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GET A GRIP: CHOICES IN OFF-ROAD RUBBER


MXEditor

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Photo: Does this look familiar? Then read on...

If you do a search for off-road, motocross tires or dual-purpose tires, the myriad of choices can be fairly mind-boggling…with so many options available, how do you select the right one?

We spent some time on two wheels and then behind the keyboard before bringing you some helpful tips on choosing the right tire for your off-road bike.

WHERE ARE YOU RIDING?

For example, answers may range from “rocky steep trails” to “sandy motocross tracks.” And as different as these two answers are, so are the tires required to do the job. There are so many different kinds of off road riding and racing we can’t cover them all and be accurate.

We talked to Michelin about this question and here's some of what they had to say:

“Our Starcross range is designed to provide optimum performance in the various soil conditions found on the typical motocross track, all while providing the durability riders expect from a Michelin product. For the Enduro/Off-Road applications our S 12XC and M 12XC products provide excellent performance with an increased focus on longevity, with over 25% extra tire life over our previous generation (S 12 and M 12).”

So we’ll look at these three types of off road tires:

1) MOTOCROSS TIRES

You’ll hear terms like “soft” and “hard” tires and we’ve always found this confusing.

The experts at Michelin describes it like this: “Other than different readings on a Shore Hardness rating scale, from a design and performance standpoint, the tread rubber compound is only one component that contributes to the overall performance of a tire in any given condition. The tread sculpture, knob height and spacing, along with casing construction and rigidity all affect a tire's specific performance capabilities.”

Simply for us who are not scientists, soft tires are for hard terrain: rocky, hard-pack tracks that can get blue grooved. These tracks require a soft compound tire so the knobs can wrap around and conform to the track surface, thereby achieving more rubber on the ground for better traction.

Quality tires choices in this category include the new Dunlop MX52, the Michelin MS3 and Bridgestone M204.

Hard/Intermediate tires are for softer terrain: muddy, sandy or lots of loam covered tracks that can get very deep with wide ruts. These tracks require a harder compound tire so the widely spaced knobs can dig in and create their own line, thereby achieving more rubber on the ground for better traction.

Quality tire choices in this category include the Dunlop MX32, Michelin MH3 and the new Pirelli Scorpion MXMH 554.

2) ENDURO and HARE SCRAMBLES TIRES

The same terms as noted above are used for these types of tires but there’s even a wider range of choices and sizes, as enduro bikes can use either an 18”or 19”rear tire. Some enduro pilots like to use a motocross tire but with the advances in tire compounds and tread patterns, you’d be better off looking at what’s made specifically for this type of riding if you’re looking for optimal performance…and who isn’t?

Dunlop Tire states "Tires for enduro and hare scrambles are similar since both are primarily run in softer, wetter, muddier terrain with slippery rocks and areas with exposed tree roots. Since some areas of these courses can be hard and slippery, the tires must account for this as well. The tread compound used in these tires must provide an optimum balance between wet and muddy terrain traction and long-wearing durability. Casing constructions must flex readily for riding over slippery rocks and tree roots, yet provide good puncture resistance. The tread pattern should clean well, even under the worst conditions, yet offer predictable handling in dry terrain.”

Keeping this in mind, the Dunlop D606, Pirelli Scorpion Pro (highly rated by riders and racers we spoke with) and Metzeler MCE 6 Days Extreme are all good choices.

3) DUAL PURPOSE TIRES

Dual purpose is a tricky area to address as the bikes vary in size and weight as well as terrain ridden. For example this category can range from small on/off bikes like the Honda XL250 all the way up to ADV bikes like the KTM 1190 Adventure, so no broad choices are evident. Here’s what we’ve found after talking to riders and the manufacturers such as Michelin:

Michelin has seen a “noticeable increase in sales” of their 50/50 use tires such as the T63 and AC 10. The Anakee III, which is an 80% on-road tire, has been well received as a popular choice for adventure riders who venture off road occasionally. To capitalize on this growing segment, Michelin plans to expand the Anakee range for BMW GS riders who are looking for a high performance off-road oriented tire(s) next year.

