This year we have teamed up with our partners at California Superbike School UK to produce the six part Tyre Tech Talk feature in RiDE Magazine, and in the final part of that series available now we talk cost.
One question which often crops up when we meet with riders around the UK is, why do bike tyres seem expensive when compared to car tyres? Unfortunately, that is a bit like trying to compare apples with pears.
A replacement rear tyre for your Honda Fireblade of BMW K1600GT may not seem cheap, but if you compare it to the price of a tyre for a supercar which has a similar performance level to one of those bikes, then suddenly it doesn’t seem that expensive at all.
The vast majority of car tyres are mass produced using standard machinery, with minimal human input required. However motorcycle tyres, particularly ones of radial construction, are made in small batches by highly skilled workers using some rather bespoke machinery.
As Andy Peck, Deputy Chief Riding Coach at California Superbike School UK explains motorcycle tyre development has historically lagged behind engine development, and it was always a big limiting factor. In recent years modern rubber has become so capable that we as riders have come to take it for granted to an extent. It has not become that good by accident – it has taken thousands of hours of research and testing along with millions of pound to get it to that point. Continental have spent huge sums of money developing technologies such as Traction Skin to address a common pet hate amongst riders, scrubbing in tyres. Huge amounts of time and money have also gone into compounds such as Black Chili and Rain Grip to deliver better performance at lower temperatures and in wet weather.
Modern motorcycles over 500cc need high performance tyres, and these are relatively expensive to manufacture explains Andy. They also sell relatively small quantities when compared with cross-ply tyres, which are produced in huge numbers for the worldwide market for lightweight bikes and scooters. If you look at a Honda CBF125, it uses a 100/90-17 bias ply tyre. At the other end of the scale a Fireblade takes a 190/50 R17 radial rear which is around three times the price. The bigger 190 section tyre is not just more expensive because it requires more materials to produce, it also utilises far more advanced technologies and the latest high quality component materials to give the levels of performance needed on that bike.
Tyre wear is an issue that is frequently raised by riders. If you consider a middleweight bike such at the new Yamaha MT-09, its 115bhp is delivered to the road through a relatively small contact patch, when compared to the two tyres on the drive axle of an average car of similar horsepower. As the tyre is subjected to far less force on a 115bhp car, it is possible for the manufacturer to make car tread grooves deeper and stiffer which increases life without affecting tyre performance.
As Andy says, you can imagine, the job of a motorcycle tyre designer isnt easy when their remit is to design something that grips on a cold day, will take the load of a pillion now and then, handle a track day in the heat of summer, be stable at speeds in excess of 160mph, cope with up to 200bhp driving through it and last more than a few 1000 miles. Its a big ask, but were already producing tyres that can do far more over a much wider range of conditions than you could ever imagine just 10 to 15 years ago, and we are always pushing the boundaries even further.
If you want to catch up on any part of the six part Tyre Tech Talk series, you can find them all here.