Sport Touring Tire Performance Over The Long Haul

New tires are a gift to motorcycle handling, fresh rubber turning your bike into a dance partner with nimble feet and newfound agility.  Yet tires do not stay perfectly round for long as accumulated miles flatten rubber eliminating the roundness of honeymoon handling bliss.  Much of a tire’s life is spent squared off and how a tire handles at mid-life is a concern of many a rider.

How does your worn tire compare to other tires on the market?  Do you just keep buying the same tire year after year out of loyalty and habit, or is there a better tire out there?  Comparing tires at every stage of their life is nearly impossible.  Unless you have two of the same bikes, clone yourself and follow yourself as you ride for thousands of miles, you will never truly be able to control for every variable and compare tires at every stage of their life from new to replacement.

We here at Road Dirt have the same questions you do, but also have the resources to answer them.  We have the luxury of twin bikes and nearly twin riders who are willing to follow each other around nose to tail all riding season to find the answers to your tire questions.  This is the second year of our sport touring tire shootout and like last year, my long term riding buddy, cousin and guest tire tester Dave “White Girl” Wensveen and I mounted two popular sport touring tires to our twin 5th generation Honda VFR800s and started logging miles.

Saying we followed each other nose-to-tail for the life of the tires is not a figure of speech.

Last year, Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV easily outhandled and outlasted Pirelli’s Angel GT by a wide margin.  It was not even close.  Cries from both of my readers asked about the popular Michelin Pilot Road 6.  So, by request, we mounted Roadsmart IVs and Road 6s on our VFRs and took to the road seeking answers.

Brand new, Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV outhandled Michelin’s Road 6, but not by much.  Both tires were far nimbler than Pirelli’s Angel GT, but the Michelins narrowed the handling gap.  Bouncing frequently from bike to bike, we could both tell the difference.  No sport touring tire we have tested handles like a brand new Dunlop Roadsmart IV.

However, that was new.  Adding a few thousand miles might change the results.  So that’s what we did.  Mostly.

Part of the mileage pile up was supposed to come from a loop of the Pacific Northwest which I failed to make after my trusty VFR succumbed to electrical gremlins, stranding me just short of Montana.  Dave completed the loop while I limped home and spent a week tearing into my bike’s electrics.  Therefore, for this test, he had an extra thousand miles on his Dunlops.

Bike electrics fixed, we pointed our VFRs south to California to soak in the Pacific Coast Highway and find our next testing grounds, the Santa Cruz Mountains.  We used these roads last year with the Roadsmart IV and Angel GT at the same time of year with the same tire mileage, so with conditions (almost) exactly the same as last year, comparisons between all three tires should be valid.

Dave Wensveen (at right) with fellow VFR pilot and riding buddy Trevor Alexander.  We followed the Pacific Coast Highway from our Pacific Northwest home as far south as we could until the landslide past Big Sur made us turn back.

As we rode around Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside, it was clear that even with 3,600 miles on them, the Dunlops still handled smartly.  Tip-in was still effortless and required little bar pressure to initiate.  A little less nimble than new, but not by much.  New, the Dunlops have a barely discernible tendency to not like being upright with an ever so slight on center wiggle that you could only tell if you rode another tire back-to-back.  The Roadsmart IVs want to be on edge and tell you as much throughout the bars.  As Dave observed during last year’s testing, “If you came from a cruiser to this bike (the VFR) and the Dunlops, you would be fooled into thinking it was unstable.”

Thousands of miles had eliminated that straight line characteristic, and the Dunlops were now more relaxed when upright, but the sharp handling remained.  Not only was turn initiation still quick, but the Roadsmarts responded to mid-corner line changes effortlessly.  For me, all it took was a slight change in body position to tighten a line, or even expand the turn radius and hold that new line to the exit.  At the end of a turn, they would snap upright as slowly or quickly as you would like.  Both Dave and I agreed that the Roadsmart IV responded to every rider input easily, even thousands of miles into their life.

