Helpful Tips For Choosing And Using Motorcycle Street Tires

Everyone loves horsepower. But you should love your tires even more.

Trial by Tire illustration
Trial by Tire.Illustration by Ryan Inzana

Throw two credit cards on the ground. Then shoulder a 500-pound motorcycle, sprint forward, and leap onto the cards at 50, 100, or 150 mph. Although tires are rubber instead of plastic, that’s still all the contact patch you get. Odd analogy perhaps, but the point is to get you thinking: Given the speed potential of modern streetbikes, these precious little footprints make tires your bike’s most important components.

Besides visually inspecting for wear and damage, get to know your tires by finding the four-digit date code, molded into an oval on the sidewall. The first two digits represent the week and the second two represent the year of manufacture (e.g., 1109 means the 11th week of 2009). Worn out or not, if a tire reaches the age of eight I consider it ready for recy­cling. As a test, press your thumbnail into the tread of new and old tires—you’ll feel the difference in hardness.

Other markings include the tire’s load index, speed index, and construction (radial or bias belt). “For maximum tire life, store your bike in low-temperature and low-humidity conditions, away from ozone, salt, and moisture,” advises Piero Misani, Pirelli R&D and industrial director.

Ride Smart polled Misani, along with Shawn Bell, senior tire development engi­neer for Dunlop, and Peter J. McNally, general manager for Avon's European Technical Centre, for some more quick, helpful tips on choosing and using street tires.

LOAD AND SPEED RATINGS. Match or exceed your bike's OE specifications when replacing tires. "A load calculator on Dunlop's website lets you enter rider, motorcycle, and accessory weight to select the correct tire," Bell says. "Choose based on rider attitude and usage, such as sporty/short trips, commuting, touring, or freeway," Misani adds.

WEATHER CHECK. For hot, cold, wet, or slippery roads, the latest tire technology is the best strategy. "Pirelli tires are designed for immediate grip in all conditions," Misani says. Avon's McNally adds, "High silica content helps wet grip, while the tread pattern clears water away."

WEAR BARS AND TREAD DEPTH. "Tread-wear indicators help identify tire wear," Misani notes. Surprisingly though, legally you can run tires almost slick. "The tread-wear limit for motorcycles is 1/32 inch in the US," McNally says. "However, we recommend replacement before this."

HEAT CYCLES: FACT OR FICTION? At the track, tire warmers idealize temperature and reduce heat cycles. "Except when used in extreme environments, road tires are designed to withstand a great number of heat cycles," McNally says. Bottom line for street riders: Just go out and ride.

How about another Ride Smart tip to be more safer?