How To Pick The Best Motorcycle Tires For Your Bike

Tip #251 from the pages of The Total Motorcycling Manual

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Once, I asked a rep from one of the big motorcycle tire companies to tell me all he knew about tires. “They’re round, black, and sticky,” he said. I told him to give me the graduate course. “Some are stickier than others. Let’s go to lunch.”

The right tires can make a huge difference in how your bike handles. So can the wrong ones. But how do you find the best motorcycle tires for your bike? With a little more knowledge than my lunch-loving pal ended up imparting to me.

First, let’s talk about street tires. You can divide them into two classes: tube type and tubeless. If your bike’s wheels have spokes like a bicycle, you probably need tires that take an inner tube; if your bike uses cast wheels, you’ll probably use tubeless tires.

Next, a vocabulary lesson: tread and pattern. Tread is the part of the tire that comes in contact with the road. The grooves and channels cut into that tread comprise the pattern. Racing slicks have 100 percent tread, but no pattern. Tread is what gets the work done; on a street tire, pattern exists only to channel water away and keep a tire from losing its grip when wet.

Third, we come to profile. Viewed from behind, a car’s tire has a square profile: horizontal where it contacts the road surface, connecting to vertical sidewalls. Motorcycles have vertical sidewalls too, but the tread is rounded—this shape lets a motorcycle’s tires stay in contact with the road and keep traction when the bike leans through a turn.

Contact patch is the part of the tread that’s on the road at any time.

Profile is the shape of that curved tread section. Is it a gentle curve, or more of a triangle? Or is it broad in the center, and curved only towards the edges?

Compound is the material that makes up the tire. Racing tires use soft compounds that only last 100 miles (160 km), but that offer tremendous, sticky grip. At the other extreme, hard-compound touring-bike tires trade maximum grip for longevity that can be as high as 20,000 miles (about 32,000 km).