Types of Motorcycle Tires

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Motorcycle tires may all appear the same. However, every model is different and there are several types of motorcycle tires.

Although motorcycle tires are round and look like smaller versions of automotive tires, they come in a large variety of designs and are engineered based on your intended use.

For the purpose of this article, we will break down motorcycle tires into a few broad categories and will focus on only DOT-approved street-legal tires. These include touring, cruiser, sport, sport touring, ADV/ dual sport, off-road and motocross, and winter tires.

With so many tires to choose from, you will find that every rider will have their own way to define them and even the manufacturers have their own names for the various categories of motorcycle tires.

As a person who has been riding motorcycles all his life in all sorts of terrain and weather, I have amassed quite a lot of knowledge on the various types of tires and what sets them apart from others.

In this article...


Types of Motorcycle Tires

The major categories of motorcycle tires are defined below:

Touring Motorcycle Tires

Touring motorcycle tires are designed for excellent traction and mileage. They sport a slightly straighter profile that increases their straight-line stability and cornering stability and are often made of a harder compound that may sacrifice gripping ability slightly. The tires are also made of a bias-ply construction that consists of belts, which are cords wrapped with Aramid fiber, polyester, and fiberglass that absorb road shocks and give you a smoother ride and more enjoyment.

Touring motorcycle tires are designed to enable riding on the widest range of road surfaces. They offer a lot of rideability, a high level of riding comfort, and a longer riding time. Manufacturers also design these tires keeping in mind a wide range of weather conditions; hence, these tires also perform very well in wet weather conditions and have more treading than race tires to evacuate water away from the contact patch and prevent hydroplaning.

Typically, touring tires are seen on motorcycles that spend a lot of time touring cross-country. Importantly, we should not expect speed beyond 124 miles per hour from these tires since they sacrifice some of their high-performance sports characteristics. Touring motorcycle tires are made to improve overall performance in other aspects of riding.

Cruiser Tires

Cruiser tires are engineered with a focus on long travel time, good cornering traction and grip and an optimal road noise reduction. Hence, the priority is very much on offering an easy ride experience to the rider.

Cruiser tires are designed to be robust and durable enough to hold heavy bikes and deliver excellent mileage as well as offer excellent traction in rainy weather. These tires are equipped with a deeper tread pattern and are constructed with a harder compound that delivers more wear and mileage, just like touring tires.

Since the compound used it quite hard, these tires are liable to be heavy and have stiffer sidewalls that can withstand heavier loads. This means they can carry a passenger and bags on both sides. Also, the higher load index means a more stable and secure driving experience.

Motorcycle cruiser tires are typically seen on big V-Twin cruiser bikes like Harley Davidson.

ADV/Dual Sport

Adventure or dual-sport tires are DOT-approved tires that have been engineered for off-road use. These tires are designed with distinct knobs that offer exceptional grip on mud, dirt, light sand, and rocks.

When you are looking for motorcycle tires in these categories, you will see that these tires have been listed with percentages related to their intended use, like 80% off-road, 20% on-road. These tires have a more aggressive design and are geared more towards traveling on dirt roads and have a higher off-road percentage. On the other hand, tires with less aggressive treads are geared more towards use on paved roads and some light offroading.

For example, the Continental Trail Attack 2 tires are designed for 85% on-road use and 15% off-road use. The big tread blocks on these tires help offer a smooth ride on highways and its deep grooves deliver self-cleaning and a firm grip in off-road terrain. On the other hand, we also have the Michelin Anakee Wild which offers 50% on-road and 50% off-road riding capabilities. These tires offer a compromise for both on-road and off-road conditions with broader tread blocks that offer a good ride on hard and smooth roads and can also travel through mud and sand with ease. They typically have a durable radial construction that can withstand heavier loads and deliver better stability when cornering on the road.

Off-road/ Motocross Tires

As the name of the category suggests, off-road tires are designed exclusively for off-road all-terrain riding. This means these tires are meant to ride in meadows, gravel, stones, forests, mud, snow, and other outdoor environments. Because these are rough driving terrains, off-road motorcycle tires have very durable construction and are very resistant to wear and punctures.

These tires also have a very high gripping ability that ensures that the tires do not skid or get bogged down in certain terrains. They also allow your motorcycle to make tight corners or turns at very high speed on a soft surface, thanks to the high traction delivered by the front tires.

However, there is no single universal tire that is perfectly suited to all types of riding conditions. Therefore, it is important that before you decide to purchase a specific model, you should consider what form of off-road surface you will be using your bike on(mud, sand, gravel, snow, or forest ground) and then buy the tires most suited to the environment you will be riding in.

For example, if you like to dirt ride on harder terrain, the type of off-road tires you use should consist of tightly-clustered and low knobs that increase the surface area and offer more grip as the motorcycle runs at a speed of 100 miles per hour while maintaining stability and control on a rough and unpredictable track road.

Sports/ Super-Sports/High-Performance Tires

Designed for light sports bikes and heavy-duty high-performance street bikes, sports tires deliver very responsive and precise handling with a very firm edge-to-edge gripping ability. These tires are typically lighter and are made of a softer compound that delivers excellent grip and allows excellent and very stable cornering abilities. Some sports and super sports tires have a more marked center line that makes the side to side transition easier and quicker for the rider.

