What classic bike tyres are recommended?
Triumph | Norton | BSA | AJS | Matchless | Vincent | Ariel | Royal Enfield | Motorcycle tyres
The best tyres
So you want advice on which tyres are the best for your classic bike? Well the truth is that you should ask yourself that question, because that's the only answer that really matters.
You might be new to classic biking, or you might have been around forever, but the same principle applies. You simply have to try a range of tyres over many years and thousands of miles.
And it's not strictly true that you need to know what tyres are best. Instead, you have to know only what you want, or like, because that might be a totally different choice.
Anyone advising you dogmatically to buy this tyre or that tyre is simply telling you what they like. And yes, they might have much more experience on motorcycles. But that makes little if any difference. Their style of riding might be more (or less) aggressive than yours. They might set up their suspension differently. They might be a different weight to you. They might be riding in a different part of the country or world that's wetter, or dryer, or has different road surfaces. They might primarily ride in town or in the country. They might have cast wheels or wire wheels. There are unlimited variables.
Soft compounds and tread pattern
Then you have to factor in the looks of a tyre. And looks do matter. You have to like what you're looking at if you want maximum enjoyment from it. Some bikers prefer more modern, softer compound rubber and are prepared to sacrifice style for grip, or price for grip, or whatever. Some riders have a particular bias toward one make and have developed a strong brand loyalty. Some riders might have crashed on a particular tyre and rightly or wrongly blame the rubber for failing them. It happens.
You can go on forever trying to analyse the opinions of anyone else, and it won't necessarily help you much. The question of which bike tyres are best or are recommended is really all about having faith in your own opinion. And you can't develop and fine-tune that opinion while you're being pulled in multiple directions by the usual pundits, friends, and classic bike experts. A quiet suggestion is one thing. An insistence on a particular tyre or brand is something else.
At Sump, our general advice is to talk firstly to your motorcycle tyre dealer. Don't do it online. Don't do it over the phone. Just ride your motorcycle into a tyre shop. Let the fitter see both you and your bike. Let them examine your current tyres. Then ask for their opinion.
The reason for this is that these guys and girls are at the forefront of the trade. They deal with tyres constantly. They know about changing profiles, the new formulations, the new tread patterns, the availability of a given tyre, and the new fitting guidelines. They understand tyre longevity, and tyre repair, and the general (and note we say "general") characteristics of a tread pattern and profile.
When you've had a chat (which should include details of how and where you use your bike), explain that you want the best quality tyres available—or at least the best quality you can afford. Remember that the fitter's opinion is still just opinion, but it's usually a good starting point. Then ask to see a few tyre makes (say two or three), then decide.
After that, you'll need to have the tyres fitted, then scrub the tyres in carefully according to the fitter's instructions, and then live with the rubber for a while and see if you're satisfied. At some point you can experiment a little, but you have to first develop your own feel for your existing tyres.
And, take note, you need to maintain the recommended tyre pressures throughout, and you need to ensure that the rest of the motorcycle is in good shape (bearings, suspension, wheel alignment, swinging arm condition, etc). New tyres on a poorly maintained motorcycle might improve handling, but they won't fix underlying issues.
The bottom line is always that you should make your own decisions based upon a wide spread of information. So don't simply rush towards one make or another purely on the say-so of someone else, no matter how knowledgeable they are, or appear to be.
However, if it helps, we usually run Avon Roadriders, Avon Speedmasters and Dunlop TT100s on our Triumphs and we're satisfied. We got an old and chunky Dunlop on the rear of our BSA M20, and a Mitas on the front. We used to run Continentals on our BMW airheads. And over the years we've flirted with Pirellis. But we favour the aforementioned tyres for a multitude of reasons including looks, price, availability and simple brand loyalty.
So make up your own mind about which tyres are best—and just remember that you always adjust to whatever motorcycle and tyre choice you have. It might not be a conscious choice, but you'll always adapt to your machine when on the road. And finally, keep in mind that sometimes "good enough" is every bit as good as "the best".
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