What’s the best tyre for my adventure bike? How to choose motorcycle rubber…

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a Yamaha MT-10 and Honda Grom. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, a KTM 1050 Adventure, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

 

Since Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman took the Long Way Round, Adventure bikes have been an increasingly popular choice for riders around the world. The TV series transformed the popularity of the BMW R1150GS, and with the R1200GS and now the R1250GS constantly among the best sellers, the choice of tyres is huge. Add KTM’s 1050, 1190 and 1290 Adventures, Honda’s Africa Twin, Yamaha’s Super Ténéré, Triumph’s Tiger, Suzuki’s V-Strom, Ducati’s Multistrada and the road-biased Kawasaki Versys, and the choices can be bewildering.

But understand the technology – and be honest about how and where you ride – and you’ll be able to make your own, informed choice when buying your next tyres; we spoke to Gary Hartshorne, Senior Motorcycle Product Manager for Bridgestone North Europe, to get the bigger picture…

 

How to chose the best adventure tyres for your bike

Bridgestone’s Gary Hartshorne rides 25,000 miles a year on a variety of bikes, including his own R1200GS

 

How to choose the best adventure motorcycle tyre

Where do you ride… Honestly? There’s nothing wrong with sticking to paved roads at all, but you’ll compromise your tyres’ longevity, comfort and handling if you insist of putting knobblies on your bike. Equally, there’s a big difference between exploring light gravel trails and covering distance on mud and rocks. Here are Gary’s recommendations – we’ll get into why they’re the best choice next …

 

I only ride my adventure bike on tarmac

Battlax T31 (sport touring tyre for pure road performance) or Battlax A41 (more rugged styling)

I mainly ride on the road, but do tackle the odd gravel track and fire trail

Battlax AX41 (50/50 off-road/road, with excellent road performance)

I ride off-road a lot – and might have done sections of the Trans European Trail

Battlax AX41

 

While you don’t have to stick to the bike manufacturer’s OE brand, it’s important to use a tyre of the size and weight/speed rating that’s recommended. You can get this information from your handbook, or the tyre manufacturer, but as adventure bikes are often loaded up with luggage, it’s really important that the tyre is capable of carrying the weight.

 

Motorcycle tyre load index in kg

Rating

Kg

Rating

Kg

Rating

Kg

Rating

Kg

Rating

Kg

41

145

42

150

53

155

44

160

45

165

56

170

47

175

48

180

49

185

50

190

51

195

52

200

53

206

54

212

55

218

56

224

57

230

58

236

59

243

60

250

61

257

62

265

63

272

64

280

65

290

66

300

67

307

68

315

69

325

70

335

71

345

72

355

73

365

74

375

75

387

76

400

77

412

78

425

79

437

80

450

81

462

82

475

83

487

84

500

85

515

86

530

87

545

88

560

89

580

90

600

91

615

92

630

93

650

94

670

95

690

96

710

97

710

98

750

99

775

100

800

 

How to chose the best adventure tyres for your bike

 

Do I need knobblies on my adventure bike?

You don’t have to have knobbly tyres on an adventure bike – be honest about where you’re going to ride. If you only cover tarmac, stick to a sport-touring tyre like the Bridgestone Battlax T31 – that’ll be fine even for light, dry fire trails. If you want something that’s got a bit more of the style of a knobbly, but is still road-focussed, try the A41.

But if you’re going to want to stray onto some green lanes or byways, a tyre with a deeper, more blocky tread pattern like the Battlax AX41 will allow the rubber to bite into loose surfaces. This is still a very capable road tyre, but the more knobbles a tyre has, the smaller cross-sectional surface area is available, so the temperature will increase on tarmac, along with its wear rate.

Knobblies aren’t necessarily designed to simply find grip on a loose surface – the tread is intended to throw the loose material out of the way and find traction on something harder, but a well-designed adventure tyre should offer much more grip in the dirt than knobblies of 10-15 years ago due to advances in tread design.

 

Are knobblies street legal? Can I just use off-road tyres on the road?

