That sums up the new shoes I got for MyConnie. This is not news to any avid motorcyclist, but I would venture to say that the money I invested in new, stickier tires has done more to add to my enjoyment of my bike than any other investment. But getting to where I could make a decision as to which tire to buy was a surprising journey.
Which Tire is Best?
The first step I took was to read all I could on the Concours Owners Group forum (cog-online.org). There is nothing better than to have the opinions of fellow enthusiasts who all ride the same bike as me. However, as one COGer said, “Asking for opinions on the best motorcycle tire is like asking who is the prettiest girl at the dance, with as many opinions as there are answers.” One thing that made this a bit easier for me as an owner of a Kawasaki Concours is that the Connie has a somewhat odd tire size with 18″ rims on the front but 16″ rims on the rear. That limited my choices somewhat, and stymied me from taking advantage of a tire manufacturer rebate for buying two tires of the same model because they didn’t offer the rear for a 16″ rim.
One thing I learned when I rode a Suzuki 750 years ago was that new, stickier tires can make a huge difference in cornering confidence, not to mention safety. In the eternal balancing act between tire longevity and stickiness, I will choose stickiness every time. I remember reading a magazine article tire shoot-out way back then that also rated the tires for how much warning they gave before breaking traction, with some tires being ultimately stickier but more surprising when they eventually slipped versus other models where traction slip was more progressive. I wish I could have found that information when searching for tires this time around. That was one of the advantages of subscribing to five motorcycle magazines back in the day, there was always some great information being provided to the enthusiast motorcyclist.
In absorbing all the information I could find from fellow Connie owners, I came away with the following summary:
• Metzeler: Might be good tires, but don’t buy them because they are slippery when rolling over wet on-road painted letters and lines.
• Dunlop: Generally good feedback, the impression I get is more for touring, less for sport.
• Avon: Good feedback: good for sport and touring, but they don’t last as long.
• Bridgestone: Generally good feedback.
Of course, the above terse summary is almost ridiculous since each manufacturer makes different models that are designed for different purposes. Ultimately, I chose the Avons because there was so much good feedback and the only downside mentioned was that they don’t last as long.
The Avon “Tyres” (there is always something classy about using the British spelling) I chose were a Storm2 Ultra for the front and an Azaro for the rear. I would have chosen Storm2 Ultras for both tires, but Avon did not offer a Storm2 rear to fit my bike. Interestingly, my bike’s previous owner had deviated from the OEM sizing. The tires that were on my bike when I bought it were the Dunlop 491 Elite II at 130/70 B18 (front) and 160/80 B16 (rear). The OEM specs from the manual for the 2001 Kawasaki Concours is 110/80 VR18 (front) and 150/80 VR16 (rear). I chose to revert to the OEM sized tires and I’m really glad I did.
Where is the Best Place to Buy Tires?
I bought the tires online at Motorcycle Superstore and had them shipped to my office. Amazingly, I ordered them on a Monday and they arrived on the Wednesday two days later with free shipping and no tax, for a total of $292.98. I might have found them for slightly cheaper, but I looked a few places and couldn’t find the right size in stock. A special mention should be made to Murphs Kits, whom is always my first choice in online ordering for MyConnie since they are Concours enthusiasts. They initially had the tires on their site, but when they ran out of stock, they removed the listing so as not to disappoint anyone ordering tires for an upcoming trip. I had a few back-and-forth emails with the nice folks at Murphs, and it only reinforced to me that they are a great bunch of people who really care about their customers.
Where to Have them Installed?
There are a few ways to approach get the new tires fitted to a bike. I chose to have my mechanic David, from Autostrada RWC, put on the tires. It’s a good thing he did, because he also noticed a few other problems I will need to address in the coming months. I also found out that my favorite local motorcycle accessory store, CycleGear, sells and mounts tires, but you need to bring them the tires off the bike. The other issues with my bike caused a bit more time and money to be spent getting new shoes on MyConnie, so this go ’round cost $150 for the fitment. A funny aside was how I got to Autostrada. I bungied the new tires on the tail of MyConnie and rode it to his shop. I then took the bus back home, picked up my car and drove to work. I worried that the tires would be unwieldily on the rear, but there were no problems at all.
How Did the Avons Feel Compared to the Dunlops?
The first thing I noticed, was how differently the new tires felt the first moment I sat on the bike. The best way I could explain how the Dunlops felt versus the Avons is graphically depicted below. Admittedly, it’s a gross exaggeration to say this, but the new Avons made the bike feel like it was going to tip over every moment, and by comparison the old Dunlops felt like I could almost step off and leave the bike standing. After my first ride, however, this change was a very good thing. It made me understand how flat and unresponsive my old tires were in comparison to the new Avons. I have no idea whether this had to do with the tire design, or merely the difference between old tires and new, but the end result was incredible nonetheless.
I rode home from Autostrada and felt that the bike wanted to “fall in” to the turns. At first this concerned me, but after a bit of getting used to it, I realized that MyConnie had just become as nimble as the day it rolled out of the dealership. My mechanic commented on the bigger tires the previous owner had installed, saying that “people don’t realize that bigger tires make a bike slower.” Boy, was he right. Although it took a bit of adjustment, I started loving my new Avons and couldn’t wait to get MyConnie on the open road and into some twisties.
The First Ride with New Shoes
The weather was p-e-r-f-e-c-t the Friday afternoon I picked up my newly-shod bike. So I arm-twisted my brother-in-law Rich to dust off his Bonnie and we headed off down the coast to see my son’s band play at the Café Gratitude in Santa Cruz. Since it was Friday afternoon and getting late, we decided to go down the coast to enjoy the beautiful sunset over the Pacific, or so we thought. Although it was 85 degrees and without a cloud in the sky in San Mateo, once we hit Half Moon Bay, we found out that the coast was shrouded in fog. We donned our extra layers and headed south into 55 degree pea-soup fog. Although my windshield and helmet were dripping with moisture, MyConnie’s fairing kept my body warm and dry. Interestingly, our 60 mph run in the fog was completely devoid of cars. It was as if the road was opened up just for us.
After a great evening of jazz and organic food, we stayed overnight at the Inn at Pasatiempo on Hwy 17. The next morning, we headed back to San Mateo by way of the beautiful redwood forests of San Lorenzo Valley. Highway 9 has to be one of the best Bay Area motorcycle rides there is. The road is smooth, curvy and confidence-inspiring, with gorgeous views of redwood covered mountains all around. We stopped for breakfast at Coffee 9 in Ben Lomond and were treated to excellent fruit, oatmeal and lattés. The transition to Hwy 35 which connects Hwy 9 to famous Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Drive provided an opportunity to open up the bikes to a 50 mph speed limit stretch.
If you think it may be time for new tires, DO IT! Your safety, confidence and enjoyment will all increase from the experience. And, don’t be a cheapo – buy sticky tires that will wear out sooner. Unless you’re consistently earning an Iron Butt Association award, buying tires that will serve you well in the twisties will be a good investment in your physical and mental health.