The 10 Best Tires For Motorcycles

Nov 5, 2020

Category: Rides

The literal rubber that meets the road, motorcycle tires play an enormous role in dictating a bike’s traction, lean-angle capabilities, handling, and overall performance. With the benefit of more than a century of development, modern motorcycle tires are constructed from highly-calculated and advanced compounds that help to bolster grip and improve a tire’s lifespan. On top of a tire’s ability to afford greater lean angles, stickier rubber also makes for a markedly safer riding experience, with shorter braking distances, improved handling, and a mitigated likelihood of a low-side.

Just like with motorcycles themselves, the “shoes” they wear hugely vary in quality and performance, and with the relatively massive strides made each year in this sector, distinguishing the latest and greatest rubber from existing run-of-the-mill offerings can be tricky, so to help send you down the right road we’ve generated this guide to the best motorcycle tires. This list will cruise through our picks for the ten best tire choices currently on the market, as well as what you need to know before making your purchase, and what specifics to look for when shopping.

Photo: Pirelli

Lifespan Vs. Lean-Angle

Understanding The Balancing Act Of Modern Tire Manufacturing

Before proceeding any further, it helps to be privy to one of the main concepts pertaining to motorcycle tires, and that’s the ultimate balance between shelf-life and traction. Typically speaking, the softer the compound being used, the more grip will be afforded. On the flip side of the coin, harder tire compounds don’t afford as much grip, though will be able to go through significantly more mileage before needing to be replaced.

Producing a modern tire requires striking a balance between these two qualities, with some outfits opting for insanely grippy tires that offer a shorter on-road lifespan while other firms employ firmer compounds that don’t afford the same levels of traction but can eat up far more miles. Because of this situation, it’s also commonplace to see manufacturers utilize dual-compound tires that have stickier, softer sidewalls that give the bike solid grip in the corners, with a harder main carcass that offers better mileage.

Photo: Metzeler

Shoes For The Cruise

The Six Main Types Of Motorcycle Tires

While there really isn’t one single “best” model of tire, there are tires that present the best possible options for specific riding applications. Below, we’ll explore each of the styles from the six main categories in the motorcycle tire space.

ADV: Adventure—or “dual sport”—tires involve another interesting balancing act for manufacturers, with this multi-purpose style of rubber needing to perform both in the dirt and on the tarmac, regardless of temperatures or weather conditions. Thanks to modern breakthroughs in tread patterns and rubber compounds, modern ADV tires are surprisingly competent no matter what they’re riding on. It’s also worth pointing out that most dual-sport tires come with a numbered rating (50/50, 60/40, etc) that denotes the intended on-road/off-road use of a given set of adventure rubber.

Cruiser: Often vintage-inspired in appearance (not unlike the bikes that wear them), cruiser tires typically employ thicker, harder compounds as they need to withstand the immense weight of a big-bore V-Twin. Furthermore, cruiser bikes are usually intended for touring and long-distance use more than they are urban commuters—another reason these tires use such hard compounds. With long distance in mind, these tires are also engineered to suit a variety of different weather conditions with ample tread grooves. Cruiser tires aren’t very performance-oriented, though considering these machines offer minimal lean angles, this isn’t really a problem.

Sportbike: Benefitting from a host of technology that’s trickled down from race-spec tires, sport bike—or “hypersport”— tires offer impressive levels of grip while still being conducive to use on the street. Despite not requiring tire warmers, sportbike tires are usually made from softer compounds, and allow for better agility and flick ability, and stability and speed. There are also DOT-approved (department of transportation) race tires that possess the minimum amount of sipes needed for legal road use while still offering tremendous levels of traction (though they still require tire warmers and offer minimal grip on wet surfaces).

Photo: Pirelli

Sport-Touring: Just like the name of this category suggests, this variety of rubber combines attributes from sportbikes tires and touring models to deliver a pair of shoes that will offer solid performance when cornering in the twisties, as well as a meaty, harder central compound that was engineered to handle long distances and a myriad of weather conditions. Because sport touring bikes themselves tend to be on the larger side of the spectrum, the tires have middle and side-wall compounds meant to handle the weight of a big-bore sport-tourer. It’s also worth noting that sport-touring tires offer more grip and better lean angle than their cruiser tire counterparts, with enough traction to easily drag a knee (or scrape panniers).

