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Choosing the Right Tires

Choosing the Right Tires
Written by: Guy Caputo

It’s really not hard to understand why so many people find it a bit intimidating when looking to purchase new tires for their motorcycles. Why should it be so difficult? They’re all made of rubber, they all have some kind of tread pattern and even a slick has a tread pattern, it’s called none. They are all circular/round in shape and can cost anywhere from $50 to over $300 for a tire. So what’s the problem? The problem here is that a tire can have more applications than a porcupine has quills. So how do you choose? Well let me help you in at least 2 arenas of motorcycle racing that I happen to have some experience in. Land Speed Racing and Drag Racing.

Let’s start with the Land Speed Racing aspect of tires. Since recently breaking the Land Speed record at Maxton for a Nitrous motorcycle at 221.735MPH and holding the title of the Fastest Nitrous Bike at Maxton, I can tell you unequivocally that traction is not the most important aspect of a tire in LSR. It truly is important, but not the most important as it would be in Drag Racing. A tire that has to go round and round at over 200+MPH needs to have a strong sidewall for stability. It needs good adhesion ability between the tire carcass and tread so that you’re not chunking (blowing bits of tread) the tires at high speeds. It needs to be ZR rated for high-speed operations and of course, it also has to have good traction.

At the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah where the best of the best compete at the most majestic location for Land Speed Racing, tires will react differently on the salt than on concrete or dirt as is the case for El Mirage Dry Lake where the SCTA runs on a 1.3 mile course. The ECTA at Maxton runs on a concrete runway, Bonneville is on a dry lakebed of salt and El Mirage is a dry lakebed of dirt. A more recent location for Land Speed Racing is Goliad, Texas where the Texas Mile is run. It also is a concrete airport runway similar to Maxton’s runway.

A lot of high-speed racers on motorcycles have been known to shave the tires (remove some thickness of tread) to lighten them up. The thought process here is that a tire turning at 200+MPH with a full amount of rubber tread, will expand more at high speeds than a shaved tire due to less weight in rubber that is turning. Hence, less chance of chunking.

So after testing and using quite a few tires, I have chosen the Pirelli Dragon Super Corsa 190/55 ZR 17 for my Land Speed tire and here’s why.
The PDSC in the SC2 compound (green) gives me the traction I need for a 325+HP motorcycle to stick to the concrete, the stability I need due to it’s heavier sidewall construction and the ZR speed ratings for traveling at speeds over 200+MPH.

Let’s break this down to simpler terms. It’s sticky, it’s stable and it’s great for speed. Now you may ask, where do I get this very special tire from Guy? I asked the same thing and searched for a local contact I could deal with personally.

Richies Tires is owned and operated by Richie Brotherton who is the Pirelli Tire Race representative at all AMA/Prostar events. After much conversation and learning about this tire, I chose the Pirelli Dragon Super Corsa in the SC2 compound. What is the SC2 compound you ask? Pirelli makes 3 different versions of compounds used in these tires, SC1, SC2 and SC3 and are best known to racers as blue (super soft), green (soft) and yellow (medium), according to how sticky they are. NOTE THAT THE SC1, SC2, SC3 TIRES are developed specifically for RACETRACK ACTIVITY!

I also chose this tire specifically for its circumference measurements too. It measures over 79-1/2” in diameter, which is an often sought after size for Land Speed Racing, a well-kept secret amongst Land Speed Racers.

The stability achieved by the high tech Supercorsa construction matched to sticky compounds gave me an excellent feedback and secure feeling that makes a winning combination. The 55 aspect ratio gives a distinct advantage; a larger tire footprint previously only experienced using 16.50” for unbelievable side grip and stability. For the increasing popular Super Stock Class, size 190/55ZR17 has been produced for bikes specifically with 6” rims.

How do I read my tire?
The lettering of the tire is very important to understand if your tire is right for your motorcycle. Let’s take the following example: 180/55 ZR 17

• 180 is the nominal section in width in millimeters.
• 55 is the ratio between tire section height and nominal section width. This ratio is not indicated when section is expressed in inches (eg. 3.50-18).
• ZR means 0-degree steel belted for higher speeds.
• 17 is the nominal rim diameter size in inches.

How do I choose my tire?
Size and tread pattern to be fitted on your motorcycle depends on:
1. The motorcycle type and it’s maximum speed (speed index).
2. How much weight your bike can be loaded (load index).
3. Usage – on road, off road or on racetracks.
4. Rim size

Why do tires lose their pressure?
Because of permeation, i.e. air seeping through the rubber, tires loose more air when it’s hot weather, so it’s also partly due to the place where you ride.

When should I check my tires inflation pressure?
Check inflation pressure at least monthly and before every long trip or race. If Land Speed Racing, before every run. Be sure that the check is done when tires are cold, which usually is before they have run a mile.

Now for the Drag Racing aspect of tires. I have been dabbling in Drag Racing for quite a few years now and have found that for my particular application of tire, there is only 1 choice for high horsepower applications.



Mickey Thompson® Motorcycle Motorcycle Radial (MCR2 ) Radial, black



This bad lad has a size of 190/50VR17. A much lower profile and a short sidewall for maximum footprint. There was no real research that needed to be done when choosing this particular tire. I just looked at what all the fastest bikes on the track were running and the Sticky Mickey (as so many racers call it) is mounted on just about every performance bike on the Drag track. Why re-invent the wheel my daddy used to say. Mickey Thompson also has a street version of this famous tire, but I find that my high horsepower street monster, “The Tiger”, in unable to get the power to stick to the street with that particular version. But that is not the case with my Sticky Mickey, it hooks, hooks, hooks. Did I mention that it really hooks?

Speed Ratings

Many of today’s tires are marked, as part of the service description, with letters to indicate their speed rating, based on laboratory tests, which relate to performance on the road. Tires may be marked with one of these speed symbols, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, U, H, V, W, and Y to identify the particular tire’s speed rating. Additionally, the letter Z may appear in the size designation (see chart below).

* For tires having a maximum speed capability above 149 mph (240 km/h) a “ZR” may appear in the size designation. For tires having a maximum speed capability above 186 mph (300 km/h), a “ZR” must appear in the size designation. Consult tire manufacturer for maximum speed when there is no Service Description. ** A “ZR” may appear in the tire size designation.

NOTE: For “V”, “W”, or “Y”, and ties with a “ZR” rating

Maximum Design/Test Speed
J Type
N Type
P Type
S Type
H Type
V Type
Z Type

Tires with 2.00, 2.25 & 2.50
nominal section widths are rated for 75 mph.

The Mickey Thompson line of tires can be purchased through the PR Factory Store online, or trackside at any AMA/Prostar event.

I hope this has helped you get a better handle on your tire questions. My personal preferences in tires are just that, my personal preferences. Before you buy any tires, please call and talk with one of my tire representatives whom I have recommended to you. I know for sure they will be able to handle any of your tire questions and needs.

Until next time, Safe Racing to All.

Guy Caputo can be reached at GuyCaputo@buckeye-express.com

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