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Updated April 2022
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Buying guide for best motorcycle tires

Whatever you ride, when it comes time to change your motorcycle tires, the good news is that there’s a huge amount of choice. A safe bet is simply to stick with the ones that were fitted when the bike left the factory — and they’ll be fine — but you might save a good chunk of change or get improved performance by looking at another brand.

And that’s when things get complicated. It’s nice to have an enormous range to choose from, but how do you know which one is best? How do you know if the tires you’re thinking about are any improvement on stock?

BestReviews was set up to find answers to just those kinds of questions. We’ve been looking at the latest developments from all the top motorcycle tire manufacturers so we can help you make the right decision. Our recommendations cover price and performance options from several of the top names, and we look at your options in more detail in the following buying guide.

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New motorcycle tires will perform better over their life if you break them in gently. It doesn’t take long, but you should try to avoid aggressive riding or braking for the first 100 miles.

Key considerations

Size and ratings

There are a bunch of numbers on the sidewall of your tire to tell you the size. Some online suppliers offer charts to check if the tire fits a particular make and model of motorcycle, but errors are not unknown. If you check the sidewall against the specifications, you know you’re getting it right.

Let’s look at some typical motorcycle tire markings: 180/55 ZR-17

  • 180 is the tire width in millimeters.
  • 55 is the aspect ratio, also called the profile height.
  • Z is the speed rating; in this case, good for speeds above 149 miles per hour.
  • R is for radial construction. If it’s a bias-ply tire, there is no marking here.
  • 17 is the wheel rim size.

Match those and you know you’re getting a tire that will fit and is of the correct speed rating. You can always go to a tire with a higher speed rating, from H (up to 130 miles per hour) to Z, for example. You could get better grip at the expense of faster wear. However, you must never go the other way. An H-rated tire at Z-rated speeds could fail, with potentially dire consequences.

Other codes you might see include the following:

  • M/C means it’s a motorcycle tire
  • (73W) or a similar code in brackets is the load rating. You can find charts online. The latter will be of most interest to owners of big touring bikes and baggers.
  • 1819 is an example of part of a DOT code with manufacturer and date information. The date of manufacture can be relevant (here, the eighteenth week of the year 2019) if someone is trying to sell you old tires.

Types of motorcycle tires

Sports: These motorcycle tires are designed to maximize contact area at all angles, putting more rubber on the road. They still have tread for dispersing water, but there’s less of it. They’re also made of a softer compound to give better grip, though this results in reduced mileage. Basically, these tires are very sticky but short-lived!

Sports tourer, and tourer/cruiser: These motorcycle tires are something of a compromise. They still provide good grip, but riders of this kind of bike tend to cover greater distances and in all types of weather. You can expect higher mileage and better performance in wet conditions. The tire compounds are harder and the tread patterns more pronounced. This type of tire is also an economical choice for mid-range bikes, many people’s typical everyday ride.

Adventure, or dual-sport: These motorcycle tires are a comparatively recent introduction. Initially, this kind of bike wore tires that had a more off-road focus, but with their increasing popularity the choice has expanded. In fact, this type of tire probably offers more variation than any other, with some focused mainly on street use with some dirt capability and others more evenly balanced. You’ll often see them described as 80/20 or 50/ 50, for example. Here it’s important to think about whether you’re spending most of your time on pavement and heading for the hills on the weekend, or if you’re dedicated to desert riding.

Off-road: These motorcycles tires also come in a wide range of tread patterns and compounds. The main factor that impacts your decision is the terrain you’re covering. You want a tire compound that gives the best traction on the surface you’re on most often. The compound for hard-packed dirt is different from that for grass or mud. Committed off-roaders who ride over multiple surfaces often end up with alternate sets of wheels and tires, which makes it easier to swap them over.

Radial vs. bias-ply

In the auto business, bias-ply tires have all but disappeared. However, they’re still found on some motorcycles, and for good reason.

Radial tires are fitted to most motorcycles. Under the rubber surface are steel, polyester, and aramid belts that maintain excellent stiffness across the tread but a degree of give in the sidewalls. As a result, the tire flexes under the extreme loads of fast cornering. Wear rates are also good. The only downside is that the inherent stiffness means reduced ride comfort.

On a lot of street bikes, that’s not a consideration, but it can be on long-distance tourers and big cruisers. These are often heavy bikes, and while bias-ply tires have more give in the tread, they have stiffer sidewalls. If you’re on the bike all day, that can make a noticeable difference in comfort. Bias-ply tires are far from “old-fashioned” and continue to be developed by most of the major motorcycle tire brands.

Should you think about swapping from one to the other? It’s probably not a good idea. The motorcycle manufacturer took the performance characteristics of each type into consideration when designing the bike. Changing from radial to bias-ply, or vice versa, will almost certainly be detrimental to ride, handling, and possibly safety.

Tips for changing your tires

Obviously, you need to change them when they’re worn out, and wear limits are mentioned in one of the questions below. However, there are several other reasons to change your tires.

  • Puncture: If it’s smaller than 1/4 inch in diameter, a puncture can often be plugged effectively. Larger than that size, however, it shouldn’t be attempted. Sidewall punctures can never be repaired.
  • Bulge: A bulge in the sidewall indicates structural damage. The tire should be replaced immediately.
  • Tread damage: Excessive damage, such as deep cuts or chunks missing, means a potentially dangerous weakness in the tire.
  • Age: Tires over five years old should be checked by a professional even if they look fine. If they’re over a decade old, they should definitely be replaced.
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Beware of “new” tires that are actually old! Some unscrupulous dealers might try to sell you unused but old stock that has already started to deteriorate with age. Fortunately, it’s easy to check. Look at the DOT code on the sidewall. The last four numbers are the week and year of manufacture. For example, 1517 means it was produced in the fifteenth week of 2017.

Motorcycle tire prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest motorcycle tires are those made for off-road use only. You’ll probably find individual tires for around $30, but you can often save money by buying them in pairs, which run anywhere from $40 to $100. You’re unlikely to find a street tire under $70.

Mid-range: Most of the motorcycle tires we looked at are between $100 and $180. These are quality products, in all styles and from all the major brands. You might find a few savings by buying in pairs, but they aren’t common.

Expensive: Tires for hyper-sports bikes and ultra-wide models for custom motorcycles often top $200 and can be as much as $250.

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Motorcycle tires aren’t always made from a single compound. Dual-compound models have a harder rubber in the center for increased mileage and softer rubber on the shoulders to maintain grip in corners.


Q. What’s the minimum tread depth for motorcycle tires?
For street tires, the legal minimum in the United States is quoted as 2/32 inch (why that isn’t 1/16 we don’t know). Many manufacturers recommend changing the tires before then, at 1/8 inch. Tires often have wear indicators within the tread so you know when they reach this limit. A noticeable deterioration in performance is also a pretty good sign. With off-road tires, it’s more a question of personal preference, though if grip has dropped off, it’s usually time to replace them.

Q. Will putting wider tires on my motorcycle improve handling?
The idea is that you get a greater contact patch and thus more grip. That might happen, but there are all kinds of physics at play, so it’s not always true. On the downside, there may be fitting and clearance issues, and it could also affect handling. Unless there’s a very good reason, backed by expert evidence (not just a friend’s advice), we wouldn’t recommend it.

Q. Why are motorcycle tires so much more expensive than car tires?
There are two reasons. The first is that they’re often better made, using more advanced (and hence more expensive) compounds, because a motorcycle tire is subject to much greater forces than most car tires. The second is because of economies of scale. Many more car tires are made, so production costs are lower.

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