The sport-touring tire category is currently one of the most fiercely contested segments, prompting major tire manufacturers to strive for rubber that not only offers durability and wet-weather grip but also complements the sporty characteristics of various road bikes. From small nakeds to tall-roaders, adventure bikes, big tourers, to sports bikes, and everything in between, these tires aim to strike a balance between supersport corner-carving performance and cruiser-like wear and longevity.
But as motorcycle tire technology constantly evolves to meet customer needs, sport-touring rubber is now expertly engineered, making it challenging to distinguish significant differences among them. While all modern tires excel, each may have specific strengths in different aspects. As riders, we appreciate the allure of new rubber, but we are equally curious about their performance halfway through their life, typically around 3,000 miles, especially considering how handling changes as tires wear.
And drawing on nearly 50 years of motorcycling experience, I’ve had firsthand encounters with today’s best sport-touring tires, and here are my top recommendations:
|Dunlop Sportmax RoadSmart IV
|RevZilla | Amazon
|Michelin Road 6
|RevZilla | Amazon
|Continental RoadAttack 4
|RevZilla | Amazon
|Pirelli Angel GT II
|RevZilla | Amazon
|Bridgestone Battlax T32
|Best Tread Life
|RevZilla | Amazon
On the road, these tires each whisper their unique stories. Pirellis might ask, “Must we turn?” Michelins declare, “I’m ready,” Dunlops confidently lead, Bridgestones inquire, “How far?” and Continentals boldly proclaim, “Come rain or shine.” Blindfold me (not recommended), and I’ll discern the tire beneath. How did I choose? Read on!
Key Factors When Buying The Best Sport Touring Tires
Choosing the best sport-touring tires involves evaluating the durability, performance, all-weather capabilities, the nature of the roads you frequent, your luggage requirements, pillion passengers, and even the climate in which you’ll be riding. I’ve extensively covered these aspects in my comprehensive motorcycle tire guide; I recommend taking a moment to peruse it for an in-depth understanding. For today’s discussion, I’ll further elaborate to assist you in making a well-informed decision.
Demystifying Tire Construction Terminology
Here a quick run-down of the basic terms:
- Tread: The visible part of the tire that makes contact with the road. Smoother treads excel on dry roads, while chunkier designs suit off-road terrains. Street patterns may focus on wet traction, and off-road variants cater to diverse surfaces, from packed dirt to sand.
- Bead: The tire section connecting to the wheel, often steel wire coated in rubber. Ensures a secure fit to the wheel, preventing rotational slippage.
- Carcass: The tire’s “body” beneath the tread, categorized as bias-ply or radial. Radial tires feature steel belts running across the tread from bead to bead while bias-ply tires utilize cords (e.g., polyester, aramid, fiberglass) at an angle of 30 to 40 degrees from bead to bead.
- Sidewall: The tire section bridging tread and bead, influencing handling and load transfer. Shorter sidewalls often mean increased stiffness, enhancing handling but impacting bump absorption. Contributes significantly to the tire’s role in the motorcycle’s suspension system.
Deciphering Motorcycle Tire Codes
Understanding vital details about a tire, such as its composition and size, is crucial. Luckily, this information is legally inscribed on the tire sidewall. There are three primary formats for motorcycle tire sizes:
- Metric Tire Sizes (Most Common): Example: 180/70R-16. The number 180 represents the tire width in millimeters. The aspect ratio, denoted by 70, represents the sidewall’s height (70% of the width). The number 16 indicates the rim size in inches. The letter (R or B) specifies Bias Ply or Radial construction.
- Alpha Numeric Motorcycle Tire Sizes (Mostly Cruiser): Example: MU85B16. ‘MU’ is the width designation (refer to a Street Tire Size Conversion Chart for specific values). 85 represents the aspect ratio. ‘B’ or ‘R’ indicates Bias Ply or Radial construction. The number 16 signifies the rim size or diameter.
- Numeric (Mostly Dirt Bike, Vintage, or Sidecar): Example: 5.00-16. The 5.00 denotes the tire width in inches (or 127 millimeters). The number 16 is the rim size or diameter. Numeric tire sizes can vary, ranging from 2.75 or 80mm to 6.0 or 150mm.
Understanding Tire Production Date
This tire indicates it was manufactured in the 9th week of 2017, placing its production in early March.
To determine the production date of a tire manufactured since 2000, inspect the sidewall for the ‘DOT’ (Department of Transportation) code. The last four digits of this code reveal the production date, with the initial two denoting the week and the subsequent two representing the year. It’s crucial to note that a tire with a three-digit code is deemed too old.
