JP is a master of many tricks. Working as a bike journalist, he's been testing, analysing and writing about on and off-road motorcycles for various UK magazines, both as a staffer and a freelance journalist, since the nineties. Testing everything from Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP bike through sportsbikes, commuter bikes and, of course many, many miles on adventure bikes. JP has also spent much of his life competing at up to International level in trials, enduro, extreme enduro, circuit racing and hillclimbing. He also instructs at the Off Road Skills motorcycle training school, coaching and encouraging people in the ways of riding adventure bikes. Also a fan of vegetables and sea products.
British tyre manufacturer Avon has replaced its dogged Distanzia model with the all-new TrailRider. We blasted south of Munich to the Bavarian mountains close to the Austrian border to test Avon’s new dual-sport tyre aimed at adventure bikes.
It must be a tough game making a tyre for an Adventure bike. We demand much of our tyres. They have to hit the spot with wet and dry road grip, have at least some off-road skills and, naturally, they need to last well. Tyres must also behave themselves just as well at slow or fast speeds and from the moment we first hop on, whatever the temperature, they’ve got to feel good and provide us the confidence to ride how we want. It’s a tough task.
With just over a century’s worth of tyre crafting under their rubber belts, Avon should have the things nailed by now. The trouble is bike technology doesn’t stand still. Goal posts move constantly in this game and what worked eight years ago when the Avon Distanzia was fresh and new is old hat now. The dominant bikes in the Adventure market were slower, lower powered and less sophisticated too, so the demands on a tyre weren’t anywhere near as high as they are on the newest models.
Welcome then the TrailRider, a tyre which is intended to cope with all the above demands from us fussy Adv riders whilst also managing the faster, more powerful, better handling and eminently more capable bikes of the current generation.
A humid central Germany and a long looping road ride south of Munich to the Bavarian mountains, absorbing some classic alpine twisting roads, a decent chunk of urban riding, some Autobahn blasting and even a sneaky slice of off-road would be sound test of any tyre. It was enough mileage to get a good feel for the Avon TrailRider and a great chance to test it on most of the common, larger capacity Adventure bikes: BMW’s R1200GS, Yamaha’s Super Tenere, Suzuki’s V-Strom 1000, the Triumph 1200 Explorer and Honda’s Cross Tourer. You’ll note a lack of KTM’s in that list. A 1290 Super Adventure wouldn’t have gone amiss but they didn’t have one on the test fleet. The 950 and 990 Adventure has no TrailRider fitment either. The test was also lacking in small capacity bikes. This was a shame as we’d love to make the comparison to the many larger capacity models. That said, the larger ADV machines are a tough test of a tyre due to their heavy nature, decent quantities of power and a nimble chassis that are more than happy hauling through the bends and covering distance quickly. Bavaria’s mountain roads and the foothills leading up to them are an encouraging place to push-on and develop a feel for a tyre’s capabilities. Bavaria is certainly a place where you’re as fast on an Adventure bike as anything else.
The TrailRider lived up to the task from the moment we first rolled up the road to the high-speed Bahn-blast back eight hours later. In a nutshell they feel consistent and sure-footed, which is a massive cliché but it’s the simple truth. You have to go some way to find a poor tyre these days. It is a twisted way of praising the TrailRider but you take the point I hope.
The difference with Avon’s motorcycle sipes are what’s inside – funny, little gremlin mouths with teeth.
The tyre warm-up speed is good but in the humid central European May weather we experienced you would expect this. Their reassuring hold on the tarmac remains consistent with no peaks or troughs in performance as the ride switched from slow, busy streets to fast blasts up mountain passes or smashing out 100mph (160KM/H) on the German motorway. They had opportunity to overheat, Lord knows I tried but they weren’t having any of it.
Two aspects of the tyre are designed to help with this. If you look closely at the tyre surface you’ll see why. The funny little cuts on the surface, not uncommon on tyres, are called sipes. The difference with Avon’s motorcycle tyre sipes are f this sipe design is to aid warm-up by allowing the tread to move more easily. The little teeth inside also stop the sipes from closing up under load and help the tyre maintain a consistent temperature once warm, as well as aiding water dispersion. It’s a clever if slightly quirky idea but it seems to work.
