Tire Buyers Guide
Tires are perhaps the most important component on any motorcycle. They are the key to performance, comfort and safety. Without proper tires and routine inspection and maintenance, our motorcycles aren’t going anywhere. Use this tire guide to learn some of the basics about how motorcycle tires function, their construction and how to choose the right tire for your bike.
Your engine performance and chassis are only as good as the tires that put the power to the ground and keep you planted in those corners. No matter the rider or riding style, from heavy baggers to ultra-fast liter bikes, the correct tire is literally what keeps the good times rollin’.
Whether you are replacing a set of worn-out tires or upgrading to improve performance, it is important to know what the specifications of the tires are for your specific bike and how to match the specifications against those of the tires you are considering.
Out of the gate we’ll be getting familiar with the basic parts that make up a tire.
Tread: The most obvious part of the tire people see is the tread, this is where rubber meets the road. You’ll find a variety of tread patterns depending on the intended use for that tire.
Carcass: This is the backbone of the tire that lies underneath the tread. Essentially, the carcass is made of steel or fiber cords that run from bead to bead. Every tire is either a bias ply or radial ply, which is a MAJOR distinction. Bias plies are laid at an angle (bias) in a direction, whereas radial plies are laid directly from side to side. We will discuss the benefits of each a bit later.
Bead: The bead is where the tire mounts to the wheel. Multiple steel cords are placed in these areas to ensure a snug fit against the wheel and no leakage in a tubeless tire.
Sidewall: This is where the vital tire information is displayed, however the sidewall is much more important than just an indicator. Virtually all the load support and much of the handling is determined by the sidewall design.
As motorcycle engines and chassis have advanced, so have tires. Traditionally, motorcycle tires were bias ply, which means the carcass was made up of body cords at an angle directionally. Flash forward to the present, and you’ll see a radial design in many tires, where plies are laid from bead to bead instead. This leads to many advantages:
• Heat dissipation: Radial tires displace heat better, which increase longevity and improved wear
• Sidewall Flexibility: By construction, radial tires sidewalls are not stiff as bias-ply tires. This allows the sidewalls to contour to the road better, improving surface area to the section or tread.
Bias-ply tires are still sticking around, but for good reason. Due to the stiffer sidewalls, bias-ply tires come standard on many heavy cruisers and touring bikes. The lack of flex works well for bikes designed to carry passengers and/or luggage.
Now that we’re familiar with the tire construction, the next step is learning how to decode the sidewall information. Most of what you need to know is molded right into the tire’s sidewall in either metric or alphanumeric. Let’s dissect a typical metric sidewall designation example: 130/90 R 16 67 H