MORE SO than any other class of motorcycle, adventure-touring machines are defined by their wheel and tire configurations. Two similar machines might possess hugely differing performance envelopes and attract vastly different customers simply because of the respective manufacturers’ choice in wheel sizes. And while the engine and chassis of an adventure bike are certainly important to its broadband abilities, the bike’s tires are what allow the rider to make full use of the machine.
Aggressive adventure wheel and tire combinations are part of the allure of adventure-tourers, promising the ability to go anywhere the rider could dream of. “Knobby tires further the visual aspect of the off-road fantasy,” said Michael Okano, Yamaha Motorsports’ national sales manager. “It’s just another bike without them.”
Big adventure bikes put severe demands on their tires, thanks to heavy loaded weights (especially after being decked out in adventure accessories and luggage) and high power outputs. To get the most from a modern adventure-tourer, rider and dealer need to be cognizant of the limitations of each of type of tire.
Nearly every adventure bike on the market comes from the factory with street-biased tires. While claimed percentages of on- and off-road use vary, each of these tires is basically a sport-touring road tire with additional tread voids engineered to find slightly better traction on loose surfaces and help clean the tread of packed dirt and mud.
These include Bridgestone’s ubiquitous TW101/TW152 Trail Wings found on Suzuki’s V-Strom series to newer options such as the Bridgestone Battle Wing, Michelin’s Anakee 3, Dunlop’s TR91 Trailmax, Pirelli’s Scorpion Trail, Metzeler’s Tourance Next or Continental’s Trail Attack 2, the latter two of which were chosen as OEM fitment on BMW’s water-cooled R1200GS and KTM’s 1190 Adventure (see image), respectively.
In each case, these tires are street tires capable enough to find their way down hard-packed dirt and gravel roads, but not fit for real adventure riding far from pavement.
For customers looking to explore more serious adventure riding, a proper 50/50 street and dirt tire is needed, one capable of providing enough grip during hardcore trail riding while still being able to handle the weight and power of the bigger machines in the class.
The go-to tire for many riders is the Continental TKC 80 Twinduro, but the Metzeler Karoo series and Heidenau K60 Scout also have ardent fans. Each of these features huge tread blocks designed to find traction in loose conditions but uses rubber, chassis and tread designs to maintain a safe margin of cornering feedback as well as wet and dry grip on tarmac for long-distance road riding. But like any compromise, the road performance of these tires is far from ideal for aggressive lean angles, and depending on the tire, mileage can suffer compared to pure road tires.
Some riders just prefer to use their adventure machines for the road, so tire manufacturers have created adventure-touring sizes and profiles for some of their most popular sport-touring tires.