Top 5 Best Sport Touring Tires
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, recent advancements in tire technology promise impressive wet and dry performance along with extended longevity. Behind the seemingly simple facade of these black, circular assemblies lie intricate designs honed by tire manufacturers through countless hours of development.
And in my reviews, I’ll exclusively recommend the top 5 sport touring tires that I’ve personally encountered and rigorously tested, drawing comparisons from my experiences spanning over five decades. I prioritize firsthand knowledge over hearsay to offer you valuable insights.
1. Dunlop Sportmax RoadSmart IV: Best Overall
Having been a devoted rider of the RoadSmart III since its launch in 2016, the transition to the RoadSmart IV was nothing short of a revelation. Although an evolution from its predecessor, the RS IV, introduced in 2020, stands as an entirely new tire, promising an exhilarating and highly responsive ride. The tire’s quick and stable performance, combined with its smooth handling of rapid turns, left me astonished—especially after conquering 10,000 miles in just five months last year.
Responsive Riding, Unparalleled Stability
Jumping on my Yamaha Tracer 7, I found myself recalibrating my inputs, despite my vast experience, showcasing the need for a rider to adapt to the sheer responsiveness of this tire. On the road, the Dunlop’s stability, sensitivity to body position, and quick responses during mid-corner inputs are nothing short of impressive. Side-to-side transitions become effortless, requiring less bar pressure and promoting good riding technique.
Even in scenarios where you overshoot your braking marker, the RoadSmart IV facilitates a swift turn, allowing you to hit your apex with ease, unlike the flatter profile of the Pirelli Angel GT that tends to resist turn-in. Yes, the Michelin 6 boasts a better profile without the resistance of the Pirelli, but the Dunlops RoadSmart IV seem to almost anticipate the turn-in.
I’d estimate needing 30% more effort to achieve the same handling with the Angel GT, and honestly, I might even put that number closer to 50%. Surprisingly, even after 3,500 miles, I find that the RoadSmart IV handles better than a brand-new Angel GT. A broad claim, yes, but with the Dunlops, it feels like I can just lean into it, whereas the Pirelli’s demand significantly more effort.
Despite the expected decrease in handling over time, it’s hard to tell if the handling has diminished because the tip-in on the RoadSmart IV remains sharp and light, retaining the nimbleness from when they were new. And this distinction is visible too. Dunlop’s RoadSmart IVs maintain their smooth curve, while the Angel GTs develop a distinctive flat spot and a hard, creased line on the transition from center to edge.
Extended Wear Mileage
I also get longer wear mileage-wise, with an increase of 23% in the front and 26% in the rear compared to its predecessor. Even when stacked against the famous Bridgestone Battlax T32, the RoadSmart IV shines with an impressive 50% more tire life. I used to run the Battlax T32 for years on my Kawi 400, and I can push the Dunlops just as hard, yielding twice the mileage.
Adding to its prowess, the RS IV offers an extra wet weather grip – a notable 10% more for the front and a substantial 25% more for the rear, combining to instill full confidence, ensuring optimal performance even at speeds exceeding 70 mph.
Versatility with Two Versions
Highlighting the RoadSmart IV’s adaptability, it now comes in two versions. The SP targets lighter, sportier bikes, while the stiffer GT caters to heavier touring models, featuring a dual compound on the rear. These variants cater to diverse preferences with options in 17, 18, and 19-inch front sizes, and 17 and 18-inch rears. My loyalty remains steadfast!
2. Michelin Road 6: Best Handling
When Florent Menegaux unveiled the Michelin Road 6 as an upgrade to the already impressive Michelin Road 5, his promise of,
“15% better wet traction and 10% better wear”
caught my attention. Now, having logged some miles with these tires, I can attest that these claims hold true, and my riding experience tells the tale.
Mastering Every Curve
Navigating various types of corners, from constant-radius to decreasing-radius, positive-camber to off-camber, the Road 6 demonstrates precise steering and allows mid-corner corrections effortlessly. The secret behind this performance lies in the revamped rubber compounds and refined tread design.
A Delicate Dance
Silica, known for its wet/cold weather grip, often posed a challenge in maintaining tire durability in warm, dry conditions. The Road 6 tackles this issue with a combination of compound enhancements and a tweaked tread design, ensuring durability without compromising grip.
Revolutionizing Wet Grip
The introduction of X-Sipe technology takes the wet grip to the next level. As the smaller grooves open up to a wider space within the rubber compound, the tire displaces water consistently, enhancing wet weather performance. The Michelin Water Evergrip Technology, optimizing the void ratio on the tread, contributes not only to increased wet grip but also to the consistent behavior of the tires even as they wear.
