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Old Wizard
3,007 Posts
Abnormal Front Tire Wear: Cupping

Cupping, where the front tires have developed a scalloped wear pattern, and where the front of each tread block is worn deeper than the rear is the result of braking, especially while leaned-over in corners (trail-braking).

It is more common to some tires than others because of the design of the tread pattern. It is experienced more commonly on street bikes because most of the riding is straight up and down with lots of braking. Track tires experience this less, especially with softer race compound tires.

It occurs because a bike can decelerate faster than it can accelerate, so there's much higher braking forces on the front tire. This causes the carcass and the tread blocks to distort and develops the wear pattern you mention. The abnormal wear pattern severity is dictated by the tread blocks size and shape, carcass strength, and tire contour. In general, the smaller the tread blocks, the more likely that cupping will occur.

Other factors like low tire pressure or improper suspension settings (too much rebound and/or compression damping) don’t actually cause the problem, but can make it worse. This is particularly true of tire designs that use a lighter carcass design construction such as the last two generations of Michelin radials. Such designs depend more on the rubber compound/tread area for additional strength.

Tire selection may help. Dunlop 207s, for example, use a heavier carcass and softer rubber construction which helps limit this problem. Pirelli Evos, although they have a lighter carcass, don't usually exhibit this problem because of their larger tread blocks.

To minimize this wear pattern, whatever your choice of tire, maintain proper tire pressure and resist the urge to trail-brake. If you can get through a curve with slight trail-braking, you can likely negotiate it without any trail-braking by concentrating on your cornering technique. Do most of your braking while riding straight up or only slightly leaned. Make sure your suspension is properly adjusted for your weight and properly damped.

On a personal note, after experiencing cupping on a Ducati 916/ Pirelli Dragon combination, I made a deliberate attempt to change my riding technique and do most of my braking BEFORE leaning over into the corners. The result ... almost no cupping.


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