The AX41 is road legal, though it’s got a Q speed rating, so it’s not intended to go above 99mph – this could restrict the recommended fittings for your bike, depending on its top speed. If in doubt, good tyre manufacturers are happy to have you contact them for advice on recommended fitments.

Motocross tyres are not road-legal, as they don’t have the contact patch required for road use. Remembered that byways and green lanes are classed as roads, so your bike must be road-legal, taxed, have a valid MoT, and be insurered.

 

Motorcycle tyre speed ratings in mph

Speed symbol

L

P

Q

S

T

H

V

(V)

W

(W)

ZR

Max speed

75

93

99

112

118

130

149

>149*

169

>169*

>149

* At reduced loading

 

Can I use a tyre mousse on my adventure bike?

Tyre mousses, which keep your tyres up even with a puncture, are not road legal; that means that if the police found out what was in your tyre, you’d be breaking the law, even if you were riding on green lanes or byways.

Mousses don’t last long anyway, but they really don’t like heat, so when riding on tarmac they can fail suddenly.

 

Does it matter if I have spoked or cast wheels?

If you have spoked wheels that don’t have sealed spokes (or aren’t designed like BMW’s wheels, with the spokes at the sides), you’ll have to use a tube.

What’s important to know is that wheels rims have different designs, so while you can use a tube in a tubeless tyre on a tube-type rim, you mustn’t put a tube-type tyre on a tubeless rim, as the bead won’t fit securely.

 

How to chose the best adventure tyres for your bike

 

What are the best adventure tyres on wet tarmac?

Bridgestone’s best adventure bike tyre on the road in the wet would be the T31, as it has the optimum tread pattern. The A41 would be very close, but they’d both be better than a knobbly like an AX41; while knobbly tyres are the best in wet mud, they don’t have the water-shifting ability of a road tyre on tarmac.

Any road tyre is designed to look aesthetically pleasing, but of course the grooves have also got to pick up water and throw it to one side, leaving a relatively dry patch of tarmac for the following ‘slick’ section of rubber.

The way the tread is designed will influence its ability to shift water, and that goes right down to the angle the grooves are cut into the rubber. These grooves also have to work as the tyre moves and deforms when it meets the road – it’s no good just having a slot in the rubber that looks pretty; it must be designed to maintain an efficient shape within its specified load and speed rating (that’s one reason why so much R&D goes into tyres). Which, once again, is why it’s so important to use the correct rating of tyres, as recommended by your bike’s manufacturer.

Tyres are designed as pairs – if the front is engineered to disperse a certain amount of water, the rear must be able to cope with what it leaves in its path. Mixing tyres isn’t ideal for this reason, and that’s not just brands – having a touring tyre that moves a lot of water on the front, with a more blocky adventure tyre on the back, could cause problems.

You might also have noticed that some front tyres have tread patterns that appear to run in the opposite direction to the rear – this is to shift the water to the outside edge of the wheel in a corner, the idea being that it’s better than throwing it to the inside, which would create a wetter patch of tarmac when the rear tyre reaches it, making it have to work even harder.

 

How long should my adventure tyres last?

Keep in mind that knobbly tyres will generally wear out more quickly than a road-focussed tyre in the same conditions on tarmac, you’ll likely get around 3,500 miles from a pair of AX41s, but 7-8,000 from the A41s, simply because the knobblier tyre’s blocks move around more, so generate more heat.

The most important thing is to regularly check the pressures; while tyres do have a liner built into the carcass, they’re still porous, so will slowly lose pressure – up to 2-3psi in a month.

How you ride also has a big influence – a smooth rider will see their tyres last a lot longer than someone who’s more aggressive on the throttle and brakes. For example, the same tyre might be used in short-circuit racing (let’s say Donington Park), at the same pressure and temperature as at the Isle of Man TT:  the TT sees fast and smooth riding, while Donington would have the riders on and off the brakes – hard – constantly. In 20 laps (50 miles), Donington would likely destroy the tyre, but six laps of the TT, covering 226 miles, would probably see it in far better condition.

 

How do I scrub in my new tyres?

