Top 10s

Whitham's Ultimate All Weather tyre test

We tested these sticky tyres to find out which worked best in both dry and damp conditions

On a hot, sticky summer ride there’s little to separate the top road tyres. Unless you’ve got the skills of John McGuinness, and the Isle of Man cordoned off for you and your mates, pushing them to the limit is a risky game best left to the experts. But in winter, things are very different.

First of all there are grip’s two worst enemies: low temperatures and lots of water. Maximum grip levels occur at a tyre’s optimum operating temperature. For a dry-weather, road-legal race tyre like Pirelli’s Diablo Supercorsa or Metzeler’s Racetec, this is typically somewhere between 80°c and 120°c. It’s highly unlikely these tyres would reach those sorts of temperature on the road once the warm (ish) skies of September have disappeared.

Which is why we have road tyres, designed to warm up quickly without tyre-warmers, clear water if necessary, and last longer than a 30-mile, balls-out thrash to the chequered flag. The vast range of tyres we’re lucky enough to be spoilt with these days is often misunderstood. You’ve got your out-and-out race tyres, your road/track tyres, sporty road tyres, sports touring tyres, touring tyres… and so it goes on, all readily available in sizes to fit your bike. No wonder you’re confused.

So we’ve tried to make things a little simpler. We asked all the major manufacturers to send us a tyre they believed would be the most suitable for a large capacity sports bike, by a die-hard biker who’ll go out in all conditions on every type of road. We then got our hands on a Honda Fireblade, exclusive use of Bruntingthorpe’s handling track and Big Jim, the tyre-fitting man. Finally we added James Whitham, a man renowned for grinding out top results in less than favourable conditions, and set him to work.

Standard fitted Bridgestone BT-015

Bridgestone BT-015 (OE)

The standard fitment for the 2009 CBR1000RR.

What the manufacturer says: “OE (Original Equipment) tyres have to meet a different set of parameters to our aftermarket tyres to suit the motorcycle manufacturers’ specific requirements. The BT-015 was only ever intended as an OE tyre; the latest aftermarket sports tyre from Bridgestone is the new BT-016, a major step forward for sports tyres and would have far outperformed any OE tyre.”

The Benchmark

The first thing we needed to do was set a benchmark lap time using a bike fresh from the shop with the standard fit rubber.  Original equipment tyres are designed to be a safe all-round compromise. This gave James a chance to get a feel for the conditions and to assess how far off the OE tyres are from more specialised aftermarket items.

Lap Times: Damp - 1:22.81 | Dry - 1:13.84

07. Maxxis Supersport

07. Maxxis Supersport

Best web price: £134.99 dkmotorcycles.com

What the manufacturer says: “The Presa Sport MA-PS features an advanced tread pattern and angular profile to allow quick, precise, and responsive handling. The silica compound, formulated for optimum traction in dry and wet conditions, allows for cooler running temperatures and maximum grip. The new Presa Sport is a sports bike tyre executing track day performance.”

What Whitham says:

Damp: 1:23.73
Not as much confidence mid-corner as the OE tyres. They took a while to warm up and scrub in, too. I didn’t have a single moment on the standard Bridgestones from shiny new, whereas these felt proper slippery for at least half a lap until the release agent scrubbed off and then a good couple of laps to feel comfortable that they’d warmed up enough. A couple of times I was just about to open the throttle when I felt the rear start to break away. I found myself having to be patient and get the bike round the corner as best I could, sit it up and then open the throttle when the bike was more upright. It did drive quite well on the wet track once upright and when it spun up it felt controllable. It didn’t snap out, it slid progressively and kept driving forward. It’s difficult to say too much about the front in these conditions – they’re either gripping or they’re not but these had reasonable feedback, not bad at all

Dry: 1:14.14
Quite good under hard braking, you’ve just got to watch out getting on the power but having said that, even though it does let go a bit early, when it slides it’s quite nice and lets you know where you are with it – it pushes out predictably which is good behaviour from a tyre. There’s pretty good feel with these actually, almost the complete opposite to the Avons that seemed to have more grip and less feel, these have less grip but more feel which makes them far more confidence-inspiring. Mid-corner they’re not great, but once up and driving they’re not too bad at all. Very stable as well.

06. Avon vp2 Supersport

06. Avon vp2 Supersport

Best web price: £221.00 motorcycletyresuk.com

What the manufacturer says: “The Viper Supersport’s tread grooves stop short of the tyre’s shoulders to improve cornering stability, response speed and agility. Firm emphasis is placed on maximum grip. High-speed stability has been engineered into the Supersport too, making it the tyre you can rely on when you’re really pushing hard.”

