Dual Sport Tires

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Dual Sport Tires

Dual sport tires by their very nature are a compromise. Tasked as they are with providing traction and control on both paved surfaces/tarmac and dirt/mud and snow, dual sport tires have a tough job. Knobby dual sport tires are excellent in dirt, mud and snow. On pavement, asphalt or tarmac they provide a rough ride, though. While more street-biased tires provide a more comfortable ride on paved surfaces, street-focused dual sport tires often give up significant performance off road. Due to tighter tread block spacing, which cuts noise, increases on-road traction and smooths the ride, road-focused dual sport tires are usually what come equipped from the factory when you buy a new dual sport.

When a new dual sport is shipped, it's often shod with very street oriented tires to ensure test rides are as smooth and quiet as possible. There's also liability concerns, as aggressive, knobby dual sport tires offer significantly less traction on paved surfaces, especially when wet. You can easily spin a rear knobby dual sport tire on even a tame 250cc bike.

Upgrading your dual sport tires is probably the single biggest improvement you can make to the performance of your bike off-road. This is literally the single component which transfers power to the ground and results in control and motion. When the going gets dirty, muddy or snowy, aggressive dual sport tires will keep you moving and steering. Less aggressive tires will pack up with dirt, mud and snow and essentially render your tires slick on the surface. The real genius in aggressive dual sport tires is their ability to clear the dirt efficiently from between the tread blocks. Big gaps ensure this happens while tight block spacing makes it much harder. An added benefit of the aggressive dual sport tires is the exposing of the tread block edges to the surface, giving them greater traction.

In short, aggressive works better off-road and non-aggressive works best on paved surfaces.

If you want to know what to buy for your bike, go talk to other riders. Discuss riding styles and locations/terrain. Learn what they have and why they like them. Riders are always willing to share their experiences and by simply asking, you can make an informed decision. Just be sure to check with a number of folks to at least get some variety in the answers.

Motorcycle manufacturers, despite the limits they must work within, often try to supply the right tire to match the most likely use their bikes will be put to. A KLR 650 can get by shipping with a non-aggressive, street focused dual sport tire because Kawasaki knows a couple things. First off, they know most riders of that bike will stay on road most of the time, so it's a reasonable trade off. They also know that to hold the price point on the model as low as possible, they need to ship the bike with a tire that meets a price point for them.

Contrast this with a KTM Enduro 690 R, which is little more than an off-road race bike with street legal equipment added. When KTM ships these bikes, cost is less of an issue and exceptional performance off-road is of paramount importance. These bikes only ship with very aggressive, dirt oriented dual sport tires because KTM knows their buyers will use these bikes off-road more than on road.

Your job as a dual sport owner is to determine what mix your riding entails. Do you enjoy fire roads and ride 50 miles each way to reach them? A tire which leans more towards the street side of the equation will likely make you happiest. Are you only a few miles away from tough single track trails? Or maybe you trailer your ride to a local motocross track? Spooning on aggressive, dirt-oriented tires will probably suit you just fine and you'll be very impressed with your bike's performance. Along with setting up your suspension, getting the tire choice right for you will ensure you get the most out of your dual sport ride.

The compound of rubber used in the construction of your dual sport tire plays a huge role in not only traction, but also the lifespan of your dual sport tires. Aggressive tires with sticky rubber often have very short lifespans. The opposite is true, too. Harder compounds last longer, but offer less on-road traction.

Many manufacturers claim to have various ratings on their dual sport tires. 80/20, 70/30, 50/50 and so on. In truth, these are very general guidelines and rather than thinking they are true measurements of a dual sport tire's capabilities, you should concentrate on other factors such as tread depth, block spacing and projected mileage.

Once on the road, though, you need to realize that most tires will suffer a very short life indeed when used off-road. Wear and tear from dirt, rocks and sticks combine to grind down even the sturdiest of tires. Hard or soft compound tires can easily suffer from rocks slicing off chunks of rubber, too. Keep this in mine and adjust your riding style to help reduce tire spin and save wear and tear on that rear tire. Riding on shale is particularly damaging as this sharp-edged, flat rock type can act as a blade and slice sections of your tire with ease.

