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Common Tread

What are chicken strips on motorcycle tires?

Apr 07, 2019

Your motorcycle’s tires might have chicken strips on them. 

If the strips are the delicious, meaty kind, that’s odd but possibly fortuitous. Proceed with caution. Consider a loose interpretation of the Five Second Rule.

For the rest of you, chicken strips are what some riders call the unworn sections on the outer edges of a motorcycle’s rear tire. Chicken strips carry a pretty negative connotation, since the name comes from the rider being perceived as too “chicken” to lean the bike over in turns. If the smooth rubber at the edges of the tire never touches the road, strips develop that look and feel different from the worn center tread.

Motorcycle chicken strips
Most street tires end up looking something like this. RevZilla photo.

Chicken strips don’t necessarily mean a bike never gets leaned over. Some bikes might scrape pipes, pegs or bags before the tire can even reach its edge. You might also see chicken strips on a freshly changed tire. It’s a good idea to take it easy for the first 50 miles or so on new rubber, and you’ll probably end up with fat strips that way. Breaking in new tires properly is not a chicken move.

BMW chicken strips
Chicken strips don't tell the whole story. I know the rear Metzeler on a coworker's R nineT is still being broken in, because that tire was just changed in my garage. RevZilla photo.

Judging other riders by their chicken strips isn’t all that insightful, but way too much chicken-strip-shaming goes on anyway in some circles. And while a thoroughly thrashed tire can often be found on an experienced rider’s bike, you can also find them on totalled bikes at the salvage auctions. Chicken strips are just something you’ll encounter in motorcycling, and they sure aren’t how I’d judge a rider I just met. Body positioning, for example, can tell you much more about a rider than a tire’s edges. A bike’s speed, suspension, and geometry also influence tire wear, not to mention the size and profile of the tire and the type of surface it’s ridden on. Bring on the questions.

CB350 motorcycle chicken strips
I wouldn't expect to see ragged edges on this Honda CB350's tires. RevZilla photo.

Is it true that my chicken strips mean I’m not leaning enough?

No. Forget that noise. The last thing you should be using to determine your lean angle in a turn is how much rubber you’ll be able to scrub off your chicken strips. 

What about the chicken strips on the front?

Front tires are largely exempt from chicken strip judgment, even among the most hardcore tread inspectors at the local bike night. Editor Lance says, “The only time I've seen street-legal front tires fully scrubbed to the edges was on Supersport bikes raced by MotoAmerica pros.” Do not concern yourself with this particular poultry. 

Metzeler lean gauge
Metzeler’s old Sportec M5 Interact tires had built-in lean gauges. Metzeler photo.

Are chicken strips a sport bike thing?

Mostly. I’ve never seen Gold Wingers or dirt bikers chalking "LEAN MORE" on the edges of the slow guy’s tire. 

Cagiva chicken strips
Like the owner of this Cagiva, I'd rather go explore than try to get a knee down on the street. RevZilla photo.

My chicken strips just bother me. How do I get rid of them?

I’ve heard of people taking belt sanders to their tires to remove the glossy chicken strip from their bikes. Yikes. Don't do that. If they made fun of you before… 

Try a track day or an advanced skills course. Lots of fast, experienced riders on high-performance bikes don't use all their tires on the street because they'd have to ride an unsafe pace to do it, but when they go to the track they come back with tires fully "feathered" to the edges. Taking a track-based class or riding a track day will not only do a number on those strips, but you’ll also learn from it. Win-win. Finally, if your bike can get off-road, riding in sand does the trick, too.

MotoAmerica race tire after qualifying
You'll never see chicken strips on a rear race tire, like this MotoAmerica Superbike qualifying tire, which has a useful lifespan of less than 10 miles. All the surface gets used. But you don't need to be a pro racer on slicks. Even an amateur riding a moderate pace at a track day will usually wear the rear tire all the way to the edge of the tread. Photo by Lance Oliver.

In this writer’s opinion, chicken strips on a street bike aren’t really worth talking about. Ride your own ride, and if it’s so important to be the fastest lean-demon around, I can think of a surefire way to settle that debate. And it doesn’t involve talking tires in a parking lot.