All You Ever Wanted To Know About Dual-Sport Tires (But Were Afraid To Ask)
The single most important feature of any motorcycle is the tires. You can have all the power in the world, the best brakes, but if you don’t have good traction, it was all wasted money.
When selecting tires for your dual-sport bike, the first thing you need to ask yourself is, ‘what kind of riding will I be doing the most of?’How much dirt are you going to ride compared to pavement? It is paramount that you answer this question honestly before moving forward in the tire selection process. Once you decide what the majority of your riding is going to be, you can start to look at specific tire combinations. The key element in selecting your tires is getting a matched set. Matched set meaning same brand and same model of tire. Keeping your tires in a matched set is very important as they will have the same profile and construction.
Though we have used different brands and models front and rear at times, it was mainly for evaluation purposes and we really don’t recommend it. When you mix brands and models, you often end up with accelerated wear on one or both of the tires or have substantially different wear rates and less than ideal wear patterns. None of these are issues you want to have to deal with. Because of the varying profiles of different brand tires, and sometimes even models of the same brand, a mismatched set can sometimes make a motorcycle handle very differently than normal. For example, one tire may want to initiate a corner sooner when you begin your countersteer faster than the other. Riders often think this is an advantage, thinking that it helps the motorcycle turn quicker. The problem is that the tire the other tire may be trying to compensate for this and that can cause a problem trying to pick the bike up out of the corner.
If you have no choice but to install a mismatched set of tires on your machine, the most important thing is to try and stay with the same brand front and rear. If that is just not possible, be sure to match the function of the tires. For example, if you have a Shinko 705 (an intermediate type tire) on the front, don’t put a Dunlop 606 (DOT knobby type tire) on the rear. That would be a bad match.
Now that you have thought about what kind of riding you are going to do, selected the best tires for you, ordered them from ProCycle (you did see our new Tires page right?) and installed them, you probably want to know how much air pressure you should have in them. Good question! Just about every tire made has a maximum pressure molded into the side of the tire. Just like it says, this is just the maximum pressure you should have in the tire when using it. For riding purposes we recommend you begin with about 38 psi front and rear for big dual-sport bikes. (When we say big, we mean weight. This would be for something like a BMW R 1200 GS or KTM 950 Adventure.) Medium to small dual-sports should start in the 35 psi area. These are good starting points, but you will want to adjust your pressures to find what is best for your tire, bike, riding style and circumstances.
Once you have your tires inflated and have put a few miles on them, don’t be afraid to play with the air pressure a little to find your personal sweet spot. We suggest that you drop down from your starting point in small increments of 2 psi at a time. After dropping pressure, take some time to get a real feel for the new pressure before adjusting it again. Tires that are too hard will literally feel hard. They won’t be able to conform to the road and will not be able to generate a correct contact patch, so you will actually lose traction. We have heard of riders running higher pressures in hopes of extending the mileage of their tires, and while getting a few extra miles out of a tire may be good, there is nothing good about tires with lots of tread on a crashed motorcycle!
By the same means, tires with too little pressure will feel squishy and squirrelly on the road making cornering and braking very unnerving. When riding off-road you will have issues with pinched tubes and the resulting flat tires if your pressure is too low. If your tires feel squirrely and unsafe, immediately go back up to a pressure where you felt confident and comfortable.
For dual-sport riders that want to get the best out of their tires on and off-road, they really should carry a small pump of some kind (click here to see the Morph-Mini hand pump on the ProCycle website) so they can drop pressures when riding off-road and then take them back up to the proper road pressure when back on the tarmac.
Be aware of changes in your situation as well. If most of your riding is just you and the bike, but one weekend you decide to grab the little lady and throw on some luggage, remember to bump up the tire pressures to compensate for that. Otherwise you may go into the first corner on very low tires and that could be a bad way to start and end a nice ride.
Always check your tire pressure on a weekly basis, after adding additional weight or before a big trip. You may not check it that often in your car, but then you can’t fall over in your car either. Check those pressures often. Don’t worry about pressure increases due to warm weather or use. Leave the tires where they are as they will go back down and you don’t want them too soft.
Here are some dual-sport and adventure tire suggestions that we like here in the ProCycle shop.
90% pavement – 10% dirt: We really like the Dunlop TR91 radial for this application. This is a good pavement tire with fair off-road performance.
75% pavement – 25% dirt: For good performance and value we recommend the Shinko 705’s. These have really good pavement manners as well as behaving surprisingly well off-road, whether it be on fire roads or trails. Click here to read a recent review of this tire by Mr. ProCycle, Jeff.
50% pavement – 50% dirt: For real split duty performance we suggest the new Kenda 784’s. This is a real value tire that performs admirably in both conditions.
25% pavement – 75% dirt: This is a toss-up. We like both the Pirelli MT21 Rallycross’s and the Dunlop 606’s. Both are really good off-road but won’t kill you on the pavement and actually have decent wear for such dirt oriented tires.
I want to thank Carl, our resident tire expert, for sharing some of his expertise for this article. Carl has been a tire technician with Dunlop for more than 20 years working at AMA Superbike, World Superbike and too many club road races to count. He has also worked at many tire testing sessions all over the country and for more than five years was an AFM new rider Instructor. Carl now rides a KLR650 exploring the back country of the northwest and helps us with tire and product testing on all of our various project bikes.