Cruiser Tire Buyer's Guide
Are style, performance and orange smoke too much to ask for in a tire? Not at all.
Cruiser riders want what the rest of us want, don’t they? Round black pneumatic tires that hold air, provide good traction in the wet and dry while providing a smooth quiet ride. Yes, they want those things, and they also want a tire that produces orange smoke when lit off. Otherwise, we’re all one big happy family. Where sport and touring bikes have mostly settled on 17-inch diameters front and rear, with usually a 3.5-inch front and a 5- or 6-inch wide rear wheel, cruisers are less standardized. And where sportbike riders will overlook a little harshness for the sake of handling and grip, cruiser riders tend to be more concerned with ride comfort and long life. Since tire engineers aren’t having to deal with 150-mph-plus top speeds, they’re able to give it to them. Looks are important too. Buying decisions can be heavily influenced by tread pattern, and cruiser riders are swayed by whitewalls and crazy-wide rears on their choppers. Luckily, there’s a tire for every rear. Let’s try to keep it in some semblance of alphabetical order, shall we? (The orange smoker starts with an “S.”)
The Cobra is aimed at the power cruiser/custom, and incorporates sports tire (or “tyre” as they say in Avon’s native country) tech for good handling. It has a cool snakeskin sidewall, aggressive tread pattern, and the rear is available in up to 300/35R-18, as well as a bunch more front and rear sizes, both radial and bias ply. There are also special versions for the Honda Gold Wing for increased mileage, as well as special fitments for V-Rod, Triumph Rocket III, and just about any custom bike you can concoct – also available in whitewall.
Avon’s Venoms are its lower-priced, mostly bias-ply cruiser tires, available in all popular cruiser sizes. Then there’s the Avon Gangster Retro Whitewall, a tube-type 16-incher for your Harleys and Indian Chiefs, H-rated for speeds up to 130 mph.
The official tire of MotoGP and Japan’s biggest motorcycle tire manufacturer isn’t going to let the cruiser market go untapped. Its Exedra tires were OEM fitment on nearly every metric cruiser for years and is still a major player. Its Exedra Max cruiser tires are available all the way up to 240/55R16 out back, with complementary front tubeless radial sizes. The Exedra silica-enriched G850 rear/ G851 front is meant for high-performance cruisers like the V-Rod; the G701/G702 F/R is specifically designed for the Gold Wing… the list goes on.
It should come as no surprise that made-in-the-USA Harley-Davidson ships a bunch of its motorcycles with made-in-the-USA Dunlop tires, which would make Dunlop a huge player in the cruiser tire department even if it didn’t supply tons of tires to other manufacturers as well. Starting with its D401 bias-ply tires and moving all the way up through the American Elite series for heavier touring rigs, there’s a choice of Dunlop for every cruiser out there, as well as a bunch of direct OEM replacement tires for specific bikes. The D206, for instance, is a replacement for the Honda Shadow ACE Touring edition.
Who knew from sidecar tires? Heidenau does. It makes tires for all sorts of vintage bikes, as well as more modern rubber in a few limited sizes as well.
Inoue Rubber Company of Nagoya, Japan, started building bicycle tires in 1926, and currently produces several cruiser tires, including a few weird old hard-to-find sizes. The top-of-the-line WF-920 “Wild Flare” series are the ones you want for your cruiser, though, thanks to their funky tread pattern. They also feature the widest and lowest profile design available within JATMA (Japan Automotive Tire Mfrs. Association) standards.
Kenda builds a couple of cruiser-spec bias-ply tires at its far-Eastern factories. The K671 Cruiser ST is built for lighter-weight cruisers and H-rated, good for speeds up to 130 mph.
The newer K673 Kruz is for heavier, more powerful cruisers. Both are very reasonably priced.
Metzeler keeps it simple, with just one current offering for custom cruiser/heavy tourers: the ME888 Marathon Ultra, available in all sorts of sizes to fit all sorts of custom bikes, including a new 120/55R26 it just launched to celebrate 20 years building cruiser tires. Metzeler’s previous-generation ME880 radials were very popular amongst cruiser/touring riders, and many ME888s are available as whitewalls, too.
The French entry is the Commander II, a tire Michelin claims delivers high mileage compared to its competitors, up to 25,000 miles for a rear. A rigid, high-density carcass supposedly improves maneuverability and stability, while the aramid fiber crown ply of the rear tire enhances resistance to wear and keeps the tires light for great handling, too. Michelin also supplies several “Scorcher” tires as original equipment for many Harley-Davidsons.
The Night Dragon, new in 2012, is a heavy-duty high-performance tire for heavy cruisers, which seems fitting given Pirelli’s role as spec tire supplier for World Superbike racing these last bunch of years. The Night Dragons are said to provide better adhesion and road holding than most cruiser tires thanks to a 10% bigger contact patch, trading off a little mileage for performance and great stability at high speeds.
Pirelli’s Route 66 (MT 66) old-school bias-ply tires will get the custom cruiser job done, too, for a little less lire.
Shinko used to be Yokohama motorcycle tire. It designs its tires in Japan and produces them in South Korea. If it were my cruiser, I’d have to go with Shinko’s 777 Smoke Bomb, since it produces lovely orange smoke when rapidly spun on pavement. Along with the ’`Bomb, Shinko produces a dazzling array of tires to fit your cruiser, ranging from its 230 line of Tour Master bias-plys, through a couple of Classics that are available as whitewalls, a few Harley-specific applications, and onto its top-line 733/735 radials. Know the Shinko by its very reasonable price.