Avon’s motorcycle tyre engineer, Ashley Vowles, says the development teams’ efforts focused on increasing the number of sipes and adding more silica to the compound. This contributed to an overall improvement in wet grip performance with this tyre; “We worked hard on getting the mix right so we could use more silica to improve wet grip. Improving that was one of our priorities with the TrailRider.” Avon’s boffins have had to work hard with the ingredients in the tyre compound to increase the amount of silica. Put simply it’s not as easy as simply adding in more of one thing to get what you want. Vowles adds: “You can increase the silica as much as you like but the problem is getting it to mix and disperse. If you think of mixing the tread compound as like making a cake, you’ve got to get all the ingredients to mix before putting it in the oven. The difficulty with silica is getting it to disperse and be consistent.” The coupling agent silane is the magic ingredient that allows more silica in the mix, dispersing it evenly. Although some rain fell during the test ride there wasn’t enough for me to say much other than I felt confident not backing off the throttle as we blasted through the damp patches under the Bavarian forest trees overhanging the roads.
Livened up with that positive front tyre profile I had more confidence and it was hard not to enjoy the twisting German roads.
Avon claims the TrailRider is their “most advanced tyre to date” and by Vowles’ own admission “the best possible tyre we could make.” It’s reassuring to hear a tyre engineer say, “here’s no aspect of this tyre that we’ve held back on.” Cost compromises aren’t uncommon, especially in the car tyre world, but Vowles claims every aspect, from development to getting the product built and on the tyre fitters shelves, is as good as we could currently get with the technology available.
The TrailRider’s most impressive character trait is the way it affects the attitude of heavy Adventure bikes in the corners. It takes a fair bit of effort to turn a 200-plus Kilo motorcycle but that can be helped along in a big way by a front tyre profile working for you rather than against. The TrailRider is a tyre working with you. Bavaria’s wealth of smooth-surfaced roads in that neck of the woods are awash with long corners that give plenty of time to get a feel for exactly what a tyre is doing at any point of a corner, at any lean angle. Long, smooth bends flow through the lush, green countryside and regardless of the tyres this is a lovely place to ride a motorcycle. Squarer tyres are predictable but can be too slow. Neither do you want things too quick so you end up falling into every corner. Somewhere in the middle is about right for Adv bikes and that’s where the TrailRider sits. The transition from upright to full lean can be slower on a heavy bike, with all the weight pushing straight as you brake and turn, they can be quite slow-steering and potentially harder work the faster you go. The TrailRider all but quashes this by steering relatively quickly compared to some dual-sport tyres and helping all the bikes I tested feel pretty happy turning-in. Which is no bad thing because it makes the likes of Yamaha’s generously proportioned Super Tenere lose its slightly vague feeling front end and feel more agile. Livened up with that positive front tyre profile I had more confidence and it was hard not to enjoy the twisting German roads on all of the test bikes. There were no smaller capacity bikes, which have narrower tyre sizes, less weight, less power, so my only complaint perhaps is to say it would have been good to try a smaller, more docile bike. A dual-compound (rear) and Avon’s Advanced Variable Belt Density (AVBD) provide tyre strength and stability when upright, so the tyre maintains its shape and in theory wears less in the centre on a harder compound. A softer compound on both sides (there’s quite a visible line where the compound changes actually) allows for softer feeling and a larger contact patch when you lean. All of which is exactly what you’d expect from a dual-sport tyre: competent, not too noisy, sure-footed, confidence inspiring and well, grippy. The TrailRider does all that. The TrailRider is available in 18 sizes, though none for the KTM 950 and 990 Adventures. But it does include some cross-ply options.
Tyres designer Ashley Vowles stopped short of saying Avon had done much in the way of off-road testing on the TrailRider, they claim most the people who buy tyres in this sector of the market hardly, if ever, go off-road. 90/10 per cent split they claim for the tyre. That fact may well be true in much of Europe, and certainly Britain where Avon is based and the tyres are produced. But on this world launch of the tyre we had testers from Australia, America and Sweden. We tend to think a bit more global here at Brake Magazine and there is large portion of the world where Adventure bike owners or ADV riders spend far more time off-road than a mere 10 per cent. It’s our only real criticism of the TraiRider to be honest: why not more concession to off-road and why allude to it in the name..?
They tracked a good line through quite a rocky trail and they feel soft, touching the rocks with a decent grasp rather than glancing past them.
With our designated test route mapped out with so much road work it is hard to offer any great verdict on the off-road capabilities of this tyre. A few minutes up a stony trail was pretty much all I had chance for. That said I’d make the call they’ll hit the same ballpark compared with other tyres in this sector. They tracked a good line through quite a rocky trail and they feel soft, touching the rocks with a decent grasp rather than glancing past them. The emphasis on lots of wet weather testing inclines the TrailRider towards better off-road grip levels because it improves feel for the surface on which you’re riding. They clearly don’t have too much bite with no great nod towards a knobbly tread pattern, which would give them better wet grip off road, but, they’re not designed that way… We’ll try to get a set and give them a more thorough off-road test so watch this space.
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