Why motorcycle tyres matter
The wrong tyre can ruin your ride.
I chose the picture above because it best demonstrates this point.
That’s me, riding a Ducati 1198SP in winter on ‘sticky’ Pirelli tyres and it was horrible. The trouble is, a road legal, track-focused Pirelli tyre is about the last thing you want underneath you on a twisty UK road in cold conditions – on a seventeen-grand superbike.
If that Ducati had been fitted with a Sports Touring or even Touring tyre, I’d have been able to get them up to operating temperature and started to enjoy the bike. As it was, I was nervous to lean it over and not confident about increasing my speed, in case I couldn’t stop in time. Those tyres gave me little feedback. In short, I was glad to give the red beast back in one piece.
The best motorcycle tyre isn’t the outright grippiest, nor the one with the best wear rate or the one your mates all use or the cheapest; it’s the best one for the bike you ride, in the way you ride it, in the conditions you ride in.
Thousands of bikers are tip-toeing around on the wrong tyres because they’ve not been honest with themselves about the type of rider they are or the conditions they ride in.
The wrong tyre will dent your confidence
The right tyre can transform a motorcycle, improve your riding experience and reduce your tyre bill.
Even if you’re a fast road rider, if you don’t ever ride on track you’ll get more from a Sports Touring tyres than a road-legal Trackday tyre.
The key to getting the perfect tyre starts by not listening to your ego or worrying about what your mates might say. Just be honest with yourself and you’ll be on the right path to pick a brilliant tyre.
I’ve ridden well over 200 motorcycles on almost as many tyres and I have a good feeling for what makes a good tyre. The common mistakes my friends have made when choosing their tyres is that they try and pick a tyre that they think the bike should have, rather than the tyre that works best for their riding.
I’ve written this guide to help you get the best tyre for your motorcycle and your riding style. Happy riding!
Choose Your Tyre Type
How to choose the right tyres for you
Just because you ride a sportsbike, doesn’t mean you need a tyre with ‘ultimate’ grip levels. Equally, just because you ride a commuter, doesn’t mean you need a hard-wearing tyre. It’s important to find a tyre that suits your riding style and your main riding activity and not just buy a tyre that claims to be the best one for your bike.
Tyre chooser chart
If you’re not sure of the best tyre for your motorcycle or riding style, check the chart below. We’ve put some common scenarios in the table to help you get a better idea of the category of tyre that you’ll get on with.
|Riding Scenario||Recommended Tyre Type|
|I want a tyre for fast road riding.||We’d go for a Sports Touring tyre as it’ll have a faster warm-up, longer life and arguably as much grip as a Sports tyre on the road.|
|I ride a Sportsbike on the road and the occasional trackday||A Sports tyre will do the business but look for a sticky track-focused road legal one if you are a faster track rider.|
|I ride a Sportsbike over long distances or commuting.||A Touring tyre is a sensible option as it’ll offer the best mileage.|
|I ride a big Adventure bike but I never go off-road.||A Touring tyre in Adventure-bike sizes will work well.|
|I ride a big Adventure bike and I occasionally go off-road.||If you want an Adventure-style blocky tread pattern and arguably a little bit more off-road capability, then go for an Adventure tyre over a Touring tyre as a Touring tyre will be hopeless off-road.|
|I tour on a Harley-Davidson or other large cruiser.||The major brands all produce Cruiser tyres but some will also produce tyres designed for heavy V-twin motorcycles. The tyre construction is usually Cross-Ply and not Radial, and this softer carcass can help reduce vibrations and give a plusher ride.|
Best Sports Tyre
It used to be that if you rode a superbike on the road or track, nothing but a the stickiest tyre would do because everything else was a touring tyre that had no grip but would last 10,000 miles.
These days, a really sticky track-focused Sports tyre is not the best option for the road, even if you’re a fast road rider.
Why? Because modern Sports or Sports Touring tyres offer so much grip; more than enough for road riding but unlike track tyres, they warm up quickly, perform better in average conditions and they’ll last longer too.
