Updated June 2019
See also: Do-It-All Road & Trail tyres and Off-Road Focussed Tyres.
No other item gets prospective adventure riders in such a lather. And quite right too because rain or shine, your tyres are out there on the front line, rolling over whatever surface while supporting 250-500kg or bike and rider and responding to your inputs to speed up, slow down or turn. We ask a lot of our tyres because the consequence of them not performing when it comes to traction, longevity and durability can be serious, and yet choices can often be governed by price and looks – and once on the road, by whatever fits… [excerpt from AMH7].
On the left, my Yamaha XT500 travel bike in 1982 fitted with Dunlop K70 and Avon Speedmaster tyres. Both are now classed as ‘vintage’ but they got me to the Sahara and back.
Fast forward a few decades and the invention of adventure motorcycling, and the tyres listed below from long-established brands (in the West) are often what you’ll get fitted to a new adventure-style bike. They include:
- Avon Trailrider
- Bridgestone Battle Wing and some Trail Wings
- Conti Trail Attack (right) and TKC70
- Dunlop TrailSmart or Max (below left)
- Metzeler Tourance
- Michelin Anakee (II)
- Pirelli Scorpion Trail II (yellow bike, below)
They may have sexy names
shared with genuine off-road tyres from the same brand, as well as a token wide and shallow blocky pattern. But on gravel roads, let alone in sand or mud they’ll be no better than an actual road tyre. Some self-designate themselves as 70/30 road/dirt. I’d say they’re more like 90/10 at best – in other words, same as any regular road tyre.
The better-known brands in radial and tubeless are suited to heavy, powerful bikes sticking to the road (in both senses); they’ll give excellent mileage, run cool and quiet, and grip securely in all conditions. Just don’t be under any illusions that they possess any special attributes off the bitumen just because they have the word ‘trail’ in their names.
If you’re heading out on a long overland trip into the AM Zone (right) where the travel and transportation infrastructure is less developed, think about fitting what I call ‘do-it-all’ road and trail tyres. They can last as long, grip nearly as well providing you’re not seeking to get your elbows down, and behave much more predictably on the loose surfaces you’re bound to encounter from time to time.
Below: an old F700GS on Anakees. It worked fine on familiar, dry desert tracks providing I took it easy. But on mountain roads commonly sprinkled with gravel or other loose detritus, they would roll sideways and slip a little in bends. In the same situation a shallow-blocked, wider-gaped ‘do-it-all’ tyre slips less and grips more.