Examples of dual sport tires from Dunlop:

Dunlop D908 Rally Raid dual sport/desert tire

Dunlop D908 Rally Raid dual sport front tire
Dunlop D908 Rally Raid dual sport rear tire

Here's how Dunlop describes these aggressive dual sport tires.

  • The dual-sport D908RR is designed to handle severe racing and cross-country conditions and provides exceptional durability and grip over rocks, hard ground and pavement.
  • Designed specifically to cope with the speed, horsepower and weight of large displacement rally-type dual-sport machines.
  • The D908RR is DOT-approved for road-legal use.
  • Reinforced tread blocks yield exceptional traction and stability.
  • Generous open space around the shoulder area provides ultimate traction in sand and mud.
  • Heavy-duty casing for excellent bump absorption and allows lower air pressures for a larger footprint and increased traction.

Dunlop D606 dual sport/off road tire

Dunlop D606 dual sport front tire
Dunlop D606 dual sport rear tire

Here's how Dunlop describes these aggressive tires:

  • Dunlop designed the D606 tire to be street-legal but with an emphasis on aggressive off-road riding and great durability.
  • A full-depth tread pattern designed for rigorous off-road use yields excellent traction on everything from hard-packed fire roads to soft single-track trails.
  • At the same time, the D606's tread compound is engineered for good highway durability and grip.

Dunlop D607 dual sport/street tire

Dunlop D607 dual sport front tire
Dunlop D607 dual sport rear tire

The Dunlop D607 dual sport/street tire is a great option for those who'll spend more time on road than off road. It's obvious how it's a more street oriented tire and will give up some dirt performance for on-road performance. Such is the trade off of dual sport tires. Here's what Dunlop has to say about these tires:

  • The D607's tread pattern features wide, stable central blocks with large grooves for superb water drainage and small grooves for optimal wear.
  • The rear tire combines Jointless Band (JLB) construction with Dunlop Carcass Tension Control System (CTCS) for enhanced cornering and wear performance, excellent high-speed stability and exceptional tire compliance.
  • Single-radius design maintains a consistent footprint at different lean angles for improved feel and progressive steering response.

While Dunlop is the example shown above, other manufacturers such as Kenda, Pirelli, Bridgestone and Michelin offer excellent dual sport tires of their own. Avon, Continental and Metzeler also offer solid dual sport tire options. Just be certain whatever tire you opt for, that it is DOT approved for street use. Off road tires don't need to stand up to the same stresses as road tires. Avoid using off road tires on the street.

Kenda describes their Trakmaster II dual sport tires as an affordable dual sport tire biased at 80% off road and 20% on road.

Kenda Trakmaster II dual sport front tireKenda trakmaster II dual sport rear tire

The Kenda K270 dual sport is billed as an excellent replacement for your OEM (original equipment manufacturer - what cam eon your new dual sport, essentially) tires. With their 50%/50% dirt/road rating, they offer enough dirt traction to perform decently off road, while the tighter block spacing ensures a better on road ride as well as extending the life of the tire.

Kenda K270 dual sport front tireKenda K270 dual sport rear tire

For an more on-road focused tire, Kenda offers the K761 dual sport, biased at 20% dirt and 80% road. Still, this tire should hold up to light duty use on well groomed fire roads.

Kenda K761 dual sport front tireKenda K761 dual sport rear tire

Pirelli offers up their Scorpion Trail dual sport tires for light duty trail use.

Pirelli Scorpion Trail dual sport tires

More serious trail and dirt work can be better handled by the Scorpion MT 60 dual sport tires. In truth, however, unless you want to move over to their dirt-only range, Pirelli's dual sport tagged offerings aren't that aggressive.

Pirelli Scorpion MT60 dual sport tires

Bridgestone has a few offerings, spanning the breadth of the category and covering most people's needs.

Bridgestone dual sport tires

Michelin brings the Anakee 2 to the dual sport party. These tires should be thought of as being about 80% road and 20% dirt. Still, if your needs run more on road than off, Michelin brings typical high quality to market along with increased tread life. They do offer a much more aggressive rally raid tire, so check out their site for more info on that option.

Michelin Anakee 2 dual sport tires

No matter the tire you choose for your dual sport, you should look at them as a test. Will they meet your needs? Would you buy them again or should your next set of tires be more or less aggressive?