As of this photo, the Road 6s (left) had a thousand less miles than the Roadsmart IVs (right).  Yet the Dunlops still handled slightly better.

However, Michelin’s Road 6 was not far behind.  Michelin’s sport touring flagship tire, even with a thousand miles less wear than the Dunlops, required only slightly more bar pressure to initiate a turn.  Once in a turn, the R6s were very stable, and would still change lines mid corner if asked, you just had to ask with a slightly firmer hand.  At turn exit, the R6s would snap upright, but were a touch slower than the RSIVs.  The Road 6 is a great handling tire, but still falls a bit short of the Roadsmart IV.

To confirm our findings, we gave both of our bikes to fellow tourer Trevor Alexander, our Tail Gunner who munches miles on a 6th generation VFR shod with R6s as well.  After much bike swapping, he agreed with our findings: the Michelins are a great handling tire, but the Dunlops are superb, and either tire runs circles (literally) around Pirelli’s Angel GT.

“I wouldn’t take a Pirelli Angel GT if you were to give it to me for free,” Dave said as we debriefed at the famous Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside.  “Unless it was for a straight slab Iron Butt ride.  I can’t recommend the Angel GTs to anybody.  The whole test puts the Pirellis on the shelf for me.”

All of the roads around Alice’s Restaurant south of San Francisco are smooth and twisty sections of tarmac, perfect test beds for handling.

Dave said that over his drink as he looked at me, knowing I used to be a Pirelli Angel GT rider for countless thousands of touring miles.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend.  I agreed with Dave.  When it comes to handling, both new and worn, Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV is an easy winner, Michelin’s Road 6 is a close second and Pirelli’s Angel GT is a very distant third.  Both new and worn, nothing comes close to the Dunlops.  “The Dunlops are more sporty,” Dave added.  “Even with the mileage, the Dunlops at 3,600 miles feel like the Michelins did brand new.”

This brought us to a conclusion neither of us had ever considered.  While Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV wins the handling test, both new and mid-life, they might not be for everybody.

“It’s an expert level tire,” Dave stated.

We put over 2,700 miles on this trip alone to test mid-life handling.  This meant frequent tire checks and bike swaps.  However, for parity, we only tested handling when we could unload the bikes of their camping gear.  Here, at the summit of Monitor Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we check for wear.  There may also have been a mid-July snowball fight.

We agreed that the RSIVs handle like hypersport tires, which maybe, just maybe, might not be the best for an entry level rider trying to learn the fundamentals of bike control.  Roadsmart IVs love to turn and I could tighten a line with something as subtle as head position, which might not be desirable for a newbie with few fundamentals or developing body mechanics.  Sport oriented riders like Dave and I want a tire that follows our every command instantly, but a new rider might find such responsiveness unnerving.

Michelin’s Road 6 provides a bit more stability for a learning or intermediate rider.  It still handles superbly, but is a touch less responsive to inputs, both large and subtle, which could benefit a rookie rider trying to learn basics and gain confidence.  The instant responsiveness of the Dunlops might not be for everybody.

Nearly two weeks on the road gave us plenty of time to compare tires.

However, for the rest of us, especially riders like Dave and I who ride touring sport bikes, or anyone wanting the best handling tire available, no sport touring tire we’ve ridden yet comes close to handling like Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV, new or thousands of miles in.  Over beverages at Alice’s Restaurant a thousand miles from home, Dave summed it up-

“The Dunlops are the best handling tire I’ve ever put on my bike.”

Ted

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43 Comments

  1. kPAX

    First of all, thanks for doing this comparison. I like reading these real world evaluations, they are very helpful. I have always felt that the Michelin Road 5 and Road 6 were solid all around tires but I’ve never loved them. I haven’t tried the Dunlops yet. The BT32’s are good for the money but lacking in sport riding. Great work!

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      Glad you are finding this useful. It’s why we spend all year doing the work. I have experience with the BT32s, but not in back to back testing against other tires in the same conditions, so I cannot speak to them from a comparison standpoint. Stay tuned for more.

