Motorcycle Tires for Classic Bikes

Gear Driven: Six great motorcycle tires for classic bikes.

Continental ClassicAttack tire

Continental ClassicAttack tire

Photo by Richard Backus

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1. Continental ClassicAttack: Developed specifically for Seventies and Eighties sport bikes, the new ContiClassicAttack might be the single biggest handling improvement you can make to your bike. We put a set on editor Backus’ 1983 Laverda RGS, and the improvement in handling was nothing short of astonishing. Other motorcycle tires had left the RGS disappointingly uncertain in corners, but the V-rated (149mph) Contis grip like nobody’s business and the RGS now handles as Backus always thought it should. Continuous Compound Technology promises high mileage and maximum grip, and Traction Skin ensures safe and short tire break-in thanks to new mold-coating technology that eliminates tire release agents. Continental says their 0-degree steel belt design eliminates tire growth at speed, which on bias-ply tires can be as much as 2cm, almost an inch. The new radials are also available in the race compound ContiRoadAttack 2CR, which has been dominating European classic racing. As tested, $175 front, $185 rear.
UPDATE: Several readers have correctly noted that the Conti ClassicAttack isn't available in a 100/90 x 18in front, the suggested fitment for my Laverda RGS. Several Laverda owners say the 110/90 ClassicAttack fits fine, but to stay with the original spec I went with the 100/90 Road Attack on the front, with a ClassicAttack at the rear. The two share almost identical handling traits, with the Road Attack being stickier and likely to wear out a bit faster. See the comments section below. 

2. Vee Rubber TT Victory: Thailand-based Vee Rubber has been manufacturing car, truck, bicycle and motorcycle tires since 1977. The company has been aggressively expanding its U.S. presence and now offers everything from modern sport bike tires to tires specifically for classic bikes. Like other tire manufacturers, Vee Rubber produces a few tried and true tread patterns familiar to enthusiasts, including the H-rated (130mph) TT Victory street tire, a visual clone to the venerable Dunlop K81. We shoed a set on the rims of a 1974 Yamaha TX500 and think they’re the perfect period tread pattern for our vintage Yamaha. Vee Rubber notes the 3.60 x 19-inch front we used as appropriate to replace a 3.00 x 19-inch, so the final fit is actually narrower than stock. We found the TT Victory to be a great street tire, with solid grip and excellent handling thanks to the use of modern rubber compounds. A V-rated (149mph) race compound version is also available. As tested, $68 each; race compound $88 each. More info: nolawheels@gmail.com/(504) 846-4800.

3. Bridgestone BT-45: If you’ve been around motorcycles for any length of time you know somebody who’s riding on a set of Bridgestone BT-45 BATTLAX tires. Designed for Seventies and Eighties sport bikes, the BT-45 is considered by many as one of the best performing bias-ply tires on the market, with excellent traction wet or dry thanks to a tread design that pushes water out for solid contact and Bridgestone’s Dual Tread Compound, which is harder in the middle for long wear and softer on the edge for better grip. Available in H- (130mph) and V-rated (149mph) versions, the BT-45 has earned a deserved reputation as the perfect tire for performance-oriented riders. We put a set on a 1973 Honda CB350F four, and they look perfect. Carburetor trouble kept us from testing the Honda, but prior experience says we won’t be disappointed. As tested: $101.58 front, $105.27 rear.

4. Avon AM26 Roadrider: Longtime Brit bike riders tend to have a fondness for Avon Tyres, which made its first motorcycle tire way back in 1911. Avon tires took John Surtees and a host of riders to victory in the Fifties and Sixties, cementing Avon’s reputation as one of the most respected manufacturers of high performance motorcycle tires in the industry. Editor Backus ran Avons exclusively on his Norton 850 Commandos, so he was particularly interested to try out a set of Avon AM26 Roadriders on a 1976 Suzuki GT185. Featuring modern rubber compounds and effective siping to quickly displace water for excellent wet weather traction, the V-rated (149mph) AM26 is a great choice for everything from a Norton 850 to a smaller bike like the GT185. Quality is predictably excellent and performance on the street is top notch, with great grip and a very smooth ride. As tested: $99.30 front, $110.90 rear.

5. Kenda Challenger K657: Kenda, which has been making tires since 1962, has built a reputation for high-quality, affordable tires. We originally hoped to check out a set of Kenda’s newly announced Retroactive K676 tires, designed specifically with Seventies and Eighties sport bikes in mind. We couldn’t secure a set in time for our review, but we did get a chance to sample Kenda’s Challenger K657 tires when we slipped a pair onto the Motorcycle Classics/Dairyland Cycle Race to Rebuild 1974 BMW R90/6. An H-rated (130mph) 6-ply bias-ply tire, the Challenger is touted as a top choice for sport-touring motorcycles. Our set spooned on easily, although the 100/90 x 19-inch front was a tight fit compared to the stock 3.25 x 19-inch Continental. The contemporary tread design looks great, and the little bit of riding we got in before parting ways with our BMW showed the Challengers to be smooth rolling, confidence-inspiring tires. As tested: $73.99 front, $80.99 rear.

6. Duro HF314: Duro Tire has been manufacturing car, truck, scooter and motorcycle tires since 1945, so they know a thing or two about rubber and the road. In addition to a full line of tires for modern bikes, Duro has a comprehensive catalog of tires specifically for classic motorcycles, including its Dunlop K81 clone, the HF314. We slipped a set onto Tech Q&A man Keith Fellenstein’s 1964 Triumph T100, and they’ve proven to be an excellent choice for the Triumph’s daily duty of ferrying Keith around town running errands. They mounted and balanced out nicely and we think they look great. Street performance has been excellent, and while we haven’t had a chance to try them in the wet, we expect them to perform and wear well thanks to their modern rubber compound. As tested: $46.99 front, $54.99 rear. MC