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Shinko 712 tire review: Good skins for the money, on the right bike

20140707wolfman1

I think of Shinko tires the same way I think of black licorice. Most people either love 'em or hate 'em. I recently sprung for a set of Shinko 712 tires for "adventure commuting" duty and have developed some opinions on them, too. Ultimately, the Shinko 712 is a good tire, if you're buying it for the right machine and you consider its performance in the context of its price.

Who the hell is Shinko?

Shinko 712 rear tireShinko is a Japanese company that purchased all the molds and technology from Yokohama Rubber Co. in 1998 when Yokohama got out of the motorcycle tire game. Shinko manufactures its tires in South Korea. In my estimation, Shinko is a “bang-for-the-buck” manufacturer. Their tread designs don’t change much, and they certainly don’t invest in R&D as much as the top-tier manufacturers, but that savings is reflected in the price of the tires, which is often around half that of the top brands.

What is this thing?

Let’s talk about what Shinko calls this tire, and then we’ll talk about what old Lemmy calls this tire. If you go to Shinko’s website and look for the 712, you will find it under Harley tires. At first glance, that sounds fine. It comes in a 130/90-16 size, perhaps the most common rear tire size on Harley-Davidsons for the past 30 years, and it features bias-ply construction. But Shinko specs the 130/90-16 at an “H” speed rating and a load-carrying capacity of 677 pounds. If you reverse-engineer that, it translates to a load and speed rating of 67H.

What does that mean? It means that it is below the load rating of most Harley-Davidson products. H-D typically specs a minimum load/speed of 73H. This doesn’t mean it won’t work on a Harley, but Harley riders should be very aware of the combined weight of the machine, gear, and passenger before selecting this tire.

I see it differently from Shinko. I see the 712 offered in rear sizes such as 140/90-15 and 120/90-18. I couple that with the lower load and speed rating, and I bill the 712 as a straight metric tire, suitable for 1970s and 1980s cruisers, UJMs, and older BMWs, not Softails and Tour Glides. I don’t give a rip what Shinko calls this tire. To me, it’s metric cruiser tire and H-Ds need not apply.

Lemmy’s Shinko abuse system

I regularly ride old junk bikes. The brakes suck, the chassis suck, the suspensions really suck. For me to demand top-quality tires is absurd, and for me to complain about something as arcane or ethereal as grip during corner entry borders on comedy.

I purchased the Shinko 712 tires for my commuting mule, an elderly and arthritic 700cc Honda Magna. The bike is fairly light, but I am pretty big, and I usually ride it between semi-loaded and fully loaded, with soft bags and a tank bag stuffed full.

I ride in all weather conditions, and I am heavy on the brake and throttle at all times. I’m not running at triple-digit top speeds, but I corner hard enough that I have ground the footpegs smooth and the Magna has mid-mount controls. I couldn’t push these tires harder on my Magna without upgrading to the V65 (1100cc) version.

I’m a bit of an odd bird in that if I put an inexpensive tire on my bike, I do not ride more cautiously. I simply expect the tires to slide around more, and I accept that I may hit the deck by pushing a tire too far. This makes life hard on my motorcycles, but it does mean that I am usually excellent for reviewing tires. Most folks don’t do the stupid things I do on a motorcycle. [Editor’s note: This is where we’d usually insert the lawyer-sourced copy about a professional rider on a closed course, don’t attempt, yadda, yadda, but frankly none of that is true anyway, and when it comes to Lemmy, the lawyers long ago pulled their hair out, surrendered and withdrew to the bar for a three-martini lunch.]

Who should not buy this tire

I’m not gonna do a glowing review and say zero bad things. That’s silly, and it’s not how I do things. This is The Land Of Motorcycles, where equipment is super-specialized. As I said earlier, metric cruisers, UJMs and older standards are the bikes these should be fitted to, and the price tells you what to expect.

The following riders should not buy these tires, in my opinion:

  • If you are pushing a power cruiser (M109R, VRSC, Diavel, V-Max, etc.), these should not be on your short list. Those bikes are too heavy and too powerful for these tires to be taken seriously.
  • If you own a hot-ish bike and you ride 11/10 everywhere, you might want to spring for a better tire. I have a feeling I am on the cusp of folks who can outride the abilities of these tires. I may not be there, but I think I’m close.
  • If you don’t change your own tires, and thus have to pay the labor to get your wheels removed, the price advantage of the Shinkos is diminished. A costlier but longer-lasting tire may be worthwhile.
  • If you ride a Harley, look elsewhere, due to the load rating issue.

Installation

The Shinkos were a snap to install. Sidewalls were not crazy-stiff. I replaced the valve stems, levered the new tires on, yanked the valve cores, and blew the beads on with one shot from the compressor on both tires. All done lickety-split.

In case you care about such things, these tires have sprue nubs (those littler rubber nibs) all over them. They don’t bother me, but if you’re the obsessive owner of a beauty queen machine, you can always cut or pull them off.

Initial impressions

One of the safety tidbits I do pay heed to is breaking in a set of tires carefully. I have had some that felt especially “greasy” at the outset, so I usually give the tires 50 miles before I beat on them too badly. I rode to work pretty carefully the first day on my usual 70-mile commute, and I felt I could work them out a little bit after a hard day’s labor at RevZilla. The return ride felt pretty good. The tires were sticking well, and in a few corners I gassed the bike at high RPMs, and I could not induce any spin. (It’s hard for the Magna to break traction most days, but the tires that came off it coughDunlopcough definitely would break free from time to time.)

After a week of riding rationally on these skins, I decided to see what these babies could do. The Magna received some fresh fork fluid and a set of primo stoppers up front, which really extended how far I can push the bike. In turns, I scrape bike parts long before the tires give up their grip. Look at those chicken strips! Strictly from curiosity, I did some braking tests. The front brakes can definitely overpower the grip the tire has, but I feel that the point at which the tire starts giving up and sliding is way deeper into braking than anything short of a total “Holy crap!” scenario.

Two items of note: Being a bias-ply, I expect the front side wall to stay firm and not tuck under when I am trail-braking hard in a turn, and the 712 did not disappoint. The other thing I really like is that the front tire howls when it starts losing traction, but it’s very progressive. The tire warns you it’s losing grip long before it finally gives up grabbing the macadam.

Long-term impressions

These things are wearing in great. I’ve got about 2,000 miles on them already, and no appreciable wear is showing. The profile still looks pretty good despite hard, fast, and boring slab riding. Let me be realistic, though. This tire is not going to last the 15,000 to 20,000 miles I see on some of the newer tires that are specifically engineered for powerful cruisers and dressers, like the Metzler Triple 8 or the Michelin Commander II. It’s not happening. Happily, though, the price reflects this.

The wet-weather handling is surprisingly good. No one is going to mistake these for a Michelin offering, but considering the minimal siping and the steal of a price, these tires have no business performing this well in wet weather. Ultimately, the wet-weather traction is the standout surprise for me, but I am happy with the dry traction provided by the Shinko 712s, as well. I have not overpowered the tires, even in the corners. By the time I get to the point where these tires are not at their finest, I’m dragging parts. The bike’s chassis and suspension don’t allow me to push either tire to its extreme limits.

My experience with the Shinko 712 tires has been totally positive. Considering that they cost less than half of some of the top brands’ tires in the same sizes, I’m almost incredulous of the value the company packs into these skins. I’ll buy another set for my commuter mule — of that I am certain. If I switch to something faster and heavier for commuting (I suspect I will!), I’ll probably be out of the market for the 712s.

Assess your needs accurately, and I believe you won’t be disappointed with Shinko’s product.

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