I took the picture above while on a trackday at Spa. I vanned the bike there, did a couple of days on track and vanned it home again. I wanted a good trackday tyre but I wasn’t bothered about mileage so a fitted Metzeler Racetec K3s, which would have pretty much worn flat if I had ridden the bike to Belgium. The previous time I went to Spa on the same bike, I rode there. I fitted a set of Metezeler M7RRs which didn’t quite have the same outright grip on track as the Racetec K3s but they gave me good mileage, worked well in the rain on the way there and they still had plenty of tread left on them by the time I rode home.
A 121mph lap of the Isle of Man TT
The trouble is, there’s a bit of bravado when it comes to tyres. If you want to ‘look’ fast, then a track-focused but road legal Sports tyre, like a Pirelli Supercorsa, ticks that box. It looks as if it’s straight out of the World Superbike paddock. But is it the best tyre for the road? No.
Unless the only road riding you do is on the way to a trackday, then a Sports or Sports Touring tyre is definitely the better option for road riders, even fast road riders on superbikes.
Michael Rutter did a 121mph lap of the TT course on a pair of Metzeler M7RRs on a stock road bike as part of a magazine feature. The M7RR is a Sports tyre, not a Track tyre and yet it can still do the business. Save your track specials for trackdays.
Grippy, long-lasting fast road and track rubber
Replacing the M7RR and combining a great blend of outright grip, long-lasting performance and a fast warm-up time, Metzeler’s Sportec M9RR is capable of winning in the Fast group at your local trackday. Fast road riders will like the quick warm-up time, profile and wet-weather ability. Trackday riders will love the fact they can easily get a couple of trackdays out of them. Michael Rutter even set a 121mph average lap at the TT on the M9RR’s predecessor, the M7RR on a stock road bike. Some tyre.
Motorcycles you’d expect to see running a Sports tyre: BMW S1000RR, Aprilia RSV4 RF, Yamaha YZF-R6
The rider’s most likely to be seen: Wheeling their bike out of a van at their local trackday or heading to their favourite biker cafe on their weekend blast.
Other great tyres in the Sports / Trackday category
We all have a favoured brand, so my pick above might not float your boat. All of the top picks in the Sports category have been made with the assumption that the rider has a Road & Track focus or will do at least one trackday on these tyres. If you’re not into trackdays but you’re a fast road rider, check out the Sports Touring picks.
Best Sports Touring Tyre
If the vast majority of your riding is on the road, no matter whether you’re on a Ducati Multistrada, a Honda Fireblade or a BMW F900R, you’ll be best off on a Sport Touring tyre. They’re not just for bikers heading to France on holiday, they’re a great fast-road rider option too.
They’re designed to warm-up quickly, offer good performance in the wet and in the dry, decent mileage and they’re usually well-priced too. They have a sports, not touring profile and won’t ruin your bike’s handling. In fact, quite the opposite.
It’s only when you deviate from road riding that you should, in my opinion, consider a different type of tyre. If you’re doing lots of Trackdays, a Sports tyre is a better option. If you’re commuting or doing big miles, then a Touring tyre will ensure you get maximum value for money.
The best choice for real-world riding
The Pilot Road series has something of a cult following and for good reason. When the Pilot Road 3 hit the market almost a decade ago, nothing else looked like it. The sipes (the small channels cut into the tread) made the tyre look more like a racing intermediate than a road tyre but they helped to give the tyre feel, amazing wet weather performance and a fast warm up. A decade on and these 5s are the latest offering.
Motorcycles you’d expect to see running a Sports Touring tyre: From a Honda CB500F to a BMW R1250RS, a KTM Supermoto to a BMW S1000RR.
The rider’s most likely to be seen: With Sports Touring there is no ‘likely’ scenario. They’re a popular choice for commuters, weekend warriors, Adventure-bike riders, wheelie-poppin’ Supernaked riders and everything in between.
