Squaring off some tires for the greater good

As I pushed wide into the oncoming lane of the right hand turn, two thoughts ran through my head.  First, I am a better rider than this.  Second, I was amazed that I needed this much bar pressure to steer Dave’s bike.  Thousands of miles and countless curves had trained my muscle memory for my 5th generation Honda VFR800 and its Dunlop tires, so when I jumped on Dave Wensveen’s identical VFR and his Pirelli tires, I almost immediately ran wide on the tight right hand corner.  I tried correcting my line.  It was too late.

A black SUV came around the corner hugging the center while I drifted wide left toward its lane.  Crap.  I ignored the SUV, focused my eyes on my intended line and used more bar pressure and slight trail braking to bring the bike back on line.  The black SUV whisked by on my left with less margin than I was comfortable with.  Spooked and embarrassed, I took a deep breath.  I expect myself to be a better rider than that.  This was all part of Road Dirt’s long term tire test and it was not turning out like I expected.

Months ago there was a coffee fueled idea.  Dave Wensveen, my friend and long distance riding partner, and I have identical 5th generation Honda VFR800s.  My idea was (Road Dirt Motorcycle Media editor-in-chief Rob Brooks can confirm that all of my ideas are great ideas, right Rob?) spoon on some of the best sport touring rubber available on two matched bikes and ride together all summer as a long term tire test.  So Dave procured a set of Pirelli’s Angel GTs while Dunlop provided me with a set of their new Roadsmart IVs.

The Road Dirt test mules- a pair of 5th gen Honda VFRs. Guest tester and tire nit-picker Dave “White Girl” Wensveen will talk tire performance and characteristics deep into multiple beverages. I know this from experience.

For the initial test we rode to Oregon’s Rowena Curves where the Dunlops easily won the handling test.  Wet road testing was provided by mother nature as we rode to the infamous Rattlesnake Grade near Hell’s Canyon on the Oregon-Idaho border.  Wet performance was a wash (pun intended) with both sets of tires performing admirably.  Over more coffee we concluded that we needed to see how the tires handled after some serious mile munching because we all know how thousands of miles squaring off a tire affects handling.  Everyone loves new rubber, but everyone also wants to know how they perform halfway through their life.  Dave and I intended to find out, and a plan was born.

Needing a lot of miles on the tires followed by a twisty destination we chose to ride though southeastern Oregon’s desert on our way to Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside, California outside San Francisco.  Hours of desert droning followed by Alice’s famous curves should reveal any handling changes.

Nothing to see here.

If you are wondering if southeastern Oregon is really that remote, you have never been there, and you likely never will go there, because no one goes there.  Miles of endless straight pavement is the only thing that exists in this ridiculous land, disappearing into the distance like some middle school art student’s first attempt at perspective drawing.  A sign warns you that there are no services for 90 miles.  It should tell you to just go away.

At one point I saw a cow, a single, solitary, skinny cow and wondered which would come first, death by starvation or death from loneliness.  Out there among the infinite sagebrush and endless sky I set a new personal record for riding in the oncoming lane: 20 miles.  Then I took a picture, neglecting to pull over since no one was around.  By the time we left the Oregon desert, rode through Reno, over Carson Pass and into Scots Valley north of Santa Cruz, we were craving twisty pavement.  Highway 9 from Santa Cruz to Alice’s Restaurant was the cure.

Endless Oregon desert, the place to flat spot tires.  Dave and his VFR are visible on the shoulder to the far right.  Why he felt the need to pull over, I have no idea.  No one was around.

Alice’s Restaurant is a famous destination for San Francisco valley motor heads and it’s easy to see why- perfect pavement is everywhere among the cool redwood forested hills with Alice’s sitting at the nexus.  Lovers of all kinds of machines gather here and in our brief stay we saw everything from McLaren hypercars to slammed Honda Civics, Harleys to Hondas and yes, a lot of black SUVs.  They come here to lay rubber among the redwoods and escape the urban vomit of six lane freeways, stop lights and strip malls.  Us?  We came to test tires.

Alice’s Restaurant, where motor heads gather.

And it took only three sharp curves for me to run wide.  After thousands of miles and even more corners, my muscle memory was programed for the light handling Dunlops.  They were handing brilliantly even after the desert and as soon as I jumped on Dave’s Pirelli shod VFR, I had to retrain my brain.  After correcting my line to avoid becoming one with the SUV’s grill I spit a choice word over our communicators, but left my tire opinion to myself lest I bias Dave’s judgement.  At Alice’s for our debrief I let Dave speak first.  He had just gotten off my Dunlop shod VFR.