Compared to the Road 5s, the Road 6 front tire now benefits from the 2CT+ treatment, extending the firmer center compound under the softer sides. This modification adds stability to the front tire, reducing flex in the contact patch during cornering.
For larger, heavier grand-touring motorcycles like my BMW K1600 GTL, the Road 6 GT variant with an extra ply provides the necessary reinforcement to handle increased forces during rides. This Michelin Reinforced Radial-X EVO ply ensures stability and prevents tire deformation during aggressive cornering.
Handling Every Turn with Confidence
Mounted on my KTM 790 Duke, I noticed a slightly rounder profile with the Road 6s, contributing to a more predictable turn-in. While not as snappy as the hyper-sport tires, these tires handled every curve at Deals Gap with confidence.
At street speeds, I found it challenging to discern a notable difference from the sportier Michelin Power RS tires. Leaned over, the Road 6s felt planted, although I’d reserve them for street use rather than track days, distinguishing them from the Power RS or their successor, the Power Cup 2.
3. Continental RoadAttack 4: Best All-Weather
Continental’s commitment to all-weather tire evolution is vividly showcased in the RoadAttack series, with each generation fine-tuning the carcass, compound, profile, and tread design for an unmatched riding experience.
Starting with the inaugural RoadAttack in 2005, Continental introduced the groundbreaking ZeroDegree belt, a continuous steel wire enhancing stability by running radially around the tire carcass in the direction of travel. In 2010, the RoadAttack 2 revolutionized the game with TractionSkin, eliminating the need for mold-release agents and virtually erasing the break-in period. MultiGrip, introduced with the RoadAttack 2, offered a progressive single compound for better wear and grip transition.
In 2013, RainGrip made a splash with the RoadAttack 2 Evo, featuring a high-silica compound for optimal wet performance. The RoadAttack 3, born in 2017, boasted EasyHandling, optimizing tire alignment for neutral handling, especially in hairpins and slow corners.
Now, the RoadAttack 4 takes the legacy forward with GripLimitFeedback, a unique combination of carcass construction and tread compound providing enhanced rider feedback as the tire approaches its traction limit. The rear tread pattern is strategically grooveless until a 10-degree lean, ensuring longevity, while grooves kick in from 10 to 40 degrees for maximum grip and precision. Beyond 40 degrees, it transforms into a slick, guaranteeing high confidence at extreme lean angles.
The addition of a silica-rich compound enhances wet grip without compromising mileage. A blend of resins makes the tire sticky even in cold temperatures, and the entire rubber concoction is optimized for compatibility with modern ABS and traction control systems. Described as a “hyper-touring” tire, the RoadAttack 4 is tailored for today’s high-performance sport-tourers, adventure tourers, and sportbikes.
What captivates me is the RoadAttack 4’s swift warm-up time, taking just about two corners, as Continental claims. This, along with other innovations, translated to a remarkable 3-seconds faster-wet lap around the renowned Contidrom, clocking in at 89.4 seconds compared to the RoadAttack 3.
4. Pirelli Angel GT II: Best Endurance
For the past five years, I’ve embarked on countless journeys with the Yamaha MT-10, first on the original Pirelli Angel GT and then with the upgraded Angel GT IIs. Tailored for enduring long distances at consistent speeds, these tires have become my trusted companions on the road.
The Sport-Touring Essence
I’m a dedicated track rider, and the allure of something more sporty might beckon. But considering that most track schools employ sport-touring tires, it becomes evident that extreme performance is not a prerequisite for the majority of us. The Angel GTs and their successors, the GT IIs, cater precisely to this ethos.
Dual Compound Mastery
Visually, both the Angel GTs and the GT IIs are strikingly similar, employing a dual compound strategy. The central area is engineered to be harder for enhanced longevity, while the softer outsides ensure superior grip.
The noticeable distinction lies in the pair of channels gracing the middle of the new GT IIs, promising improved wet performance, heightened stability, and superior grip.
Pirelli delves into technicalities like ‘variable cord end counts‘ and a ‘multi-radius design,’ but what resonates for me is the tire’s neutral profile. It strikes a balance, avoiding the twitchiness of extreme sports tires while maintaining responsive and nimble steering.
Targeting Diverse Riders
Designed for ‘Grand tourers,’ the GT IIs target riders covering extensive distances solo or with pillion and luggage, on sport-touring and adventure bikes. They also appeal to ‘Smart urbans’ traversing all year round on super-sport, naked, and adventure-tourers, along with ‘Free timers’—those who relish weekend rides on super-sport and adventure bikes.
