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

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

 

If you’re a touring rider, you have a huge choice of motorcycles – from the BMW R1200RT or Yamaha FJR1300, to the Ducati Multistrada and Triumph Tiger. Versys or Super Duke GT, V-Strom, Trophy, R1200RS or Goldwing… it’s a broad range, with a huge choice of tyres. So which is best for you?

The typical touring bike rider will be looking for long-life, comfortable handling and good grip in the dry and the wet. Tyre reviews can help you with your choice, and big comparison tests can also be a useful guide, but they tend to focus on sports grip and handling, not longevity. You can look to owner reviews, but you’ll not know how that biker really rides compared to you.

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

 

Best tyres for your touring bike

Gary Hartshorne is a passionate biker, covering 25,000 miles a year…

 

What’s the best tyre for motorcycle touring?

Most important will be to consider what type of bike you ride. Here’s what Gary recommends – we’ll get into why in a moment…

 

I ride a big touring bike like an R1250RT

Battlax T31

I ride an adventure-style bike on the road, like a GS, Multistrada, Tiger or a Versys

Battlax A41 or T31, depending on the aesthetic style of tyre you want

I ride a sports-bike over long distances

Battlax T31

 

Best tyres for your touring bike

 

Does it matter how heavy or powerful my bike is?

Yes, it does – tyres are designed to meet the requirements set by the European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation (ETRTO), which are determined based on the bike’s individual front and rear axle loads. A bike manufacturer can’t tell you what brand of tyres you need to fit, but you need to follow its specifications for the size, load rating and speed rating.

All the leading tyre manufacturers also have a tyre selector on their website, or you can call them for advice. The recommendations given by these companies aren’t arbitrary – they’re also worked around the ETRTO specifications, so you can be confident that the rubber you’re fitting is suitable, and most important of all, safe.

All tyres have a load rating defined as a pair of numbers – this relates to the maximum weight that can be put through that individual tyre. It’s an axle weight, and the tyres suitable for your bike will have been designed to cope with the maximum payload – so the rider, pillion and all your luggage. Note that it’s illegal to fit a tyre that has a load rating lower than that specified for your bike.

 

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

 

The speed rating for your tyre is a single letter; again, it’s illegal to use a tyre that’s rated for a lower maximum speed than that which your bike requires, unless it’s a snow tyre.

 

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

 

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

Tyre technology has progressed with traction control and ABS. Early ABS systems used to cause ‘heel and toe’ wear on the front tyre due to the rather aggressive pulsing during hard braking. Things have improved, but both ABS and traction control still generate more heat in a tyre due to the way the forces are applied rapidly but intermittently – this means the potential for slightly increased wear.

ABS isn’t triggered by a tyre losing grip – complex algorithms look at the wheel speed and brake pressure (along with lean angle on a bike with cornering ABS) to modulate brake pressure just BEFORE it thinks grip will be lost.

 

Best tyres for your touring bike

 

What are the best touring tyres in the rain?

While tread patterns are designed to look good, the leading tyre companies also spend a fortune – and many years – developing effective tread patterns to shift water out of the way, leaving a relatively dry patch for the ‘slick’ section of tyre to grip.

Motorcycle tyres are designed as pairs, so it’s not a good idea to mix them; the front tyre throws water out of the way, then as the rear tyre runs over that same section of road, it has to deal with more water than if it was leading. Simply put, a rear sportsbike tyre, for instance, could struggle if it was paired with a front touring tyre.

Some tyres have what appear to be reversed front tread patterns relative to the rear – Gary explains that this is designed to throw the water to the outside edge of a turn, rather than the inside, thus reducing the amount of water that the rear has to deal with as it follows through a corner.

 

What pressures should I run my tyres at?

Tyre pressures aren’t just made up by the bike manufacturers – there’s a good reason you’ll see many bikes running the same pressure, regardless of the brand of tyre fitted; pressures are set out by the ETRTO based on the load applied through the axle. After all, it’s the air that supports you and the machine, not the rubber.

You’ll likely find the recommended pressure on a sticker on the swing-arm of your bike, or it’ll be in your owner’s handbook. If you can’t find it, you can check on the tyre manufacturer’s website. Don’t guess, and don’t go by other people’s ‘suggestions’ on forums as the pressures are specific, and the tyres are designed to work with them.

If your bike has a range of suggested pressures, for instance with and without luggage, then you should adjust them accordingly, but don’t go above or below them. Equally, if there’s only one recommended pressure then you don’t need to increase it when you add luggage or take a pillion (though remember that by law you must not exceed your motorcycle’s maximum payload, which should be shown on the VIN plate).

You must not drop tyre pressures in the wet either – besides the fact that the contact patch will likely be reduced due to deformation of the tyre, the tread pattern will close up, making the tyres less efficient in the wet. The extra heat generated will also cause your tyres to wear more quickly.

 

How long should my touring tyres last?

Multi-compound tyres and advances in the balance of compounds used means that wear has improved over the years, but making sure you run the correct pressures will have a huge impact.

