Types of Motorcycle Tires
The first thing you'll consider is whether or not it's time to replace your tires. Having sorted that out, the next issue will be which type of tire to choose.
Sport Bike Tires
If you’re a road-going version of Marc Marquez, you’re going to need some ultra-sticky motorcycle tires.
Racing slicks won’t do the trick; they don't hold up well against the oils and debris on public roads. They’re also made to run at racing-hot temperatures, so they'll turn into ice skates in slow traffic. Racing slicks are illegal too, if you care about that kind of thing.
But there are some grippy and agile street-legal tires out there, which are specially built to warm up at roadway speeds. This will let you scrape some knees without scraping every other part of your body too.
Sport tires come in a variety of profiles. Casual variations have a flatter tread profile, so your bike won't involuntarily lay itself down at the sight of a corner. This also makes the bike steadier for straight-line riding. Aggressive types are more angular, so the motorcycle will be eager to turn in.
Almost all sport tires are radial in construction. This is better for heat dissipation. It also allows the tire to have a wide tread pattern while maintaining a very low profile. And as we know, this is crucial for tight handling.
Touring tires are designed to provide a comfortable, stable ride for miles. And miles. And miles.
They are similar to sport tires, but will have a slightly flatter profile for more straight-line stability. The rubber will also be made from a harder compound. This hinders the grip a bit, but has large gains in terms of longevity. Some touring tires have a high-profile, bias-ply construction. You'll normally see these types on larger bikes, which need a bias-ply tire to handle the mammoth weight. As a bonus, bias constructed tires are better at soaking up the bumps.
The needs of cruiser riders are very diverse.
For that robust style, many cruisers will spec a mile-wide tire. Larger bikes may tend towards high-profile tires to give a superior ride quality. However, some smaller cruisers are geared towards performance use. In these cases, a sporty tire is better suited.
Generally speaking, cruiser tires seek to provide stability and traction on wet and dry pavement. Beyond that, it's hard to define the boundaries of this category. What I'm saying is, choosing the right cruiser tire depends on what kind of "cruiser" you ride. Look to the OEM tire specs for a few hints.
If you've nicknamed your BMW GS “The HMS Explorer,” then you’re probably an adventure rider. You like to embark on long trips, putting everything from pavement, to mud, to ice between your two wheels.
Adventure riders need a lot from a tire. It has to be smooth on the highway, yet with a deep enough tread pattern for off-road use. It has to be comfortable for long days in the saddle, yet aggressive enough for edging into a corner. Plus, you’re going to be loading your bike with everything from tent poles to Jerry cans. That means the tire will need a fairly high load capacity as well.
Knobbier ADV tires are better off road. However, they will also be loud and slippery on the pavement. If you tend towards on-road riding, look for something with shallower and wider tread patterns.
Dual-sport tires are essentially street-legal off-road tires. They’re hard enough so that, after a few hours on the pavement, they won’t be bald. That said, you wouldn't want to take them on extended highway trips. The on-road ride quality is poor, and generally quite noisy. Also, leaning a dual-sport tire into a corner can have messy consequences.
But get these boots into some dirt, and you’ll be laughing. Dual-sport tires are knobby, and can grip into all types of terrain. They can provide the surface area you need to get out of a deep bog, and the traction you need to ascend a sandy hill climb. However, dual-sport tires really excel on well-groomed off-road terrain. Dirt logging roads and wide trails are their bread and butter.
Off-road and Motocross Tires
If you’re a true off-road rider, then your motorcycle only sees pavement from a trailer or a truck bed. That means its tires can be solely committed to the dirt.
Motocross tires are very knobby, and provide exceptional traction in soft terrain. The tread also wraps around the sides, jutting out at an angle to the central knobs. This maintains grip while leaning into a sharply-angled berm.
For soft terrain, choose a tire with tall and spaced-out knobs. The high tread will act as a scoop, and the spacing will prevent mud and dirt from getting stuck. For riding on hard terrain, choose a tire with low and tightly-clustered knobs. This will increase surface area and - subsequently - grip.