What is the most important part of a motorcycle? Is it the engine? The frame? I’d argue that the tires are the single most important component. They affect every aspect of the bike’s performance. They are the final component that converts the engine power to forward motion. A great set of tires can transform a bike with wonky performance and handling into something amazing. Great tires are probably the single best aftermarket upgrade you can make to your bike. Bad ones are an easy way to ruin a great machine.

For the most part it is usually better to replace the tires on your bike with ones that the manufacturer recommends, but tire technology doesn’t stand still and there’s nothing wrong with fitting new tires that have better grip and can improve your handling. On the other hand, you’ll never forgive yourself if you cheap out and fit tires that are below the specifications your bike was meant to have.

I’ve reviewed some of the more popular aftermarket choices here; many of these are popular but, actually, pretty bad deals. I have put what I think are the top picks at the top and those that follow are in no particular order.

Best Overall Tires: Michelin Pilot Power 3 HP

If you own a hypersport or other seriously fast performance bike then you already know that maintaining a high-end machine like that does not come cheap. If you like to splurge on the odd track day, this becomes even worse. Some people actually have a spare set of wheels with track day tires on them that they swap out, since those tires are usually too pricey and too slippery.

Michelin’s Pilot Power series of tires has made a name for itself in performance-tire circles thanks to the tire’s flexibility – the Pilot Power 3 is a dual-compound tire that can easily transition from the road to the track and back again. At about $450 for a set, these tires are not cheap in absolute terms, but if you look at the mileage, performance, handling, and grip you’ll be hard-pressed to argue against an incredible bang-for-buck ratio.

Michelin may not have created the outright best performing tire, but I think they have probably made one of the best performance tires for us mere mortals, with the added benefit that you can also use it as your everyday rubber. It’s an amazing technological feat and, when you think about it, the relatively low price is something I would have thought impossible a few years ago.

If you have the type of performance bike the Pilot Power is suitable for, I can’t think of many better options than this.

Best Long Range Tire: Michelin Commander II Cruiser Tires

Cruiser riders are usually the type of people who like long road trips. Of all bikers, cruiser and dual-purpose riders probably put the most miles on their bikes compared to sports bike riders and daily commuters. It’s no surprise then that there is a push to increase the number of miles to which you can put rubber to road. That’s the main claim to fame of the Michelin Commander – a tire longevity twice that of its competitors. That a big claim, but while it may not be that extreme it’s pretty obvious, from people who have performed long-range road tests with these, that they have herculean endurance. Michelin claims 25,000 miles and I’ve read accounts of people getting even more out of them. Those are some big numbers.

The secret lies in Michelin’s “Amplified Density Technology” which results in a much more rigid tire carcass; less heat is generated and the tire wears much better. An added bonus is that a tire that maintains its shape better also handles better, especially in the context of a heavy cruiser. So I’d expect cornering and lane changing to feel much smoother with these onboard.

Michelin has also infused the rubber compound with aramid fiber, a tough, heat resistant synthetic material used in aerospace applications and bullet-resistant armor. This increase in heat resistance adds more miles to the tire. The tread design is also part of the overall effort to squeeze extra life from the tires. The tread groove shape does a better job of sticking to the road and evacuating water than other tires in this segment. Michelin has really set a benchmark in this niche.

I have no doubt that this is THE premium cruiser tire, and if I were inclined to ride that kind of bike then my money would definitely gravitate towards these. Now, they are pricey, but if you think about the dollar-per-mile ratio, the Commanders are in fact a great bargain. In any case, it’s not just about the miles but how good it feels to ride on them. Most owners of these agree that the Commander IIs can’t be beat.

Best Budget Sports/Touring: Continental Contimotion

The Contimotion is a very popular tire that comes in a variety of sizes. When it comes to the sports-touring budget segment, the Contis are basically king of the hill.

These tires, like most budget or even sports-touring tires at any price, are not suitable to be pushed to the limit. If, however, you are looking for a solid, sporty cruise then these tires are exactly what you need, especially since they provide a nice balance between wet grip, dry grip, and cornering ability.

One great thing about where these tires are situated performance-wise is that they are stable and comfortable at fast highway speeds. I can’t think of another tire in this price range that has the same performance metrics, so as a budget sports tire it’s hard not to recommend them.

Best Budget Tires: Shinko 712

Shinko is a Japanese tire maker that bought up Yokohama’s old tire molds when Yokohama decided to stick to car tires only. The actual manufacturing happens in South Korea and just about their entire product line consists of low-cost tires that don’t have the latest technology built into them, but can be as little as half the price of the competition.