Race: Race tires (or “racing slicks”) are purpose-made items meant solely for racing, and aren’t legally allowed on public roads. Completely devoid of any sipes or tread grooves, these tires offer maximum traction by maximizing the amount of surface area coming into contact with the ground. It is extremely important to point out that these should never be used on the street and aren’t even necessary for most riders at the track, with a high-end sportbike tire typically being a better option. Racing slicks also need to be heated up (with tire warmers) to their ideal operating temperature (typically around 180-degrees) to achieve their maximum grip. And, while these ultra-soft tires offer the highest levels of grip, they do so at the cost of incredibly (ITAL) short lifespans.

Touring: Similar to cruiser tires, rubber made for touring applications is engineered to lend itself to a wide variety of weather conditions, to handle the hefty weight of a touring bike, and to allow for the longest possible lifespan while still affording appropriate levels of traction in the corners. And, just like with sportbike tires, models in the touring space can vary in terms of compounds used, with some touring tires affording more grip while sacrificing lifespan, or vice versa.

Photo: Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP

Treads, Compounds, & Constructions

What Aspects To Look For When Shopping For Motorcycle Tires

Now that you’re better-versed in the different types of motorcycle tires that exist, let’s gloss over some of the key areas to take into consideration when in the market for a new set of motorcycle tires.

Compound: Gone are the days when tires were simply made of rubber. Tires on modern motorcycles are constructed from advanced compounds that have been infused with various additives and chemicals to improve performance. As an example, adding silica helps to provide better traction on wet surfaces. It’s also common to see multi-compound (or “dual compound”) tires that use different constructions for the sidewalls and main carcass.

Mileage: This is a pretty major factor to consider as it ultimately tells you about the expected lifespan of a given tire. Touring and cruiser tires typically offer better mileage, though this area can vary pretty significantly in the sportbike tire realm as well.

Radial Vs. Bias-Ply: This area refers to how a tire is constructed, with radial-construct tires boasting steel belts running at a 90-degree angle from the centerline of the tread while bias-ply tires utilize nylon belts running at between 35-45-degrees to a tread’s centerline. The former tends to afford more rigidity and traction, though don’t offer as much mileage while the latter has a better shelf-life and is sometimes favored for the softer ride afforded—which is especially noticeable on big cruisers and the like.

Photo: Dunlop

Riding Application: How and when you plan on riding your bike is an incredibly important aspect to consider when buying tires. If you only plan on hitting the twisties every other Sunday, then some super grippy Pirellis are a great choice, though if you’ll be commuting on your bike, you’ll likely want a stiffer compound that offers more mileage so you aren’t constantly forking over money for new tires every few weeks.

Speed: This one is fairly self-explanatory, but motorcycle tires are often rated for exact speeds. If you plan on spending a lot of time at the drag strip or the local track (or on the wrong side of the law) then you’ll probably want to pay close attention to the speed rating on any given tire.

Tread Pattern: Treads on tires help to bolster grip by providing channels for water to be ejected, keeping the tire in contact with the tarmac. This can also be used to gain additional traction in off-road situations. Generally speaking, the more sipes and tread grooves, the better grip you’ll have in the wet.

Photo: Shinko

Tubeless Vs. Tubed: This aspect is quickly becoming less and less important as fewer and fewer riders opt for tubed tires, as their tubeless counterparts tend to be better, with stiffer construction that runs at lower temperatures. Tubed tires are more common on vintage bikes and models with spoked wheels, though there are now high-end tubeless spoked rims from brands like Kineo.

Weather Conditions: The weather conditions of the region you live in should play a deciding role in your choice of tire. If you reside in sunny Southern California where rain is a seldom occurrence, you don’t have to be as concerned with wet surface traction they would someone living in Seattle. Realistically consider your locale’s weather and then make your choice accordingly.

Wheel Size: The size of a motorcycle’s wheels will ultimately dictate which tires will fit. Tire sizes more common for sport bikes (like 17” hoops) typically will have a much wider selection of performance-focused tires compared to the wheels on cruiser models. Information such as a tire’s speed rating, load rating, rim diameter (in inches), aspect ratio percentage, and section width (in millimeters) is all printed in a special code on its sidewall. This area can be a little intimidating to navigate, though a quick Google search will reveal plenty of guides and explanations on a tire’s info chart.