What Whitham says:

Damp: 1:22.58
On the brakes the front felt good and planted and even when the back came round, it felt controllable and actually made me feel like a bit of a hero, though I was a bit nervous of turning it in on the brakes as hard as I normally would. While there seems to be quite a lot of grip, there’s not as much feel as the other sports tyres here. Mid-corner they’re pretty vague and you’re never quite sure where you are with them. Where you’ve got to be really careful is that initial crack of the throttle. It was letting go three or four times at every corner – they never had me out of the seat, you just need to be progressive with the throttle on the transition from leant over to upright. Good grip levels, but the lack of feel doesn’t inspire the confidence to find out exactly how much.

Dry: 1:13.54
I was trying really hard on these to push them to get some feel. You’ve got to be a lot more careful on these than with the Michelins or the Dunlops not to be on the gas over any damp patches as it lights up straight away. Even on the dry exits, it wanted to spin-up quite a lot, but you can still pedal it round at quite a pace. I was impressed at just how quick they’d let me go, but they did feel as though they were right at their limit – I wouldn’t want to push my luck with them any more than I just did!

05. Bridgestone BT-021

05. Bridgestone BT-021

Best web price: £213.00 motorcycletyresuk.com

What the manufacturer says: “The Battlax BT-021, is a true luxury sport tyre, with a confident front-end feel, high stability both on motorways and winding roads, strong grip on wet and dry, and plenty of shock absorption for comfortable long journeys.”

What Whitham says:

Damp: 1:22.12
A totally different feeling to this tyre. Mid-corner I had loads more confidence and under braking too. Even splashing through the big puddle at the hairpin, the bike didn’t get upset. Downside was rear grip under hard acceleration. These will spin forever, but they won’t get you into trouble so long as you’re smooth with the throttle cranked over. I think it’s the dual compound giving that feel. As you come off the soft compound on the edge of the tyre and onto the more durable centre compound there’s noticeably less grip. Overall though, very confidence inspiring and as good as anything here in the wet.

Dry: 1:13.56
Much more mid-corner confidence than the Maxxis with the BT-021s, but you still have to be a little careful getting on the gas,  Again, with the dual compound you can really feel the change in grip coming off the soft shoulder of the tyre onto the harder centre compound. When it does spin, the bike is more upright anyway, so it never feels as though it’s going to do anything untoward. The front is really good. It seems to hold it shape well and gives loads of confidence over the odd remaining damp patch but still tackles bumps well. As all-round performers these are very good.

04. Pirelli Angel ST

05. Pirelli Angel ST

Best web price: £209.00 moto-tyres.co.uk

What the manufacturer says: “Angel ST is the tyre built especially for addressing the needs of current sport-touring bikes and from a technical point of view it contains all the major product innovations developed by Pirelli in the last years. Angel ST is a tyre devoted to motorcyclists who like to travel in safety and comfort without sacrificing the thrill of the curve.”

What Whitham says:

Damp: 1:21.71
Lots of movement but quite predictable. Good on the brakes but you’ve got to be a little bit careful getting on to the power. Mid-corner grip is pretty good, but where you can get the Michelins or the Metzelers driving earlier in the corner, these tend to spin more, though always predictably and smoothly. With more cuts in the tread the tyre moves a lot more too. You can feel it squirming more under heavy braking than the sportier tyres but if anything, in these conditions, that kind of movement actually helps with feel and the bump absorption is very good. And for winter conditions, which is what this test is all about, these are definitely better than the more sports-oriented Avons.

Dry: 1:13.87
Not as good on the brakes as the outright sports tyres (Metzeler, Michelin and Dunlop) but not terrible by any means. Really easy to get it sliding making it difficult to get good drive off the turns. But then these are sports touring tyres designed to cope with all conditions on a heavier, less powerful bike. To be fair, when they move about it’s always predictable but what this tyre gains mid-corner in the wet with that  deeply cut tread, it loses in the dry with too much movement. Not a bad tyre at all, but it just isn’t a sports tyre.

03. Michelin Pilot Power 2CT

03. Michelin Pilot Power 2CT

Best web price: £225.00 motorcycletyresuk.com

What the manufacturer says: “ Pilot Power 2CT tyres achieve a maximum lean angle of 51.2 degrees – unprecedented for a street tyre. The Pilot Power 2CT is Michelin’s ultimate hypersport tyre.”