The industry guideline is a recommended 200 miles, but that is for the safest margin. Keep banking over a little at a time, so as you lean, your contact patch is half scrubbed in, half fresh; lean incrementally. And no sudden braking or acceleration; it’s not just the speed or the lean angle that can cause a problem on new tyres – it’s more the brake force or acceleration.

A common perception used to be that scrubbing tyres in was about getting rid of the release agent that was used when removing the tyre from the mould, but not all manufacturers use this anymore; Bridgestone for instance has such precise moulds that there’s no need. But a tyre still needs its surface ‘roughing up’ (like a new pair of leather-soled shoes), and the plies within the carcass also have to settle into each other.

Another point to consider is that the rubber will likely have been fitted with tyre ‘soap’ – it’s possible for a new tyre to spin slightly on the wheel during hard acceleration when it’s just gone on, which will throw it out of balance.

Finally, when you replace your tyres, the bike will feel very different as you’ll have been riding for a long time on rubber with a more worn, and hence different shape; you need to give yourself time to acclimatise to the new hoops.

 

How to chose the best adventure tyres for your bike

 

What pressures should I run my tyres at?

The air in the tyre is what’s supporting you and your motorcycle, not the rubber. Don’t go by the maximum pressure shown on the tyre itself – you’ll find the correct tyre pressure in several places:

• On the bike itself (usually the swingarm)

• In the handbook

• On the website of the tyre manufacturer.

The wrong place to look is on a forum.

Motorcycle manufacturers don’t randomly choose their own pressures – it’s dictated by the maximum load on the bike, so you’ll sometimes see recommended pressures based on solo riding, and when fully loaded, but that’s the only variable: the correct pressure is the one given to you by the manufacturer of the bike or of the tyre recommended for that bike.

In Europe the European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation (ETRTO) stipulates what size of tyre goes on a certain size of rim, and what pressure goes in it under a certain load (in Japan it’s JATMA, the Japan Automobile Tyre Manufacturers Association).

Don’t drop your tyre pressures when riding on wet roads either – this will cause the tyre to deform, reducing not only the contact patch, but also closing up the tread grooves when they meet the road, making water dispersal less effective. The leading tyre manufacturers – like Bridgestone – spend years and years, and millions of pounds, developing tyres to work at specific pressures, so use them.

But there is an exception with adventure bikes – when you ride properly off-road, the tyre’s carcass needs to mould itself around an obstacle. You’ll typically be dropping the pressures down to the mid- to low-twenties, but don’t go too far, especially on very rocky surfaces. Tubed tyres can also be prone to ‘tube pinch’ if the pressures are reduced too far, leading to punctures as the tyre rotates over the tube.

 

How should I store my tyres?

If your bike’s being stored for a while without being ridden, you should ideally use paddock stands to get the rubber off the ground. As all tyres slowly deflate over time they’ll start to deform a little with the weight of the bike on them in one spot; getting the motorcycle up in the air will cure this.

If you can’t lift the bike up, check the pressures every week, and rotate the wheels through 90°. Also keep some carpet under the tyres, to insulate them from cold concrete – in a very harsh winter, the freezing temperatures can push the rubber to its ‘glass transition point’ and it will start to become brittle.

If the bike’s not on stands, you can also pump the tyres up to the maximum pressure indicated on the sidewall, but you must leave a note on the tank to remind you to drop them back down to the correct pressure before you ride.

If you’re storing loose tyres, or wheels with tyres on, keep them laying on their side in the loft or under the bed. The main thing is to keep them out of the cold and away from sunlight.

To check how old a tyre is (as long as it was made after 2000), look at the last four digits that appear after the DOT code – the first two are the week it was made, the second pair are the year; for instance, 1518 would be a tyre made in the 15th week of 2018.

 

Can I repair my adventure tyres?

British Standard BSAU159F states that to be repaired, a motorcycle tyre must have a speed rating of V or below. The hole must be 3mm or smaller, and the damage must be within the centre 75% of the tread; not on the edge or the sidewall.