The 712 tires are meant for cruisers and older street bikes. Which is why it has an “H” rating which is good for 130 mph. Just make sure that your bike’s combined on-the-road weight doesn’t exceed the 677 lbs. mark. There are a lot of American cruisers that easily trump that, which could be unsafe.

From looking at various road tests of these, it seems the wet grip is above average for the price and that the rate of wear is actually not too bad. Given how stupidly cheap these tires are there is very little to complain about. I think these are some pretty outstanding budget tires, just remember, if it is heavy and/or fast these tires should not be on your shopping list.

Best MX Tire: Bridgestone M403/M404

The M403 (front) and M404 (rear) motocross tires from Bridgestone are suitable for bikes from 50cc to 450cc. They come in a mind-blowing number of size options. Really, I think you could fit one version or another of these tires to just about every MX bike out there.

These tires use an all-new compound and will work on a wide range of soils, although hard surface riding seems to be no problem either. Of course, you should limit riding on hard surfaces with tires like these since they will wear excessively, but it’s good to know that there aren’t any handling issues when you do need to hit the tar.

These tires are exceptional value. They are meant for intermediate track conditions and, despite being quite affordable, are actually the choice of a few professional riders as well. These are actually race-winning tires. Quite a few bikes actually use these tires as OEM parts, although they may not be labeled as such.

Despite being aimed at intermediate tracks, the M403/M404 tires are actually designed to be versatile, so you shouldn’t have to worry about switching tires when switching surfaces. If you know that you’ll mostly be riding soft or hard dirt rather than intermediate soil then you may want a different, more specialized tire. For the rest of us these are just what the doctor ordered.

Dunlop D404 Cruiser Tire

The D404s are budget-oriented tires that are suitable for cruisers or classic street bikes. Dunlop makes them in a variety of sizes and you can also get them with whitewalls, which fits the classic cruiser aesthetic to a tee.

These tires have an aggressive, deep tread pattern biased towards pumping out water, so they should be good for wet weather riding. I personally know that there are few things that suck as much as riding a heavy cruiser in the rain, so this may be a good decision on the part of Dunlop. These tires have a more rounded profile, which aids heavy bikes like cruisers in changing direction, especially at low speeds.

Quite a few people feel that these tires wear too quickly and that there are some handling issues. It is true that the mileage isn’t fantastic compared to some other tires that use a harder compound, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Dunlop says that the tire gives “a balance of mileage and grip”, which is marketing speak for an intermediate compound that gives a bit more grip than a harder, longer lasting tire.

A minority of people feel that the handling isn’t great either, but this isn’t a widespread view and could have a lot to do with the specific motorcycle, the road surface, and riding style. It may also be that some people are just expecting too much grip and handling performance from an aggressively-priced classic and cruiser road tire.

On balance I think the D404s are a great place to start if you have the right kind of bike and are going to be doing the sorts of riding these tires were designed for. If you are expecting expensive sports tire performance from these budget items, however, then you are barking up the wrong tree.

Pirelli Diablo Rosso II

The Rosso I was a very well respected sports tire that Pirelli saw fit to leave unchanged for a long time. Hey, why fix something that ain’t broke, right? It’s a great advantage not to be pushed to fix a defective product, so Pirelli has taken the time to consider the feedback on how to improve the tires rather than simply fixing what people didn’t like. The result of that positive focus is the Diablo Rosso (“devil red”) II.

These are only available in 17”, so for pure track day shenanigans you’ll want to look elsewhere. For high-mileage sports touring, once again, you want to look somewhere else. This tire falls somewhere between the sports touring and all-out track tire. Which makes them very versatile.

The set is a dual-compound with 75% of the rear tire having a medium compound and the outer edges (where you do the scary cornering) blessed with grippy soft tire compound. This gives you a great compromise between grip and mileage where you actually need either of those things. In effect you have a medium grip tire in a straight line and regular cornering, but when you have the pegs down you have a racing slick grip. The front tire is highly focused on getting water out of the way. These are very versatile. Compared to the Pilot Power 3s they lose out thanks to the limited size options, but a very, very good tire indeed.

Keep Rolling

As I said, don’t underestimate how important tires are. Don’t underspec your tires – they are the most important performance component in the entire vehicle. Most of the products I’ve highlighted here represent a great balance between performance and value. If, however, you don’t see a tire that fits your needs here, have a look at my tire buyer’s guide so that you know what to look for when shopping for your next round of rubber.