2023 Motorcycle Tire Championship: Round 1
Windmills are everywhere here. Sprouting hundreds of feet up from the ground as if planted among the wheat fields they call home, they contrast the ancient jagged Oregon landscape with their modern carbon fiber reinforced fiberglass blades, end tips spinning at 150 miles per hour. Eastern Oregon’s fields are peppered with these giant white beasts and their guillotine blades are Don Quixote’s worst nightmare.
But for motorcyclists, Eastern Oregon is a dream. Open, remote and flowing, roads in this land shrink wrap themselves around hills and fields, curves shot at you in mind numbing succession until fatigue dries you out, or your tank runs empty, or your tires squeal for mercy. This is truly “God’s own racetrack”.
And it is the perfect place to test tires.
For the second year in a row, Road Dirt will be pitting two tire giants against each other in a head-to-head battle for sport touring tire supremacy. Last year, Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV easily won the test over Pirelli’s Angel GT with better dry handling, equal wet weather grip, better long term handling and a shocking 70% more tire life. Conversations with riders and comments from both of my readers asked about Michelin’s touring giant, the Road 6. So once again, I twisted the arm of my touring companion Dave “White Girl” Wensveen and convinced him to join me for another summer of testing.
All season we will be following each other nose-to-tail on identical motorcycles as we ride, swap bikes, take notes and grossly over-caffeinate ourselves with the purpose of answering the question we all ask ourselves: which tire is best?
After many years of riding together on identical bikes we have a good baseline for tire comparison.
Last year, my 1998 VFR800 was mounted with Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV, so this year, to even out bias, Dave’s 2001 VFR800 gets the Dunlops while my bike is fitted with Michelin’s Road 6. Dunlop provided us with a pair of Roadsmart IVs for this test, but after repeated attempts with Michelin were met with deaf ears, I just purchased the Road 6s out of my massively abundant Road Dirt paycheck. Two famous Oregon roads would be our testing bed- Hwy. 216 from Fossil to Shaniko and the section of historic Oregon 30 known as The Rowena Curves.
Perfect Pacific Northwest weather meant no rain testing. Yet.
Leaving Fossil for Shaniko we topped off our tanks to equal fuel loads and began taking notes. Within a few curves the Michelin’s Road 6 showed it’s handling personality: It is a predictable tire. Upright the tire was stable. When asked to turn, the front followed bar inputs in a linear fashion: a small input gave a small change, larger inputs give a quicker change. When the R6 was on edge it stayed on edge with stability until you told it otherwise, then mid-corner line changes did not upset the tire and quick side-to-side transitions, of which there are plenty on Highway 216, were met with a little but not too much resistance. Proper counter steering with the R6 gave me confidence because with this tire, there is little fighting the tire and every action is met with a predictable reaction. I liked this tire, right up to the point where White Girl and I swapped bikes and re-ran the road again.
This tire is quick.
As with the Michelin, it took only a few curves for the Dunlop’s personality to show: This tire is quick. Upright the tire was stable, but it telegraphed a slightest hint of boredom with being upright. When asked to turn, the tire followed counter steering inputs so quickly and effortlessly that it almost caught me by surprise, even though I did 10,000 miles in 5 months with this tire last year. When jumping from my bike to White Girl’s, even with all of my experience on this tire last year, I still had to recalibrate my inputs. On edge, the Dunlops were stable but more sensitive to body position and mid corner input. Even when leaned over, the tire responded quickly. Side to side transitions are so easy that you can use less bar pressure, which is always good riding technique. This tire gives you the confidence that if you overshoot your braking marker, you can still turn in quick enough to hit your apex. Just like last year, the Dunlop’s handling impressed us.
Tire testing is actual work. Dave and I put hundred of miles on both tires and both bikes before coming to our conclusions. Still, best job ever.
For testing continuity we also ran both tires on the same road we used last year, the Rowena Curves. Here on the tight horseshoe curves, the results were the same- the Michelin is a stable, predictable friend with good handling, whereas the Dunlop is a quick turning dance partner with sharp handling. When riding both bikes back to back, you could blindfold us (not recommended) and we could tell you which tires we were on. If the bike fell into a corner, it was the Michelin. If it snapped in, it was the Dunlop.
The author on The Rowena Curves. Whereas Hwy. 216 has fast flowing corners for testing, Rowena has hairpins to test quickness. And it looks spectacular in pictures.
At our debrief, Dave and I compared notes.
“I remember last year how the Pirelli’s flatter profile resisted turn-in,” Dave stated. “The Michelin has a better profile and doesn’t resist turn-in like the Pirelli’s. But the Dunlops almost anticipate turn-in. This is the sportiest tire I’ve ever been on, even compared to hyper sport tires I used to run on this same VFR. I used to run Bridgestone S22s on this bike for years and I can push the Dunlops just as hard and get twice the mileage.”
We decided that if tires could talk, the Pirellis would say “Do we have to turn?” while the Michelins would say “I’m ready when you are” and the Dunlops would say “I knew you wanted to turn, so just follow me.”
Whereas you could see the flatter profile of the Pirellis, there is no easily visible difference between the Michelins and the Dunlops. However, what Dunlop calls its Intuitive Response Profile is a real thing as that profile makes for sportier handling. I wondered if Dunlop’s MotoAmerica racing experience had trickled down to the RSIV, but Michelin is the tire suppler for MotoGP, so both brands have legitimate racing pedigree. I wonder if Dunlop is the only tire maker brave enough to trickle down handling lessons learned from racing to a public sport touring tire.
Getting back on my bike I was still perfectly happy, and plenty quick, on the Road 6. This tire follows inputs exactly as you would want, does everything well and handles better than Pirelli’s Angel GT by a wide margin.
I could live with the Michelin R6s. I could not go back to the Pirellis.
But with every curve, I wished I was on the Dunlops. They are so nimble-handling that once you experience them, it ruins you for other tires. However, handling changes as tires wear, so we will test handling again after about 3,000 miles when we travel the Pacific Coast Highway to cover the MotoAmerica races at Laguna Seca. Keep checking back for updates. For now though, when it comes to pure handling right out of the box, Dunlop wins. Again.
With identical bikes, rider styles, fuel loads and coffee orders, the only difference was the tires, and differences were clear.
“The Dunlops just take less effort,” Dave said. “It shows just how far away the Pirellis are (and the Road 6s are kind of close) which you would never know unless you rode them back-to-back-to-back like we did. Now, everything I ride I compare to the Dunlops. They are the new benchmark.”
More to come…
*Here’s a short clip of Ted throttling through curves between Antelope and Shaniko, Oregon. Just had to include this too. We love the sound of an open-throated VFR800-