There is an age-old compromise when designing motorcycle tires: the balance between grip and durability. A tire that lasts forever will have poor traction, while super sticky rubber will wear out quickly. In terms of cruiser-style motorcycles, outright grip isn’t as important as it is on sportier motorcycles, because cruisers are generally limited to moderate lean angles before hard parts start dragging.
This grip/longevity tire compromise is reasonable for most cruiser riders, especially those who ride in North America’s wide-open spaces and hate the expense of changing tires, so cruiser tires typically are built more for long life than grip. However, if riding in wet weather is part of your motorcycling equation, a typical cruiser tire might fall short of your traction needs.
Until recently, the choice of the right tires for a rainy ride on Harley-Davidsons, Indians, and the rest of the cruiser class has been limited. But developments in cruiser-tire technology have recently been focusing on ensuring a great ride even in wet weather.
The grip/longevity balance of many cruiser tires isn’t as tilted in other motorcycle classes, with tires offering a well-balanced combination of stability, dynamics, and mileage. One thing is certain: Performance comes at a cost—first and foremost, the mileage. But the gain in safety is enormous and quickly makes up for having to replace tires more often. Once an 800-pound machine starts to slide, hardly anyone will catch it, even if the leather vest reads Marc Márquez.
In a large customer survey in the U.S., mileage was identified as the main reason for purchasing, but there were strong suggestions that more safety in the rain was desirable. Indeed, the Bridgestone H50, introduced in 2017, was able to stand out from the durable original tires during earlier tire tests and inspired more confidence on wet tracks. Bridgestone says a special analysis of the pressure distribution has been carried out to adjust the contact patch to the road in order to improve handling and grip on both dry and wet asphalt.
Metzeler also showed a strong interest in the neochopper clientele when it introduced its Cruisetec in 2019. The Brazilian-made Cruisetec was aimed at the V-twin rider who wanted better control in the rain, and in direct comparison with the H50, it is a winner. Above all, it was due to Metzeler taking a completely new approach that has no relation to the previous ME 888 or ME 880. This is particularly evident in this comparison by looking at the results of its sister model, the Pirelli Night Dragon GT, in tests. That tire, which is still built according to old cruiser principles, is far behind from what the current Cruisetec can do in the rain.
The Cruisetec’s most important feature is the dual-compound rubber at the rear, which balances traction and longevity with durable rubber in its center section, but grippier rubber at its edges for better traction when turning, especially when used in wet-weather conditions.
Michelin hasn’t been idle either with the recently released Commander III in two versions: Cruiser and Touring. The Cruiser version mounted on a test Harley-Davidson shows that the potential for maximizing grip in the rain is far from exhausted. Michelin has longstanding expertise in all-weather tires. Indeed, the Commander III’s rubber compound, which has a high-quality silica content, also made a lasting impression on the wet test track.
These advanced tires might not make it into the original-equipment sector, but they are the first choice for cruiser riders who demand optimal control in the rain.
To chart the latest state of the art in cruiser tires, the testers gathered seven of the newest models and put them through exhaustive testing to find out which are the best choices for riders who want to continue riding when it’s wet outside. Using a Harley-Davidson FLHCS Heritage Classic 114 as the test mule and its factory-equipment Dunlop D401/D401 T tires as the baseline (130/90-16, 150/80-16), the testers rode through the rain, full speed ahead!
Weight: 14.55 lbs front, 18.96 lbs rear
Maximum lean angle when wet: 29.3°
Braking distance from 62 mph when wet: 145 ft
Wet track lap time: 1:13.5 sec
Country of production: Thailand
Test ride: (86 points, 1st place) With impressive performance, the Michelin-tired Harley-Davidson swooshes over the wetted track. Compared with the stock tires, the Heritage Classic pulls through the long Omega turn with almost 10 degrees more lean angle (see p. 28). Thanks to the wide threshold range, the limit of the grip reserves can be ascertained very precisely. When riding straight ahead, the Commander III impresses with powerful traction, and when braking from 62 mph, you come to a full stop at around 145 ft. No other tire beats this record.
Conclusion: With the Commander III, Michelin continues the tradition of not letting anyone take the butter off their bread when it comes to wet-weather performance. Bottom line: Test champion!
