For many cruiser riders, tires are usually an afterthought. That is, we stick with the ones that came with the bike and don't think about them again — until they give out.
But while they may not look as cool, tires are as important to your cruiser’s performance as those thousand-dollar exhaust pipes. They’re also as critical to handling as your air-adjustable shocks, and they’re as intrinsic to comfort as that plush new seat you just put on your Christmas list. Most importantly, they’re as essential to safety as that helmet you strap on every morning.
So do yourself a favor, Cruiser riders, and check out your tires. Often. Most have a tread life of around 10,000 miles, which translates to about two round-trip rides to Sturgis and/or Daytona for a lot of us. While you may really, really want that bitchin’ Roland Sands jacket for next year’s rally season, it’s more likely you need some new rubber on your Harley-Davidson, Indian, or Victory.
Enter Bridgestone. The Battlecruise H50 is the company’s first tire designed specifically for large-displacement American V-twin motorcycles, joining its Battlax sport and sport-touring and the Exedra line for touring bikes and metric cruisers. After a day spent putting them through the paces in the Florida sun, I can attest that these new cruiser skins are a vast improvement over the tires that come stock on the three American brands mentioned above.
First, some details. To find the ideal balance between mileage, comfort, and grip, Bridgestone utilized new compounds and cross-cut side treads to ease the vertical stiffness of the Battlecruise, enlarging the contact patch to enable these tires to handle the big, heavy bikes that make up the bulk of the American V-twin market. The rear tire benefits from a rounded crown profile that's designed to optimize the slip and adhesion of the rubber on road surfaces. It’s important to note that “slip” in tire parlance doesn’t really mean what we might think; rather, when tire manufacturers refer to slip, they’re referring to the relative motion that occurs between the rubber and the surface it’s in contact with — an essential part of the relationship between tire and road. Optimize the slip, and you maximize the grip.
With a larger contact patch comes more uniform pressure distribution on the front H50, meaning less steering force is required to maneuver the motorcycles for which these tires are designed. In fact, Bridgestone claims its tests show that the front Battlecruise H50 requires a full 40 percent less steering force than its main competitor. That means easier, more precise cornering. Easing the tire’s vertical stiffness to about 85 percent of that of its main competitor’s cruiser tires ensured the sweet spot between rigidity and shock absorption, resulting in improved vibration damping and, therefore, a smoother ride.
Best of all, Bridgestone claims the Battlecruise H50s will achieve a tread life of 18,000 to 20,000 miles. You don’t need a calculator to figure that’s pretty much double the typical offering of the competition.
Now, that’s a lot of big talk direct from the product’s manufacturer — and no one is more wary of a salesman’s spiel than motorcyclists. So Bridgestone backed it up not just by letting me put some miles on the Battlecruise H50 aboard various American V-twin cruisers, but also let me compare its new offering back to back with the stock tire that comes on the Indian Scout.
OK, so I toss all that slick talk out the window, strap on a helmet, and let ‘er rip, and lemme tell you: the difference is astounding. Extraordinary. Confidence-inspiring. And a million other over-the-top adjectives. I switched from a stock Scout with factory rubber directly to a stock Scout wrapped with Battlecruise H50s — the same bike on the same road, mind you — and the ride became remarkably smoother, cornering was far easier, and bumps and heaves were soaked up way more efficiently. The Scout with the Battlecruises simply felt more planted. I took the same corners with more confidence, faster and with a deeper lean. I went over the same bumps at the same speed and felt far less vibration in the grips. I accelerated and stopped more efficiently. I was truly blown away. All that flowery jargon was spot-on.
And that’s precisely the moment when the lede in this story developed itself: Cruiser riders in general don’t give our tires nearly enough thought — or credit, or blame. I never take my tires for granted (and neither should you, bucko!) but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to directly contrast and compare how different tires can alter the same ride on the same motorcycle. And I’ll be damned if the Bridgestones didn’t prove darn near every point made in the presentation (tread life is still TBD, of course). They’re that much better than stock. No matter whether you ride a Harley, a Victory, or an Indian, the Battlecruise H50 absolutely lives up to its promise.
So how’d they do it? Chalk it up to UltimatEYE, Bridgestone’s proprietary tire testing tool that allows its R&D team in Tokyo to observe tires dynamically. It’s a bit like a dyno. A tire rolls on a tube and researchers can measure the way it behaves at varying speeds and under various conditions — loads, lean angles, surfaces, stops and starts, etc. The UltimatEYE has been in use for about 10 years (there are some extremely boring videos on YouTube that show it in action) and Bridgestone’s used it primarily for automobile tires. This is the second time they’ve used U-EYE on a motorcycle tire, though, starting with the S21 sport bike tire released earlier this year. And judging by what they’ve achieved here, it won’t be the last.
The Bridgestone Battlecruise H50 will be available in January 2017 in eight sizes for select American V-twin cruiser models. Expect 14 additional sizes in early 2018. Pricing has yet to be announced, but I can practically guarantee they’ll cost you less than you paid for those shiny pipes that are probably illegal anyway.