What Type of Motorcycle Tires
Do You Need?

Dunlop Wet Racing Tire

We ask a lot of our motorcycle tires. As you probably know, the part of a tire that is in contact with the road is called the contact patch. With a contact patch about the size of a deck of cards, your motorcycle's tires are constantly working hard. The contact patch of a car is basically flat, while the tread of a bike's tire is crowned so the contact patch is maintained as you lean it over into corners. Of course, a motorcycle has two wheels and only one is putting the power down, while cars have four wheels and at least two drive wheels. This explains why cycle tires wear much faster than the ones on your car.

There are some web sites that attempt to do motorcycle tire reviews, but even the big ones and the magazine sites can only scratch the surface of all the different models that are out there. So, how do you do your own motorcycle tire review from the limited information (and time) you have available? Arm yourself with some basic information ahead of time so you can make an informed choice.

Tire Sizing Demystified

What does all that stuff on the sidewall of a tire mean, anyway? Let's take a look:

Motorcycle Tire Size Information

  • Tire Size: 190/55ZR17
    190 = cross-section width (in millimeters)
    55 = ratio of tire sidewall height to cross-section width. In this case, the tire would be 104.5 mm tall (55% of 190mm)
    Z = speed rating (over 180 mph)
    R = radial construction
    17 = rim diameter (in inches). This tire is for a 17-inch rim.
  • Motorcycle Tire Direction Arrow


  • Direction arrow: Many cycle tires (especially sportbike tires) have directional treads, meaning it matters which way it rotates. The arrow indicates the proper direction of rotation when mounted (pointing forward, of course). Often, there will also be a note indicating "rear fitment only" or "front use only". Those are pretty self-explanatory.
  • Load Range: This tells the maximum load for the tire at a certain air pressure. This is NOT the pressure you are supposed to inflate your tires to, so DO NOT put the maximum pressure listed into your tire just because that's what it said on the sidewall! Consult your owner's manual or sticker (usually found on the steering head) to tell you how much air pressure should be in your tires. And remember, tire pressure is always measured when the tires are cold. Tires heat up when riding and the air inside them expands, raising the pressure. The tire manufacturer has allowed for this, so don't overinflate your tires!
  • Other info: there will be other information such as the tire manufacturer and the model name of the tire, tread construction, etc.

Tire Buying Tips

  • Don't cheap out on tires! Do you really want cheap motorcycle tires on your bike? While buying the so-called "top-of-the-line" tire probably isn't necessary to get adequate performance, buying cheap tires could put you at risk. Hey, there are only two of those things on my bike, right? I want them to be up to the job. Discount motorcycle tires can be had if you look for quality brands at a reputable online dealer. That's the best way to get quality tires at reasonable prices.

  • Never buy used motorcycle tires! As your mom always used to say, you don't know where they've been. Or what they've been through. Rubber degrades from exposure to sunlight and they become harder with age. You can lose a lot of traction if you buy old tires that have been laying around for a while, even if they look good. High-volume dealers, whether online or off, are the best bet for finding the fresh rubber you need to keep you safe out on the road.

  • Look for brands you've heard of. If you're familiar with the brand as a motorcycle tire manufacturer, chances are they've been around for a while and would be a safe choice. Although, there are up-and-coming tire makers that have entered the motorcycle market in the past few years and are viable choices.

  • Don't bother patching a motorcycle tire if you get a nail hole or similar leak. You're much better off buying a new tire instead of trusting the patch job. If it's an emergency patch, fine, but get a new tire as soon as you can. Your motorcycle only has two tires and you need to make sure they're in good shape so they'll take care of you when it counts (and it always counts).

Top Brands

Avon Logo

Avon motorcycle tires are quite highly regarded in the motorcycle world even though they may not be the first brand you think of.

Bridgestone makes top-quality tires for your motorcycle as well as for cars and trucks. They are the sole tire supplier for the MotoGP World Championship, so they must be doing something right. Click for more information.

Continental is one of the up-and-coming brands in the motorcycle market, especially on the sportbike end of the scale.

Michelin has pioneered much of the tire technology found in modern motorcycle tires through racing competition and have won more motorcycle Grand Prix premier-class races (MotoGP) than any other manufacturer.

Pirelli is the sole tire supplier for the Superbike World Championships, so they know a thing or two about making a 200+ horsepower superbike handle.

Dunlop has won more motorcycle roadraces in the US than any other tire supplier and is the sole tire supplier for the AMA American Superbike series starting in 2009. They were on over 90% of the bikes before that anyway.


knobby dirt tire

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