Your motorcycle has a thousand pieces. All of them work together in their own way. All of them do their part. But only two of them actually touch the ground. No matter how much power your bike produces or how much style it majestically exudes, it is your motorcycle tires, and your motorcycle tires alone, that keep you in contact with the road. With that in mind, it is ultra-important that when selecting the best motorcycle tires for your ride, you know not only what is available, but also the benefits, possibilities, and limitations of each.
In looking at motorcycle tires, there are a ton of terms to consider. For new riders, or seasoned ones with little tire experience, the plethora of options and info can at first seem overwhelming. Once you break it down to the basics, however, the search for the best motorcycle tires for your bike and riding style gets a bit easier.
This is the part that is at the forefront of most people’s minds. In short, tread is a general term that denotes the surface of your motorcycle tires that comes in contact with the road. Tread patterns can vary greatly. From zero tread on race slicks to aggressive knobby ?tread for motocross, tread patterns help denote the tire’s specific application. They can also give an indication of the tire’s handling characteristics, as well as how well dirt and water are evacuated.
Less well-known than tread, the bead of a motorcycle tire is the portion that is directly touching the wheel. Consisting of a steel “bead wire” and a section of “bead filler,” the tire bead provides a stiff foundation for the sidewall and prevents your tires from slipping off of the rim.
The carcass of a motorcycle tire can be seen as the foundation, skeleton , or HTML code upon which the rest of the tire is built. Basically, the carcass will come in one of two forms: radial or bias-ply. Each of these terms simply refers to how the guts of the tire are constructed. Radial motorcycle tires utilize steel reinforcing belts placed perpendicular to the bead and underneath the carcass, while bias-ply employ cords of fiber running diagonally from bead to bead.
The sidewall is a portion of the tire that doesn’t get credit where credit is due, but it is integrally important to performance, handling and longevity. The sidewall of your motorcycle tire is the portion between the bead and the tread that supports the tire carcass and dictates how much weight the tire can hold, the tire’s lean-angle, and it can even help add a bit of style to your ride. Options from classic white walls, raised white lettering and vintage profiles are just a few of the ways a tire’s sidewall can jazz up your rubber. From sizing (height, profile, or aspect ratio), to the way your motorcycle receives feedback from the road itself, the sidewall is not to be overlooked.
In looking at sportbike tires, the focus is generally on one of two things: track performance, or a balance between grip and longevity on the streets. Due to the nature of sportbikes, the right tires are relatively smooth and are geared for optimum mechanical and chemical grip on asphalt. While high-grip motorcycle tires offer better performance and allow for these high-performance motorcycles to better make use of their speedy capabilities, such tires are often more prone to lower overall mileage numbers due to the softer compounds used to construct them.
Going both off-road and on requires a special set of motorcycle tires. When it comes to ADV / Dual Sport options, riders need to consider the amount of time that they intend to spend riding on the tarmac vs. the trail. Adventure and Dual Sport motorcycle tires are all constructed with a “street to trail” ratio in mind which determines aspects such as the tread pattern and carcass construction. Dual-sport and ADV tires run the gamut from 90% street and 10% trail to 90% dirt and 10% tarmac. Generally speaking, tires that are built for more of an off-road usage will have a more pronounced tread pattern with deeper grooves for gripping loose soil or gravel. Conversely, motorcycle tires that are designed to spend more time on the road will have smoother, shallower tread patterns and be constructed for longer miles on the tarmac.
When it comes to the right tires for your Harley or V-twin cruiser, it all comes down to longevity. These heavy-weights are designed to devour highway miles, and these tires are specially constructed to bear the wear and tear that comes with long hauls and heavy payloads. Depending on the year, make, and model of your ride, there is a wide variety of motorcycle tire options to keep in mind. From tubed vs. tubeless, a variety of load/speed ratings and the plethora of sizing options between bikes, the right motorcycle tires for your V-twin cruiser or Harley-Davidson all comes down to putting rubber to road and seeing what works best for you and your hog
The focus of dirt motorcycle tires is simple: grip, and grip hard. When looking at tires for motocross bikes, they will prominently feature high “blocked” tread and low valleys that are designed to provide increased grip and evacuate debris. Another consideration that sets dirt motorcycle tires apart is that, due to the standard dirtbike wheel style and the nature of riding, they tend to be tube-type in construction. Basically, that means that there is an inner tube that creates an air-tight seal between it and the wheel itself. Dirt tires (like street tires) are available in a variety of tread patterns and compounds to maximize handling and performance across a wide variety of terrain. From deep sand to hard packed dirt and rock, there is a tire out there to get you over the river and through the woods.
In the end, motorcycle tires are one of the most important pieces of the equation for the enjoyment, safety, and cost of your ride. Just as with helmets, jackets, or any other piece of riding gear, all tires are not the same. They are designed differently, styled differently, and can carry very different price tags- all for good reason. From the various styles to differing tread patterns, compounds, optimum motorcycle fitments, and usage scenarios, each set of motorcycle tires has been crafted to offer its own set of advantages. At the same time, when choosing the advantages of one, you are often taking on its inherent disadvantages as well. The key to making the right selection for your own motorcycle tires rests in understanding not only what the differences are, but why they exist in the first place. For more information on tires in general, check out Lemmy’s Motorcycle Tires Guide 101 and FAQ article on Common Tread.