Pirelli Night Dragon Tire Review

Ride the Dragon

story by Pete Brissette, Photograph by Tom Riles and Catherine Wedmore, Created Mar. 14, 2008
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There's a hole in the bottom of the sea! Well, maybe not, but Italian tire manufacturing giant Pirelli believes there to be a hole in the V-Twin tire market, and the company has sent in a dragon to meet the need.

How does Pirelli know about this market void? According to Kevin Allen, Marketing Coordinator for Pirelli's North American motorcycle division, consumers aren't the only people the company is hearing from. "There's a dealer dilemma out there right now. Pro Street-tuned, dyno-tested, high-horsepower motorcycles exist and dealers are having difficulty delivering product that can put that power to the ground. With the Night Dragon we're hoping to solve that dilemma," Allen tells Motorcycle.com.

To illustrate just how important this newest tire is for Pirelli, a number of department and division leaders from the company assembled in Daytona Beach, FL during Bike Week to unveil the Night Dragon. Really, can there be any better place or time to unleash a new product for the V-Twin market?

Ride the Dragon. The Night Dragon is Pirelli's attempt to fill what it sees as a void in the V-Twin tire market. The first bike brand to receive full fitment applications is Harley-Davidson. Why? 'Cause H-D makes so many V-Twins.

So what exactly is the cause of the dealer's woes? In short, all you have to do is look to the TV, browse the magazine rack or attend any of the countless motorcycle shows to observe the proliferation over the past few years of large-displacement, high-horsepower custom built V-Twins. Heck, even OEMs are getting in on the act: Victory mass produces what are essentially turn-key customs with 106 cubic-inch powerhouses capable of roasting the rear tire when the red light turns green. Or how about the new monster, the Raider, from Star? Dealers, according to Pirelli, are having a hard time finding tires suitable for such machines.

The real issue as Pirelli sees it is primarily one of grip. "The Night Dragon offers more grip than any current product on the market," says Allen. As a matter of fact, the company believes that in this ever expanding power-hungry segment of the V-Twin market, grip is of greater concern than "maximum mileage."

You distance fiends needn't worry about buying a tire that may stick like glue yet won't last more than six trips to the liquor store. Pirelli staff assures us the mileage should be in the 6,000- to 8,000-mile range, while wisely reminding us that mileage depends on many different factors. So don't get your gearshift in a wad if your mileage is slightly less because you choose to fumigate the neighborhood with smoke coming off the Pirelli you're spinning into oblivion via 120 ft-lbs of torque.

The key element that the tire company focused on for grip was an improved contact patch. Pirelli claims an 8% larger contact patch than that of the next best competitor. As Piero Misani, Director of Research and Development, tells us, "The contact patch at the end of the day is the most important part of the tire. It's the part of the bike in contact with the ground." Indeed. But merely enlarging the contact patch isn't enough, according to Misani. "An increased size of the contact patch wouldn't be enough if you couldn't benefit of this size. The best way to capitalize on the larger contact patch is to ensure uniform pressure distribution."

Pirelli Night Dragon. Though the tread groove patterns appear identical, they're actually quite different, each optimized for stability as well as grip in both wet and dry environments.
Here's an idea of what the contact patch should look like if you have heat-signature vision. According to Pirelli, the Night Dragon's contact patch is 8% larger than that of its nearest competitor.

He emphasizes that Pirelli could certainly just use a high-grip compound, but ride quality and mileage are still important. This is where the tire's shape, size and use of more durable compounds come into play. Using a compound focused strictly on grip would sacrifice tire feel and stability.

Additionally, by carefully designing the tread pattern to optimize grove concentration and compactness, Pirelli claims the Night Dragon provides quick warm-up as well as stability. What look like identical tread patterns on front and rear tires are in fact different. Put simply, there's a larger area (a block of rubber) between the groves on the rear tire which translates into stability and grip. The more longitudinal pattern on the front tire equates to a smaller block of rubber between groves. Since the load on the front isn't as great, a softer compound can be used for enhanced grip under braking with improved stability being a benefit. Finally, wet-weather performance is improved by these very same tread design elements.

