Dunlop Trailmax Mission Tire Review - First Ride
Dunlop FINALLY dips it's rubber into the adventure market
When Dunlop began its presentation of the all-new Trailmax Mission 50/50 adventure tire *insert record scratch*. Wait, what? 50/50? There are no knobs. There are hardly even lugs on this new adventure offering and it has the rounded profile of your typical street tire. What gives? Well, Dunlop says it’s reinventing what it means for a tire to pull double duty both on-road and off.
The Dunlop Trailmax Mission spent two years in development with more than 30 prototypes, and 12 months alone spent developing the unique tread pattern, “The Mission delivers knobby-like performance off-road, has impressive grip on the street, plus great ride quality and stability everywhere it goes.” Knobby-like performance, huh?
Dunlop is making some lofty assertions as to the performance of its new tire, but with the time and energy Dunlop has spent developing such a tire, I’d hold judgement until the day came to test the Mission myself. On a cool sunny Thursday in Lake Arrowhead, CA, I had the chance to do just that.
“It kind of has a tiki-esque design to it,” I overheard another journalist say. “Yeah,” I thought to myself, “it kind of does.” Of course, there’s a lot of thought that’s gone into the unique tread design. Engineer Ron Winkelman told us they started with a blank slate, literally a blank tire, and hand cut tread designs after using computer software to get them to a starting point. “I hand cut a lot of tires during the development of the Trailmax Mission,” Ron explained as he told us how he would be out in the field with the test riders taking their feedback and making new cuts there on the spot to try patterns for increased grip in certain scenarios. “It’s something I try to impress on the younger engineers that I work with,” says Winkelman, “you can only get so far with the computer before you have to get out from behind the desk and into the real world for testing”
Dunlop’s relatively recent reacquisition by Sumitomo in 2015 allowed the company to tap into previously unused resources by way of the Falken automotive tire brand, also owned by Sumitomo. Specifically, the upper sidewall’s wrap-around side lugs are said to add rigidity and durability in rocky terrain, while improving steering in sand, mud, and gravel, giving the tire more sidewall traction when needed.
Other unique features include the “staggered step” design of the tread pattern. “These steps give the side knobs more rigidity and lug stability to prevent flex, and create more biting edges so as the tread wears, the next biting edge “steps up” to grab hold of the substrate,” claims Dunlop. The tread depth is also two-times deeper than anything the company had made previously which caused them to actually modify existing machinery used to make other bias-ply touring tires at the Buffalo, NY, facility.
Careful consideration was also made to how the tread pattern worked with different sized tires. You’ll notice the difference between 17/19-inch front tires versus 21-inch. The 17- and 19-inch sizes feature hollowed out knobs to create additional biting edges and knob flex for greater off-road traction. In 21-inch front sizes, the tire achieved Dunlop’s performance objectives without this additional detail, as the larger size of the tread blocks provided the desired level of traction without the need for hollowed out knobs.
Like the tread pattern, construction varies based on fitment application – different sizes of the Mission have their own unique touches to maximize performance on different bikes. For example, belts were removed on some designs during development to help improve compliance of the tire in off-road terrain. This is tailored to bikes more likely to be the “most” adventurous when it comes to off-road. Think 21-inch fronts and smaller width 18-inch rears. The Mission tires are tubeless but can also be run on tube-type rims with no adverse effect. We were also told the tire was tested at 0 psi and proved to stay on rims at a variety of load, speed, and angle without breaking its bead. When asked if this meant the tire would be a real PITA to spoon onto a wheel we were met with a long stare, “well, you’ve got to give up something.”
Dunlop says customer input was key. Engineers and researchers attended consumer shows, rallies and various events for years gathering data, and more than ten rider surveys were conducted among a vast audience. Mileage was the number one attribute the majority of survey participants said was most important when considering an ADV tire. This may be surprising to some, but in reality, I guess there aren’t as many folks looking to ride their adventure bikes in gnarly terrain that requires aggressive off-road type tires. Dunlop told us its test riders got 8,000 miles out of a rear Trailmax Mission on a 2017 V-Strom 1000 across varying terrain and that the front tire was barely half used up. In side conversations, some of the test riders even alluded to the fact that, had it been their own tire, they would have easily pushed it another 2,000 miles.
So 50/50, huh?
I wouldn’t call it a 50/50 tire. Asking Dunlop employees around the room in private conversations it seemed even they felt that was a bit of an inflated claim. Maybe 60/40, or 70/30 street-bias adventure tire. It’s plain to see from looking at the thing that you’re not going to be doing any hard enduros with it. Does it work well off-road? Yes, dare I say even better than I thought it might originally. But knobby it is not. Adventure customers these days are spoiled with options for tires letting them dial in just the right amount of street to dirt ratio of performance. Sometimes, people just need to be honest with themselves about the type of riding they’ll be doing.
On the pavement, the Dunlop Trailmax Mission gets the job done with ease. Flipping the bike side-to-side feels effortless and confidence-inspiring as footpeg and toe-scraping lean angles are easily achieved. There are no surprises under hard braking on-road front or rear. Also, there isn’t any discernible road noise from the Mission as you might get with other knobbier hoops. So, it works on the street. But does it meet that 50/50 claim when the going gets dirty?
The short answer is no, sorry Dunlop. The 50/50 claim is all marketing fluff. The tire performs better than it looks like it might due to the land:sea ratio of the tire’s tread as well as the depth, and in sandy loose conditions, those sidewall lugs do seem to help out a fair amount. But to say the tire offers grip just as well off-road as it does on-road would be entirely inaccurate.
In silty, sandy, rocky jeep roads where we spent most of our time exploring the mountainous terrain, the Mission proved to be predictable. Predictable is good. The point of traction is easily felt and managed. With some street-focused tires, one minute you’ll have traction, and the next it’s gone. Thankfully, this is not the case for the Mission. The rear would hook up and step out as anticipated, and the front stayed composed under hard braking. Even when adding a little lean, the front tire still managed to keep traction with careful input from the front brake lever.
There is something to be said for the amount of technology found on newer bikes that help push rider limits even further as both rider tech and tires continue to advance. I started the day on the Suzuki V-Strom 650XT and while ABS cannot be disengaged, I quickly turned off the TC to see what we were working with in an analog setting. The modest power of Suzuki’s 650 V-Twin mill actually complemented the performance given from the Trailmax Mission since I wasn’t spinning up the rear as effortlessly as one might on a 1200-plus cc adv tourer.
It was when I threw a leg over the KTM 790 Adventure that I was clearly able to tell just how well nine levels of traction control, off-road ABS, and ride modes can help riders find confidence in their tire choices. If you’re planning to spend more time on pavement than off-road, or if you’re not as skilled off-road, technology like what’s found on the aforementioned KTM and other bikes coupled with the capability of a tire like the Dunlop Trailmax Mission is the perfect recipe to help enjoy adventure riding further and longer than might have previously been accessible. At least, comfortably accessible to a larger swath of adv-curious riders.
The KTM 1190 Adventure R in my garage is shod with MOTOZ Tractionator Adventures. While they’re great off-road, they’re not so great on-road and with the amount of time I spend on the freeway versus dirt on that bike, I would rather have a set of the Trailmax Missions on the ol’ girl. It would make me happy while I pounded the pavement, and I would be okay with the level of grip offered off-road.
I think the Dunlop Trailmax Mission is a homerun of a tire, just don’t try to tell me it’s as worthy off-road as it is on.
More by Ryan Adams