Recently on my way back from Talihena, Oklahoma, Metzeler number five sprang a leak. Something had cut a nice half-inch slit right in the center.
At about $320.00 each, my wallet was as flat as the tire. I decided it was time to try life on the “dark side”.
“Dark side” is a biker term for running a car tire on a motorcycle. It is one of the most debated practices in biker forums, with folks on either side of the issue passionate about their opinions. Most of the folks who have tried a car tire on a large cruiser swear they’ll never go back to expensive proprietary motorcycle tires again.
I have just joined the choir.
I started by ordering a 225/55ZR -16 BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW 2 tire from TireRack.com. Since I’m in north east Texas and Tire Rack’s distribution center is only a couple hundred miles away in neighboring Louisiana, my $140.00 tire only took one day to arrive on my front porch for a modest $19.00 shipping via UPS ground.
The tire was as perfect as the picture I saw of it on the internet. Rolling it up beside the bike caused some doubt. At first glance I thought I’d ordered the wrong size. No way was my wheel big enough for that tire. But after a frantic bit of measuring and inspection it became clear that it was, indeed just the perfect size.
Removal of the Triumph Rocket III rear wheel is easy, as long as your car lift doesn’t get posessed by a poltergeist before you have the bike positioned and strapped on properly. But that’s all I’ll say about those terrifying few seconds, and I’ll just be happy someone in the shop had the presence of mind to throw a breaker before total disaster struck.
With the wheel off we rolled the flat Metzeller over to the tire machine and my tire guy expertly dismounted a tire in 15 minutes that people in the forums say is easier to just cut off with a rotary tool.
Then we attacked the big car tire and started wrestling it onto the rim. The two of us are pretty strong fellas, with the combined mass and attitudes of a Kodiak Bear on LSD; most men and a few large predatory animals would lose to the two of us as long as they didn’t bring any friends to the party. But that car tire was whipping our asses. We finally resorted to very tiny incremental progress on the tire machine, inching forward and back, gradually progressing along the rim until we had the new tire bead seated with no damage to it, the wheel, or our fingers. No air blast was necessary to seat the bead. Just a good fill up and everything popped into place. I set the initial pressure to 30 PSI and we slapped the new shoe on the bike, after cleaning and re-greasing the splines.
With all the nuts and bolts torqued to correctly converted Newton-meters, brake caliper back on the rotor and pads in position, we set bigfoot on the pavement and prepared for takeoff.
I’d been reading a lot of forum entries from guys who’ve already made this leap, and only two of them had done it with this particular brand and model tire. I was pretty sure this wouldn’t be a life threatening mistake, but I wasn’t quite sure whether it wouldn’t be any kind of mistake at all.
I donned my helmet and kicked myself for having forgotten my Vanson jacket and gloves. If something went wrong, I was wide open for road rash today.
I threw a leg over and stood her up. The triple fired off. I eased out the clutch lever and sprang away, straight ahead for a hundred feet, then purposely leaned into my first corner. It was good that I leaned purposely…because the back tire wanted to argue – just for a split second – about leaning over.
But it was a very weak argument. It instantly gave up and allowed me to control without any secondary protest.
It did so every time I leaned into a corner or curve…a feeling as if the was an invisible force field trying to hold the bike upright that would suddenly diffuse as you gave the counter steering effort just a tiny bit more pressure. By the second day I wasn’t even noticing it, except when I would wonder if it was still doing it and purposely feel for it in my next turn. It was not even a distraction any more after 100 miles of riding.
Stopping was a blessing. The back brake actually contributes to stopping now, with all the extra rubber on the ground, and the tire is in far less danger of locking up due to unnecessary pressure on the brake pedal. Taking off hard from a red light you feel the bike has gained power, as the added traction launches you into the intersection instead of breaking the rear tire loose to leave skid marks and expensive rubber all over the pavement.
1. Riding in stop and go traffic – I can cruise at 1/2 mile per hour straight as an arrow and keep my feet on the pegs while laughing at the wobbly duckwalkers on the other bikes
2. Curves and corners – I’m taking them faster now. I can feel more tread on the pavement and there’s no slip, period. I may form a different opinion when the weather gets cold and the rubber hardens up into something closer to diamond than the soft sticky racing compound of the Metzeller. We’ll see.
3. Stops and take offs – no worries about burning rubber, now I gotta worry about keeping the front wheel on the ground. Traction, traction, traction. And stopping? I can’t imagine what it would take to lock that back fatty up now.
1. The bike tries to follow groves and ruts, and the slower you’re traveling the more it tries to stay there. It’s easy to compensate, but is a little surprising at first.
2. Manual maneuvering of the bike takes a bit more muscle. She doesn’t roll quite as easily, and will tip quicker on uneven ground because you’re not able to balance on the center of the tire as you would with a motorcycle tire.
3. It takes slightly more initial counter-steering pressure to lean the bike into a corner or curve. But it’s very minor and within a day I wasn’t even noticing it any more due to second-nature taking over.