With all the tech talk and marketing jive out of the way, it was ride time. For those not familiar with the geography of Daytona Beach and surrounding areas, envisioning the surface of a billiard table might help. Yes, it's as flat as you may have heard and the road systems provide a nice grid pattern. At least the 100 or so miles that I rode seemed like a checkerboard. Go straight, turn left, go straight again...

Nevertheless, the collection of Harley-Davidson Electra Glide baggers, Classics and Sportsters proved to be good mounts for seeing the countryside. Bombing down the interstate and lumbering along surface streets and rural roads on the hefty bagger revealed good high-speed stability as well as good feel from the tire. The Night Dragons provided neutral steering complemented by very easy turn-in effort, and for what little need there was of it in such flat, angular riding, grip front and rear was sufficient. More important in my mind to this market is ride comfort. The tires did an excellent job of isolating rough pavement or the sharp jolts that can occur when crossing bridge expansion joints. Furthermore, traversing grating on the many bridges spanning the inter-coastal waterways down there wasn't the same nerve-wracking experience it often can be on a motorcycle. Here again, stability and feedback were very good; I didn't feel like I was riding across an oil slick.

As an added bonus for Pirelli, I'm both happy and disappointed to say that wet-weather performance seems fine. Yep, you guessed it. Our ride time coincided with one of the many downpours that plagued the Daytona area during Bike Week 2008. Thankfully the portion of the route that brought us home at the end of the day in the rain was primarily surface streets, so speeds were subdued. But there was enough standing water to get a sense that this new tire from Pirelli instills confidence in the wet; grip was ample as was stability. Of course, you must realize my disappointment came in the form of soaked jeans and water-logged boots.

A Journey of Thousands of Miles Begins...

Later in the year Pirelli will be releasing a radial version of the Night Dragon. As a way to test to the tire's various qualities (and most surely a great p.r. stunt!), Pirelli staff will be riding a couple of bikes from Anchorage, Alaska to Miami, Florida. A 6,000 mile tire test to sample the performance of the company's latest tire against the best and worst that American roads can throw at it. Keep an eye out for them if they pass your way. And if things don't go as planned, you may need to give 'em a lift!

Were these bikes the best test of all the grip and performance that the Night Dragon purports to offer? Perhaps not, since most of these machines, despite their displacement or size, aren't what most would think of in terms of the phraseology Pirelli uses to describe the tire's qualities. Something like a big-inch S&S-powered chopper might have been closer to what I was expecting. We have to keep in mind, though, that this tire isn't yet available for every bike on the planet, and it will be metered out over the second and fourth quarters of this year. It's early, so keep your eyes peeled for a Night Dragon to fit your V-Twin soon.

A more direct answer as to why Harleys were used for our ride is that Pirelli chose the Milwaukee bike maker as the first brand to receive a full array of fitments. Because of the number of bikes Harley makes and the number of applications, the brand was the best first choice. Thumbing through Pirelli's fitment guide proves this true. From the lowliest 883 Sportster to the biggest, most blinged-out CVO, there's a Night Dragon for them all.

Enter the Dragon!

It'll be interesting to see how the V-Twin market embraces Pirelli; the tire manufacturer is certainly more well-known for its high-performance products. But if consumers are willing to break from traditional brands, they should expect the same quality that Pirelli puts into all its racing and performance-tire products to be in the Night Dragon as well.

FRONTS U.S. Canada Available
(IP Codes)
1770500 MT90B-16 72H TL $142.95 $177.95 Q2 2008
1772500 100/90-19 57H TL $129.95 $139.95 Q2 2008
1770400 MH90-21 54H TL $112.95 $148.95 Q2 2008
1772700 140/70B-18 REINFTL 73H $198.95 $210.95 Q4 2008
REARS U.S. Canada Available
1770600 MT90B-16 74H TL $153.95 $181.95 Q4 2008
1772800 130/90-16 REINFTL 73H $158.95 $186.95 Q2 2008
1772600 150/80-16 REINFTL 77H $168.95 $219.95 Q2 2008
1770700 MU85B-16 TL 77H $170.95 $205.95 Q2 2008
1772900 150/70B-18 REINFTL 76H $198.95 $234.95 Q4 2008
1773000 180/60B-17 REINFTL 81H $216.95 $238.95 Q4 2008

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Pirelli's Red Devil
Dunlop Roadsmart Tire Review

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