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

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a BMW S1000XR, Honda Grom and a 1999 Kawasaki ZX-6R. 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, Yamaha MT-10, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

 

Whether you own a Honda Fireblade, Yamaha R1, BMW S1000RR, Suzuki GSX-R1000 or a Triumph Daytona, choosing which motorcycle tyres are the best for your machine can be confusing.

How do you know how grippy your motorbike tyres will be, versus how many years they’ll last? Which bike rubber gives the best handling? And of course… which is the best value?

Tyre reviews can help you with your choice, and big comparison tests can also be a useful guide, but they tend to focus solely on grip and handling, not longevity. For the bigger picture, you can look to owner reviews, but you’ll not know how that biker really rides compared to you.

To make the most informed choice when it comes to buying the best motorbike tyres, you need to understand the technology behind them. We spoke to Gary Hartshorne, Senior Motorcycle Product Manager for Bridgestone North Europe…

 

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

Gary Hartshorne is Bridgestone’s Senior Motorcycle Product Manager for North Europe

 

How to choose the best sports-bike tyre

The first question you need to ask yourself is what kind of rider you really are, and what you use your bike for. Be honest with yourself – are you spending most of your time on track, or are you purely a road rider? Here are Gary’s recommendations – we’ll get into why they’re Bridgestone’s best choice in a moment…

 

I only ride on track, and the bike is never taken on the road

If it’s never on the road, and it’s dry, R11 or V02 slicks, both of which are designed specifically for the track. In the wet, then the W01.

I ride on the road, but I’m in the intermediate or fast group on track days

Battlax S22 or RS10

I rarely go on track, but I’m a fast road rider

Battlax S22

I don’t go on track, and I ride at fairly sensible speeds on the road

Battlax S22

 

Tyres are designed to work at a specific temperature – it really is possible to ‘over-tyre’ your bike; if you’re not riding on track much or at all, there’s no point in going for a super-sticky race tyre. Not just because you’re potentially wasting money, but because a tyre intended to grip at high temperatures will only work well when it’s hot; if you don’t keep it up to temperature on the road, it’ll not perform as well as a tyre designed for road use.

The Bridgestone Battlax S22 is designed for road and track, right up into fast track use, and tyre technology has progressed to such an extent that sports tyres can give excellent grip, while also maintaining respectable levels of wear and good wet weather performance. But be honest with yourself – just because you own a sports bike doesn’t mean you have to ride it fast everywhere, and if you’re out all year, don’t be afraid to look at sport-touring rubber, like the Battlax T31. Not convinced? Leon Haslam has lapped Donington Park at under 1min 35seconds on sport touring tyres fitted to a standard Honda Fireblade; the lap record is just seven seconds faster, on a World Superbike machine.

What is important is that you fit tyres that are the right size, and that meet the load and speed requirements of your motorcycle. Your bike will have a specific axle weight at the front and rear, so based on the specifications set out by the European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation (ETRTO), the leading tyre manufacturers will be able to recommend rubber that suits your bike and your riding style – most should have a tyre selector on the website.

 

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

 

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

 

Does it make a difference if my bike has traction control or ABS?

Yes, it does, though modern tyres are developed to take into account the way brakes work and power is delivered, so the bike and tyre manufacturers recommendations will be correct for your bike.

Traction control affects tyre wear in much the same way as engine configuration – the pulses of a big twin can put a greater load on rubber. As you accelerate, the tyre is squeezed against the road; with traction control, the squeeze will be pulsed, causing increased heat and wear.

Old ABS systems, which were more aggressive with their pulsing, used to cause ‘heel and toe’ wear on rubber, but the modern, usually smoother pulsing of the brakes still causes more wear than smooth braking. Of course, riding more gently will alleviate this, but remember that ABS on a motorcycle isn’t reacting to a loss of traction, it’s an algorithm that takes into account brake pressure and wheel speed to decide when it thinks the tyres will lose grip (along with lean on a cornering ABS system), and hence when to reduce the amount of hydraulic pressure to the calipers BEFORE traction is lost.

 

Does it matter whether I have a 600cc sportsbike or a 1000cc+ hypersports motorcycle?

Sportsbikes of 600cc and above take tyres that are Z rated or higher, so the biggest variable is what type of rider you are; just pick your tyres based on your own needs, and the recommendations of the tyre manufacturer.

