Best motorcycle tires for the street

By: On: August 1st, 20091 Comment »Updated: October 14, 2012

Used Motorcycle TiresWhen it is time to change your motorcycle tires, how do you know which ones are the best to get?  There is a lot to consider before you make your final choice.  Of course, the tire size and the price are important, but there is a little more to it than that.

First, it is usually time to change your tires when the tread is less than 1/16 inch or 1.6mm deep, or if you see age cracks.  Check the age of your tires because age can deteriorate the integrity of the tire.

Tire size is dictated by the wheels and type of motorcycle you have, not by how fat of a tire you want.  Rear tires are being made in much wider sizes than in the past, but that does not mean that you can use those on your bike. Having a really big fat rear motorcycle tires usually results from heavy customization to accept wider wheels, or if you own a chopper like a Big Dog that comes from the factory with one of these bad boys on it.

Look at the tires that are currently on your motorcycle and look in the user’s manual to see if they match the recommended sizes.  Some tire manufacturers also offer a database that you can use to enter in your year, make and model to see what will fit.  Reading the markings on the sidewall can be a confusing task, so here is how to decipher it:

The order of the size code on motorcycle tires is (1) Section Width, (2) Aspect Ratio, (3) Construction, and (4) Rim Diameter.  After the size code, there is  description code that includes (5) the M/C for motorcycle, (6) Load Index number, (7) Speed Index letter, and (8) Tube or Tubeless code.

Tire size codes for motorcycles can be either inch size or millimeter size.  Construction codes indicate whether a motorcycle tire is Bias, Bias Belted, or Radial Belted.  Bias tires have a dash between the the section width and aspect ratio numbers.  Belted Bias tires will have a letter B in their code.  Radial tires, of course, will have a letter R.

Motorcycle Tire Speed ChartWhether you use tube or tubeless tires usually depends on what type of wheels you have on your motorcycle.  If you have spokes, then you may require tube type tires.  Most modern motorcycles have cast wheels which use tubeless tires, but before you order your new tires, make sure to check the wheels you have to see if there is anything stamped on them regarding the tire type.  Also, make sure to check your owner’s manual for tire size and type.

Knowing the typical riding conditions that you normally ride in will help steer you towards motorcycle tires that are most suitable for you.

For example, if you ride regardless of rain or shine, then pay attention to the wet weather features of the tire tread.  As with car tires, some tires tread patters are designed to manage the water much better than others, which leads to better grip and less hydroplaning.

Do you expect to buy a motorcycle tires that will still have decent tread depth after tens of thousands of miles, or are you expecting to get the best cornering grip that money can buy?  There are new types of motorcycle tires that have multiple rubber compounds that attempt to satisfy both those demands.

Cost is always important, perhaps now more than ever, but you usually get what you pay for.  A low-cost, general purpose tire is probably more than adequate for someone that mainly commutes short distances, has a low-tech sort of motorcycle (usually this is a good thing), and is not interested in performance riding.  If your motorcycle has ABS, traction control, or if you have invested time and money into dialing-in your suspension, then you should really consider investing in a better set of tires that will be a good match with the technology of your motorcycle.

Your needs from a performance standpoint are one of the most important factors when choosing a motorcycle tire.  For example, if you like to attend track days to push your bike, and yourself, towards the slippery limits of adhesion, then you certainly don’t want to settle on a tire rated for normal highway speeds and maximum tread life.  Tread life is usually tied to the softness of the rubber compound, and with high performance, or racing situations, you do not want a really hard compound that is designed for longest tread life  or you’ll be smoking it during acceleration and braking.

Several online stores offer motorcycle tires at discounted prices.   Motorcycle Superstore usually has sales going on for several brands of  motorcycle tires and offers free delivery.  They even have a database of motorcycle shops that they have qualified as their preferred installers.  They’re worth checking into as you compare prices, and I personally  rate them very highly based on the good experiences I have had ordering things from them.

Once in a while, motorcycle magazines feature comparisons or buyers guides for motorcycle tires.  One of the best motorcycle magazines that I subscribe to is Rider Magazine.  In their March 2011 issue, they have a buyers guide listing for Touring and Sport Touring motorcycle tires.  Brands featured in that guide are Avon, Bridgestone, Continental, Dunlop, Kenda, Metzeler, Michelin, Pirelli, Shinko, and Vee Rubber.

About John Clay

John Clay is the author of MotorcycleInfo.Org. He and his family reside in North Carolina in the United States. A graduate of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced Rider Course, he enjoys riding his Moto Guzzi in charity rides and serves as a volunteer motorcycle marshal for an annual bicycle charity event in the Carolinas.

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1 Response

  1. jim aldi says:

    hello i found your article on tires very useful thanks for putten it up. jim