Many of us get excited about shiny parts on our bikes and powerful new exhaust systems, but for some reason, high quality tires often get overlooked. There are also quite a few of us who have bought great dirt bike tires but for the wrong application and aren’t getting the performance that they could be out of a more fitting set. This article has been written specifically to help people chose the right type of tire for their wheel size, riding environment, and budget. If you follow the advice in this guide, you will be well on your way to buying the perfect tires for your dirt bike.
What is your dirt bike tire size?
Before choosing what size of dirt bike tire that you need, it is important to understand what the markings on the tire mean. The tire size markings will look something like this:
These numbers will change quite a bit but the meaning will always be the same. The 80/100 is width/aspect ratio and the 21 would represent the rim size (diameter).
Other markings that can be found on the tire often include an arrow to show which direction it should go, a tire model number, a date code, and a load speed rating which is represented as a number/a letter (51M for example).
Another recent news in marking is an abbreviation “F.I.M” or sometimes “F.I.M. approved”. So what does that mean? As environmental demands on dirt bike riding are increasing, especially enduro bikes that ride on open tracks are expected to cause minimum damage to the terrain. No one likes to see the forest turned upside down after few enduro bikes have passed by. So the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (International Motorcycling Federation), is allowing only F.I.M approved tires to be used on races because they are way more gentle on the terrain and do not mess it up as much as motocross tires. Main difference with motocross tires is that the lugs are somewhat lower not to dig too deep into ground. On the other hand, these tires are also much wider to still ensure a good grip. Good example is 140/80 being a typical enduro tire size, while motocross tires tend to be for example 100/90.
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Why choosing the correct width of dirt bike tires matters
Choosing the right width dirt bike tire for the rim and conditions that you are riding in will hugely effect the performance of the tire. Many people do not realize that rim width and tire width go hand in hand. For example, a wide tire on a narrow rim will cause the carcass of the tire to bend more than it would on a wider rim, this will cause an even more rounded tire, more so than the tread will be designed for. The opposite will also have a negative effect, if you have a wide rim and a narrow tire, the tire bead will be more spread out than it is designed for, causing a flatter shape than it should be. Both situations will result in less traction and an overall lack of performance. Remember that rim and tire widths often have only small differences in size, so for the most part, you shouldn’t worry, however if you are looking at extra wide tires or extraordinarily narrow ones, it is best to have a rim to match.
Wide tires certainly have their advantages, and many people opt for a wide tire for those reasons, however, make sure you know the negatives as well before choosing one. Wider tires have a larger footprint, and as a result, are known to increase traction, especially on hard packed tracks. On the other hand, the wide footprint makes the bike want to stay more upright which in turn makes cornering more difficult. Furthermore, when riding a rough and rutted out track, a wide tire can struggle to fit in the ruts, making it harder for you to keep your lines. Depending on where you are riding, a wide tire might suit you perfectly, but if you tend to ride a lot of different terrain and don’t want to put out the extra cash to have spare wide tires and rims, stick to a stock sized tires.
Determining the tire size you need
Typically speaking, a full size motocross bike will have a 21” front wheel and a 19” rear wheel. These sizes of course vary, especially when taking minibikes and trail bikes into account.
Perhaps the easiest way to figure out what size of tire to buy is by replicating the size that is already on your bike. If you are content with the performance of your old dirt bike tires, then all you have to do is look at the sidewall of the old tires, and using your newfound knowledge, find out what size is on there and then order a tire that you want, that matches the size of the old one. This method works great, however there is one snag with it, if you bought the bike used you may be unsure if the previous owner put the correct size tire on in the first place. So another option you can use is to look in the dirt bike manual, contact a shop, or research online what the stock rims and tire size on your bike should be. If they do not match, you may want to change them back depending on preference of course.
Enduro 18” Motocross 19”
To suit the specific demands of Enduro riding, endure bikes come with an 18” rim on the back. As a result of the smaller diameter rim, the tire wall height is often greater. This means that the tire sidewalls will have more flex to them and will roll over (bend sideways) just a small amount more than the tires with a shorter sidewall. This flex lowers the performance when cornering quickly. However, it greatly increases stability when riding over roots and rocks. This extra control is exactly what many Enduro riders need, however if you are racing motocross, it probably makes more sense to stick to a 19” rim and tire.
What type of dirt bike tire do you need?
There are 3 main tire categories to choose from depending on the type of terrain you ride your dirt bike on. Below we explain each one to help you decide what type will best suit your needs.