Dave puts the Pirelli Angel GTs through the paces.  The Pirellis handled wet conditions with shocking ease, but the tires like to be upright.

“When they were new I instantly felt the difference between the two tires,” Dave observed.  “Now, if the handling has decreased given the mileage, it’s hard to tell because the tip-in on the Roadsmart IV is still so sharp.  Even after 3,500 miles, it’s still that good.”

I agreed.  After some serious desert miles trying to flat spot both sets of tires, the Roadsmart IVs still had the light feel and easy tip-in that made them so nimble when new.  However, the Angel GTs required more effort than when new.  Now, about halfway through their life, the squaring off was easily visible and harder to overcome, which I found out the hard way.  Dave being a relentless analyst, which makes him an ideal tire tester, felt the need to put a number on it.

The author puts the Dunlop Roadsmart IV tires on edge.

“I need 30% more effort to get the same handling from the Pirelli versus the Dunlop,” Dave continued.  I chimed in that I would have put the number even higher, at about 50%.

Then came the clincher.  I asked Dave which tire handled better, the Angel GT when new or the Roadsmart IV after 3,500 miles of wear.  Which tire would he rather have?  His response shocked me.

“The Dunlop, no doubt.  I would rather have a 3,500 mile Dunlop Roadsmart IV on my bike than a new Pirelli Angel GT.”

Really?

“With the Dunlops I feel like I could just lean,” he started.  “With the Pirelli’s I can’t do that.  It’s way more effort.”

Dunlop’s Roadsmart IV wants to be on edge, even after thousands of miles.

I agreed, and it was easily visible.  Dunlop’s Roadsmart IVs had mostly retained their smooth curve while the Angel GTs had a distinctive flat spot, and a hard, creased line on the transition from center to edge.

If you had asked me before the test I would have guessed that the differences would have been minuscule and we would be digging hard for a winner.  Sport-touring rubber is expertly engineered and I figured that all modern tires were equally excellent with little to tell them apart.  Further clouding my judgment was the fact that I had run Angel GTs for many years and the majority of the miles on my 1998 Honda VFR800 which now has over 113,000 miles on the ODO.  I loved the Angel GTs and I was afraid that this bias and brand loyalty would cloud my judgment during testing.  Pirelli Angel GTs were always my go-to tire and I never even considered buying anything else.

Guess which bike has more touring miles.  If you guessed my 1998 VFR800, you would be right.  Most of those miles were on Pirelli Angel GTs.

Not anymore.  The Angel GT is still an excellent tire, but the Roadsmart IV is outstanding.  The Dunlops easily handled better when new, absorbed everything a ridiculous rainstorm could throw at them and still handled like a dream even after enough miles to travel across the country.  I feel my loyalty shifting.

As we geared up to leave Alice’s Restaurant we got back on our original bikes, me on my Roadsmart IV shod VFR and Dave on his Angel GT bike.  I didn’t say it to him, but I was relieved to get back on my VFR and its Dunlops.  Dave paused thoughtfully before gearing up.

“My next tire will be a Dunlop,” he said.  “Also, they’re more affordable.”

I must thank Dunlop Motorcycle Tires USA for providing the Roadsmart IVs to review, and my friend Dave for joining in the endeavor, offering his honest opinions. It’s been a pleasure to square off some tires this summer, and we are thankful for the opportunity.

Ted

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4 Comments

  1. Steve

    Rob, what about hard braking? When I have to break hard on my Victory’s Metzler rear tire, I’m sliding way more than I like. Front brake comes in very handy.

    Reply
  2. Chris

    Been riding on Angel gts for a while now and will now consider a change as I have noticed the effort getting my TLs into the twisties especially s bends and the likes I’m a big guy and use a lot of body movement to achieve the results I want someone smaller would make it hard work . Was going to try a 55 profile instead of the 50 but a wee way off yet

    Reply
    • Ted M Edwards

      The back-to-back riding experience between the Pirellis and Dunlops was noticeable. Like you I move around on the bike and the Pirellis required more effort, and were therefore more fatiguing, than the Dunlops. The Angel GTs handled well, but the Dunlops were superb. Adding miles only accentuated the difference.

      Reply

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