What Whitham says:

Damp: 1:21.90
Yeah, I like these! The best so far for rear traction and really stable under hard acceleration. Like the Metzelers they’re not so great at cutting through standing water. But they never feel as though they’re going to swap ends. Really good on the brakes too, which makes the back more prone to coming round – it’s not that there’s less grip, there’s just more weight transfer to the front lifting the rear. It’s quite a nice feeling actually, really progressive when it does step out. Took a while to warm up, but great when they did.

Dry: 1:12.83
Warm-up isn’t great and it takes a while to build confidence, but once you get some heat in, and get your head round how much grip you’ve got, you’re not scared of running off-line onto the damp patches, even through the fast stuff. They just feel like they’re going to grip all day long. There’s quite a lot of feel once they’re warm – not too far removed from a race tyre – which is pretty bloody impressive for a road tyre. The best so far on the brakes, even slightly better than the Dunlops, in that the rear-end doesn’t want to come round so much.

02. Metzeler Sportec M3

02. Metzeler Sportec M3

Best web price: £217.10 moto-tyres.co.uk

What the manufacturer says: “Progressive handling behaviour guaranteed by the Metzeler patented 0° steel belt and the Multiradius technology development with a tread pattern design and differentiated compound between front and rear ensuring high wet safety feeling and extended mileage”

What Whitham says:

Damp: 1:22.05
Warmed up really quickly and within a lap I felt as though I was braking harder than on anything we’ve tested so far. Turns in really well with good mid-corner grip so long as there’s no standing water – they don’t cut through it as well as the BT-021 or the Angel STs but do have more feel on the damp and drier stuff. Loads more rear grip than the BT-021s on the way out of corners and really easy to get the tyre to re-grip smoothly by either picking the bike up more or gently easing the throttle off just slightly. A few times I was playing with them, trying to make them slide and they just hooked up and made the bike wheelie.

Dry: 1:12.63
The grip from the rear under braking from these is very good, you never feel like you’re going to overshoot anything. Turn-in is good, but they feel a little harsh, not in an unsophisticated, crude way, more in the way that makes you feel that if if you ran over a ten pence piece you’d know which way up it was facing. They have a lot of grip though with similar mid-corner grip levels to the Dunlops and Michelins. It hooks up really well out of corners so, like the Dunlops, you feel confident getting the throttle on earlier, which is what it’s all about.

01. Dunlop Qualifier II

01. Dunlop Qualifier II

Best web price: £208.00 moto-tyres.co.uk

What the manufacturer says: “The Sportmax Qualifier II supersport tyre delivers non-stop road Feedback, razor-sharp handling accuracy and benefits from improved wet road grip. The new and unique compound enables fast warm-up time.”

What Whitham says:

Damp: 1:21.58
Warm-up even in the wet is very quick and splashing through the big puddle at the hairpin didn’t cause any problems at all, they just cut straight through.
Braking is good too, though the Michelins seemed to stay in line a little better on the way into the chicane. I felt really comfortable with these though and even when the tyres wanted to back in or spin up, I always felt like I could make them do what I wanted to do, no snapping sideways, just a controlled, smooth push. Really good.

Dry: 1:12.80
There is so much feel with these, straight from the off. A really fast warm-up and a brilliant mid-corner to exit transition means I could get on the throttle earlier without the tyre wanting to spin. When you’re in mid-corner no mans land with the throttle going from closed to settling the bike, there’s no twitching from the rear at all. Where on a few of the tyres you run it in deep because you want to square the corner off so that the bike’s more upright, with these you can run a more classic line and still get some mega exit speed out of them. With more outright grip than even the sticky-feeling Michelins, these are the best of the bunch in pure performance terms. Value for money too.

Conclusion

Conclusion

On lap times alone, the Dunlop Qualifier II takes the top slot in this test. But it’s not just the lap times that count. Both the Michelin Pilot Power 2CTs and the Metzeler Sportec M3s posted impressive dry times and gave enough feedback in the wet to stay in with a shout. On lap times the top three overall were split by less than 4/10ths of a second over a very mixed four miles.

But it’s feel and confidence that makes a tyre a winner and the plaudits have to go to Dunlop. Not only was the Qualifier II the fastest overall, it was James’ favourite from the off.

The Michelins and Metzelers are hard to separate for runner-up spot The winter tip though, would have to be Metzeler’s Sportec M3 for a faster warm-up and better feedback.

So there you have it. The top three perhaps predictably being the softer sports tyres. But just check out that data before you go spending. What’s more important to you? Outright grip or longevity? Dry weather feedback or wet weather security? Or price? Whatever. Get out there and ride!

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