A soaked round 2 of our summer-long sport touring tire comparo

Rain followed us as we rode south, hunting us, stalking us relentlessly like a mountain lion shadowing its prey, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.  We suspected the tempest was there but foolishly we pushed on thinking we would get lucky, that we were fast enough to outrun the storm like kids running away from school, escaping their predictably ugly destiny.

Then the rain pounced, and there was nowhere to hide.  It unleashed drops so big and solid they hit us like millions of fists hammering away at our helmets, our chests, our arms and our fragile, silly little egos.  It hurt.

Adding to the misery was the cold. 

As we sped through the high plains of Anatone, Washington at over 3,500 feet the temperature sank into the low 40’s, so frigid at speed that the best my heated jacket and heated grips could do was maintain lukewarm as chilly rain drained away any hope of heat.  Everywhere endless plains of wheat fields rolled past like God’s green carpet, perfectly laid, stretching across forever, ending at the foothills of distant, snow capped peaks.  Nature was winning, beautiful in her brutality, perfect in her persistence, colorful in her contrasts.

Squint and you would swear it was November.  Or December. It wasn’t.  It was June 18th, three days away from the first day of summer.

In my helmet I whispered swear words softly so as to not be heard over our Cardo communicators.  Speeding up might have ended the misery sooner but that had its own perils.  Adding high speeds to wet and cold conditions is a pure confidence move- confidence in your bike, your riding skills, but most of all, your tires.  This fiasco was part of Road Dirt’s summer tire shootout.

Identical bikes, wet conditions, diminishing visibility. What could possibly go wrong?

I was riding Dunlop’s new Roadsmart IV tires while behind me, on an identical bike, was my riding partner and Road Dirt guest tire tester Dave Wendsveen with Pirelli Angel GTs.  Our pair of 5th generation Honda VFR800s had been shod with these tires at the same time to test them back to back in every condition possible through our riding season.  Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV won the dry handling test, feeling more nimble and light than the Pirelli.  Blindfold us both and we could tell the difference.  Blindfold?  That happened.

Fog hit next, blinding us like a wet blanket thrown over our helmets, cutting visibility from minuscule to nil.  Descending the notorious Rattlesnake Grade and its switchbacks into Hell’s Canyon and the Snake River, I swore at the fog like a big league manager cussing out an umpire.  I was in the lead of our group and fully aware that everyone was following my taillights.  Visions ran through my head of me missing a corner and shooting over the edge of the cliff as everyone behind me following my taillights to the bottom of the ravine.  Never leave your wingman.

As steep downhill hairpins jumped out at us from the fog I was neither kind nor smooth on my Roadsmart IV front tire.  I leaned heavily on the Dunlop’s wet weather grip, expecting them to save me from myself.

The higher we rode, the thicker it got.

And they both did.  Never once did the Dunlops skid, slide or do anything unexpected, they simply did their job of pushing the water aside and finding the tarmac beneath.  At times the water on the roadway was so deep that ripples flowed on top meaning hydroplaning was a serious concern.  Again, the Dunlops simply plowed forward, parting the waters.

So did the Pirellis.   Behind me, Dave was spouting forth the same expletives about the rain, the cold and the mini-creek crossings, but he was better at swearing than me because he is an actual baseball coach with decades of experience cussing out umpires.  His Pirellis were rock solid.

However, while the tires performed, neither of us pushed the pace.  This ride was about survival.  All we cared about was making it to breakfast.  We were wet, cold, our nerves were shot and what kept us going were dreams of a hot breakfast at Boggan’s Oasis at the bottom of the grade: hot greasy bacon, pancakes the size of hubcaps, enough hashbrowns to build an eagle’s nest and an IV drip of coffee.  At last we pulled into the parking lot.

Great place to eat. When they are open.

Boggan’s was closed.

If you ever wanted to know our full swear word vocabulary, you should have recorded what was said there.  I said it all.  Dave said more.  Then I let loose swear words I didn’t even know I knew, inventing grunts and noises that sounded like a Klingon cussing out Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise (yes, James T. Kirk, not Jean-Luc Picard.  Don’t go there).  Dave, being a 25 year baseball coach and a veteran at chewing out umpires, knew even more Klingon.  Impressive.

We stared at each other, standing there, out in the relentless rain, frozen in disbelief, straining to see each other through foggy face shields while we wondered what in the hell was going on out here.  Was this really June?  Isn’t official summer only 3 days away?  How can this restaurant be closed on a Saturday?  The temperature dropped.  Rain poured.  Fog thickened.  Morale sank.

So we ran.  Tails tucked between our legs we turned back, back up the steep, cold, rain soaked switchbacks we had just descended.  How good are these tires, really?  We were going to find out.

A rain soaked day.

Now I was pushing the pace.  I used the tire test as my excuse for speed but the real goal was to get the %#&$ out of the rain.  We were in full retreat.  Wait, no, my Marine Corps dad would scold me if I wrote that.  We never retreated, we advanced in the opposite direction.  There you go Dad, that one was for you.

So we advanced on the opposite direction at a pace that would be a good pace for a beginning rider in the dry.  We braked later, turned in sharper and rolled on more throttle smoothly on the exit.  Even under this assertive pace, neither the Dunlops nor the Pirellis blinked once.  Both handled the brisk pace with never a slip or a slide.  Dave put it well.

“The more we rode, the more confidence I found myself putting in the Pirellis,” he later reflected.  “I may have upped the pace a touch for the sake of testing but as I did, my confidence in the Pirellis went higher.  It was a pretty comfortable rain tire.”

Confidence in the Dunlops was equally well placed.  Pushing the pace to the edge of my comfort zone, the Dunlops simply gripped and had performance to spare.  I could have pushed harder, but why?  Any racer will tell you that to finish first, you must first finish.

Solid in the wet, both.

We could have found the end of the wet performance envelope of the Roadsmart IVs and the Angel GTs but neither of us was willing to sacrifice our touring bikes to find it.  We had pushed them in bitter cold over flat pavement with rippling streams of water running across, perfect hydroplane conditions.

“I had a hydroplaning concern,” Dave wrote in his test notes.  “Both tires truly had to move a lot of water.  I won’t lie, it was concerning.”  That concern guided our actions.  Neither of us wanted to push to the ragged edge of the performance envelope. We had gotten close enough.

A rider choosing either one of these tires based on their wet weather characteristics would be happy.  Much rain riding safety is dependent not only on good tires but also on rider skill.  Given proper technique like smooth application and release of the brakes, managing lean angle and gentle roll-on of the throttle, both of these tires will exceed wet weather expectations.

“Both tires truly had to move a lot of water.”

Dropping down from our high plain misery to the tiny town of Asotin we finally got our long overdue breakfast and coffee.  The sun came out, our bikes dried and with proper application of coffee, morale was restored.  We agreed that both tires easily handled brutal conditions.

“I rode the Angel GTs as hard in the rain as ever I’ve ridden a hypersport tire in the wet,” Dave said, “but I felt more confident knowing that these are a better rain tire.” I concurred with the same reflection of the Dunlops.

Is it cliche to call the winner of the wet tire portion of our tire shootout a wash?

Ted

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2 Comments

  1. Dave Kelley

    Good stuff to know. So many variables.. Thanks for your efforts. I’m so pissed about Boggan’s being closed. This would never happen had the old owners still been around.

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      Confidence in the wet is a big selling point for tire makers, so we felt obliged to put them to the test, even on an empty stomach.

      Reply

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