The tyre debate is one of the favourite fireside topics of all time. Every rider has an opinion and what’s the right tyre for your at any time depends on the bike you are riding, your riding style, the terrain you are riding, how how remote you are going and what is readily available. This guide aims to help you choose the best tyre for your adventure riding by looking at the following topics:
- Choosing a tyre for your adventure bike
- Benefits of knobby vs. road tyres
- Tubed tires vs. tubeless
- Best tyres for paved roads, with a hint of trail
- Best tyres for the middle ground (50/50 tyres)
- Best tyres for mostly dirt and sand riding
- Tips for avoiding/dealing with flats and helping your tyres last longer
Choosing an Adventure Motorcycle Tyre
The best thing about dual-sport motorcycles is that you can go anywhere with them, one weekend you might be riding rocky fire roads in the mountains and the next cruising along a beautifully paved country road. These bikes can do it all, but as anyone who’s owned one knows, they can’t do everything well, at least not all the time. At some point, you’ll have to make some decisions about whether your bike will be outfitted for the streets or the trails, and that decision is most visible in the tires you put on it. This guide will cover the following topics:
You can think of tires as being on a spectrum, with one end built for on-road use and other for off-road. A tire optimised for ideal pavement conditions would be completely smooth; these are known as slicks and are used in racing events. Slicks are fantastic for converting the output of your bike’s engine into forward motion and control, because they have large contact patches i.e. more rubber meeting the road. However, their smooth surface is worthless on anything but clean, dry asphalt. Any water on the road will cause the bike to hydroplane so even the fastest tires designed for the street will have grooves cut in them to channel water away from the contact patch.
At the other end of the spectrum are the exact opposite of slicks, knobby dirt tires. All those knobs are designed to bite into the soft ground and channel mud away from the contact patch. However, having such an uneven tire surface makes for a very small contact patch when you’re riding on a hard surface like asphalt where the knobs don’t sink in. Dirt tires are much less stable on the street, decreasing braking capacity and your ability to lean through a turn without losing control.
Dirt tires are often made from softer rubber compounds too (compared with street tyres, not track). As they’re not expected to see as much mileage and dirt is a whole lot softer than pavement, dirt tires prioritise grip over longevity. The more milage you would like If you’re hoping to get a tire that lasts ten thousand miles, it will most likely need to be a more street tire.
In between these two extremes are the dual sport tires, designed to be good enough to run on pavement or in mud, but optimised for neither. For instance, an 80/20 tire is designed for 80% on road travel and 20% off road; think of it as highway bike that occasionally goes out on well-graded dirt roads in good weather. The opposite, 20/80, would be a true trail bike that’s legal for the highway so you don’t need to trailer it between dirt sections.
Keeping those things in mind, the biggest question you need to ask yourself (and be as truthful as possible) is what kind of riding do I need this set of tyres for? Specifically, what terrain will you be riding is more important: road grip or offroad grip, performance or longevity?
Racers and weekend warriors that trailer their bikes most of the way and are never too far from the best options for your next motorcycle tire that are tailored to your riding style.
Best tyres for paved roads, with a hint of trail
Much of the reason we love riding adventure bikes is because they can be used on road as a commuter/tourer, as well as offroad on fire trails, etc. Everyone likes to think they will be out in the bush on gravel roads every weekend for long distance rides, but the reality of it is, much of the riding done by lots of adventure riders is on paved roads. Here are some tyres that should keep you shiny side up on the pavement, but mean you aren’t left out on the odd gravel road.
Michelin Anakee 3
These are the tires you buy if you’re almost always riding pavement. It’s an 80/20 tire that’s ultra sticky and incredibly quiet when riding on highway. You should notice almost no difference from a full street tire and they perform well in tight corners and on the brakes.
However, that on-road performance comes with a bit of price – the Michelin Anakee 3’s rather sticky rubber compounds only last about ten thousand miles. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s less than you’d expect from a dedicated touring tire. That being said, the Anakees are okay on dirt so long as it’s relatively dry – the smooth treads don’t shed mud very well. You also can’t get too aggressive with your dirt rides as any kind of sharp rock runs the risk of puncturing it.
BMW chose these tyres for over half of its R1200 GS, R1200 GS Adventure, F700 GS and F800 GS models.
Pirelli Scorpion Trail 2
The Scorpions from Pirelli are some of the best tires you could choose if you spend most of your time on pavement but occasionally need some great trail performance. Pirelli is well known for being a high-end tire manufacturer and it really shows with the Scorpions. First off, they’re an 80/20 tire with excellent durability thanks to a dual compound rubber that’s sticky on the edges and tough where’s there’s the most wear in the centre. They also don’t have a completely smooth centre belt as some of the street tires do, but because of the way the grooves are cut, it’s nearly solid while still being able to channel water from the contact patch. On dirt they fare a bit better than some of their competitors, being capable of light mud riding rather. Proceed with caution on the trail and fire roads, but know that they probably won’t leave you in a rut.
Best tyres for the middle ground (50/50 tyres)
If you’re looking at doing some long distance touring on gravel roads and want something that can deal with the occasional mud and sand, then a 50/50 tyre is for you. Here are some of the top choices.
