By Blair White, RSGS Collections Team

Michelin 1:200 000 series – sheet 245 ‘Provence, Cote d’Azur’

As a motorcyclist, I take an interest in my tyres - not an obsessive interest, but I check pressures and treads regularly.  A week ago I was measuring the tyre treads and noticed the word 'Michelin' on the tyre wall.  I was slightly embarrassed - I'd had the bike 6 years, I'd replaced both tyres, but up until that check I'd no idea what make the tyres were.  The other thing that ran through my mind was, 'Michelin...ah yes...tyres as well.'  A 50-year interest in maps plus regular travels to France, means that, to me, 'Michelin' registers as 'maps', not 'tyres'.

These days the home of ‘Bibendum’ (aka ‘Michelin Man’) has a tremendous range of maps - many areas covered at a variety of scales.  But let's consider a classic Michelin map - the 1:200 000 series of France and in particular sheet 245, ‘Provence, Cote d’Azur’.  

What a map!  The un-fussy cover design - the vivid yellow; the title and sheet number; the clear location diagram; Bibendum with his cheery smile and wave - I haven't actually opened the map and already it’s a pleasure!

The map folds are designed for practicality – a main horizontal fold, then folded again; 13 vertical folds provide the ability to easily view a specific area; and that area is a convenient size for the navigator – or even better, folded neatly into the transparent map pocket at the top of a motorcycle tank-bag.   

Open the sheet at Marseille and Aix-en-Provence and you see an explosion of lines and colour – the red and orange road symbols are dominant – there’s no doubt this is a map designed for navigation.  The legend is compact yet comprehensive: motorways, cart tracks, gradients, toll sections, scenic routes and many more are identified.  Tourist information is linked to the accompanying ‘Red’ and ‘Green’ guides.

I admire the map’s clear statement of currency – top left corner, close to the neat line it states ‘2e ed, 1983-1984’ – in 1989 I could quickly assess if I was prepared to travel with a 5-year old map – or should I treat myself to a new edition?  (No contest – order a new one!)

A couple of months ago, I came across a 2012 quote, from Michelin’s head of marketing (in relation to the Michelin guides) – ‘You buy a tyre every two years, so your proximity with the brand isn’t so frequent.  But these guides come out once a year and they can be used regularly.  It’s a very agreeable way to interact with the brand.’  

With Google maps and satellite navigation I do ponder if commercially produced road maps have a future.  I have no idea about the internal accounting at Michelin - are the published maps and guides expected to turn a profit, or are they subsidised by the tyres?  

For me, the tyres are good, but the maps are memorable - and it certainly is a very agreeable way to interact with the brand.

Images are reproduced by kind permission of Michelin."