Rating: Very good
Weight: 15.87 lbs front, 19.62 lbs rear
Maximum lean angle when wet: 28.2°
Braking distance from 62 mph when wet: 154 ft
Wet track lap time: 1:14.3 sec
Country of production: Brazil
Test ride: (82 points, 2nd place) With one of the latest developments in this segment, the Cruisetec makes a powerful push in the rain, clearly designed for bad weather conditions and providing good grip on wet road surfaces. The Heritage Classic can be steered smoothly around slippery corners, and an easily predictable threshold range ensures a safe, confident riding experience. In terms of braking, however, the Michelin can’t be beat.
Conclusion: With the Cruisetec, wet-weather riders win in terms of safety. Big ships like the Heritage Classic can be steered through heavy seas with ease. Grip reserves ensure an all-round good feeling on your journey.
Rating: Very good
Weight: 15.65 lbs front, 19.18 lbs rear
Maximum lean angle when wet: 27°
Braking distance from 62 mph when wet: 158 ft
Wet track lap time: 1:18.4 sec
Country of production: Japan
Test ride: (72 points, 3rd place) Compared with the standard Dunlop Harley-Davidson tires, the Battlecruise offers much better wet-road feedback. Slipping is easily gauged and can be compensated safely. Overall, the grip potential in turns can be explored more safely, particularly due to its manageability with low steering forces. A little more traction would be desirable when accelerating on wet roads, as the rear wheel spins early.
Conclusion: With the H50, Bridgestone has made a few important adjustments that have allowed the test Harley-Davidson to travel more confidently over the wet roads. Overall, it’s a balanced combination and a clear improvement over stock tires.
Weight: 14.55 lbs front, 18.08 lbs rear
Maximum lean angle when wet: 25.2°
Braking distance from 62 mph when wet: 153 ft
Wet track lap time: 1:18.9 sec
Country of production: South Korea
Test ride: (69 points, 4th place) In terms of points, Conti and Bridgestone are close together but are fundamentally different. The ContiTour builds up significantly more traction on wet roads and can be safely accelerated when riding straight ahead. In comparison to the H50, the limit range is considerably more narrow, which was evident when it lost traction a bit too abruptly. Thus, the threshold range is slightly more difficult to determine. In terms of braking, the ContiTour wins again, stopping the Harley-Davidson almost 6 feet earlier than the H50.
Conclusion: The ContiTour scores points when riding straight ahead. Thanks to strong traction, it gives good grip when accelerating and can be braked safely. Slipping occurs a little too abruptly in wet-weather turns.
Weight: 14.33 lbs front, 16.31 lbs rear
Maximum lean angle when wet: 22.5°
Braking distance from 62 mph when wet: 164 ft
Wet track lap time: 1:23.3 sec
Country of production: Slovenia
Test ride: (58 points, 5th place) The completely new development of the Mitas doesn’t stand out from the stock Harley-Davidson tires on the test track. A slightly steeper lean angle and a braking distance reduced by 27 inches aren’t big differences. Secure grip is diminished at moderate lean angles, and even then there is little confidence. On a sunny day the Mitas remains unremarkable.
Conclusion: Not really a compelling alternative to the stock tires. Despite its new development, the Mitas Custom Force fails to impress. The equally recent competition (Metzeler, Michelin) shows that there is more that can be done to deliver traction on wet roads.
Weight: 16.31 lbs front, 20.5 lbs rear
Maximum lean angle when wet: 22.7°
Braking distance from 62 mph when wet: 169 ft
Wet track lap time: 1:24.0 sec
Country of production: Brazil
Test ride: (55 points, 6th place) Similar to the standard tires of Dunlop and Mitas, limits are quickly reached with the Pirelli on the wet test track. The Night Dragon GT suffered the longest stopping distance, and were only slightly better than the stock tires when turning. The slippery feeling in the rain does not inspire confidence.
Conclusion: Pirelli is miles away from the best tires in this wet-weather test. Performance on dry roads is fine, but the Night Dragon GT is a poor choice if you are looking for a safety advantage on wet roads.
