Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long-Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #8 (Motorcycle Shoe [Tire] Shopping)


#8Motorcycle shoe shopping (aka tires): 

Just like carrying the right tools can be a tour saver, so can having the right tires on your motorcycle. Certain types of motorcycle tires last longer and therefore perform better for long-distance riding than others. Having to lose a day or two during a long-distance trip to having new tires installed can ruin a tour.

Tire life if chiefly determined by a tire’s rubber compound. Tires with a softer rubber mix, like sportbike tires, provide excellent grip at the expense of longevity. Cruiser tires tend to feature harder rubber compounds that provide excellent tire life at the expense of cornering grip and performance.

Sport touring riders used to have to make a choice between tires that would provide enough mileage for touring but lack grip for sportier riding, or have to change tires much more often. Over the last 10 years or so, tire manufacturers have begun producing dual-compound tires. Those tires feature a harder rubber compound along the center of the tire, and a softer compound along the sides of the tread. This innovation has allowed sport touring riders to have access to tires that will allow them to ride to the Tail of the Dragon and back, as well as have plenty of edge grip for carving up the Dragon. Most manufacturers use the dual compound construction on the rear tire only, while Michelin uses it for both its front and rear tires. Many of the dual-compound sport touring tires are also available in a “GT” spec with extra belting for heavier touring motorcycles (Yamaha FJR1300/Kawasaki Concours 14/etc.).

A strategy some riders use is buying inexpensive tires that do not have features like dual compound and change them more often. I used such a strategy for a while with my FJR1300. I was living in Columbus at the time, which is blessed to have the Iron Pony motorsports store. They were selling Continental Motion tires for $142.99 a set and $92.99 for a rear tire. Even though it costs $30-$50 to have tires installed (more on that below), it was still cheaper to do that than buy fully-featured sport touring tires.

Each rider needs to first determine which tires are the correct construction (radial or bias ply), size, load rating, and speed rating for their bike. Riders should then try several different brands of tire until they figure out which one is best for them and their bike. Some tires wear better or handle better than others for different rider/motorcycle pairings.

Touring riders can also save money when changing tires by removing the wheels from their motorcycle themselves. Many motorcycles can be lifted using motorcycle lifts with one or both wheels off the ground. Some motorcycles also come equipped with a centerstand that allows the removal of one wheel at a time. A rider can then take the wheels into the shop with their new tires, and only have to pay for the mounting and balancing of the tires. This can save a rider $100-$200 a year or more.

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