      Reply
  2. Tim

    Interested to see actual longevity. currently looks like the michelins might wear longer.

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      I just got off the phone with Dave as we made plans for the rest of the test. We will try our best to run both of them down to cord before our northwest winter closes riding season. Then, we will report the results.

      Reply
  3. Jimmy

    What about end of life mileage for the two tires?

    Would be interested in a comparison with Conti Road Attack 4.

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      End of life mileage means riding them to the end of their life. That takes time, and given the mileage we got out of the Dunlops last year, and the Michelin’s reputation for wear, it may take a while. We will report those results when we are both down to cord.

      Reply
  4. Ken

    what about tire wear. if the Dunlop wears twice as fast as the Michelin, it changes the equation.

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      Tire wear seems to be the common question. Given the mileage we got out of the Dunlops last year, it is very unlikely that they will wear twice as fast as the Michelins. Our way to find out is to ride around together all year and run them to cord. We will try our best to do that and report results when we are done.

      Reply
  5. Ryan

    Thank you for the hard work to put out a great piece of journalism. One thing I didn’t see in the article was rough road or gravely sandy conditions. which are quite common to come across.

    Reply
  6. Dave

    Ted will tell you that I do NOT like to be on gravel. However, not all of Ted’s great ideas mean paved roads all the time. In my experience all tires on my VFR handle gravel the same. The bike and tires are not meant to be off road, but can handle it if it’s a must-do situation at slow speeds.

    As for sand, loose gravel or the dreaded chip seal my experience has been the same for all the tires. Try to avoid or slow down. This has kept all the tires from failing me. My opinion on why I like the Dunlops has been on their “sporty” tip-in feel. They are just a quicker/lighter tire to ride in the twisters. This is where I am willing to push my skills and the Dunlops have never not matched my skills. The Road 6 tires are a really good tire, just not as quick to turn in. Some have asked about rain. I’m no engineer, but I’m sure the extra siping would disperse water better than a tire with less siping. I have pushed both tires as fast as I feel comfortable in the rain or wet surfaces. Both the Dunlops and Road 6 tires have left me feeling very confident that they could handle more. I’m just not willing to see how far they can go.

    Let’s all remember this is a real world test comparison. Which means in the 5000 miles I have put on the Dunlops it has been on all types of road surfaces. Some of them planned and some because the planned roads turn into detours that just adds to the adventures 😀

    Time will tell when each tire reaches cords. I’m as excited as you all to see those numbers.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Excellent observations and comments, Dave.

      Reply
  7. Richard Quaglia

    This was much better than “buyers guides” that just echo manufacturers information. Great work!
    A suggestion about tracking tire wear: Using depth mics, you could measure the depth of the siping in five places (center, middle L/R, and shoulders L/R) at the tire valve plane. In addition to overall milage it might also give insight into how the profile changes with time.

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      Done that. On last year’s tire test, we measured the tire wear from new to half life, and maybe even dead if I remember correctly, using a tire depth gauge accurate to the tenth of a millimeter. However, after considering all the data measurements we gathered over the life of both tires, we discovered readers really wanted the answer to one question: How long will this tire last?

      Reply
  8. Rodney

    Hello,

    what a great review, highly informative and insightful.

    thank you,

    Rodney

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Thanks Rodney, more to come.

      Reply
    • DC

      Great review. I switched to the Dunlup IV on a KTM Superduke GT and love the tire. I really disliked the Perelli GT because of how badly it tracked tar strips.

      Reply
      • Ted M Edwards

        I think you will find the sharper handling of the Dunlop will compliment the Super Duke GT’s design, especially if you are a more sport oriented rider when piloting your KTM.

        Reply
      • Shawn

        Doing Gods work fellas. Thanks for the comparisons. Very informative.

        Reply
        • Ted M Edwards

          Glad you find it useful. We enjoy the work.

