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The Differences Between Motorcycle Tires
May 11, 2017

High-Performance Tires

  • Advanced tremendously over the last 50 years, sport tires continue to push the limit as new compounds are constantly being developed, enhancing longevity and traction properties. Typical sport tires, approved by the federal Department of Transportation, are closely related to their purely race-bred slick counterparts, with the main difference in several models being the addition of a tread pattern. Sport tires employ a radial structure, wrapping the rubber layers across the width of the carcass, creating advantages in cornering stability and reduced weight. Some manufacturers now utilize a jointless belt process that further strengthens the tire. Multiple compounds are also being incorporated on newer performance tires, using softer compounds on the edge for improved traction while cornering. A harder compound is placed in the center for improved longevity under hard acceleration. Sport tires generally feature a pointed profile, allowing the bike to "tip" in faster into a corner. Straight line stability is compromised due to the smaller contact patch while traction is maximized near the edge of the tire. A set of sport tires can have a lifetime of 2000 -5000 miles, with sport-touring oriented tires topping out near 8000 miles. Pirelli's Diabl Corsa III and Dunlop's D209 Qualifier tires are popular examples of the breed, while Dunlop's Sportmax Roadsmart tires are excellent sport-touring tires.

Cruiser and Touring Tires

  • Cruisers and touring motorcycles are intended to travel longer distances at lower speeds. With most cruisers weighing between 500 to 800 pounds, a stronger, durable tire with a long wear potential is desired. Tires intended for this motorcycle segment are generally bias-type tires, constructed of a carcass where multiple layers of rubber-coated cords are overlapped, and feature a round profile for maximum straight line stability. Most manufacturers now incorporate a computer-generated tread pattern with an offset groove alignment, which is claimed to reduce cupping and minimize wear. A properly maintained tire may have up to a 10,000 mile lifespan. The D402 from Dunlop and the ME880-series from German manufacturer Metzeler are prime examples of this category.

Dual Sport Tires

  • Dual sport tires have dual identities, allowing decent on-road performance with the ability to handle light off-road duty. Most dual sport tires appear as deeply treaded street tires, which are able to handle most dirt roads and trails competently. More aggressively knobbed tires are available for riders who prefer to spend more time in the dirt, however, performance on paved roads is severely limited, as evidenced by the loss of traction and excessive vibration. Dual sport motorcycles, if ridden as a supermoto bikes, may also use street-oriented performance tires which are often narrower sport bike tires. Supermoto bikes combine the maneuverability of a dirt bike with the road going capabilities of a sport bike. Avon's AM43 Distanzia and Kenda's K761 tires are popular options in a dual sport rider's arsenal.

Off-Road Tires

  • Dirt bikes, while capable of mounting dual sport tires, are designed to be ridden entirely off-road. The demands of trail and track riding require highly specialized tires, most employing aggressive knobs that bite into the terrain, similar to an athlete's cleats. Tire manufacturers, such as Kenda, Maxxis, and Dunlop offer a wide range of tires made specifically for simple trail riding, motocross racing, or highly technical trials riding.