Repairs can’t be carried out in the grooves of the tread, so knobbly tubeless rubber will be a problem. Of course, if you have tubes, these can be replaced at the roadside if you have the tools, but remember that with any tyre, the plies inside the carcass will be damaged, so you should have any damaged checked by an expert.

A tubeless roadside repair should only be considered a means of getting you to the nearest professional fitter, where the tyre needs to be removed and repaired (if possible) from the inside.

 

What if I don’t like the OE tyres that came with my bike?

During development, motorcycle manufacturers don’t test their bikes with every set of tyres available – some brands might use just one, others might use several. From this data will come the bike maker’s recommended fitment, but all tyres are made to conform to European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation (ETRTO) specifications, so within the axle weights, maximum speed and sizes, there will be other options that can safely be recommended by other brands.

Some top-of-the-range motorcycles, like the BMW S1000RR, will come with top-spec tyres, but others might have rubber that’s been designed specifically to be sold with the bike when new. These could look the same as similarly-named tyres, but might have one or two extra letters at the end if their name.

Just one example of this is a pair of sports tyres that might be single-compound for the bike that they come with (like the Bridgestone RS10G on the Yamaha R1), but multi-compound when bought after-market (the Bridgestone RS10). A single compound tyre is of course less costly to produce, so a bike manufacturer might specify that as part of its requirements when developing the machine, but they could last fewer miles than the after-market versions.

No bike manufacturer can tell you that you must use a specific brand of tyre – what matters is that you stick to the correct sizes and load/speed ratings, and that you run them at the correct pressures. Each tyre manufacturer will offer a list of recommended fitments, then you can choose which best suits your riding style.

 

Bridgestone’s choice

Bridgestone’s Gary Hartshorne explains how to choose the best bike tyres

 

What about other brands?

We worked with Bridgestone to explain how to choose the best adventure bike tyres – if you understand the technology, you can more easily buy the right ones for your machine. We also asked the other most popular manufacturers for their recommendations. Of course, these are a general recommendation, and not specific to a particular bike, so always check the fitment for your motorcycle…

 

Bridgestone recommended adventure bike tyres

I only ride on tarmac: Battlax T31  (sport touring tyre for pure road performance) or Battlax A41 (more rugged styling)

I do a few gravel roads: Battlax AX41 (50/50 off-road/road, with excellent road performance)

I ride 70% or more off-road: Battlax AX41

 

Anlas recommended adventure bike tyres

I only ride on tarmac: Capra RD

I do a few gravel roads: Capra R

I ride 70% or more off-road: Capra X

 

Avon recommended adventure bike tyres

I only ride on tarmac: Trailrider

I do a few gravel roads: Trailrider

I ride 70% or more off-road: Trekrider

 

Continental recommended adventure bike tyres

I only ride on tarmac: Trail Attack 3

I do a few gravel roads: TKC70

I ride 70% or more off-road: TKC80

 

Dunlop recommended adventure bike tyres

I only ride on tarmac: Roadsmart III/Trailsmart Max

I do a few gravel roads: Trailsmart Max

I ride 70% or more off-road: Dunlop MX Range (depending on application/surface)

 

Maxxis recommended adventure bike tyres

I only ride on tarmac: Presa Detour / CM509 Dakar

I do a few gravel roads: Traxxer

I ride 70% or more off-road: Dual Sport

 

Metzeler recommended adventure bike tyres

I only ride on tarmac: Tourance Next

I do a few gravel roads: Karoo Street

I ride 70% or more off-road: Karoo 3

 

Michelin recommended adventure bike tyres

I only ride on tarmac: Road 5 Trail

I do a few gravel roads: Anakee Adventure

I ride 70% or more off-road: Anakee Wild

“The named tyres are in general one of the most appropriate tyres for the stated type of bike and use. These generalisations are not Michelin recommendations. The law, the specific bike and the intended use are all factors that must be considered when determining the correct choice of tyre. Always seek expert advice if in doubt.”

 

Pirelli recommended adventure bike tyres

I only ride on tarmac: Scorpion Trail II

I do a few gravel roads: Scorpion Rally STR

I ride 70% or more off-road: Scorpion Rally

 

 

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