Weight: 16.98 lbs front, 18.96 lbs rear
Maximum lean angle when wet: 22.1°
Braking distance from 62 mph when wet: 167 ft
Wet track lap time: 1:26.6 sec
Country of production: France/USA
Test ride: (50 points, 7th place)
With this stock tire optimized for mileage, the Harley-Davidson was slipping all over the wet test track. The rear tire with T-specification (dual-compound) slips noticeably early when accelerating. In braking tests, the Heritage Classic took more than 164 feet to stop from 62 mph. The Dunlop/Harley-Davidson was still traveling almost 23 mph when the best-braking Michelin had already stopped! When leaned over, the Harley-Davidson starts to slip noticeably early and also very abruptly.
Conclusion: The D401/T is sufficient on dry roads, but it slips very quickly when wet. Modest grip on corners, early slipping, and long braking distances spoil the riding pleasure on rainy days.
How the Tests Were Performed
For this test, our testers concentrated exclusively on the detailed analysis of the tires’ limits on a permanently wet handling track. These consistent conditions ensured that results were comparable and reproducible.
… is the steering force required to lean the bike into a tilted position and keep it in an arc while making a turn.
… is applicable to riding at varying speeds with complex curve geometries. It indicates whether the motorcycle is following the desired line, which is determined by the steering forces, or whether significant line corrections are required.
… stand for the controllability of the tire at its limit on a wet road.
… describes the lateral stability and power transmission in wet conditions in turns at various speeds.
… is the lateral stability at maximum lean angles in wet conditions—a very difficult balancing act to test, which is only possible on a closed course.
… tests the security in turns and when passing bumps. It is tested in different ways (solo and with passenger) and when accelerating while the motorcycle is still leaned over.
… is tested at high speed to determine if the motorcycle remains steady on its course.
… refers to the steering reaction when braking while leaned over. This reaction must be balanced with a counterforce at the handlebars.
...according to manufacturer’s specifications was set to 2.6 bar front (37.7 psi), 2.8 bar (40.6 psi) rear.
This comparison clearly shows how the Michelin Commander III can be steered quickly, safely, and confidently through the rain with strong grip, while the Dunlop D401 gives in early on.
The diagram shows a typical “flying lap” with two very different tires in comparison. The performance spectrum on wet roads can be analyzed in impressive depth using 2D data recording. On the track profile you can see different types of turns, in which the potential of all tires can be explored very thoroughly.
The constantly wetted test track is traveled several times in order to push the limit for each tire: traction when accelerating, grip when braking, and feedback when cornering. The highlighted Omega is particularly revealing, with the 180-degree hairpin bend allowing a rider to push the lean-angle limits of the tires.
The Test Track
The 0.9-mile handling course is located near Rome on Bridgestone’s testing grounds and can be watered via a sophisticated system. This makes it possible to simulate a journey in the rain under constantly identical conditions. Each test ride is logged by data recording systems.
The Heritage Classic 114 of the Softail series is a fairly typical representative in the varied cruiser segment. This one has been in a long-term test fleet since June 2018 and has logged 31,000 miles. In terms of dynamics, this type of motorcycle reaches its limits quickly, which is why testers have paid particular attention to the wet-weather performance that promotes safety.
Air/oil-cooled V-twin, 1868 cc, 69 kW (94 PS) at 5,000rpm, 155 Nm at 3,000rpm, double-loop steel frame, telescopic fork, two twin shocks, ABS, tires 130/90-B16 (front), 150/80-B16 (rear), seat height 26.8 in, weight 720 lbs, tank capacity 5 gal, top speed 108 mph, price $21,799
During this tire test the dynamic rating on a dry track was deliberately left out, because it’s the motorcycle rather than the tire that sets the performance limits of most cruisers. As a result, traction in dry weather isn’t much of an issue. The real difference in cruiser-tire performance is found when riding on wet roads. This is where Michelin and Metzeler offer a real advantage in terms of safety. They are the definite recommendation for all-weather riders. Bridgestone and Continental offer solid products that can still be handled with ease in the rain. Dunlop, Mitas, and Pirelli, on the other hand, fall behind significantly when ridden in wet weather.
*This article originally appeared in Motor Presse Stuttgart’s MOTORRAD magazine, issue 6/2020. Reprinted with permission. Translated by RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel.