Streetbike Tire Categories Explained
By Ari Henning Video: Spenser Robert January 28, 2017

Tires are critical to your bike’s performance and safety.
To help you select the right tire we’ll outline the five main tire categories.


MC Garage Video: Streetbike Tire Categories... by motorcyclistonline

Tires are critical to your bike’s performance and safety. To help you select the right rubber for your ride, we’ll outline the five main tire categories.

are always a compromise between grip and durability, and they span the spectrum from hard, long-lasting buns for big bikes to super soft and grippy race slicks. Which tires are best for you has to do with the kind of bike you ride, where you ride it, your riding style and experience, and of course weather conditions.

To help you make sense of the many tire options out there, I’ll explain the five main tire categories. And to really drive home the differences, I’m going to compare them to shoes.

To kick things off, let’s talk about a type of tire I like to compare to work boots.

CRUISER TIRES

All the Harley-Davidsons, Indians, Victorys, and customs you see out on the road are going to be rolling on a specific kind of tire. Cruiser buns are thick, heavy, and stiff because they’re designed for really big, really heavy bikes.

Think of cruiser tires as work boots—sturdy and durable, and made for, well, doin’ work. Cruiser tires are meant to handle a ton of miles and work well in all weather conditions, so they use a harder tread compound with plenty of tread grooves to channel out water. They’re great for straight-line stability and offer really awesome mileage, but not necessarily a lot of performance or outright traction. And on cruisers, that’s an ideal compromise.

On the spectrum of street tires, cruiser rubber is at one extreme end, and just so we can clearly mark the boundaries, let’s jump all the way over to the other end of the spectrum and talk about slicks.

ROADRACE SLICKS

Slicks are at the pinnacle of performance, and that means they’re expensive, extremely specialized, and they have very specific criteria that need to be met for them to offer optimal grip. Slicks are hugely sensitive to temperature and pressure, and because they’re so grippy they only last for a few dozen laps at most.

In the world of shoes, slicks are sprinter’s spikes. They’re very focused, totally uncompromising, and totally out of place any place but the track.

I’ve heard street riders say they need slicks because they’re headed to the track, but that’s like a casual jogger strapping on these sprinter’s spikes to go for a run around the park. It’s total overkill, and totally unsuitable unless you can meet the operating requirements of the equipment. For slicks, that means using tire warmers to heat your buns up to about 180 degrees and watching your tire pressures like a hawk.

DOT ROADRACE TIRES

Just below race slicks are DOT race tires. These are essentially slicks with the bare minimal of tread grooves to make them meet Department of Transportation standards so they can conform to production-racing rules. These tires may resemble street rubber, but they’re a totally different animal.

Like slicks, DOTs need to be hot to grip well, only work in the dry, only offer optimal traction for a heat cycle or two, and are constructed specifically for racing. That means a stiffer carcass for handling vicious acceleration and braking, and an aggressive profile with a tall crown.

In terms of footwear, DOT race tires like these Bridgestone RS10s are like top-end running shoes. We’re talking about the kind of kicks athletes wear to click off 5-minute miles. Performance oriented for sure, but not too good for everyday walking.

As for using your racer buddy’s DOT take offs on the street because you want to be the fastest guy on Mulholland, don’t do it. There’s no way you’re going to get these things hot enough to work well. They’re for race use only, which is why you can only get them through trackside vendors.

SPORT TOURING TIRES

Next up is a category of tire that combines a little bit of that cruiser-tire durability with a whole lot of performance. This is what the vast majority of street rider should be rolling on. Sport-touring tires like the T30 from Bridgestone are kind of like cross trainers or trail-running shoes. They’re comfortable and versatile and pretty athletic. That’s the kind of shoes I like to wear on a daily basis, and ST tires are the kind of rubber I like to ride on, whether I’m riding a ZX-6R or FJR.

Why? Because ST tires are designed to be versatile, and modern sport-touring tires offer incredible grip and good mileage. They’re Goldilocks third bowl of porridge.

In the sport-touring category you’re likely to see lots of tread grooves that extend across the tire’s centerline to provide good water dispersion, but the shoulders may be slick to offer plenty of grip at full lean. Some sport-touring tires are multi-compound, so there’s harder rubber down the middle for better mileage so you won’t wear the thing out commuting, and softer stuff on the shoulders so you can still slay it in the corners. The compounds are designed to work over a broad range of temperatures, and the rubber has additives like silica mixed in to improve wet grip, so ST tires work well when it’s cold and rainy and when it’s hot and dry.

In terms of traction, ST tires have enough of it to drag knee, and they last a long time. I know people think of old dudes on BMWs when they think of sport touring tires, but modern ST rubber is badass. It offers outstanding all-weather performance, great durability, and decent prices.

Last but not least is a category of tire that’s very popular among sport riders, and a group of tires I liken to a good pair of jogging shoes, although that analogy might not reflect how athletic hypersport tires actually are.

HYPERSPORT TIRES

As the name suggests, hypersport tires are all about performance, and they’re designed to rip up a twisty road and the occasional track day. Hypersport buns utilize a lot of trickle-down race technology to deliver more traction, speed, and agility. They’re at the premium end of the street spectrum, and are the type of tires that come new on sportbikes like the YZF-R1 and 1299 Panigale.

Hypersport buns are a little more sensitive to temperature and pressure than sport-touring tires and not always great in the wet. They usually use multi-compound tread to provide more mileage, but hypersport tires still tend to wear fast. But hey, that’s the price you pay for great grip.

In my opinion, hypersport rubber is what you put on your sportbike if you’re committed to riding only the twisties or track days. Unfortunately, lots of street riders think they need hypersport tires because they “ride hard,” when the truth is they’d really be better off with sport-touring tires. You’re going to have more versatility with an ST tire and get a lot more life out of it.
 


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