          Reply
  9. Jan Willem Helmers

    Great review, I just recently put Road 6’s on my BMW R1250RS but might definitely might try the Roadsmart IV’s next time, is there any difference in handling in the wet?

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      Not to give too much away, but I am currently working on the review of the wet weather test. We traveled thousands of miles, all the way to Colorado, in search of natural rain to test wet handling. We found it. Stay tuned.

      Reply
    • Craig

      I tried Roadsmart IV’s on my BMW R1250R but will be staying with Road 6 ‘s
      Down here in Australia I get 7000km on the rears and 14,000km for the front on Road 6
      The RS IV’s both front and rear were pretty stuffed at 6000km
      may have got another 1000 km
      but I didn’t like the cupping that was happening on the front
      On my previous Z900RS the Road 6’ s also got pretty much same kms
      Regards
      Craig

      Reply
  10. Ken Barr

    I have just put Michelin 6 on my 2001 BMW R1100S after a set of Dunlop 3 .

    What a difference!

    I also have a fresh set of Dunlop 4 on the shelf to go on after the Road 6 wear out.

    I will then know who h Tyre I like best.
    I am a Dunlop man however these Michelin have been an eye opener.
    Very smooth riding tyre with plenty of grip and a profile that allows you to use the whole tyre !

    Reply
  11. Marlon Robinson

    I Found The Road Smart 4s Don’t Give Me Enough “Read” So I Can Develop Trust In Them. I Went From Road4s To Road Smart4s To Road6s On My BMW K1300s. The Road4s And Road6s Both “Read” Better Than The Road Smart4s And Were More Comfortable To Travel On. They Both Gave Me 5k+ Before Showing Any Signs Of Wearing!

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      Both are good choices, but our testers universally liked the handling of the Roadsmart 4s, both new and worn.

      Reply
  12. Anders Johansson

    Is it Roadsmart GT or SP in this test ?

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      In the US, Dunlop only has one version of the Roadsmart 4, there is no GT version offered here. The same tire construction is used for both lightweight and heavyweight touring bikes.

      Reply
  13. Lance Taylor

    My tire experience started in 1981 at a race track in Brainard MN. (BIR) on a 900F with stock OEM tires that felt like I was riding on 2-oiled down bald tires after 4-laps. Switched to the “R” tire compound of the day….What a difference! That was a long time ago, still I remember that ride and ride today with very high enthusiasm.
    Current 2016 R1200RS came with M8 tires, couldn’t wait to get something better on the bike. Based on my experience with the Michelin “Power RS” on my RC51, I decided that the Power Road 5 would be going on the RS. Great tire, smooth, grippy, wet, etc. Wore them out in about 5K and at the price, I started looking for more durability with the same if not better performance.
    After discussing with a Dunlop tire-rep, the “new” Roadsmart-4 in the fall of 2019, I installed my 1st set of Roadsmart-4 tires after wearing out the Michelin Road-5’s, to start the 2021 riding yr. I’m now going on my 5th set and ready for next yr.
    IMO, these tires are everything stated in this report. The wear that I see between F/R is very even, other than after a 4K RT-trip to California where the front worn faster than the rear due to the heavy trail braking. I would say that I’m getting on average 7.5K miles on a set, and those miles are ridden for the most part at a very quick pace around as many corners as I can find in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and any other place I can find.
    My advice would be, try them out! What have you got to lose, they cost less, get equal to or better mileage, they do handle GREAT! quickly, (great for cornering).
    And really…..Everything between the next corner is just waiting for the next corner!

    Tip it in,

    Lance

    Reply
  14. Ted M Edwards

    Agreed Lance. I would feel comfortable pushing the Roadsmart 4s to a level C trackday. We heavily considered this for our test, but decided against a track test since it would adversely affect the mileage component of the comparison.

    Reply
  15. 11290SDGT

    Thank you for an apples to apples comparison. I currently have Dunlop RS4’s on my 1290 GT. I was thinking of switching over to the Michelin Road 6’s but after reading the review, I think I will stay with my Dunlops.
    Great review!! Thank you again!

