Over the years, advancements in tyre technology have resulted in a plethora of options a modern biker can pick from. Gone are those times when “One type does it all” was the only available choice. Now, there is a specific rubber compound, construction and tread type which matches the type of the motorcycle you own and for the environment, you will be riding it in. So whether you ride your motorcycle cross country, through trails, on the track, or everyday roads, there’s a specific type of tyre that has been designed to bring the best out of your motorcycle in every condition.
Since there is now a choice, the basic rule to remember is that hard compound rubber will last longer while providing adequate levels of performance, whereas, a softer compound will offer maximum tyre performance at the expense of longevity. Also, most factory fresh motorcycles now come fitted with a tubeless tyre on an alloy wheel. The ones which run spoke-type rims still need a tube, but many high-end adventure motorcycles have found a fix to that too. Let’s now try to understand which type of tyre is the best match for the different kind of motorcycles on sale and for the kind of riding you’d do.
Standard street tyres
These are tyres built for everyday conditions and are made of hard compound rubber which lasts long. The rubber on these tyres offers a high level of tolerance for damage due to the hazards on the street. They provide adequate grip and usually have a lot of tread, making them very safe on wet surfaces. These tyres are built for low operating temperatures as speeds are generally low within an urban environment. However, they are also good enough for trips and tours as the motorcycles they are fitted onto are generally commuter bikes which aren’t capable of high speeds. Such tyres often feature a high sidewall which aids ride quality but limits the bike’s capabilities during aggressive cornering.
Street sport / Touring sport
These are also commonly called “sport / touring” tyres and are usually built using a compound of rubber which isn’t too soft or too hard. These tyres offer very good grip and are rated for a top speed which is higher than street tyres and slightly lesser than top-of-the-line premium performance tyres. These are on-road tyres, suitable for varied use which includes everyday urban riding, long tours and weekend rides. Such tyres are generally fitted on entry-level and mid-segment performance motorcycles and offer superior grip in both dry and wet conditions. If your riding style isn’t too aggressive, although not as long lasting as a hard-compound tyre, these can last for a long time too.
These are the crème de la crème of performance tyres, built to extract the most out of a high-performance motorcycle on the road and during that occasional track day. These tyres are made out of soft/sticky compound rubber which has a high operating temperature. As a result, these tyres need to attain a certain level of temperature before they can perform to the best of their abilities. These types of tyres are usually mounted on sports bikes from the outset and are available as an aftermarket upgrade for other performance oriented machines. They offer exceptional levels of grip on dry surfaces, however, the relative lack of tread and high operating temperature makes this tyre difficult to use in the rain. Also, because of the soft nature of the rubber compound, these tyres have a very short life.
All-Terrain / Dual sport
These tyres have bigger blocks on the tread with deep grooves in between and are perfect if you are someone who likes riding on a highway and then ventures into gravel trails and dirt back roads. They offer good grip over loose surfaces and work reasonably well on tarmac, although grip levels are lower in comparison to pure road tyres. These tyres are usually made of hard rubber, have a relatively low operating temperature and very long life expectancy. Such tyres are usually fitted on on/off road and adventure bikes.
Also popularly known as “Knobblies”, these tyres are built from hard compound rubber and are purely meant for off-roading. They will let you link short distances on the road, however, will adversely affect the on tarmac handling of your two-wheeler. In addition to that, extended use of these tyres on the road will cause them to wear out sooner under braking and acceleration. Such tyres generally come fitted with dirt and trail bikes.
Racing slicks / Competition tyres
These are reserved for use on the racetrack and are made from very soft rubber. Built to withstand extreme high speeds, strong acceleration, violent braking and intense lateral forces, these tyres require a lot of heat to be built into them before they can start performing like they should. There is no tread on these tyres and even the softness of rubber can vary from hard – medium – soft. Although these terms are relative, as a “hard” competition tyre will often be made of rubber which is still softer than a “sport” tyre.
These days, newer generation racing slicks offer an asymmetric pattern which contains a different kind of rubber compound for different parts of the tyre; for example, “hard” for the central tread and “medium” for the sides. This is done to make the tyre perform according to the characteristics of the track, where a lot of factors like the length of the straights, quality of surface, angle and direction of the turns etc, dictate the pattern.
Now that you know about the different types of tyres, if you wish to upgrade your two-wheeler from what it has been fitted with, although you may pick from a different type for the profile and tread, make sure you stick to a manufacturer recommended size. Also, keep a check on the health of your two-wheeler’s tyres and ensure recommended tyre pressure is maintained at all times. Happy Riding!