Custom and Cruiser Motorcycle Tyres
Today’s motorcycles are increasingly specialised machines, and few are more specialised than the cruiser. Most people automatically think of big motorcycles such as the Harley Davidson when they hear the word “cruiser” but cruisers can be light and affordable too. The Suzuki Intruder 125 offers a similar laid-back ride and is a popular motorcycle for further customisation. More typical cruiser models include the Moto Guzzi MGX-21, Kawasaki VN900, BMW R18, Yamaha Virago 1100 and the Victory V92.
Ultimately, the main point of the cruiser is to cruise – to offer a comfortable, relaxing experience with a little (and sometimes a lot) of style. That makes more sense for extended journeys down long highways which is why big motorcycles including Harleys, Bonnevilles, Hendersons and Indians are the legends of the genre, but virtually any motorcycle can be customised to cruise or to cruise better.
You should first consider the roads you will be driving on. While high bars, feet up, low seat and a reclined backrest is a dream on empty American highways, it’s not so much fun for commuting through South London.
That said, some motorcycles are designed to be customised (and this is typical of big cruisers) and alternative fitments are available virtually off the shelf. The great majority of motorcycles were certainly not designed for customisation, and you need to understand what you are doing: changing one component often requires you to change others in order to maintain essential performance characteristics – including stability. One of the least problematic things to customise is your choice of tyres.
What are Custom tyres?
Most customisations aim at better cruising performance, so to understand which tyres you need, you must consider what that means. A broad definition of a cruiser is that it is an easy motorcycle to ride – stable with a low centre of gravity and perfect for casual riding at moderate to low speeds. Unlike the big Supersports, it prioritises comfort rather than speed and the last place you want to be is hunched over the fuel tank constantly tweaking the steering and brakes. Because it is a leisure and long-distance vehicle, good fuel economy and tyre durability have extra importance.
Higher mileage and heavier load carrying argues for a heavier tyre construction and many leading tyre makers design some of their tyres with cruisers in mind. Harley Davidson has development relationships with Michelin and Dunlop to produce Harley-optimised tyres. Avon and Bridgestone also have long-established relationships with motorcycle makers and excellent reputations for supporting them on and off track. Some leading tyres in this category include the Avon AV72, the Bridgestone Exedra G704R, the Dunlop Elite 4, the Metzeler Cruisetec and the Michelin Commander II.
How to Choose the Best Custom Motorcycle Tyres
Knowing the most popular brands helps, but it doesn’t always drive your decision. Only you know the things you most want to improve and that means considering some basic principles about motorcycle tyres.
Choosing the ideal rear tyre for a cruiser is a bit like squaring the circle. A bouncy tyre like a cross-ply can provide extra suspension, absorb vibration, roll more quietly and generally provide a significant comfort improvement. On the other hand, they are not the best kind of tyre for supporting a lot of extra weight, such as a pillion passenger and luggage. A radial, especially a reinforced zero-degree radial, is the ideal tyre for weight but the ride may be harsher.
Generally speaking, radial road tyres are also very good for holding a straight line whereas a cross-ply is more responsive and often requires finer steering. Which of these is best depends on your particular motorcycle: a very heavy motorcycle will likely prefer a radial at the rear but can consider a cross-ply at the front to make the motorcycle nimbler on narrower winding roads. Moderately heavy motorcycles can be made more comfortable by shifting to a softer radial or a cross-ply on both wheels. Twitchy motorcycles can be stabilised by stiffer or wider tyres.
Front and rear tyres are almost always a different size but be careful if you are fitting different types of tyre to each. The general rule is that the most flexible tyre must go on the front and the firmer tyre on the rear.
Safe tyre combinations
|Front tyre||Acceptable rear tyres|
|Cross-ply||Cross-ply, bias-belt, radial or zero-degree|
|Bias belt||Bias-belt, radial or zero-degree|
|Radial||Radial or zero degree|
|Zero degree||Zero degree|
Increasing tyre width is an alternative approach for some motorcycles. Remember that the rims and swing arm must allow for that extra width or will have to be modified to accommodate it. A wider tyre will tend to give you the extra stability, extra comfort and extra load bearing in a single tyre. What they will probably not improve are the responsiveness of your steering or your fuel economy, so you have to consider your priorities in the light of how the motorcycle behaves and performs to start with.
For many custom enthusiasts, another benefit of wider tyres is style. They do look great on the back end of a big chopper so that is another consideration. Enthusiasts often spend substantial sums having a motorcycle extensively modified to accommodate a wider tyre.
Colour and tread pattern can also contribute a lot to the motorcycle’s appearance – and what is the point of perfecting the way your motorcycle behaves if it doesn’t look any different afterward. White side walls are the most common option (like the Avon Cobra Chrome) with manufacturers offering narrow or wide whitewalls. Modifying your rims may be a better way to add some colour to your wheels.
As far as the tread pattern is concerned, different tread patterns are intended for different purposes so choosing one just for its looks may mean sacrificing performance in one way or another.
One more thing to bear in mind is the performance match between front and rear tyre. When you buy a motorcycle tyre set, the tyre maker has probably considered how they may affect each other. For example, if the front tyre has longitudinal grooves, it is likely to disperse water backward under the rear tyre, increasing the water which that tyre has to contend with. If you want to run a good dry weather performer on the back, it might be wise to consider a wet weather tyre on the front. These typically have V shaped tread that disperses water to the sides.
If you have considered the performance implications, you are certainly at liberty to fit a chunkier, smoother or aggressive looking tyre if you want to, provided that you stick to the correct Load Index and Speed Rating specified for each wheel of your particular motorcycle.
Whether you are fitting new OEM tyres or choosing a radically different type of tyre for your motorcycle, you must still abide by the minimum specifications defined by the motorcycle manufacturer, the tyre’s safe load bearing limit and safe maximum speed. If you have modified the motorcycle itself in any significant way, you would be advised to fit higher rated tyres. Consult the motorcycle manufacturer or an experienced engineer for advice if in doubt.
Tyre Load Index
Tyre Speed Index
Other Custom Motorcycle Tyre Differences
Availability is an obvious limiting factor. A good tyre specialist will import tyres for you if they can’t immediately supply what you want, but no tyre is available in every size, load index and speed rating. For the heaviest types of motorcycles, there is unlikely to be a cross-ply option and for some reason, cruiser tyres are usually available in small (16”) and large (19”) but relatively few are made for 17” wheels.
As you can tell, there are many options for customising motorcycles and although choosing a set of new tyres is one of the easiest to perform, there are still a lot of options and choices to be made. Fortunately, these days the internet makes it very easy to look at lots of tyre options without leaving your chair. In many cases you can simply type in your VRN and automatically generate a selection of tyres suitable for your own particular motorcycle.
One last word of advice always be extra careful for the first 200 miles on any type of new tyre. It takes a while for the surface to roughen up and for the internal belts and cables to settle into place.