2012 Touring & Sport-Touring Tire Buyers Guide
Chances are you’ve been in the dating game at some time in your life and, if so, you’ve likely experienced the frustration of having several choices. You’ve dated a number of people and none of them is perfect, but you really like certain aspects of various individuals. Wouldn’t it be great if you could combine these traits into a single person? You could take this person’s intellect, that one’s personality, combine them with a third’s face and a fourth’s body and perhaps have your ideal mate. But unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.
The good news is that, in a sense, motorcycle tire technology does work that way. Beyond the fact that all tires are pretty much round and black, the manufacturers do attempt to give us the best of all possible worlds. The ideal tire might be one that combines the grip of a racing tire with the feel of a sport tire, or the comfort of a sport-touring tire with the longevity and wet grip of a touring tire. The tire makers have done a bit of this type of genetic engineering for us and now attempt to balance these forces in specific ways that allow riders to fine-tune their tires to their bikes and the types of riding they do.
Touring tires are generally considered those that are fitted to heavyweight machines such as various models by Harley-Davidson and Victory, the Honda Gold Wing and other full-dress touring machines. Here the priorities are great load capacity for two-up riding with a full complement of luggage. Longevity is also a top priority, as no one wants to discover that their tires are on their last 500 miles while they’re still a couple thousand miles from home. You’ll also want good tread depth with deep groves and sipes (the channels cut into the tread to disperse water) for wet weather, but back-road handling will be lower on the priority list.
(This Touring & Sport-Touring Tire Buyers Guide was published in the August 2012 issue of Rider.)
Those who ride sport tourers such as the Yamaha FJR1300, Kawasaki Concours 1400 or many BMW models expect their bikes to carry them long distances at higher speeds, in comfort, and to brake and handle well. A sport tourer is a lighter machine than a dresser but generally makes more power, so its rider will be willing to sacrifice some degree of mileage for grip and feel. The tire will not need as great a load capacity or wet-weather capability. Those deep grooves that are so handy for dispersing water on a rainy day can lead to tire squirm when a sport-touring bike is pushed hard on dry pavement. An H-rated tire (approved for sustained speeds of up to 130 mph) may be well within the needs of a touring bike even on Europe’s autobahns, but a sport-touring rider may want the additional safety margin of a V- or Z-rated (149 or 150-plus mph) tire.
Basic Tire Tech
Depending upon how you ride, you may notice that the center of your tires’ tread wears out while there’s still plenty left on the shoulders. This is common on touring bikes, as tourers usually spend the majority of their time riding straight up. Also, you may not go haring around in the corners because your tires feel uncertain in terms of grip when leaned over and pushed. To deal with this, most tire manufacturers offer dual- or even triple-compound tires that have a harder rubber compound and construction in their center portion for greater wear resistance, and a softer compound on their shoulders for better grip. Many tire manufacturers also have a circumferential belt that is wound tighter in the center, and less so on the edges, for the same reason.
When selecting tires, be certain to select the same type and general size as the tires that originally came on your bike. If it came with radial tires stick with them, or stick with bias-ply tires if they were original equipment. Unless your bike came that way, never run a radial at one end with a bias-ply at the other—the bike may handle strangely. It’s usually best to run the same brand and model of tire as a matched set front and rear, as they are made to function together.
Your bike carries a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) sticker, usually located near the steering head, that lists the maximum amount of weight the bike can carry including its own weight, a full tank of gas, riders and luggage. Your tires will carry a load rating on the sidewall that lists its maximum recommended load. The total load carrying capacity of your two tires should meet or exceed the GVWR figure. And of course, check inflation pressure frequently and keep it within recommended levels.
For this article we asked the manufacturers to spotlight one set of their touring and sport-touring tires, send information and a photo, then we listed other such tires in their line.
Touring & Sport-Touring Tire Buyers Guide
The Cobra is aimed at the cruiser, touring and custom market, and Avon says that it incorporates sport tire technology for nimble handling, combined with stability, yet does not compromise longevity. It’s available in new sizes, some in whitewalls, including extra-wide sizes for custom bikes. There is also a new dual-compound application for the Honda GL1800 Gold Wing that features 6-ply technology (3 plies, 3 belts for structural integrity and resistance to irregular wear). Technologies include Advanced Variable Belt Density for the radial rears in many sizes.