If you’re getting significantly less mileage out of your tyres than you’d expect, check your pressures, but also consider your riding style – if you’re hard on the brakes and quite ‘on/off’ with the throttle, you’ll see the years and miles your rubber lasts suffer a fair bit.

 

How do I scrub my motorcycle tyres in?

While fewer tyre companies now use a release agent when making tyres (Bridgestone says that its moulds are of such high quality, there’s no need), it’s still important to scrub new tyres in.

The industry recommendation is 200 miles, but the main thing is to incrementally and progressively build up your lean angle, and to be gentle with the throttle and brakes. The surface of the rubber needs to roughed up – just like a new pair of leather-soled shoes – but the plies inside the carcass also need a chance to settle into each other.

It’s worth noting that tyres are fitted with a slippery soap, so until that’s gone, hard acceleration could see the rubber slip on the rim, leaving the tyre out of balance.

 

Best tyres for your touring bike

 

How should I store my bike if it’s not being ridden

Tyres naturally lose pressure over time, so if you’re not riding your bike for a month or more, you should ideally keep it off the ground on paddock stands or an Abba Sky Lift.

As the air slowly permeates the rubber, the tyre’s carcass will become slightly deformed, permanently damaging it. In very harsh weather, cold concrete floors can also lead to the rubber reaching its ‘glass transition point’ and becoming brittle.

If you can’t get the bike off the ground, check the pressures every week and rotate the tyres through 90°. Also put some carpet under them, so they don’t get too cold. You could pump the tyres up to the maximum pressure shown on the sidewall, but you must let them down again before riding – leave a note on the tank.

If you’re storing loose wheels or tyres, keep them out of freezing temperatures and sunlight – under the bed or in the loft is ideal. But they do ‘go off’ – typically they’re guaranteed for five years, and have a life expectancy of about ten. To know when a set of tyres made after 2000 left the factory, look for the last four numbers after the DOT code; the first two are the week of the year, the second are the year. So a tyre with the code 0918 was made in the ninth week of 2018.

 

Can I repair my tyres?

British Standard BSAU159F states that a motorcycle tyre with a speed rating of V or below can have a 3mm or smaller hole repaired only within the centre 75% of the tread; it also has to be on the top surface, not inside the grooves of the tread.

A roadside kit repair must be considered a ‘get you home’ fix only as a professional fitter will need to remove the tyre and plug it from the inside. Remember though that the plies have been permanently damaged – plugging a piece of rubber through the hole won’t knit these back together.

 

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

Big tourer like FJR or RT: Battlax T31

Touring on an adventure-style bike: Battlax A41 or T31, depending on the style of tyre you want

Long distances on a sportsbike: Battlax T31

 

Anlas recommended touring tyres

Big tourer like FJR or RT: not available

Touring on an adventure-style bike: Capra RD

Long distances on a sportsbike: not available

 

Avon recommended touring tyres

Big tourer like FJR or RT: Spirit ST

Touring on an adventure-style bike: Trailrider

Long distances on a sportsbike: Spirit ST

 

Continental recommended touring tyres

Big tourer like FJR or RT: RoadAttack 3

Touring on an adventure-style bike: Trail attack 3

Long distances on a sportsbike: RoadAttack 3

 

Dunlop recommended touring tyres

Big tourer like FJR or RT: RoadSmart III

Touring on an adventure-style bike: RoadSmart III

Long distances on a sportsbike: RoadSmart III

 

Maxxis recommended touring tyres

Big tourer like FJR or RT: Supermaxx ST

Touring on an adventure-style bike: MA-PD Detour / CM509 Dakar

Long distances on a sportsbike: MA-ST Supermaxx ST / MA3DS Diamond / M6029 Touring

 

Metzeler recommended touring tyres

Big tourer like FJR or RT: Roadtec 01

Touring on an adventure-style bike: Tourance Next

Long distances on a sportsbike: Roadtec 01

 

Michelin recommended touring tyres

Big tourer like FJR or RT: Road 5 for the vast majority (Pilot Road 4 GT for some specific bikes: The full list of bikes that require Pilot Road 4 GT rather than Road 5 are:

BMW R 850 RT, R 1150 RT, K 1200 GT, K 1200 RS, R 1200 RT, K 1300 GT, K 1600 GT/ GTL; Ducati ST2; Honda ST 1300 Pan European; Kawasaki 1400 GTR; Moto Guzzi Norge 1200/1200 GT; Triumph Trophy 900/1200, Sprint ST; Yamaha FJR 1300 (All)

Touring on an adventure-style bike: Road 5 Trail (road only touring; road touring with some off-road would be Anakee Adventure)

Long distances on a sportsbike: Power RS (Road 5 could be better if the usage is Sports Touring rather than Sports)

“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 touring tyres

Big tourer like FJR or RT: Angel GT II

Touring on an adventure-style bike: Scorpion Trail II

Long distances on a sportsbike: Angel GT II

 

 

Bennetts

Bennetts

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Insurance is provided by Lloyd's Underwriters.

Find out more »

 

 

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