted for a run over to St. Augustine, Florida, the “oldest city in the U.S.” which has a rad 17th-century Spanish stone fortress that sits right on the water. Historical significance aside, I also picked St. A because it’s about 55 miles from Daytona Beach and I wanted to let the Heritage stretch its legs and test the Commander III’s at highway speeds. Traffic was flowing on I-95 so I flowed, too, hovering in the 85 -90 mph range most of the way. Grip levels were high as the tires translated a lot of feedback from the road to the bars at highway speeds providing a level of connectivity you don’t always get with a cruiser tire. Once again, after a 150-mile day, they impressed.
The final experience with the Commander III’s came the on Day 2 of the press launch, this time on a full-fledged Harley tourer outfitted with the touring version. This time we rode as a group through Ocala National Forest to Hawthorne, Florida, and a lunch stop at The Yearling Restaurant. For the most part it was a leisure ride on rural roads through scenic palms and Spanish moss-covered oaks. The sun hung high in the sky and the weather was almost perfect for riding. The big Harley Ultra Classic flowed smoothly over the road, and a smooth ride was the theme of the day. Our local ride captain somehow found a route with a few big sweepers on the way back, no easy feat in the flats of Florida, and the big bike was steady and stable. Granted, I didn’t get to test the Michelin Commander III tourers on its edges as much as I would have liked, but they did provide a comfortable 200-mile ride and plenty of reassurance in their abilities.
In all, I’ve put in about 500 miles on three different motorcycles fitted with Michelin Commander III tires and have been impressed with the amounts of grip they give and the feedback they provide. I’m not the only one who thinks favorably of them because Michelin said the Commander III’s will be the OEM tire on the soon-to-be-released BMW R 18 cruiser. Admittedly, I haven’t been able to thoroughly test two of the tires strongest points according to the Michelin peeps, longevity and wet weather handling. But I live in Oregon and are running a pair on the Sportster and will undoubtedly have a chance to test them in the rain and look forward to seeing how they stand up to a summer’s worth of abuse.