Bridgestone, for instance, also makes many of its sports tyres with lower speed ratings for smaller bikes like 400s, so make sure you choose the right ones. Again, there’s no point in over-rating your tyres; it’s not illegal (though it is against the law to go for a lower rating than recommended), but it could be a waste of money, and detrimental to the performance of the tyre. If your bike requires an H-rated tyre, for instance, put that on it – a higher rating will not be ‘better’.

 

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

 

What if I have a classic sports bike that came with cross-plies, like the Suzuki GSX-R1100?

Between 1986 and 1990, many motorcycles shifted from cross-plies to radials. A lot of classically-styled bikes still use them, but with the change came reworked suspension.

Cross-plies are a lot more flexible than radials, so if you put the stiffer tyres on an old sports bike (like the slab-sided GSX-R), the suspension won’t be able to cope with them, and the additional forces will be transferred to the frame and swing-arm; unless you have a braced chassis, you’ll end up with a poor-handling bike.

 

Do some bikes limit tyre choice, like the old Fireblades with 16” front wheels?

There are fewer options available, but Bridgestone’s S21 is a very capable sports tyre listed as possible fitments for the old ’Blade on the website; you can check availability by entering your bikes details into your chosen tyre manufacturer’s website.

 

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

 

What are the best sportsbike tyres in the wet?

Wet weather performance will depend on the tread pattern of you tyre. While there are aesthetic influences on the styling of the grooves in your rubber, leading tyre brands spend millions in R&D, ensuring those slots pick up water as efficiently as possible, throwing it out of the way to allow the next ‘slick’ patch of rubber to find dry tarmac.

Tread patterns are designed to work at a specific pressure, so don’t let your tyres down in the wet; you’ll not only potentially reduce the contact patch, the tread grooves will close up and become less efficient.

Tyres are designed as pairs – the rear has to run over the tarmac that the front has dumped its shifted water onto, so a sport-touring front could make a sport rear struggle for grip in the wet. You’ll also notice that some fronts have a tread that appears to run in the opposite direction to the rear – Gary tells us that this is to allow the front to throw the water to the outside of a turn, rather than the inside, thus taking more water away from the rear tyre’s path.

Race wets for the track are so soft that they’ll be quickly ruined if used in the dry. Equally, a track-focussed dry road-legal tyre with tread is designed to work at high temperatures, so is not as efficient for wet road work; the wise rider won’t fit the raciest rubber to their bike if they’re riding in all weathers.

 

What pressures should I run my tyres at?

On the road, use the pressures stated by the bike or tyre manufacturer – do not drop them on the road, and again, don’t drop them in the wet. Tyre pressures are not arbitrary – they’re worked out based on the loads on the tyres by the ETRTO; it’s no coincidence that most sports-bikes require a 36psi front and 42psi rear. You can see Bridgestone’s advice for track pressures by clicking here.

On the track it’s a different matter, because the tyres can reach much higher temperatures than they do on the road, and they can maintain those temperatures. If you’re new to track riding though, forget about it – just keep your tyres at the standard pressures and concentrate on enjoying yourself.

Once you start getting faster on track, working your way into the intermediate or onto the fast group, it is important to drop the pressures. How far you drop them will depend on the tyre and other variables – different tyres and manufacturers will have different ‘hot pressures’ (measured when hot, rather than cold as road pressures are checked).

To get you started, you could check the pressures as soon as you get in from the first session of a track day – while they’re still hot, just reduce them to 36psi at the front and 42psi at the rear if they’ve increased past those standard figures. Make sure you pump the tyres back up before riding home, checking them when they’re cold.

If you’re noticing the edges of your tyres ‘balling up’, this is usually the carcass of the tyre being quite firm, so the tyre isn’t moulding itself to the tarmac – as it’s not moving around, the inside of the tyre is relatively cool compared to the outside, and the surface is pulled away; it’s called ‘hot tear.’ Dropping the tyre pressure will allow the tyre to move a little more and get the carcass warmer.

‘Cold tear’ occurs when the tyre’s pressure is too low, and the inside of the carcass gets too hot relative to the outside, making it more brittle.

 

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

 

How long should my sportsbike tyres last?

It’s difficult to say how many miles or years your tyres should last, but running the correct pressures is vital to get the best life out of them.

If you ride smoothly, you should get the tyre manufacturer’s claimed life from the rubber – or more – but if you’re frequently on and off the throttle and brakes, you’ll be changing tyres more often.

If you are noticing poor wear, check your pressures and your riding style.

 

How do I scrub my motorcycle tyres in?

While some tyre manufacturers no longer use a release agent when making their tyres (Bridgestone says its moulds are of such high quality that it doesn’t need to), you do still need to scrub tyres in.