Other great tyres in the Sports Touring category
Sports Touring is a hotly contested category with every manufacturer producing at least one model, if not two. Sports Touring tyres nibble into other categories too, from Adventure to Sports. With so much choice, it can be overwhelming but the good news is, there’s bound to be a brilliant Sports Touring tyre for you.
Best Touring Tyre
Touring tyres aren’t just for sensible bikers who like to keep a diary of their fuel consumption and tyre life. Like Sports Touring tyres, the performance of a modern Touring tyre has improved dramatically over the past decade.
A Touring tyre used to be about tyre life and any grip you got out of them was a bonus. But these days, they can truly do it all. They warm up quickly, offer very good mileage, grip and wet weather performance.
They’re a great choice for commuters, high mileage riders and of course those heading off for a big adventure on their Tourer or Adventure bike.
If you’re fed up with seeing your rear tyre squared off while the edges have plenty of grip left, it’s a sign you should switch to a Touring tyre and get better bang for your buck.
A brilliant all-rounder
Touring is never boring. Especially with these Roadtec 01s fitted. But they’re more than just a tyre for old boys; I’ve seen them fitted on everything from Ducati superbikes to big BMW tourers. They offer superb levels of grip and feel, a decent wear rate, great wet-weather grip and a fast warm-up. If you’re a road rider on anything but a superbike, these should be your first port of call.
Motorcycles you’d expect to see running a Touring tyre: Yamaha FJR1300, Kawasaki Z1000SX, BMW R1200RT
The rider’s most likely to be seen: Digging out the miles on the daily commute, riding through the pouring rain or heading to the coast to catch the overnight ferry.
Best Adventure Tyre
Let’s be honest, 99% of Adventure bikes never go off-road. So while a knobbly tyre looks the business, it won’t necessarily give you the confidence you could have – or the ride quality you’d like – compared to if you were on a Sports Touring tyre.
These knobbly-looking Dual Sport tyres are essentially exactly the same as a Sports Touring tyre in terms of their carcass and construction but the Dual Sports have a more pronounced ‘off-road’ tread pattern.
The tread pattern isn’t just about rugged looks; they’ll find grip where there is none, especially on loose surfaces and green lanes but they won’t be as good on the road as a Sports Touring tyre. So it goes back to being honest about your riding and the conditions you ride in.
If you’re doing proper off-roading on your Adventure bike, then of course you’ll need a proper off-road tyre but for most Adventure motorcycle riders, a Sports Touring or Touring tyre in a rim size to suit your Adventure bike is the best tyre choice.
In this Adventure caetegory, we’re recommending a tyre for people who ride off-road as well as on. If you only ride on the road on your Adventure bike, see the Sports Touring section.
Combining great performance with rugged looks
Primarily aimed at road riding, the Conti Trail Attack 3s aren’t quite as rugged-looking as the others in our shortlist but they still have that adventure-look. A brilliantly stable tyre, with plenty of edge grip and wet weather performance. A favourite of many adventure-bike riders who are focused on the road but have the occasional desire for some green-lane action.
Motorcycles you’d expect to see running an Adventure tyre: KTM 790 Adventure R, BMW F850GS, Yamaha Tenere 700
The rider’s most likely to be seen: Taking on narrow farm roads in Wales or the Yorkshire moors, eyeing up green lanes and enjoying a well earned pub lunch.
Motorcycle tyre load index chart
A motorcycle tyre’s load index is a numerical code that corresponds to the maximum weight a tyre can support. In order to determine the load index you require, take the gross single axle load of your bike (see your owner’s manual). If it is, say, 340kg then each tyre needs a load index with a minimum load of 170kg, in this case 46. As two tyres that can carry 170kg each will safely carry 340kg.
Motorcycle tyre speed rating chart
Every motorcycle tyre has a speed rating. It is a single letter found after the load rating which is a single number. For example 67H or 55P.
The letter is a maximum speed rating, which indicates the maximum speed the tyre can safely reach, with the maximum load when the maximum listed inflation pressure is used.
