Custom Cruiser Motorcycle Tire Buyer's Guide

Thinking outside the rubber doughnut for eye-catching motorcycle tires.

When the first pneumatic tires replaced the metal or wooden wheel edges used during the early years of the motorcycle's existence, it must have been a revelation. Even those first crude rubber rim covers had to offer a huge advantage over a solid wheel surface. Traction went up markedly. You were literally riding on air. Leaning the machine into a turn became much less exciting. Despite the need for extremely frequent repairs, no one wanted the solid-edged wheel back.

The next half century of motorcycle tire development was spent mostly improving on the basic concept, making tires more secure, increasing longevity, adding strength, and improving traction. Then when motorcycles began to become more specialized, with dirt bikes and street bikes first separating, then each splitting into more specialized sub-types, tire technology followed. Touring bikes got tires capable of carrying heavy loads long distances. Sport bikes got tires created to handle high speeds and provide astounding cornering traction. And cruisers got....Well, cruisers didn't get much at first. As in other aspects of cruiser design, technology wasn't the answer. We didn't need to deal with tremendous speeds or frame-bending loads, and most cruisers didn't demand traction for heavy acceleration or braking. Cruiser owners haven't even fully embraced basic safety technology such as tubeless tires. So cruiser tires tended to be plain, low-tech tires with modest traction. But there has been interest in tire appearance. A few bikes used whitewalls and some got raised white lettering, but tire manufacturers and motorcycle makers have been slow to recognize that, as with other components, appearance is quite important to many buyers, even on the tires.

And why not? From almost any viewing angle, tires are a major part of what you see when you look at a motorcycle. Even on a retro-style cruiser with deep, wrap-around fenders, they are a significant visual component. Yet little has been done to use them to enhance the appearance of a motorcycle. A few tire designers have considered the visuals of their tread patterns, though most buyers seem to be more interested in traction, especially in the wet, than style from the tread design. At the moment, tire buyers can customize a cruiser's appearance with whitewalls of varying widths. Dunlop added some detail to the sidewall with greater detail and texture on its CruiseMax series. And other tire manufacturers have sought to complement the muscular look of some cruisers with ultra wide rear tires, many of which require substantial motorcycle modifications to or replacement of the wheel, swingarm, frame and other components before they can be squeezed into the chassis.

This Guide looks at the small but growing selection of cruiser-oriented tires that make appearance a primary selling point. There are other tires built and marketed for cruisers, but the one is this guide make real visual statements. However, we hope that this is just a beginning. There are areas that have not been tapped at all. We have heard cruiser owners ask when they will be able to buy tires with color highlights on their sidewalls and others want to see the entire tire colored (as is beginning to be done with motocross tires). Tire builders are a pretty conservative lot, where engineering, safety and traction are the big issues. But as the cruiser population grows and manufacturers search for a sales edge, somebody will step out of the box and play the color card. We can hardly wait. Styling Rubber



AM21: This tire, the original ultra-fat rear tire, literally inspired customizers to build motorcycles around it, since no existing frame would fit its massive 234mm width. Combined with its squat 60 profile it suggests an abundance of power that can be controlled only with maximum traction. Whether you're actually packing that power doesn't really matter, the visual message is unmistakable. And you can always use that big footprint for hard braking. Though getting it to steer in concert with a relatively skinny front tire will doubtlessly be challenging, it does have a motorcycle profile, and Avon claims good stability and ride comfort. At press time we saw close-out prices as low as $185, though the norm was about $245. Tire cost will be the least of your concern if you decide to shoehorn one of these into your bike. The 230/60H15 tire requires at least a 6.25-inch rim width, but 8.0 inches is recommended. However, it also makes AM23 sizes for riders whose eyes are bigger than their swingarms, for rim widths from 6.25 down to 3.5 inches.

Venom R250: In the fast-moving world of custom bikes, a mere 234mm is no longer enough to turn heads hard enough to cause whiplash, so Avon had to go even fatter. The 252mm (9.9-inch) wide Venom 250 upped the ante and is now the widest motorcycle rubber on the road. However, the 250/40R18 needs a rim that's at least 8.5 inches wide with a 9.0-incher preferred. Don't count on slipping one on your stock Vulcan. The Venom 250 is also H-rated.

Venom X Whitewalls: Avon also offers both narrow- and wide-whitewall version of its H-rated Venom X. An unusual model is a 21-inch front whitewall, along with 19- and 18-inch front sizes and 16-inch rear. (There is also a 15-inch rear size, but not with whitewall.) Prices of the whitewalls, which are about $20 more than the blackwalls run from close to $100 to about$140, depending on size.



Cruisemax: Though Dunlop originally seemed to have more variations in store for this tire, it is currently comes in just two basic versions--a wide whitewall in three sizes and a black version. Both have nicely detailed and textured sidewalls with all the legalese minimized. Front tires are available in 16-inch (the 130/90 is available in both whitewall and black), 18-inch, 19-inch and 21-inch. Rear applications are available in 15- and 16-inch diameters, with two whitewall 15-inchers. The Cruisemax series was designed to offer an all-around improvement in performance, ride and mileage compared to original-equipment (OE) tires as well attracting visual notice. Street prices seem to range from close to $80 to $120 or so, depending on size, style and source, with wide whites adding a bit under $10.


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Maxxis Classic: Maxxis offers its Classic wide whitewall in 10 sizes. There are four fronts--a 19-inchers, an 18-incher and two 16-inchers. The rears are available in two 15-inch versions and four 16-inch widths. All are H-rated and can be run tubeless. We found prices from the low 80s up over $120, depending on size. One site actually listed the whitewall for $3.00 lessff than the same size in blackwall.



ME880 XXL: Yup, they are big. Probably too big for your stock bike. Metzeler's versions of the maxi-meat tire are steel-belted radials with V or Z speed ratings. The XXL comes in six rear sizes: the huge 240/50VR16 and 240/40VR18, 210/50ZR17, 200/60VR16, 200/50VR18, and 180/55VR18. We found prices ranging from $175 for the fat 240s to $145 for the others. At the least you're going to need a wider swingarm, but you might also want to measure the garage door.

Tire choice can radically alter a bike's personality. This Royal Star would not have been the same with black tires, for example.
Avon AM21
Avon Venom R250
Avon Venom X
Dunlop Cruisemax (front with white)
Dunlop Cruisemax (rear blackwall)
Maxxis Classic
Metzeler ME880