The GT IIs are available in various sizes, including those designated for heavyweight motorcycles, catering to a diverse range of riders.
While the tire undoubtedly shines in fair weather, even under the onslaught of challenging conditions, such as two hours in the worst of American weather, I’ve never experienced a worrisome moment. These tires effortlessly displace water, providing a secure grip.
Wear and Durability
With about 5,500 miles on the clock, the rear tire has started to show signs of wear, particularly squaring off after extensive use with luggage and a pillion. Crossing white lines and over-banding, there’s a subtle change in the bike’s tracking, attributed to the flatter center profile. But this minor alteration doesn’t instill fear; it’s a testament to the tire’s durability.
5. Bridgestone Battlax T32: Best Tread Life
In a bold leap into the future, Bridgestone introduced the Battlax Sport Touring T32 tire range in 2021, poised to inherit the mantle from its predecessor, the T31, as the flagship for road-going distance, elevating the standard with an impressive 50% increase in wear life, alongside superior grip and enhanced wet performance.
Revolutionizing Road Contact
The rear tire has undergone a significant transformation, boasting a reshaped design and a 13% increased contact patch with the road. The innovation doesn’t stop there; the new tires incorporate a 3% increase in the number of grooves at the front and 6% at the rear, strategically positioned to efficiently channel water away.
Compound Mastery for Enhanced Performance
The angle and positioning of the grooves have been fine-tuned for optimal effectiveness, showcasing the introduction of ‘Pulse Groove’ technology—a system of small raised grooves within the tread itself. Based on my personal experience, this technology accelerates water drainage, further enhancing wet weather performance.
Tailored to Your Ride
Bridgestone has precisely created the T32 with a single-layer compound up front and a dual compound at the rear. The result? A remarkable 7% improvement in stopping distance over the T31 in damp conditions, coupled with significantly enhanced traction under acceleration in wet weather.
Positioned between Bridgestone’s S22 sports road tire and the touring-focused BT46, the T32 range caters to a diverse audience. For those with a penchant for mid to heavier touring motorcycles, there’s even a GT variant. Bridgestone not only retains the positive traits of the standard T32 but also boasts a 10% increase in stability and longevity over the previous T31 GT.
More Than a Tire
Available in a range of sizes accommodating bikes with 17, 18, or 19-inch front wheels, and 17 and 18-inch rears, the Battlax T32 isn’t just a tire; it’s a statement. A statement of commitment to pushing boundaries, enhancing performance, and providing riders with an unmatched experience on the road. Welcome to the future of sports touring.
8 Steps to Change Your Motorcycle Tire
Now that you’ve got your hands on the best sport-touring rubber, here’s a straightforward 8-step guide to help you change your motorcycle tire like a pro:
- Wheel Removal: Lift the bike and loosen the axle using a socket. Release the chain, remove the brake caliper, and consult your manual for specific steps.
- Deflate the Tire: Unscrew the valve cap, remove the valve stem core with a proper tool, and ensure you have a valve core remover.
- Break the Bead: Use a bead breaker tool and tire spoons to separate the tire from the rim. Apply silicone lubricant to prevent resticking.
- Pry the Bead Over the Rim: Insert a tire spoon to lift the tire, leaving it in place. Use a second spoon to pry the tire away from the rim until it separates. Repeat on the other side.
- Clean and Prepare: Wipe the inside of the rim and new tire, applying bead lube. If using a tube, insert it into the tire, aligning the valve stem with the rim hole.
- Mount the New Tire: Use tire spoons to wedge the entire tire under the rim on both sides.
- Reinstall Valve Stem and Inflate: Put the valve stem core back, inflate the tire until it sits on the rim, and check the air pressure.
- Remount the Wheel: Follow your manual’s instructions to remount the wheel. Check air pressure again, adjust wheel alignment and chain tension, and ensure all fasteners are tight. Now, you’re ready to hit the road with your new sport-touring rubber.
I've diligently categorized my motorcycle gear recommendations into all available categories, with the aim of providing you with a comprehensive analysis that showcases the absolute best options for all your needs. These items are the culmination of in-depth research, extensive testing, and personal use throughout my vast experience of 50+ years in the world of motorcycling. Besides being a passionate rider, I've held leadership positions and offered consultancy services to reputable companies in over 25 countries. To See Top Picks and the Best Prices & Places to Buy: Click Here!
Information for this article was partially sourced and researched from the following authoritative government, educational, corporate, and non-profit organizations: