The right motorcycle tires can make a huge difference to your ride experience. They can improve your grip, maximize your lean angle, and give you a more confidence-inspiring ride. The wrong tires can be slippery, lose grip when you don’t want it, and they can drastically affect your handling. If you haven’t got confidence in your grip, you’re not going to have a very enjoyable experience on two wheels.
Naturally, you can always follow your motorcycle manufacturer’s advice and re-purchase and re-fit the same brand and model of tire over and over again, but you might be putting on tires that aren’t well-suited to your individual needs.
To help you make the right decision when you’re shopping for your next set of rubbers, we’ve put together a top list of our favorite motorcycle tires on the market, and written a short buying guide that covers everything you need to know about tires: their sizes, load ratings, speed ratings, and other important information.
Since different motorcycle types require different types of tire, we’ve decided to list the best motorcycle tire for every type of motorcycle, rather than just putting a top list together tries to compare apples with oranges. So, here are our top picks of the best motorcycle tires for different styles of bikes!
Motorcycle Tires: The Buying Guide
Sure, new tires aren’t the most exciting upgrade that you can invest in. Not when compared with a cool sounding slip-on exhaust or sportier handlebars. But in truth, your tires are what keep you connected to the road, and the right tires can go a long way into improving your ride experience, boosting your confidence, and in some respects, boosting your performance too.
New tires won’t make your motorcycle go faster, but they could help you become a more confident rider. But to feel any improvement, you’ve got to buy the right kind of motorcycle tires for your bike and riding style.
Tires come in a variety of styles, often aimed at certain motorcycle types. For example, high-performance tires are best suited to supersport machines, while touring-focused tires are better suited to cruisers. Here’s a quick overview of the most common tire types and their special features.
Sports tires are specifically developed with lightweight soft compounds to offer nimble handling with outstanding grip. They have fewer tread marks and lines, maximizing the tire’s contact patch with the asphalt. Despite the reduction in tread, they can handle the wet. They’re made with a stiff carcass for increased stability while under stress. And in all, they offer excellent traction with reasonable longevity.
Touring tires are tough things. They’re built to carry heavier machinery over long distances, whilst simultaneously being prepared for a wide range of weather and road conditions. These road-focused tires feature stiff side walls to help carry heavier loads, with deeper tread patterns to boost longevity, and harder construction compounds to ensure high mileage. Dunlop American Elite and Michelin Commander units are good examples of these tires
Sports Touring Tires
By definition, sport-touring tires offer the best features of performance tires with the practicality of touring rubber. They are generally made from dual compounds that offer sports performance on the tire’s edges—for added grip and traction—with a harder compound in the middle for improved stability and tire longevity. They have ample tread to help them perform excellently in wet weather too.
Dual Sport Tires
Dual sport tires—like their name suggests—have dual natures. They’re designed to perform well both on and off-road. They have knobbly off-road treads but they’re DOT approved and totally road legal. They have thick treads designed for handling sand, mud, and gravel roads, whilst offering excellent road performance too.
Other Tire Types
Of course, those are just a few tire types available. There are slick racing tires, full-on dirt bike tires, special vintage units, and extra wide motorcycle tire types too. If it’s got a rim, it’s got a tire to match. But what special features do you need to know about all these tire types?
Tube Or Tubeless
A common question asked involves tubed and tubeless tires. The main difference between tubed and tubeless tires is fairly obvious. One requires the use of an inner tube, while the other doesn’t. Historically, all motorcycles required inner tubes, but most modern road bikes will use tubeless tires.
While it is possible to install a tubeless tire on a tube-tire rim, it’s a lot of hassle, and it’s also possible to use an inner tube on a tubeless tire rim, but for the best (and easiest) results, we always recommend following the manufacturer’s recommended tire type.
Almost all dirt bikes will require a tire with an inner tube. Since dirt bikes favor spoked rims, an inner tube is the best option. Since off-road pursuits have a greater risk of punctures, inner tubes are easier to repair than tubeless tires, so it makes sense.
Radial Vs. Bias
The difference between radial and bias tires is also the source of some confusion. Essentially, the two terms describe the different construction methods used in a tire. Tires feature cords: a material running through them to give them strength and improve their structure. These are often made of steel or aramid.
A radial tire has cords that stretch from bead to bead, in a perpendicular fashion. These tires have softer sidewalls, but they offer improved performance with greater heat resistance. This makes them ideal of sports applications.
A bias tire has cords that crisscross at different angles to the tire’s center line. They offer excellent sidewall protection, and a tough and rugged tire in general. They’re stiffer and more solid, which is better for heavier motorcycles.
Tire Sizing: How To Read A Tire
It’s all very well following your manufacturer’s advice, but what do the numbers in your manual and on the sidewall of your tire actually mean? If you look at your tire, you’ll see a series of numbers and letters that will tell you all you need to know about your tire. But what means what? Let’s take a look at the specs from the popular Pirelli Angel GT tire and use it as an example. It has these specs:
190/55 17 75 W
190: This measurement is the width of the tire’s tread in millimeters. 190mm is the tire’s width.
55: This number is the tire’s aspect ratio, or rather, the percentage of the tire’s sidewall size compared with the width. In this case, it’s 55%. Or rather, the sidewall is 55% of the tire’s width.
17: The rim size is always written in inches. In this case, this is a tire specifically made for a 17-inch rim.
75: Next, we have the tire’s load rating. The number corresponds with a figure in an index that can easily be looked up online. For a load rating of 75, this example tire can support a maximum weight of 853 lbs.
W: This letter refers to a tire’s speed rating. This is the maximum speed that these tires can handle. This example has a top speed limit of 168 mph.
Check out this tire guide from Maxxis for a comprehensive guide to all the numbers and letters on a tire and what they mean.
Important Features To Look Out For
Now that you know what tire type to look out for and what size you need, here’s a quick look at some other important features that you should keep an eye out for. Some of these aren’t necessarily “features” but they’re specs that you should pay attention to, or look for more information about before you commit to a purchase.
The tread of a tire is a significant feature. Naturally, deeper tread is better for off-road riding and shallower tread with a lower profile will lend itself better to sport riding, but you should also look at tread that will work best for your situation. If you live in a wet weather area, you’ll want tires that can handle the rain, with sipes that are designed to channel water away from your tires. Always keep an eye on the tread depth and pattern if wet weather is a constant threat to your riding.
A tire’s mileage should be an important factor that you take into consideration. Since tires aren’t cheap, high mileage would be the most desirable. However, harder compound tires that last longer often enjoy higher mileage by compromising on grip. Always read the reviews from existing owners to get a real idea of what a tire’s lifespan is really like, and how well it truly performs.
As we mentioned above, different tires have different sped ratings. The letter designation on a tire’s sidewall indicates the maximum speed that a certain tire is safe to operate at. While the highest speed rating sounds brilliant, is it actually realistic for you riding style or for your motorcycle?
A tire that’s rated to endure speeds of above 168 miles per hour will be more expensive than one that’s rated to handle more reasonable speeds. Opting for a lower speed rating to try and save some money is also a bad idea. If a manufacturer says a tire can’t handle it, then the tire can’t handle it. It’s not worth gambling with your life over.
Lastly, there’s the most important factor to consider: the price. It’s all very well following the manufacturer’s instructions and replacing those premium Pirelli tires with another set of premium Pirelli tires, but if those tires are prohibitively expensive then you’re going to need to find a cheaper option that will do the job safely.
Fortunately, it’s possible to find a wide range of deals out there on the internet, with multi-pack options, second-hand (but never used) tires, and some with only a little bit of wear. These are all options worth considering.
Motorcycle Tire Brand Names To Keep In Mind
We’ve mentioned a few of them above, but if you want some inspiration and need to shop around other brands, here are some of the biggest in the business, with some lesser-known brands worthy of your attention:
If you’re stuck for ideas, check in at your nearest motorcycle tire shop for first-hand advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Do Motorcycle Tires Last?
The average sports bike front tire will last around 5000 miles, with the rear having a shorter lifespan of around 3,000—but it all depends on how you ride it, and how well you maintain it. Generally, tires can last much longer. However, it’s always wise to change them every few years since rubber can degrade and perish.
Can You Plug A Motorcycle Tire?
Yes, you can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Now, a motorcycle with an inner-tube can be patched easily, but tubeless tires will require a plug if they get punctured. Plugs can only work if the puncture is small and located within the tread. A professional garage generally won’t perform this kind of motorcycle tire repair. A replacement is always a better option.
Where To Buy Motorcycle Tires Near Me?
The internet is a great place to source discount motorcycle tires, but a good old fashioned shop has its advantages. The tire prices might be higher but they will probably fit them for you, using proper tire changer tools, and professionally fitting motorcycle tire balancers. Some garages won’t fit tires that you’ve bought from elsewhere, but that’s down to the garage.
Online, the best resources are Amazon, Revzilla, and Chapparal Moto (Chapmoto).
What Should I Do With My Old Tires?