Dunlop Sportmax Q3 Motorcycle Tire Test
Dunlop’s Ultimate MotorCycling Shootout-winning Sportmax Q2 is a spectacular tire that does everything well, so I was very skeptical that the new Sportmax Q3 could improve on the Q2 in any meaningful way.
Dunlop picked up the gauntlet and invited us to the Dunlop Proving Grounds test facility in Huntsville, Ala. – one that is dedicated solely to motorcycle tire development. We were allowed free rein to test different Q3-equipped motorcycles and see for ourselves.
To eliminate any doubt, Dunlop also brought several sets of Q2s, so we could try them back-to-back; then, for good measure, they soaked the track with more water than the Mississippi and challenged us to see how the Q3 performs under torrential conditions.
As a test track, Dunlop Proving Grounds is serious. It has a variety of road surfaces, several seams, quite a few bumps, a bunch of sprinkler grates and drains to bounce over, and a nice 150 mph straight with a slow flip-flop chicane at the end of it. Any tire that can handle this track will excel in the real world.
The Dunlop Sportmax Q3 has three principal areas of change — the addition of carbon fiber elements to the carcass for increased stiffness without sacrificing feel; a redesigned tread pattern that clears water much more efficiently and helps the tire maintain its profile under intense load; and a reworked profile to improve handling.
The sexiest part of the Q3 is the carbon fiber introduced into the sidewall near the bead area. The Dunlop engineers were naturally a bit cagey about exactly how their secret sauce works, but I managed to ascertain that multi-directional strands of carbon are interwoven near the tire bead. Apparently, it is the direction and amount of fibers in the mix that took such exhaustive testing to get right.
Dunlop Chief Tester Rich Conicelli told me that his overriding goal is linear turning. “When going to maximum lean angle,” he explained, “I want to do it as quickly as possible, but also as smoothly as possible, in one movement.” In other words, the tire must feel precise and not flop into corners, nor be reluctant to lean in.
The value of having two full time test riders on a dedicated test track can- not be understated. Conicelli’s feed- back can arrive at the plant in Buffalo the same day, and tweaks can be made to the design immediately. Clearly, it was worth the effort; surprisingly, the Q3 is a considerable improvement over the Q2 – and that was a great tire.
At the end of the straight, I abused the front tire in the way that can only be done on a track with enormous run- off. Crushing the GSX-R’s front brake lever, I kept the Suzuki upright and simulated an emergency stop—from over 150 mph, mind you. The Q3 has noticeably less front tire squirm transmitted to the handlebars, and the integrity of the tire holds up much better than before.
Following the chicane is a slow 180-degree hairpin and the two bumps on the racing line were really quite unsettling on the Q2s; on the Q3s, I barely noticed them. Dunlop credits the carbon fiber elements for the clearly enhanced ability of the tire to maintain its shape. That translated to better braking and bump absorption, which worked to improve lap times by a substantial two seconds per lap.
The Q3’s tread pattern has grooves that are thinner and longer, and they overlap in the center of the tire for maximum water clearance, according to Dunlop. Despite the changed tread, the same amount of rubber hits the road as before. However, the longer blocks of rubber are more structurally rigid and also contribute to the improved stability of the tire.
The Dunlop sprinkler system is seriously efficient, and it took only a few minutes to have the track running with water. The designers had thoughtfully left out any run-off, so the water collects in giant puddles, waiting to hydroplane the willing Suzuki into oblivion.
I grew up in the UK, so wet weather riding holds less fear for me than probably most, but even I gulped a bit when I saw what Conicelli was going to put me through.
I gingerly wobbled around, yet the water-draining tread of the Q3 worked well enough that I quickly found my groove and confidence returned. The Q3s give the same great feedback as they do in the dry—just at a much lower speed. Several times the tires slid, but it was always predictable and controllable, so I actually enjoyed the ride.
Dunlop’s legendary Intuitive Response Profile has been changed slightly; there is now extra rounding at the shoulders to increase the already spectacular edge grip.
Swapping from Q3s to Q2s and back confirmed my findings—the new tire definitely turns quicker and more predictably than its predecessor.
Coming into the long, fast left-hander at maximum lean angle, followed by hard braking and a quick flick fully on to the right side of the tire, indisputably demonstrated the improvement. The Q3s made the transition quicker, and my exit line was much more precise on the new tire.
Riding hard on the street, you appreciate that the Q3 still has the Dunlop feedback we expect—there simply isn’t a street tire out there that has more feel. The Q3 balances the bike better and maintains its structure even in extreme conditions; in the wet the grip is phenomenal. The Q3’s performance is about safety, too, and in adverse conditions or an emergency, I know that I prefer this tire.
If you would have told me a few days ago that there is a better street tire than the Q2 out there, I would have smiled indulgently but not believed you. Now, I will nod sagely and agree. The Dunlop Sportmax Q3 is, indeed, better. Much better.
This story is featured in the July/August 2013 issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine — available on newsstands and good bookstores everywhere. The issue is also available free to readers on Apple Newsstand (for iOS devices) and Google Play (Android). To subscribe to the print edition, please visit our Subscriber Services page.