Compared to automobiles, motorcycles are far simpler vehicles. Thus, each component is significantly more important to the bike’s performance, handling, and safety characteristics. Of all the parts on your bike, perhaps tires are the most important, impacting traction, cornering, and ride comfort, but what kind of motorcycle tire should you use? It all depends on what kind of bike you have and how you plan on riding it.
Street / Sport Tires
Street and sport bikes usually come with street or sport tires, giving them exceptional grip on pavement. Made of soft rubber compound, they offer the best performance carving corners – think winding canyon roads. Sport tires trade accelerated wear for increased grip, street and sport tires lasting typically no more than 3,500 miles, some barely over 1,000 miles. Dual-compound motorcycle tires resist accelerated wear on the center stripe, combining a hard center compound and soft shoulder compounds, extending the useful life of motorcycle tires driven more on the straights then in the curves.
Knobby off-road motorcycle tires are the polar opposite of street and sport tires, designed to deliver traction in dirt, gravel, and mud. Deep tread and pronounced knobs dig through loose dirt to get to solid ground for traction. Cornering in dirt is improved by the addition of knobs right out past the shoulders. Off-road tires so specialized, in fact, that they offer very little traction on pavement, so you shouldn’t trust an off-road tire to handle nearly as well as a street and sport tires or dual sport and adventure tires.
Dual Sport / Adventure Tires
Offering a compromise between street and off-road tires, dual sport and adventure tires are designed to deliver traction in a wider variety of road and traffic conditions. Dual sport tires have wider tread blocks than off-road tires, and deeper tread grooves than street tires. As such, they can safely be used on both pavement and dirt. Still, improvements in off-road traction come at the cost of on-road traction, and vice-versa, so you can’t corner an adventure tire like a sport tire, and you won’t get as much off-road traction as with a dedicated off-road tire.
Touring / Cruiser Tires
Touring bikes and cruisers are used differently than other bikes, meant for long distance riding, usually with passenger and luggage added. Touring and cruiser tires are constructed with higher weight ratings and with harder compounds for high mileage – some touring tires last upwards of 10,000 miles. At the same time, harder-compound cruiser tires don’t corner as well as street or adventure tires, but then they aren’t meant to.
Replacing Motorcycle Tires
Usually, the type of riding you’ll do determines the kind of bike you’ll buy. This, in turn, determines the kind of motorcycle tires you’ll buy. When replacing tires, sticking with the original type is a good idea, but you might consider changing tire types if your riding circumstances change. A tire change is much cheaper than a whole new bike, but keep in mind that it will also change the ride characteristics.