    Reply
    • Russell Otto

      I’m interested in the ride comfort of each brand. I’ve used both and the Road 6s I feel give a more comfortable ride.

      Reply
      • Ted M Edwards

        Sorry Russel, our bikes have slightly different suspension tuning which makes comfort testing too difficult to compare.

        Reply
  16. Alan

    I have gone through 3 sets of Dunlop RoadSmart IV between 2 bikes. they handle great. I’m currently trying Continental Road Attack 4 (having been through a few sets of Road Attack 3 and liking those). I’d love to see you do a similar test between the Dunlop RoadSmart IV and the Continental Road Attack 4.

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      Thanks for the suggestion Alan. Always looking for ideas for our Sport Touring Tire Shootout Year 3.

      Reply
  17. Paul croaby

    I enjoyed your article and agree with your assessment. I used to run PR4s which I found to be great in the rain and dry. Tried 1 set of Angels on my ST4s and they were terrible. Then went with the PR5s on both the ST4s and ZX11 and they wore poorly on both. Seeking alternatives I tried the Dunlop RS3s and haven’t looked back advancing on to the 4s. Just replaced the rear on the ZX11 showing 7800 miles and the front still looking decent. I always replace in pairs but wanted to see just how far this front will go on the ZX. Ride safe.

    Reply
  18. JC

    I’m undecided between R6s and RM4s for my R1250R, and I want the WEIGHT to be the deciding factor. Nobody mentioned that, and I can’t find any concrete info on that, so I’m hoping it occurred to Ted to weigh them both new. Any idea what’s the weight difference all non-GT? My tire sizes are the typical 120/70/17 and 180/55/17, which I believe the VFR also wears (I owned a ’97, but forgot if the rear tire was 170 or 180). But any rear size would be fine, since they’d be comparable. Thanks guys.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      GREAT question, JC. I’ll ping Ted to chime in here, see if he can provide and answer.

      Reply
      • RIck

        I found the RS4 to be approx 30% heavier, if I remember. I’ve had then side by side without a scale and it feels that’s about right. Now how does that equate in?
        I’m curious.
        Great article guys.
        well done.
        thanks

        Reply
  19. Roland Krueger

    Need to replace the tires on my 2009 BMW K 1300 GT. Trying to decide between the Metzler‘s, Dunlops or Michelin. I would greatly appreciate your input.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      As the guys concluded in this wrap-up, as well as this whole series they did, the Dunlop RS IV edged out the Michelin Road 6, but just barely. Both are absolutely fantastic sport touring tires. We’ve yet to test a pair of Metzelers, but they may be what we test this summer, if we can get a pair from them for our comparo. Stay in touch, Roland.

      Reply
  20. John Anderson

    The tip-in difference maybe the tire’s profile or maybe the tire’s rear to front height difference or maybe the difference in the two VFR’s preload or geometry differences. Lots of variables. You would have to swap the tires between the two bikes to get a better idea of what you really felt is real or due to differences between the bikes.

    Reply
  21. John P

    Hi – great article and I am a newbie. Dumb question, is the dunlop sportsmax roadsmart IV a different version than the dunlop roadsmart IV. I see many sites state the first and many sites state the second. My bike was stolen. found 6 months later damaged, and we are finally trying to get me back on the road with it this month. Mechanic feels I need a quality sports touring tire based on the type of rider I guess I am…and I was zeroing in on the dunlop sportsmax roadsmart IV based on other information I have seen. He feels new pads, new tires, and a new SS braided brake line and I should feel like its a completely different ride. Any input would be great. Located in Missouri

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      Hi John, they are the same tire. Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart IV is a mouthful, sometimes shortened to just Dunlop Roadsmart IV, or just the best tire I’ve ever ridden. It should be a solid choice for you. I am glad you are getting back on the road. Nothing feels like that first time back on the bike.

      Reply

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