Hard terrain dirt bike tires
Hard terrain dirt bike tires are designed to be used in very hard packed situations. This is when the tire sits on top of the ground, similar to a bike on a road, more than it would “in” the ground, like when riding in sand. The lugs on a hard terrain tire are spaced closely together to allow a large surface area of the tire to touch the ground. The rubber carcass is usually quite hard and stiff. While it is also extremely durable to hold up against the solid terrain that it is used on.
Hard terrain tires aren’t often found on a motocross track. Instead you will find a lot of trail riders using them. This is because they are great when switching between trails and road crossings and hold up against jagged rocks and stumps that litter the trails. This does not mean they are perfect though, as many riders (especially racers in events such as enduro) need a tire that will also give some traction in mud pits and looser ground.
Intermediate terrain dirt bike tires
Intermediate terrain tires are best suited for well-groomed and watered motocross and supercross tracks. When you hear riders say “the dirt is perfect”, they are most likely referring to terrain that an intermediate tire is best suited for.
The lugs on an intermediate tire are a little more spread out than that of a hard packed tire but not as spread out as a soft terrain tire. This is to catch a lot of the dirt as it rotates for traction but still allow the tire to grip on more hard packed areas. The tread is also designed to shed dirt and stop between the lugs from being blocked up.
Soft terrain dirt bike tires
Soft terrain dirt bike tires excel in, you guessed it, soft terrain. Sand, deep loam, and mud are great examples of the type of conditions that a soft terrain tire is well suited for. The spacing between lugs on a soft terrain tire is quite large (the lugs are spread well apart from one another). This space between lugs allows for the tire to sit deeper in the dirt and “scoop” more as the tire rotates. This of course increases traction and allows for the best grip in those situations. The spread lugs also allow for the dirt to easily clear from the tire rather than getting stuck between the tightly spaced lugs like it would on a hard packed tire.
Surprisingly to some, soft terrain dirt bike tires are made of a quite hard rubber compound as the lugs do not need to form to the ground, instead the ground seems to fall in and form around the lugs.
What brands should I buy?
There are a mass amount of brands out there that all produce great dirt bike tires. Some are better than others in certain categories so research the type of riding you are doing for some good recommendations. An example would be Goldentyre creating the best soft compound tires, the soft rubber sticks to rocks like crazy making it very popular with extreme and hard enduro riders. Metzeler is another great brand, especially for regular enduro races.
Other awesome brands include Michelin, Pirelli, Dunlop, Maxxis, Bridgestone and Kenda.
Since there are so many great brands out there it really comes down to preference. Remember that just because it is from a good brand, it does not mean that it will suit you. Buy one designed for the riding YOU do.
Where can I buy dirt bike tires?
Dirt bike tires can be bought from many different places.
Perhaps the best is review sites such as Best Dirt Bike Tire Review as someone else has already done the tire research for you.
You can also buy tires on many E-motorcycle stores that offer the same products as dealerships but allow you to purchase and order them from the comfort of your own home. The downside to this is that you usually have to pay shipping and are not supporting your local economy by purchasing from some far off place.
Finally, you can buy from a local motorcycle/dirt bike dealership. This will support your local economy, save you from shipping costs, and it may even open new doors. Often when speaking to dealers you start to build a relationship. This can lead to sponsorship in the future, knowledge of new places to ride or even new friends that share the same interest in dirt bikes.
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How much are dirt bike tires?
Similar to car tires, dirt bike tires come in a pretty wide price range. Mini bike and low quality tires can start as low as $25 (which I would never recommend buying) and go up as high as $350+ for high quality or specialty tires such as studded winter tires.
What makes dirt bike tires cheap?
Cheap dirt bike tires are often priced low as a result of the lack of investment into the design of the tire. Cheap tires feature rubber compounds that do no last very long or provide very poor performance. As a result of the lack of time spent designing the tires, the lug patterns are usually quite simple and get clogged with dirt quite easily.
The exact opposite is a high quality dirt bike tire. Although you will spend more than the cheaper alternative, your performance gains over the cheaper tire will be well worth it. High quality tires have very special compounds that are designed specifically for a certain type of riding. These compounds can be soft or hard depending on what the tire is designed for. The lug are very well spaced, sometimes with small ridges down them that allow for the lug to fold a small amount for more traction. Everything in a high performance tire gets thought about, and as a result will be much better than any cheap tire out there.
All in all, you get what you pay for. Just be sure to research tires before you purchase as sometimes the most expensive tire might not suit your needs the best. The cheapest option however, will likely never be a good choice.
Choosing the correct dirt bike tires for you can be a difficult task without knowing about the topic itself. Armed with the knowledge from this article, you should feel comfortable in purchasing a set of dirt bike tires that will perform well and keep putting a smile on your face!
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