Storm 2 Ultra
The Storm 2 Ultra is a sport/sport-touring tire for bikes such as the Honda ST1300, Yamaha FJR1300 and the BMW R 1200 RT, and also for sportbike riders who don’t wish to wear out their center tread as quickly. It features Advanced Variable Belt Density technology, a densely wrapped belt in the center for stability, wear and mileage, with less density on the shoulders for a larger, more compliant contact patch.
Others: Avon also offers the bias/bias-belted Venom in cruiser sizes, and the Venom R in two custom sizes. The Roadrider cruiser tire is for non-radial applications and lighter cruiser/touring bikes. It fits everything from the Kawasaki 250 Ninja to Harley Sportsters and the Triumph Bonneville.
Exedra G709 (front) and G704 (rear)
These Exedra radials are designed as replacement touring tires for Honda’s premiere touring model, the GL1800 Gold Wing. They are tubeless, belted and H-rated for sustained speeds of up to 130 mph. According to the company, they combine years of Bridgestone’s original equipment cruiser development with modern technology into one tire line for this heavyweight machine.
The Battlax line is belted, features dual-compound tread and is designed for good bump absorption for increased comfort. These factors are intended to blend the long wear life and wet performance of a touring tire with high-performance abilities that are similar to those of a sport tire. The BT-023 is also designed to deliver this consistent performance on today’s heavyweight bikes and features a new tread pattern that combines an angle groove with an A-groove and a T-groove to deliver good wear, braking and handling characteristics, along with new compounding to complement its belted design.
Other: The Battlax BT-020 is designed for the touring-oriented sport rider, while the BT-021 is designed to feel like a sport tire on winding roads.
Milestone Mileage Plus
Just introduced, the Milestone Mileage Plus is said to deliver 20 percent more mileage than the previous Milestone it replaces with just a compound change, and no change in tread pattern. Conti states that its new compound maintains the same level of grip, and that its silicone compound technology guarantees continued good grip in the wet. It also offers a maximized contact patch and deep tread rubber for water dispersal and mileage.
ContiRoadAttack 2 GT
In addition to the RoadAttack 2 (released last year), this year Conti has released a GT version that offers extended mileage. The GT is furnished with a wear-resistant compound optimized for use on everything from heavyweight touring to naked bikes, and Conti states that it offers light handling and good braking to boot. Besides the GT indicator on the sidewall it has beefier construction with an additional layer front and rear, and zero-degree steel belt construction for greater stability and feedback when braking into and accelerating out of turns. Its Continuous Compound Technology (CCT) is designed to ensure high mileage and maximum grip at extreme lean angles.
Elite 3 Radial
These tires are intended for most big, radial-shod touring bikes and are designed to provide good wear resistance, even-wear characteristics and great traction. The tread pattern is especially tuned for improved wet-pavement performance, and the Elite 3’s sport-derived profile is designed to provide a lively response in turn transitions and a solid feel through turns for confident cornering.
Sportmax Roadsmart II
An update of the original Roadsmart, the Roadsmart II is designed to provide additional dry grip, wet-weather performance, linear and responsive handling traits and traction characteristics on par with full-on sport tires, but with extended tread life. The new tread rubber compounds accelerate warm-up, and the new cosecant-curve tread pattern on the front tire is intended for more even tire wear and to stiffen the pattern for reduced squirm and extended longevity. The rear tire features more rubber on the road for enhanced dry handling and traction. It also incorporates a longer-wearing compound in the center and a lateral-grip compound on the shoulders to enhance cornering performance, grip and feel.
Other: The Sportmax Roadsmart is the earlier version of the above. The Elite 3 is also available in a bias-ply version.
A very diverse line, the ME880 Marathon is offered in both radial and conventional designs with fitments for cruisers, customs and touring bikes. In addition to classic black, they’re also available in both wide and narrow whitewall versions. The line includes specific tires for Honda GL1800 Gold Wings, along with upgrades of the front tire specifically load-rated for Harley-Davidson FLH touring models.
Roadtec Z8 Interact
This sport-touring tire features a multi-zone steel cord with the highest tension in the center for mileage and high-speed stability, and lowest on the shoulders for enhanced grip in the corners. It’s designed to do away with the step effect caused by the degradation of the softer of the two (or in some cases, three) compounds in a multi-compound tire. Interact technology is also intended for precise feedback when cornering. According to Metzeler this leads to riding easiness, greater predictability and neutral handling while maneuvering. The tread patterns with the new design shape provide improved water drainage on wet roads. Finally, there’s a new compound and a wider application range.
