Some days I really feel that the only thing you can count on in testing motorcycles is that the more you learn, the less you know.
It seemed like such a simple plan. Here is a new tire, let’s go test it. What could be so complicated about that? Well, I guess we should have something to compare it with, one that is already on my radar for further inspection. Then, we should probably have something to use as a base line too. Okay, now we are up to testing three tires.
We will need a bike too. But the new shiny one is getting modified, so let’s use one of the others in the stable. Again, it will sort of be the base line, a bike we ride often and have plenty of experience with. Next we have to make a test plan. A specific location with a dedicated ride loop. The moto track would be ideal, but we are testing for off road/desert. I learned long ago that moto testing can be very deceiving for off road bikes. More than once I had a bike set up perfect for the local track, only to find it was terrible in Sunday’s race.
So that means that we have to have a bike that is already set up well. No changes can be made during testing. We need to keep the variables down to an absolute minimum. Don’t get me started on those variables either. There are just too many to count. When we are talking about something so specific as tires. There are an infinite number of distractions that can warp the results.
One bike, one rider, one loop. It is almost impossible to use other test riders for this kind of thing. Few have the patience to stick to the ride plan. Plus they bring along their own new set of variables. So it means I have to make a day to just do this one thing. For the most part it is monotonous work. But I guess it is better than sitting behind the screen.
Still, tires are an almost impossible task. We can’t possibly compare everything. The best we can do is make relative comparisons that have real world value. The typical tire test you might read is often from a manufacture sponsored ride day. Everyone shows up, gets a new set of tires mounted up and rides around a fresh mx track for the day. It is easy to see how that would make you like a tire. All the right conditions for success.
Finally, there are very few bad tires. The last one I really hated was the low budget Sedona. I used up a set in one day down in Baja. Most tires are generally good – very good. Therefore, finding differences between them can be tricky and often more about personal preference rather than universal characteristics.
Race teams are a great example of that. The fastest racers may be looking for something completely different from the average rider. It is common that they will sacrifice ride quality just to get a tire that has one specific feel in one specific condition. The riders are so good and fast that they view a tire with a different eye. Baja racing is a great example. Top teams are all over the board on front tires. When it comes to the rear, all they care about is that the tire will stay in one piece, regardless how good or bad it feels. Honda’s choice for front is one I have never cared much for, but it has some very important quality in their eyes.
So as I set out to do some tire testing, I did not have many expectations of big differences for our two Dunlops and one Golden Tyre. That changed quickly as I realized that the Golden Tyre vastly outperformed the other two in mixed desert conditions. It wasn’t even a contest. It was like riding a completely different motorcycle.
So we have a winner, right? Well not yet, the point of having two Dunlops in the test was so that one could serve as a reference point for the other, the established MX51 against the new AT81. But neither would be my top picks for desert tires in general, not my personal favorites. We can now dismiss them from testing duty. But that just means it is time to bring in the heavy hitters. How will the Goldern Tyre 90/100/21 GT216AA stand up to my Kendas?
Bringing up Kendas represents another problem. I like three different models for the desert; Parker, Washougal and Trakmaster. I use them all interchangeably. The Parker has some very good hard terrain performance. The Washougal works nice everywhere and will actually last longer. It is also available in the 90/100 profile. The old school Trakmaster will last forever and is a very surprising performer in the dry (just don’t get it wet!).
Frankly I have never taken the time to test the three of them together. Fortunately I have them all in the garage right now, including the 90/100 Washougal. That is three Kendas and one GT. Instead of being any closer to finishing my testing, I am just getting started. One motorcycle and four wheels need to be prepped and loaded for another trip to the desert.
Stay tuned for the Golden Tyre review. Regardless of how further testing turns out, it is well worth a look. It was so good that it made my 2006 450xc feel smoother and faster in the desert than the 2015 450xcw with the AT81 mounted. Both bikes have just had the suspension done by Moto Lab. The forks are identical and the shocks as close as the two generations can be. I was far more comfortable at speed on the ’06 and the bike tracked better. So once I get more tire testing completed, I will need to test the same tires on both bikes. It has me second guessing my rally bike choice right now.