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Tires for DualSport Riding

After spinning out on a dirt hill, crashing on a rocky downhill, slurping through a muddy ravine and then riding home 200 km on the highway (all on the same day), I have come to appreciate the difficult balance there is selecting dual sport tires. I spent much of the next winter researching various tires and their "percent street use/dirt use" rating. After some time agonizing over the perfect set, I also began to wonder whether you can mix and match tires. Here's an e-mail I sent to Cycle World magazine on this topic, and the reply.

Service query, sent Monday, December 10, 2001: I have a question about tire combinations for my KLR650. I'm pretty sure it would be effective, but would it be safe to run a d-p tire on the rear, but a knobbier, more dirt-oriented tire on the front? I'm happy with the forward traction from the stock rear, but would like more dirt stopping and turning power from the front (especially taking that heavy beast downhill).

Since front tires last longer, I figure a faster-wearing knobby would about match the d-p rear tire for wear. Both would be tube-type. I ride pretty conservatively on the street, and of course highways are just droning along, but I do like to ride some rough trails.

reply from Cycle World service editor: That combination will work just fine. We've done it ourselves on numerous d-p bikes and never encountered any handling or stability problems. Matter of fact, just the opposite: The bikes always were more controllable with the knobby up front.

Paul Dean

However, Cycle Canada took a different view. Here's their reply to the same question:

Dear Rick,

Without the benefit of much experience, it1s almost always a bad idea to mix tire types, especially the off-road/dual-sport tire combination you1re suggesting.

You've stumbled on to the biggest frustration with dual-sport bikes. You won1t find a dual-sport tire with a 60% off-road bias much better than one with a 20% bias on a loose downhill- you need full knobbies to get serious grip. With such a wide range of riding, there simply isn't any tire that can exhibit high performance on all the surfaces you're riding on. And don't worry too much about what traction you haven't got- often the best tires for any motorcycle are not only those that suit the task at hand best, but that also perform predictably with what traction they do have. As a club road racer I'm used to the grip of slicks, but track riding sport bikes with street tires can still be just as fun.

But given your off-road bias, you may want to try the DOT-approved knobbies that can work on your KLR. Ridden cautiously, they will grip adequately on the street. Michelin's Desert, Bridgestone's Gritty, Kenda's Trak Master, Metzeler's Karoo/Unicross, and Dunlop's D903/D606 are available in sizes that will fit your KLR's rims. Prices range from $121.90 for a set of Kendas to $362.95 for a pair of Michelins, and unlike with full street tires, the cheaper options should not be dismissed.

If you ride hard off-road on weekends, it can be worth swapping wheels to suit, and then switch back for weekly commuting or road trips. A comprehensive selection of full street tires are available, and a spare set of second-hand wheels -reasonably easy to find for a KLR- could complement your bike well.


Piero Zambotti
Assistant Editor
Cycle Canada Magazine

So what's a dualsporter to do? Experiment, I guess! The choices I've found are listed below. However it seemed to make a huge change in traction and controllability on my bike when I added a fork brace and increased the fork preload to reduce diving. Seems that sorting out the suspension might make any tire perform much better.


These are tires which can generally be ordered with minimal waiting from local dealers. Links are to manufacturers' web sites which have more information (surf around in the sites for technical information and how to change tires). Where a manufacturer's site is not accessible, the links take you to other web sites that have a picture and/or description.

Note: Street/dirt ratings are my estimates, based on research and reading at other web sites. Check intended use with dealer before buying!
Tread design
Avon Gripster
Gripster II
95% street/5% dirt Many owners' web sites rate this as a top choice for street-oreinted riding
Bridgestone Trail Wing (TW) series 80% street/20% dirt
50% street/50% dirt
Good tires, but very broad product range means it's important to get the right TW for your bike and purpose. To help with that, a chart showing OE fitments is available at this site

I'm pleased with the TW22 on my KLR650, now that I've added the fork brace. For gravel, dirt roads, prairie, the occasional mud hole and around the (dry) hoodoos in Drumheller, it works fine as long as the pressure is let down to about 16 PSI. On road at 24 PSI is good, with plenty of rubber right in the middle, right where the previous tire wore most for me. Now planning to fit the matching TW21 up front.
ED enduro series 10% street/90% dirt DOT legal
Cheng Shin C858 50% street/50% dirt "Cats paw" or "claw" pattern popular with Japanese designers. Rider report (bottom of page)
Available at indy shops e.g. Performance Cycle.
Enduro Pro 90% street/10% dirt street oriented
TKC80 50% street/50% dirt Block tread design, developed for BMW, good reports on several European sites.
Dunlop K750 70% street/30% dirt OE tire on Kawasaki KLR650, pretty good all-around tire.
D604 Trail Max 95% street/5% dirt no reports
D606 20% street/80% dirt new design DOT legal knobby
IRC GP1 50% street/50% dirt IRC's d-p tire for more dirt-oriented riding. This report talks about riding in Mexico's Copper Canyon; he mention tires were GP110s.
GP110 70% street/30% dirt IRC's d-p tire for more street-oriented riding, although it actually looks knobbier than the GP1.
Kenda K270 50% street/50% dirt Low price, but a surprisingly good reputation, especially in gravel. Extensive additional information below this table.
Kings KT-966, 967 90% street/10% dirt
50% street/50% dirt
Available at Walt Healey.
Maxxis 6006 40% street/60% dirt This is a great repeat great tire for touring, dirt, loose srocky slope climbing and descent, excellent mileage (5000 mi. rear) and cheap too! Try some!
Metzler Enduro series (1-4) 80% street/20% dirt
50% street/50% dirt
no reports
Tourance 90% street/10% dirt no reports
Karoo (rears) Karoo 2 (fronts) 10% street/90% dirt Steel belt said to improve durability and puncture resistance. A BMW rider I talked to at the 2002 Motorcycle Show said they were a pain on the road.
Michelin T66/T66X radial 90% street/10% dirt A fellow member at the Calgary M/C Club says he is not happy with the way his KLR slides (too easily) with T66s.
Sirac 70% street/30% dirt no reports
Pirelli MT21 20% street/80% dirt Product test A German site rated them as good, but "hellish noisy" on the road.
MT70 70% street/30% dirt Limited sizes, no reports.

Additional information on Kenda K270 tires

Here's one assessment from a member of the Oregon Dual Sport Rider's group:

I must admit the Kenda tires are the best I've used on my KLR since I got the bike, they are perfect for what I normally try to ride on (gravel roads, hard packed dirt, and loose dry dirt) they even did a good job in not too deep sand down in Baja. They are fine on the black top when it rains also.

They are very cheap compared to other tires out there (approx $80 for both front and rear) and they seem to have a longer tread life than the stock tires.

Two down sides I have found with them are:
1) When new they really feel like roller skates, but there again a lot of new tires feel somewhat un-certain for the 1st hundred miles or so.
2) They pack and hold mud, the knobs are slightly too close to each other, I think I'd prefer the ledegendary MT21's for any real deep muddy sections.

Some people say the Kendas whine and feel like a cheese grater when riding on the black top, I haven't found either of these to be a problem for me.

Salem OR

A description of a Mexico trip he did on these tires can be viewed at
The tires were definitely K270s, I e-mailed him to confirm.