They hold up each corner of a car or truck.
They’re round, generally black and often unloved.
They are one of the most technical elements of any motor vehicle yet are frequently ignored…..unless of course you ride a motorcycle; I’m talking about tyres.
So why do us bike riders care so much more about our rubber?
Well, in essence it’s because we rely on our tyres so much more to help us stay alive!
A tyre has to do many things in it’s working life; it has to transmit the power from the engine to the road when accelerating and then be the gripping medium to slow the vehicle under braking. It’s grooves throw water away from the contact area in wet conditions to prevent aqua planing and when you go round a corner it’s your tyres that stop you sliding off the road.
On a motorcycle the tyre has of course to work when in contact with the road at other than the perpendicular, that means when it’s leaning through a corner. If you look at a motorcycle tyre you will notice how it’s profile is very different to that of a car or truck version; in cross-section it’s rounded with curved walls, whilst a tyre on a car has generally straight-ish sides.
Harls Skinny Front Wheel, with new Michelin Commander tyre.
Put a group of motorcycle riders together and pretty soon the conversation will turn to the topic of tyres and then become apparent that there are many different views and opinions on “the black stuff.” Fortunately the tyre manufacturers have noticed this too, so the range and choice available to bike owners is quite large, if not a tad confusing! In general, the sports bike rider is best served of all with tyres for every possible scenario catered for; there are hard compounds, soft compounds, dual hard/soft, wet tyres, road legal slick types and goodness knows how many other offerings!
Now I have a bit of a “thing” about tyres too, particularly those for my Harley Davidson motorcycles.
As standard the tyres that are fitted as original equipment to Harley Davidson’s are made by Dunlop. Indeed, until recently, these tyres were all that was “approved” by Harley Davidson to be fitted to their machines. All good “Union-Produced-Made-in-the-USA” stuff. I acknowledge that motor companies spend many millions on research and development, but that these tyres have earned the nickname “Dunlop Ditch Finders” amongst a lot of end users tells quite a lot about their performance!
It’s in that word “performance” that the issue lies and where the inflexible approach by Harley Davidson is, in my mind, working against them. I’m sure that from their base in Milwaukee the Harley Research and Development Girls and Boys look out at the Mid-West Plains or the sun-baked highways of Arizona and California and truly believe that the good old Dunlop D4xx family are really a “one-size-fits-all” answer. Only they are most definitely not.
On the Grössglockner, sunny but cold.
The tyres are made of a hard rubber compound, rock hard in fact. True they last forever, some folk get well over 15,000 miles out of a set, but it’s a trade-off as the tyres don’t really “work” at the average temperatures we enjoy here in Northern Europe and probably a fair slice of the USA as well! Yes I know that there are folk in the USA who swear by the stock Dunlop, mainly because they last forever, but hear me out…
Riding in Provence a couple of years ago with “Baby” my big tourer, the air temperature was around 40°Celsius and only then did I feel that the D402’s were gripping the road well; though that could have been because the asphalt was melting! Earlier in that trip I had been riding through the Black Forest in Germany, temperatures were around 10°C and it was raining, grip was scarily minimal, especially cornering, when the back-end of the bike twitched as the tyre frequently lost grip through the bends. Not nice!
40ºC it’s hot, very hot.
So what’s the answer?
Well a quick look on a couple of on-line Harley forums threw up two interesting schools of thought.
a) High mileage is good, doesn’t matter if it doesn’t grip the road well.
b) Must grip the road in all conditions, especially the wet, but mileage doesn’t matter as much.
Broadly: a) = North America b)=Northern Europe!
For me it’s a case of find a tyre that does work in cooler wetter climates…but to be honest, for a Harley the choice is very limited. Aside from the stock offerings for my big tourer, I’m looking at tyres made by Avon, Metzler and Michelin.
There is another type of Dunlop, GT502, which H-D fit to some their Custom Vehicle Operations machines and from personal experience on Harls, these are a fantastic tyre; grippy in wet and dry, with a lovely rolling action, but with the trade-off of relatively short mileage….but they don’t make them for the bigger bike!
I’ve used Avon’s on my Softail previously and have been very pleased with them. Metzler are a new manufacturer to me, originally based in Germany, but now owned by Pirelli of Milan…so many decisions! In recent times H-D have begun to approve some tyres made by Michelin, but as yet I haven’t received any reliable feedback on these.
Spot what’s missing!
OK here’s the plan.
Softail Harls needed a new set of boots this summer, she had a set of the Dunlop GT502’s put on a couple of years ago and I wanted stick with them, but unfortunately they seem to be currently unavailable at the moment; bummer! So taking a leap of faith I’ve gone for the Michelin “Commander,” lets see how we get on. Initial feedback is that I like them, I’ve only done around 220 miles on the new rubber so far, but I can report that they heat up nicely, grip well and best of all feel great in the wet; so big smiles all round….if you excuse the pun!
New Michelin Commander on the rear of Harls.
I’ll report further when I’ve done a more meaningful mileage.
Then I’ve got to figure out which tyre to fit on Baby Blue….!
Just to close…
A couple of years ago Mrs Dookes overheard one of her colleagues talking on the telephone to a tyre supplier when their car needed a new set of rubber, it went like this…
“I need some new tyres for my car please. What size? Well, er ‘medium’ I suppose, oh and black ones too.”
Catch you soon.