Truthfully, writing a guide to choosing the right tire for your bike is difficult – do you have a dirt bike that runs knobbly tires at low pressures or a high-performance missile that uses semi-slicks and multi-compounds?
The one common thread that runs between all bikes is choosing right – a motorcycle has a tiny contact patch, the only thing between you being safe or eating tarmac is choosing just how that contact patch behaves or indeed … ‘contacts’ the road – no Ditchfinder™ tire should ever find its way onto your bike if you have any sense. There are several factors we need to take into account when we consider a guide to choosing winter tires for your motorbike.
Following on from contact patches, a tire does so much more than just keeping you stuck to the road; it will affect the braking distance, comfort, handling, longevity and even to an extent, the distance you can ride, it’s quite possibly one of the biggest influences on your bike.
A powerful bike can run through a rear tire in around 800 miles when ridden as they were designed, even with a multi-compound rear fitted, the wear rate is high. Of course you can fit longer lasting tires, but they won’t offer the same grip levels, so perhaps you need to understand your riding style before handing over your hard earned money.
For those of you brave enough to be an all-weather rider, winter riding brings about challenges that you may not expect, but is there such a thing as winter tires for a motorcycle? This is where the discussion can get a little grey – some riders will fit a softer, grippier tire in the belief that it’s an aid to traction, while others will pick something a little harder wearing because they aren’t riding as hard, therefore, they don’t need the extra grip from a supersport tire, and the rest of us will leave on what’s there after summer.
Yes it’s possible to find motorcycle tires more suited to winter riding – more tread blocks should in theory mean better dispersal of water (or whatever you happen to find on the road), but again, the style of bike that you ride will have a heavy impact on your choices – a superbike wheel is a completely different size to low-powered commuter, dirt bikes generally have tall and relatively skinny wheels – that type of rubber isn’t available in a 200 fitting.
Perhaps the best way of riding through winter is to consider how you ride, rather than trying to ‘winterise’ your bike, this would also include the gear you wear, your experience and your confidence.
Being cold and wet on a long ride generally means that your reactions will be slower, or that you’ll be concentrating on how cold your hands are rather than what’s happening up ahead. Our recommendation would be that you should invest in quality riding gear that will keep you warm and dry rather than finding a tire with a slightly more open tread pattern.
After that, you should be thinking of the basics – how you apply the throttle and brakes, what sort of visibility you have, can other road users see you clearly, what are you likely to find covering the road … diesel, mud, water, ice … every one of those has the potential to land you in hospital if you’re not careful.
Even the smallest of bikes with minimum power and lots of grip will succumb to a wet road covered in diesel.
Taking that a stage further, think about where you’re placing your bike; look and plan ahead – manhole covers are generally bare metal that offer zero grip in the wet, if you happen to ride over one whilst banked over for a corner, you’ll be lucky to stay upright. Preparing motorbike tires for the winter will also increase your safety.
Riding through winter is without doubt less fun than going out on a summer’s day, but millions of people do it successfully every year. If you’re in the position to have summer and winter rubber options, then picking a more suitable tire will only ever help you navigate the treacherous conditions, but for the great many, those options (or ability to pay for them) don’t exist.
If you’re unsure as to whether your ability is enough to ride through winter, consider taking an advanced riding course – these can help you in a number of ways and will benefit your riding throughout the year, not just winter. If you feel confident to ride through, just remember to leave yourself a greater margin for error, slow down (it’s not a race) and stay warm and dry where possible. You’d be surprised at just what a regular bike (be that commuter, custom or race rep) can get through providing you plan ahead.
Giles Kirkland is a car mechanic at Oponeo with a great passion for anything automotive. When he’s not busy tinkering with cars, he likes to hit the road on his old Yamaha and explore the countryside. Also, he is keen on blogging and sharing ideas with auto and motorcycle enthusiasts across the globe.