Into The Wild Wet
Dave Wensveen hates rain. Few riders like the rain, but Dave just flat out despises it. The only thing my riding comrade, hardcore mile muncher and guest tire tester loathes more than rain is dirt. Long, endless miles of dirt. He still blames me for that one.
Yet if you ride in the Pacific Northwest then you know that into every ride a little rain must fall. Just not this year. We rode through most of the West anticipating that somewhere, somehow, we would find nature’s rain for the highly anticipated wet weather tire test of Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV vs Michelin’s Road 6, our participants in year two of our tire shootout series. Instead we found heat, snow, even a biblical plague of grasshoppers but not a single drop of rain. So to answer the question that both of my readers have been asking, we traversed thousands of miles to some of the best riding in the country, the place where it rains every afternoon: Colorado.
“Why are we doing this, Ted? We shouldn’t be here. Is this supposed to be fun??” When Dave complains, I just turn my Cardo unit off.
If you haven’t ridden a sport bike in Colorado, please don’t go. The mountains are ugly, the beer is warm, the locals are grumpy, the roads are horrible and the off key musicians at the lame honky-tonks don’t even know what guitar they are playing. In other words, just stay away so Dave and I can have Colorado to ourselves, because a crowded paradise is no paradise at all.
Especially stay away from Cottonwood Pass. I was one of the first group of riders across Cottonwood Pass after it was fully paved in 2019 and it is spectacular. The billiard table smooth asphalt and never ending second gear corners sprinkled with fourth gear sweepers weave among the pines to take you to over 12,000 feet and across the Continental Divide. Other than The Million Dollar Highway, it might be one of my favorite roads in the best riding state in America.
Official Road Dirt wet tire testing grounds.
And it rains there constantly. Precipitation on Cottonwood Pass arrives in many forms from a damp and soggy permeating mist to weighty, painful, grenade sized drops that arrive with little warning, turning the flat pavement into a shiny wet sheen at over two miles of elevation. Any pavement texture to improve traction would be welcome, but instead you rely on your tires. In this test those tires are Dunlop’s Roadsmart 4 and Michelin’s Road 6, both mounted on identical 5th generation Honda VFRs.
Michelin’s Road 6, with it’s deep siping and button hole reservoirs has earned a reputation for excellent wet handling, but Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV shined in last year’s wet weather test on Washington’s Rattlesnake Grade. However, that was last year, and during that test the Roadsmart IVs were new. Now they were nearing end life. Many months of travel and testing across the west had both sets of rubber at over 6,000 miles and severely squared off.
New tires perform better in the wet when new, when deep tread allows for more water evacuation, so only nut jobs like us put over 6,000 miles on tires then ride across the Continental Divide, in the rain, and the cold, at full trot, several times. Yet we had to. We wanted to see how these tires handled the wet, when you need them the most, with the tires at their worst. Pushing them to the edge in this state should tell us which one would better handle the wet when worn, a fear every rider faces. Here is what we discovered.
Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV and Michelin’s Road 6 about 6,000 miles in, dirty and wet from testing. A close look will find the wear bars on each starting to emerge.
To start, we hot lapped Cottonwood in the dry for a test baseline. Grip was still abundant with both tires, visibility was unlimited and everything was right in the world. On the return trip, weather happened. Mist and rain blanketed, temperatures dropped and visibility vanished. Just what we wanted. I think. Are we crazy? Dave says yes. Did I mention how much he hates rain?
Cottonwood Pass in the dry for our baseline. Then, in wet conditions for our test.
I began the wet test on Dave’s 2001 Honda VFR800 shod with Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV. Under a semi-relaxed pace, the Dunlops didn’t budge. Braking felt solid, cornering was still nimble given the Dunlop’s handling edge and the Roadsmarts accepted throttle on exit without drama. So, I upped the pace a touch and pushed my braking markers deeper, increased my lean angles and rolled on a tad more throttle on exit. Still, the Dunlops held.
Nearing Cottonwood’s 12,126’ summit the temperatures dropped to the low 50s, visibility decreased and chilly water clung to the smooth pavement. On the last couple of miles I pushed the pace on the Dunlops into the questionable, possibly stupid category. Still they held. It would take an ugly braking technique to get the Dunlops to slip the front or a very greedy throttle hand to slide the rear. Cornering was still sure and exit traction as solid as any sane rider could want. I had pushed the Dunlops as far as I felt comfortable and came away impressed, so I dialed back the pace to the summit. After all, I wanted to keep the bike for the rest of the test and I felt satisfied with the results.
There is a reason this is the only motorcycle,… heck,… the only vehicle at Cottonwood Pass’ summit. If it looks cold, grey and miserable, that’s because it is.
At the summit, I jumped from Dave’s Dunlop shod 2001 Honda VFR to my Michelin Road 6 wearing 1998 Honda VFR. On the downhill stretch I started with the same slightly brisk pace, the same lean angles and same corner throttle as with the Dunlop bike. Michelin’s Road 6 held steady. The downhill trajectory gave good opportunity for testing front traction, so I did. Front brake pressure was increased gradually from corner to corner, yet I could not get the Road 6 to give way. Corner feel was secure and the rear held under throttle. As with the Dunlops, the Michelins increased my wet weather confidence with every corner.
Then a cow appeared out from the mist into the middle of the road. Not seeing it until the last second due to poor visibility I got on the front binders firmly, then harder and harder until the nose of the VFR dove to the pavement. Future beef jerky avoided, not once under this hard braking incident did the Michelins budge. This was not a panic stop, but hard enough to test the 6,000 mile Road 6s. Their wet weather grip was high.
A few miles later a deer jumped onto the road. Evidently someone by the side of the road was pushing all of Colorado’s herbivores into my path. One more hard stop to avoid smacking Bambi and one more time the Michelin’s held. Although not planned, my pair of hard stops to avoid nature’s jailbreak gave me even more confidence in the Road 6s.
The Michelin Road 6 mounted VFR (at left) and the Dunlop Roadsmart IV mounted VFR (at right).
Only because of the zoo parade avoidance stops would I give a very slight wet grip win to the Michelin Road 6s. They gave me the confidence to securely grab front brake and add pressure until I knew I would not flatten wildlife.
However, the wet pace I set with the Dunlops was ridiculously brisk. Braking was sure and the rear never budged on corner exit. I did not have the opportunity, or need, to hard stop the Dunlops, but I would not hesitate to put my faith in their wet grip. I just came away with a touch more confidence in the Michelins.
Please remember, all of this was done in the name of testing. Most of us dial back our pace in the rain and your brain is still the best tool for getting you home in the wet. Ride like I did here in the wet long enough like a fool (yes, I still require adult supervision) and you will go down eventually, no matter what tire you ride.
Dave’s body language shows how much he enjoys wet weather testing. It took much pizza, adult beverages and live music to get him back to normal.
If you have many thousands of miles on the Roadsmart IV or the Road 6, and need traction while late braking after an ill timed pass, or have an emergency stop to avoid venison or a future Big Mac, then either of these tires will have your back. Even with over 6,000 miles on them, wear bars beginning to emerge, and taking them to over two miles of elevation across the Continental Divide, on mirror smooth wet pavement, in the driving rain, with poor visibly, and temperatures in the low 50s, and some four legged protein brake checks, both tires got us home safely.
Getting home safely is, after all, what every rider wants from their tires. Especially if they hate the rain.