How much you ride on vs. off-road? This is the key in determining your tire choice.

Are you a trail rider who only sees pavement on the way to the trails? You’ll need taller, more aggressive tread pattern with wider spacing.

Are you a street rider who occasionally wants to cruise down a fire road? You’ll need low profile, closely spaced tread pattern.

Dual purpose tires are required to be DOT compliant and that mandates the tires meet some guidelines that many off-road and racing tires do not such as width, load capacity, speed ratings and minimum air pressures.

Another factor to keep in mind is that unlike some other off-road tires, matching dual sport tires up in a set is important to avoid handling issues on pavement and uneven wear front to back.

For example, a 90% street and 10% trail rider may pick a tire like the Michelin Anakee 3 (pictured below), if the ratio is more like 50% street and 50% trail, a good pick is the Dunlop D908RR and if you ride mostly dirt, the Pirelli XCMH should provide good hookup when in the loose stuff.

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Photo: Michelin Anakee 3

In closing, selecting the right tire for your off-road motorcycle is critical to both performance and safety, so take your time and read as much as you can before you make your selection - and the forums here at ThumperTalk.com provide some rich analysis of the options available.

Keep the rubber side down!

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Wow i looked up the prices on the  Michelin T63 tires and they are almost half the price of the TKC80's, They had some great reviews also. Just might give them a try when my TKC 80's are shot. Even if they don't last as long the price should make up the deference easily. 

 

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IRC MB5 there is no better tire off road. Don't wear worth a shit but with big bore bikes like my 500 xc-w but they rock trust me.

For you guys with little bore bikes stay witth the 120 as they won't pull a 130. LMAO

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Kenda K 761,  Bike is '00 KLR been having for 14 years. Riding is about 60 / 40 sealed / gravel and dirt roads. Great handling tire on the sealed and not bad on loose gravel. I had to ride near 20 miles on a flat to get home at about 30 mph and it never broke the bead. Absolute strongest side wall tire I've ever used. 

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When writing this article I realized how many of these tires I have ridden on...some stand out like a blast from the past. I still miss the D752 - it was soft and compliant and went away slow.

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IRC MB5 there is no better tire off road   .....

I agree - I'm surprised to see they still make this tire! I started using that one back in '91 on my '87 CR125. Worked great in the woods out here in MA, and had plenty of meat to get me up some pretty steep, sandy hills in the local sand pit.

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irc m5b, ive have 2 sets of rims one with new m5bs for wet & muddy conditions n. cal forest riding when they wear down they are still good enough for moto-parks or fire trail riding on 2nd set of rims 06 KTM 450 XC

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I went with Dunlop D606 on rear.  XR650R  Just got it plated a couple years ago and the stock non-dot rear just disappeared on the street.  This new one seems to do really good off road and is wearing well on the street.  It does not look like a DOT tire at all, very MX.  I ride 80 off 20 street.

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I went with Dunlop D606 on rear.  XR650R  Just got it plated a couple years ago and the stock non-dot rear just disappeared on the street.  This new one seems to do really good off road and is wearing well on the street.  It does not look like a DOT tire at all, very MX.  I ride 80 off 20 street.

 

Totally agree.

 

Riders we spoke to swear by the D606 - good choice and was named in the article as well.

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 No mention of trials tires (unless I missed a model number). This subject is sometimes heated and yet I’ve never seen any true official tested evaluation. If taken seriously, it would be a great follow-up article.

 Please refrain from throwing your rotten cabbage and tomatoes.

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I would like to have addressed trials tires but I'm not that familiar with that part of our sport. If I could have gotten some expert input in that area, I would certainly have addressed it!

 

Can you tell us here what trials tires you like?

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I run a Michelin Trials on the rear of my XR400, do mostly high country single track and absolutely love this tire. Wears forever, hooks up awesome in the rocks and roots stuff. Pass our gangs youngsters on the 450F having rock chopping parties and roll on by. Nice cushy ride with only about 10 psi.  Downside is packed mud and hard turning. This is an awesome "leave no trace" tire.