If you’re looking for a great 50/50 tire that will be used mostly on the highway, but still has a good amount of grip in the mud and gravel, the E-07 from Mitas is a great choice. One of the best things about the E-07 is the large contact patch they maintain; the centre belt is nearly solid, and in a lean the wider knobs keep you glued to the pavement. Don’t think it’s a street tire though – it produces an irritating whine as you get up to speed and the tread pattern doesn’t feel very smooth in the turns. That being said, with a little time those are problems you can get used to and compensate for. They’re worth enduring because when the E-7 needs to go off-road, you’ll know that they’ll get you where you need to go. They’ve equipped with plenty of stiffness to take you over big rocks and the grooves shed mud quickly to keep the tire in contact with the ground. As for durability, you’re probably looking at somewhere between six thousand and eight thousand miles. Not bad for a tire that can do it all.
The E-10s have many of the same great characteristics as the E-7’s, with just a few modifications. Like the E-7, it’s a 50/50 tire, but the tread pattern is considerably more aggressive. There’s no solid center belt, just big reinforced knobs. On the highway, you’ll feel the difference; big leans are not advised, at least not at first. Consider picking up the E-10 if you spend more time riding dirt than you do highway, because that’s where they excel.
Motoz Tractionator GPS
The Tractionators have to be one of the most unique tires on the market right now. They’re a 50/50 tire on one side and 30/70 on the other side– that’s right, you can flip the tire inside out for a totally different ride. When in its street mode, the tire is a little bumpy and loud, but otherwise all right. However, most people pick it up for its off-road capabilities, which are more than formidable. With a set of deep treads, but with a smooth center belt, it has excellent traction while still keeping enough contact with the road to be ridden on smooth surfaces. It’s also a really long lasting tire; you should have no trouble getting ten to twelve thousand miles out of a set of these. Being made of a harder rubber compound means they will take a bit longer to get sticky when you’re riding on the highway, so give ample time for warm up.
Heidenau K60 Scout
Regardless of their 50/50 designation, the K60 Scouts lean a bit more towards the pavement. Rather than big knobs, they have a fairly solid center belt and wide grooves that bite into thick mud, but won’t compromise performance on the highway. They have really stiff sidewalls that are a blessing on the road, but a curse when you need to air down for the dirt (they become much less stable). With an eight to possibly ten thousand mile range, they’re also one of the more durable tires on the market. Consider picking up the Scouts if you ride developed roads most of the time, but occasionally need some deep treads to bail you out of a sticky situation.
Michelin Anakee Wild
The Wilds are 50/50 tires with excellent durability and although it’s not quite as long lasting as the Tractionator, you should still get seven thousand miles or more out of them. Expect the knobs to give it a bumpy ride on the highway, but know that they’re not really aggressive enough to do anything crazy in the dirt. The knobs are specially designed with extra lateral strength though, which helps to prevent the mushy feeling that you get going through a corner with dirt tires. In terms of performance, they’re probably more suitable for dirt, but don’t think twice about using it on pavement at lower speeds.
Mefo Super Explorer
These are perhaps some of the most middle of the road tires that still provide a good experience on dirt and pavement. They’re a 40/60 style of tire with some decently aggressive lugs that extend to the tire’s shoulders to give excellent traction, even in really loose mud. On the highway those lugs don’t have the best traction, but the rubber is sticky enough that you wouldn’t have a problem using these tires on your daily commuter bike. They’re built tough too; expect to get anywhere between and eight and ten thousand miles of these tires.
Continental Twinduro TKC80
If you’re riding something a little heavier, like a 650cc or above, the Twinduro TKC80 from Continental might be the right tire for you. They were designed with heavy endure bikes in mind (they were designed in collaboration with Richard Schalber of Paris-Dakar Rally fame), so expect excellent off-road performance from them. They’re equipped with some serious knobs that have no trouble shedding mud and gravel. They’re actually pretty good on pavement too – the big knobs don’t do any harm to their cornering and there’s still plenty of grip. You wouldn’t want to do any races with them, but as far as dirt tires on the highway go, they’re quite good. The downside? The Twinduros made from some pretty soft rubber and you’re unlikely to get more than four thousand miles out of them.
Mefo Stone Master
Okay, but what if you don’t really give a lick about highway performance and just need the tires to be considered street legal. That’s when you go with a 10/90 tire like the Mefo Stone Master, which has the most aggressively knobby treads of any tire on this list. The open block style tread is great for quickly channeling a lot of debris out of the contact patch, but it also makes for a rather small gripping surface when you’re riding on hard pavement. The rubber is quite stiff, so expect fairly good durability and slightly worse performance on the highway.
Important Tips for Riding Dual Sport
Riding dual sport can be a lot of fun, but since you’re taking on pavement and dirt there’s more that you’ll need to keep in mind while doing it.
- Every tire has a lifespan and depending on the rubber compounds used, that could be four thousand or twelve thousand miles. Know the expected longevity of your tires and do a visual inspection after each ride to get sense of when you’ll need new ones.
- Most riders will air down (decrease their tire pressure) when transitioning from highway to trail. You’ll get better grip and presumably be riding at lower speeds where the extra heat that builds up in the tire won’t be an issue.
- Carry all the necessary tools. One of the best things about dual sport riding is that you can go anywhere, and anywhere often means being far away from help. You’re not expected to become a bike mechanic overnight, but at least bring the implements needed to fix a flat – repair kits or spare tubes.
- Speaking of tubes, whenever you do change out your tires, never skimp on the tubes. Just because a tube might look like it’s in good shape doesn’t mean there aren’t some microscopic cracks forming. When you’ve got the tire off, this is the perfect opportunity to put fresh tubes in – they’re not that expensive either.