Other: The Roadtec Z6 is for adventure tourers, the Lasertec has a more classic tread pattern and the ME Z2 is an all-weather sport-touring tire with the emphasis on sport.
New this year, the Commander II is available in both bias-ply and radial construction and is designed for longevity, handling and stability. It incorporates a new rubber compound to increase mileage and help improve wet grip performance. The Commander II also features a rigid, high-density carcass architecture, called Amplified Density Technology (ADT), that allows for exceptional maneuverability and feedback. It utilizes a square-bead sidewall for additional stability and easier installation. Longitudinal grooves in the tread pattern further enhance grip in wet conditions.
Pilot Road 3
Designed for motorcycles as varied as the Honda VFR800, BMW R 1200 RT and Suzuki Bandit 1250S, the Pilot Road 3 features the latest-generation 2CT dual-compound technology with a soft rubber compound on the tread shoulders and a wear-resistant compound down the middle. Its all-new XST X-Sipe technology utilizes full-depth sipes to evacuate water under the tire, and generate pressure at the edges of the sipe blades to break up water film. XST sipes are also intended to promote long tread life and even wear characteristics.
Other: The Pilot Road 2 has dual compounds, the Pilot Road 3 Trail is for adventure bikes ridden primarily on roads, and the Anakee 2 is for adventure and dual-sport bikes. The Pilot Aktiv is a replacement bias-ply, and the Scorcher line is intended for Harley-Davidsons.
The Night Dragon is available for Harley-Davidsons and metric cruiser bikes, and is designed to deliver enhanced grip and feel with a more aggressive looking tread. It’s available in both alphanumeric sizes (for Harley-Davidson replacement) as well as radial and bias-ply sizes for various metric cruiser and touring bikes (except the Honda Gold Wing). Plus 1 and Plus 2 sizes are also available.
This new generation of Extended Mileage Sport (EMS) compound tire is designed for maximum safety and feel in wet/cold conditions without compromising dry grip. Its front and rear profiles are tailored to deliver neutral and smooth handling on the latest generation of sport and sport-touring bikes, and the E Spec rear offers improved mileage for Yamaha FJR1300s and other large sport-tourers. The Angel ST replaces the Diablo Strada and makes use of an advanced compound designed for excellent wet grip and durability. Pirelli says it set a durability record on the Nardo racetrack in Italy, where one set of Angel STs completed more than 5,000 kilometers over a 24-hour period.
Other: The Sport Demon is a bias-ply for touring, and the MT 75 is for small and medium-sized touring machines.
230 Tour Master
Designed for long-distances and sustained high speeds, the Aramid-belted Tour Master offers a staggered tread design for a quiet ride with excellent handling. It is V-rated (149 mph), tubeless (in most applications) and has a 4-ply rating.
011 Verge Sport/Touring Radials
Shinko’s 011 Verge Radial is designed specifically to provide performance with extended tread life. The rear features zero-degree JLSB (Joint-Less Steel Belted) technology for added stability and strength, while the front is Aramid belted for enhanced high-speed performance. Both of these DOT-approved front and rear tires feature a tread compound created to provide excellent grip with extended tread life. The 011 also features a tread radius designed for enhanced high-speed cornering and a W speed rating (168 mph).
Other: The SE890 Journey is a radial designed for larger touring bikes. The SR734 is a matched rear for the 733 or 735 fronts and is 4-ply rated.
The 302 line incorporates sizes to fit various V-twin baggers in both black wall and whitewall designs. Vee Rubber tells us that these tires are very affordably priced, and offer enhanced mileage along with water dispersing qualities for wet weather.
387 Sport Traveler
Meant to offer riders value and performance on their sport-touring machines, the Sport Traveler’s tread is designed to disperse water from the surface for excellent wet-weather riding characteristics. It has a specially formulated deep tread design that delivers extended mileage, and an advanced compound for both center and sidewalls to create more even wear throughout the life of the tire. The load capacity is designed to accommodate a two-up couple and all the luggage they need for an extended trip.
Other: The 191 is intended for larger adventure bikes that will spend at least 80 percent of their time on the street. The Twin is a tubeless, H-rated tire intended for heavyweight bikes; it’s also available in whitewall.