Sports tires have a fewer number of tread lines and sipes, which means a bigger unbroken contact patch. However, some of them can still work decently in wet weather. These tires have a stiffer construction that delivers more stability and support, particularly when you need to corner or brake at high speeds. Many tire manufacturers use innovative compounds in the construction of sports and high-performance tires so that they may deliver superior traction, good mileage, and a longer lifespan — although they cannot last as long as cruiser tires.

Performance-focused tires are typically made of softer compounds and feature fewer sipes to promote cornering stability at high speed.

If you are riding on a sports tire, you should be a licensed racing driver. These tires are much more demanding than cruiser tires and cannot be used on roads as they have low tolerance. Other types of sports tires can also further limit your range of maneuverability, like slick tires, which can only be driven in certain weather conditions.

However, there are many sports tires that can legally be driven on public roads as well. These tires are specifically marked, although their use is also restricted on public highways. These tires often have radial construction (more on this below) which offer superior contact with the road surface if they are used in specific conditions.

Sports Touring Tires

These tires are a compromise between sports and touring tires and are engineered to deliver both excellent traction and long distance travel. These are great tires for people who use their bikes for cross-country touring as well as fast cornering. However, since they also offer excellent handling and longevity, they are also good options for sports bikes and naked bikes where mileage is prioritized. This means the kind of bikes that are regularly used for commuting on the highway as well as hitting twisting mountain roads.

These tires are typically made from a dual compound with soft rubber on the sides to increase gripping ability and a harder compound in the center to offer stability and mileage.

Aside from these benefits, these tires also deliver good performance in wet conditions since they have excellent ability to evacuate water.

Track/Competition Tires

As the name indicates, these tires are made to be used on the racetrack. As such, they are not recommended for use on the streets, though some may be DOT Race or authorized to be on the road.

Track tires are made of a very soft rubber compound and are designed to be used at very high temperature — which is the kind of temperature reached by tires used on the racetrack. The high temperature is due to the extreme forces that the tires are subjected to including, high speed, faster acceleration, higher turning forces, and sudden braking.

You may find track tires models that come with varying softness of rubber, typically denoted as “hard,” “medium,” and “soft.” When it comes to track tires, these terms are very relative since a “hard” track tire is often softer than a regular sports or touring tire.

In addition, some track tires are made of composite compounds, that is the softness of the rubber varies according to the different parts of the tires. For example, some tires may have

“medium” softness in the center and “hard” rubber on the sides.

These tires are often slick and smooth in order to get the maximum contact patch. However, there are also rain competition tires which are covered with a lot of tread to evacuate as much water as possible.

Keep in mind that these are not the best tires to be used on the road as they don’t have as strong a grip as sports tires and will also wear out more quickly on the road.

Winter Tires

Tires are also categorized by season. Winter tires are designed to get the best traction and stability on winter roads or snowy or icy conditions/

These tires have a wide range of applications and are made for a huge variety of vehicles. They are characterized by dense siping and deep circumferential grooves that evacuate snow and slush and prevent ice from building up on the contact patch.

Winter tires may be studded or non-studded. Studded winter motorcycle tires are equipped with metal studs that are designed to break slick ice and to grip the road tightly. However, these tires do not deliver a lot of comfort and can be driven in only some states which experience the harshest winters.

Non-studded tires have the same features as studded tires with the exception of the studs.

Types of Motorcycle Tire Constructions

There are two major types of motorcycle tire constructions: bias ply and radial.

Bias-Ply Tires

Bias-ply has a high load index which means they are well suited for heavy loads. This is the reason why most touring and heavy cruiser motorcycles make use of these tires. Bias-ply tires are made of fortified cord layers made of nylon, rayon, Aramid fiber, and polyester. This translates into a tire with stiff sidewalls which can tolerate a lot of weight. However, these tires are more prone to getting hot and are slightly less responsive than radial tires.

Radial Tires

Radial tires, on the other hand, are made of layers that run radially along with the tires and are made of steel. These steel belts are stacked in the tread areas of the tire. Steel belts can dispel heat much quicker than bias-ply tires; therefore, these tires are found to be much cooler during high-speed rides. These tires also have thinner sidewalls which are also flexible, resulting in a more responsive tire that offers more feedback than a bias-ply counterpart. Hence, they are often the tire of choice for pro motorcycle riders.


Tubeless Tires Vs Tube Tires

Motorcycle tires are also categorized into two major types: tubeless and tube-type tires.

Tubeless Tires

Once tubeless tires were only used by pro racing riders; however, now they are everywhere. As the name suggests, these tires do not have a tube. Instead, the air is pumped directly into the tire making the rim airtight.

These tires are available in both bias ply and radial constructions. The compound used in the build of the tubeless tire is usually medium-thick. This means these tires are less prone to puncture and are very durable. They are also much easier to maintain. If a hole develops in these tires, they lose air gradually so that you have enough time to find a suitable place to stop and get the puncture fixed.

Tubeless tires are also lighter in weight which reduces rolling resistance and improves fuel economy.

Tube Tires

The tube-type tires consist of a tube that holds the air pressure inside the tire. These tires are made of a softer compound and have a very high gripping ability. Since the tube and the tires are not connected, the rim is not airtight. However, air pressure is not easily lost as the tube acts as a protective layer.

These tires can more easily develop punctures; however, they can also be easily repaired by any motorcycle tire service. They are also quite cost-effective.