Symbol, Max Speed (mph)
Symbol, Max Speed (mph)
Symbol, Max Speed (mph)
Symbol, Max Speed (mph)
Symbol, Max Speed (mph)
Symbol, Max Speed (mph)
(V), more than 149mph
(W), more than 169mph
ZR, more than 149mph
How we researched this guide
I’ve spent over a decade riding all sorts of bikes on all sorts of tyres in different conditions. That’s given me a good foundation for what to look for in a tyre but this guide isn’t about my opinion.
For this guide, I spoke to tyre expert Chris, the boss of motorcycle tyre suppliers, Two Tyres, to get real-world feedback. I spoke to all the manufacturers to get their take on the tyres they recommend for each category too.
I also researched the latest magazine tyre tests from multiple magazines across Europe. I’ve also sifted through user ratings and reviews on retailer websites to get the full 360 on what’s worth fitting to give you the feel and confidence you need.
It’s impossible to ride on every tyre, in every condition on multiple bikes but with the research I’ve carried out, I think it’s pretty close to as good as it gets.
Motorcycle tyre FAQs
What Is The Legal Requirement For Tyre Tread Depth?
Here in the UK, the legal requirement is that the tyre tread depth be no less than 1.0mm around the circumference of the middle three quarters of the tyre.
Once your tyre reaches this limit, it must be replaced. It is advisable though, to replace tyres before they reach their legal limit, as their ability to provide traction will be heavily compromised.
Many organisations and companies advise changing at 2.5mm tread depth because at lower than this tread depth, you will notice a decline in your motorbike’s handling ability and stopping distance.
Riding around on tyres with a lower tread depth also makes you more susceptible to punctures, nasty loose nails and other damage to the tyres as they are wearing paper thin.
Do they make motorcycle run-flat tyres?
In the car world, run-flat tyres have been the mainstay for over a decade. Can you believe that the first ‘run flat tyre’ was introduced by Michelin in 1934? It was designed for military use and also for armoured bank vehicles to lower their risk of being successfully hijacked.
Back in the real world, run-flats are a common fitment to modern cars. Due to the way a motorcycle tyre needs to work, the development of a true run-flat motorcycle tyre has yet to hit the mainstream. A good alternative is to use a tyre sealant like Slime, which will prevent a tyre from immediately deflating if you get a puncture or a screw or nail in your tyre.
Do I need to scrub new tyres in?
You always had to scrub your tyres in but have modern methods of tyre production removed the need to do this?
In short no. However it’s less about the release agent used to get the tyre out of the mould. That used to be an issue and it could mean the tyre surface wouldn’t grip well until it was worn away.
However a tyre still needs bedding in for the first few miles. During the fitting process the bead undergoes enormous forces and the first few miles allows it to properly seat on the rim. Going steady for the first few miles also allows the steel belt and aramid fibres to settle-down and start working properly.
How should I store my bike if it’s not being ridden
Your tyres will lose pressure over time. If you’re storing your bike for a month or more, it pays to keep it on paddock stands rather than sat on its tyre on the sidestand.
As the tyre loses pressure, it will deform and can form a flat spot, especially if the floor it is on reaches near-zero temperatures. It can cause this part of the tyre to become brittle.
If you don’t have paddock stands, then pump the tyres up to their maximum pressures and as silly as it sounds, roll the bike onto some carpet to keep the tyres from being subjected to extremely cold conact.
How long do tyres last?
All tyres will have a production date on the sidewall. From the moment they’re manufacturered, they’re guaranteed for 5 years but they will last around 10 years. So if you fit a pair that are unused but four years old, you’ve got around 6 years of usable life in them. If you don’t get through them in that time, perhaps take up a new hobby?
To see when your tyres were made look for the final four numbers after the DOT code. The first two numbers designate the week of the year and the second are the year. So a tyre with the code 3419 was made in the thirty-fourth week of 2019.