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By Motorcycle Superstore Product Specialist Rich King

As most riders are aware, tires are one thing that have to be changed almost as frequently as the oil, at least on most bikes, and they are not generally cheap to buy. Buying motorcycle tires can be a nightmare for most riders as they have so many questions and there really aren’t many answers out there or they don’t feel they are getting the correct answer because it isn’t what they want to hear. After all, a tire is just a tire, right? Not even close! Those little numbers and letters around the sidewall of the tire have different meanings and will generally let you know if what you are running is actually rated for your bike, if you know how to read them.


As a service tech I really thought I knew a LOT about street motorcycle tires and it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the Metzeler tire reps and ask a ton of questions that I actually understood the ins and outs of tires and why it isn’t OK to just run any tire on your bike. It is true that there are generally a lot of tire options that will work for any given bike, but just because they are all made to fit the same rim size doesn’t mean that they are all right or even safe for your bike. There are several things that need to be considered BEFORE you buy a different brand of tire and if you are changing tires and are looking for better mileage you definitely won’t want to get a lower end tire. Most of these tires are made from softer rubber compounds which wear faster so they end up costing more in the long run as you will have to replace them sooner and that means another installation fee. Once that is figured with the cost of the tire you will usually come out ahead buying the right tire and paying a little more for a premium OEM replacement tire.

Across the board, most tires that are alike in size are similar in most of their ratings and can be fitted onto your bike as long as it is the correct size, and sometimes even sized a little different if you have the clearance for it, but that doesn’t mean that all tires are created equal. While it is true that a 130/90-16 and a MT90B16 are almost identical in size the alpha numeric tires, the MT90B16 will generally have higher load ratings than the metric equivalent which is why the metric version is usually cheaper but will wear out quicker as it is not rated for the same load the alpha tires are. It is not always just a name you buy when you pay more for a tire, and understanding what makes a tire different can give you a better understanding as to why brands like Metzeler or Michelin can boast anywhere from 25%-50%+ more mileage than another tire that is similar in size.

As most of you know there are two distinct types of tires, radial tires and bias tires. While they are both tires and look somewhat alike the similarities really stop there. This is why the sizes don’t overlap and why they don’t recommend running a radial and bias tire together as a set as they are made for different types of bikes and for different riding conditions. Radial tires are made specifically for performance, when you think radial think light and fast. Bias tires are made to handle heavier bikes with passengers, bags and anything else you can possibly strap to the back of you cruiser. Bias tires are made to handle heavier loads and more of a touring style than a performance ride.

Radial tires have cords perpendicular to the center line of the tire, creating a 90 degree angle. Radial tires also have fewer parts than bias-ply tires, reducing weight and increasing grip potential. Bias-ply tire fibers are woven in an X pattern, and have less flexibility than radial tires. Their construction is in the form of intersecting structural cords used to create strength.

Once you figure out which tire you need to run on your bike, the next thing to consider are speed rating, load ratings and the consistency of the rubber. Softer rubber compounds handle better but get less mileage while harder compounds get better mileage but sacrifice performance so you should consider your specific riding style when looking for a tire and also try to decide what it is that makes you think a tire is good. Riders that are aggressive and really push the limits while riding will usually consider a tire that sticks to the road and gives them a sense of stability to be a good tire even if it doesn’t do well with mileage while other riders consider a tire that does well in wet conditions and gets really good mileage to be the better tire. This is why it is critical to decide which kind of rider you are and what you are really looking for in a tire before talking with a sales rep about them, since a good sales rep will recommend different tires depending on which rider you are.

There are so many different tires offered in the same sizes and there are just as many people advocating each of them, but it depends on the type of rider you are to determine the best option. If a customer is a weekend rider that loves to get out and ride the twisty mountain roads I would recommend getting a tire that warms up fast and sticks to the road while if the customer rides his, or her, bike to work every day and generally use it for the commute and gas mileage I would recommend getting a tire that is a harder compound that gets better mileage but isn’t made so much for performance and if it is a rider that is a split between the two I would recommend a dual compound tire that gets decent mileage but will still take a corner well.
 
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Discussion Starter #2
There are also the OEM-style tires that come on the bike. They are usually the best all-around option that the manufacture could find for the bike and its particular handling characteristics. A lot of riders stay with the OEM tires and never venture into trying another brand. This is generally not a bad idea as it is what is recommended by the motorcycle manufacture and will always be rated for the bike but doesn’t mean that there isn’t another tire that will work better for your specific riding needs. If you are happy with the stock tire there is no reason to change, but if you want a tire that performs better or gets better mileage, then there are definitely other options available. We list a lot of different tires on our site and any of the parts specialists here will be more than happy to go over the differences with you and explain the benefits that you would see from getting a different brand or even style of tire if you call us at (877) 668-6872.

There are always mixed opinions when you ask people about which tires they prefer and why. Most riders don’t even realize that they have a tire preference until they really start getting into tire distinctions, and they will usually all lean one way or the other.

The tire markings on the sidewall are very important and are something that every rider should have a fair understanding of. The information on the sidewall will let you know everything from tire size and load rating to the manufacture date. Follow the link below to check out a diagram of the tire’s sidewall, with numbers indicating the different information listed, and below are corresponding numbers showing what the information is for.

The following charts will give you a better understanding of tires and what the sidewall markings are actually about.

Click Here to view Motorcycle Tire Sidewall Markings Chart

1. Manufacture Name
2. Tire style number
3. Tire name
4. Tire width, in milimeters, this can also be listed as an alpha numeric size like the MT, MU or MH
5. Aspect ratio, % as tall as it is wide
6. This is the indicator for Radial tires “R” belted bias tires “B” and is a quick guide to sportbike tires that have higher speed ratings”ZR”
7. This is the wheel diameter in inches
8. The M/C designation on these tires is just to show that it is made for a motorcycle
9. Load index ad speed symbol see charts below for specific information
10. Tubeless tire or tube type tire indicator
11. Max cold inflation and load limit
12. Country of origin
13. DOT rating
14. Tire rotation
15. Balance dot
16. Tire construction details
17. TWI, tread wear indicator, this serves as a quick reference for where to look to find the tread wear indicator
18. Manufacture date code, these are always 4 digits and the first 2 indicate week and the last two indicate year

Also, I’ve posted some links below to other useful charts showing motorcycle tire information including alpha numeric sizing, speed and load rating information and tire size conversion charts. Please take some time to review these and make yourself familiar with what they are for and what they mean as this can really aid you the next time you are looking to make a tire purchase:

Street Tire Size Designations
Motorcycle Tire Load Index Chart
Motorcycle Tire Size Conversion Chart

And now that you know what all those numbers on the sidewall mean, you can use our motorcycle Tire Finder to explore all of the options we have available for your bike!

If you need to find a local tire installer, we make it easy with our Preferred Installer Program.

And as always, as we all get out on two wheels come springtime, stay safe out there in top riding gear including helmets from Motorcycle Superstore from the best brands in the business, leather and textile motorcycle jackets for any budget, all shapes, styles and sizes of motorcycle gloves, and a huge assortment of motorcycle boots for any rider, whether you’re an every day commuter or a track attacker.
 
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