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 Well, I was thinking of the people who use them for hare scrambles, general trail riding and for dual sport as opposed to trials riding of which they are made for.

 I’ve been running the Pirelli MT43 in the rear for scrambles on both a WR450 and a CRF250. The WR is plated and the Pirelli is DOT.

 I recently purchased the Michelin Trial X Light (not DOT) for the CRF. The compound is way softer than the MT43.

 As far as performance goes, well, that’s where all the heated debate comes from. For me, I found the MT43 performs surprisingly well in some of the conditions I thought it would completely fail. It obviously will perform in rocks, whether wet or dry, but I found that it was not too bad in mud either (as long as it isn’t too hideous). I’m also running about 10 Lbs of pressure which is over twice what the trials guys use so I’m losing a little traction there for more pinch flat protection because of the extra speed.

 I’ve found that the tire is also okay on the road and you can lean the bike a little more than expected, but nowhere close to a performance road tire. It’s just that with the flat top profile I kind of expected to be slipping out kind of easily but it’s not so bad. It does break loose on gravel much easier than the more aggressive dual-sport tire. However, it is something you can get used to, anticipate, control and ‘drift’.

 The Michelin Trial X Light is a bit different. As I said, this tire is a lot softer; it’s also considerably more expensive. I had higher expectations for this tire but it doesn’t seem quite as versatile at the Pirelli. In particular it isn’t as accommodating in the mud. However, as with the MT43 I’m running 10psi and so that is probably the reason. I’m sure at around 4psi it performs exactly like it’s supposed to on a trials bike.

 The bottom line for me is that for DOT and scrambles the MT43 1) last longer from pavement wear (and wear in general) and I don’t have to trim the knobs or flip it – ever; and 2) it performs well enough in different conditions that I don’t have to change tires every event.

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 Well, I was thinking of the people who use them for hare scrambles, general trail riding and for dual sport as opposed to trials riding of which they are made for.

 

 I’ve been running the Pirelli MT43 in the rear for scrambles on both a WR450 and a CRF250. The WR is plated and the Pirelli is DOT - The bottom line for me is that for DOT and scrambles the MT43 1) last longer from pavement wear (and wear in general) and I don’t have to trim the knobs or flip it – ever; and 2) it performs well enough in different conditions that I don’t have to change tires every event.

 

I'm always amazed at what riders find works versus what the manufacturer may say. I think the DOT requirement is hard to address in a way that makes everyone happy with all the different types of terrain and road surfaces in between. If it's low profile it doesn't hook up in the dirt and if it has aggressive knobs then it sucks on the street.

 

The key is to really know where and how you ride (honestly!) - that's critical info before tire selection.

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Kenda K 761,  Bike is '00 KLR been having for 14 years. Riding is about 60 / 40 sealed / gravel and dirt roads. Great handling tire on the sealed and not bad on loose gravel. I had to ride near 20 miles on a flat to get home at about 30 mph and it never broke the bead. Absolute strongest side wall tire I've ever used. 

 

I really like the Kenda lineup and when I worked at motocross.com I got to test the Millville, Southwick and Unadilla tires when they were introduced. I was surprised at how good they were, I did find that the soft tires wore very quickly but that was years ago now, I bet they are a lot better.

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Using Shinko 705's front and rear. Dirt cheap but really impressive when it comes to wear. Mind you this is a dual purpose tyre (80-20). Mainly a 50 mile commute I am on my second set and will go for a third for sure.

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The IRC GP 110 is a great 50/50 tire, but wears quickly. I have been trying a MEFO on the rear and it seems to be wearing better than the IRC. I have not tested it much in the dirt though.

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From what I've read I chose an MB-5 for my last bike, an 08' WR450, and really liked it for the hard trail riding here in the NC/TN mtns.

 

I have an 05 KTM300 2- stroke now and am ordering a 130/80-18 MB-5 for it soon.

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