The recommended period is 200 miles for safety, but on track, a good rider will have new rubber ready to go in just one lap. Lean progressively and incrementally, so you never drop onto a section of the tyre that’s all new – with each lean you should use about half of the rubber that’s been scrubbed, and half fresh.

You must be gentle with the throttle and brakes too, not just to avoid the obvious risk of a lack of traction until the rubber surface has been ‘roughed up’, but as the tyre soap used by the fitter could see a new tyre spin on the rim, leaving it out of balance.

 

Do tyres go off if the bike’s not ridden?

Tyres do have a lifespan – they’re typically guaranteed for around five years from the date of manufacturer, but how long they last does depend on how they’re stored.

To work out how old your tyres are, look for the last four numbers, just after the DOT code; any tyres made after 2000 will have a four-digit number – the first two digits relate to the week of the year, and the last two are the year. A tyre with 2518 was made in the 25th week of 2018.

If you’re storing tyres, keep them out of sunlight and away from freezing temperatures; under the bed or in the loft is the best place.

If you’re not using your bike much, the best bet is to keep the tyres off the ground, using paddock stands or an Abba Sky Lift. This is because tyres lose their pressure over time, and even a small loss can see the carcass deform – if it’s sitting in the same place for a long period of time, it can cause damage.

If you can’t support the bike, check the pressures every week, and rotate the tyres through 90°. You could also keep the tyres pumped to the maximum pressure shown on the sidewall, but be sure to drop them down again before riding – leave a note on your tank.

Also be sure to put some carpet under your tyres as very harsh winters can see a concrete floor get cold enough to take tyres to their ‘glass transition point’, which results in the rubber becoming brittle.

 

Can I repair my sportsbike tyres?

In the UK, British Standard BSAU159F stipulates that you can only legally repair tyres with a speed rating of V or below, so there’s a good chance you won’t be able to have your sportsbike tyres fixed if you pick up a puncture.

Tyre fitters will remove a tyre to fix it from the inside, and can only repair a hole no bigger than 3mm, and within 75% of the tyre’s centre line; never the edge or the sidewall.

A roadside repair should only ever be considered a means of getting home or to a professional fitter, and of course, ride with caution.

 

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 tyres for your sports bike – once you understand the technology, you’ll be better equipped to buy the right rubber for your motorcycle. 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 sports bike tyres

Track only, not road legal: If it’s never on the road, and it’s dry, R11 or V02 slicks, both of which are designed specifically for the track. In the wet, then the W01.

Fast road and track: Battlax S22 or RS10

Fast road, occasional track: Battlax S22

Sensible speed road rider: Battlax S22

 

Anlas recommended sports bike tyres

Track only, not road legal: Not available

Fast road and track: Not available

Fast road, occasional track: Not available

Sensible speed road rider: Not available

 

Avon recommended sports bike tyres

Track only, not road legal: Not available

Fast road and track: Not available

Fast road, occasional track: 3D Ultrasport

Sensible speed road rider: 3D Ultrasport

 

Continental recommended sports bike tyres

Track only, not road legal: Track Slick

Fast road and track: Race Attack Comp

Fast road, occasional track: SportAttack 3

Sensible speed road rider: SportAttack 3

 

Dunlop recommended sports bike tyres

Track only, not road legal: KR106 / KR108

Fast road and track: D212 GP Racer -> SportSmart TT (more 50:50 track:road)

Fast road, occasional track: SportSmart Mk3

Sensible speed road rider: Roadsmart III/SportSmart Mk3

 

Maxxis recommended sports bike tyres

Track only, not road legal: N/A

Fast road and track: Supermaxx Sport

Fast road, occasional track: Supermaxx Sport

Sensible speed road rider: Supermaxx Diamond / M6029 Tourer

 

Metzeler recommended sports bike tyres

Track only, not road legal: Racetec RR CompK Slick

Fast road and track: Racetec RR

Fast road, occasional track: Sportec M7RR

Sensible speed road rider: Sportec M7RR

 

Michelin recommended sports bike tyres

Track only, not road legal: Power Slick Evo

Fast road and track: Power Cup Evo

Fast road, occasional track: Power RS

Sensible speed road rider: Power RS

“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 sports bike tyres

Track only, not road legal: Diablo Supercorsa SC

Fast road and track: Diablo Supercorsa SP

Fast road, occasional track: Diablo Rosso Corsa II

Sensible speed road rider: Rosso III

 

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