Continental Twinduro TKC80 Dual Sport

Though they aren’t new, the TKC80s have long been praised for their competence both on and off-road, and their highly-accessible price point. Designed for 40% on-road and 60% off-road use, these tires feature a tall block tread pattern that offers excellent cornering abilities on loose terrain, along with above-average self-cleaning properties.

Purchase: $51+

Shinko 240 Classic White Wall

Despite their sawtooth treat pattern and unmistakably vintage appearance, Shinko’s 240 Classic White walls are thoroughly modern tires, composed of a high-mile Aramid-belt-reinforced body with a quadruple-ply nylon carcass. Just like with neo-retro scramblers or cafe racers, these tires offer the appearance of rubber from yesteryear while still boasting contemporary mileage and grip.

Purchase: $77+

Dunlop Roadsport 2

Unequivocally one of today’s best tires for commuting, Dunlop’s Roadsport 2 offers more than enough grip and lean angle for daily jaunts to and from work while simultaneously affording an impressive lifespan of approximately 5,000 miles. A hasty warm-up time and ample tread grooves for grip in the wet further the Roadsport 2’s conduciveness to commuting.

Purchase: $79+

Bridgestone Battlax Adventurecross AX41

Freshly released, the Bridgestone Battlax AX41 is a fairly game-changing set of adventure bike tires. Rated for 40/60 on-road/off-road use, these tires feature a revised tread pattern, contact patch, and compound that collectively make for a wildly high-performance set of shoes, whether in the dirt or on the tarmac. They’re also expected to last for around 3,000 miles before starting to decline in capabilities.

Purchase: $87+

Shinko 008 Race Slick

A bonafide set of track-only racing slicks, Shinko’s 008 represents the absolute pinnacle of traction, lean-angle, and performance with an enormous, tread-free body composed of a super soft and ultra-sticky compound. They do require tire warmers to reach their ideal operating temperature, and will only last a few dozen laps before needing replacing, though the extraordinary levels of grip offered here are unlike any other type of tire on the planet.

Purchase: $87+

Metzeler Cruisetec

The Metzeler Cruisetec is a modern and high-performance take on traditional cruiser rubber, with the tubeless tire sporting a newly-designed carcass and an advanced dual-compound construction that maintains the wealth of mileage and immense wet-weather grip of regular cruiser tires while offering noticeably higher levels of traction in the corners (or on the drag strip).

Purchase: $125+

Continental ContiAttack SM Supermoto EVO

Purpose-engineered specifically for supermoto riding, the Conti Attack SuperMoto EVO Tires benefit from numerous technological breakthroughs including the use of Continuous Compound Technology, a new mold coating treatment, and a “Black Chili tread compound” that allow for unparalleled levels of feedback and performance on the kart track. A unique 0° steel belt construction configuration also offers incredible stability upon corner entry and exit.

Purchase: $151+

Dunlop DT3-R

If you’re looking to hit the dirt oval and get sideways, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better rubber option than Dunlop’s DT3-R. The official tire of the American Flat Track league, these were made from the ground up for going fast and left, though are still fully DOT-approved (street-legal).

Purchase: $153+

Michelin Road 5

With a lifespan that’s good for around 10,000 miles, soft enough sidewalls to drag a knee, and enough grip in the wet to full-on perform stoppies in the rain (thanks to a patented siping setup), it isn’t hard to see why Michelin’s Road 5 tires are considered to be some of the very best ever made. Whether you’re looking to commute, carve some canyons, or cross the country, these tires really can do it all.

Purchase: $157+

Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP V3

Derived from racing tires, the Diablo Supercorsa SP V3 is an insanely grippy street tire that’s more than capable of taking on a day at the track. Rated at speeds of nearly 170mph, these insanely soft and grippy tires only boast a 4% void in total usable surface area, with the sticky sidewalls designed for deep lean angles and quick changes of direction. They don’t perform very well in the wet and typically only around 2,500, the levels of traction and performance offered fundamentally allow for a much more spirited riding experience.

Purchase: $212+

The 22 Best Motorcycle Upgrades For Beginners

Looking for some additional ways to improve the performance of your bike? Then be sure to cruise on over to our guide to the best motorcycle upgrades for beginners for more than 20 easy-to-wrench options for bolstering performance, no matter what genre of scoot.

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