Long Term Test: Dunlop’s Q3 Tires
Mileage so far: 798 Miles
When figuring out the handling on your bike, it’s very easy to forget about the tires and concern yourself only with the suspension settings. With good reason… after all, aren’t tires all pretty much the same?
My answer–unsurprisingly–is no, tires are absolutely not the same. In fact, the differences between manufacturers are very noticeable if not dramatic. The tires you choose to fit to your bike are quite easily the biggest influence on handling (and therefore your confidence) than any other part of the machine.
Those of you who read my recent review of the Dunlop Q3s at Dunlop’s Huntsville Alabama test facility, know that I was immediately impressed. I rode the same bike (a Suzuki GSX-R 600) all day, with technicians swapping between Q2s and Q3s on request, and it made for an interesting comparison with zero variables. Clearly the Q3s’ carbon-fiber reinforced sidewalls are slightly stiffer, and Dunlop’s genius also makes sure they’re compliant enough that bump absorption is improved, especially under braking. Compared to the Q2 predecessor, the Q3s are unchanged profile-wise up to the 180/55 size rear, yet the Suzuki definitely turned a little quicker. Since the actual rubber compound (and therefore grip) is also unchanged, my faster lap times have to be attributed to the improved carcass construction and Dunlop’s carbon-fiber technology.
Impressive though the Q3s were on track, we were anxious to see how they’d perform on the street. It has also been reported to me by friends, that the Q3s are getting improved mileage over the Q2s. If true, the reasons can only be the improved stiffness of the carbon-fiber reinforced carcass, or the longer tread grooves (and therefore longer blocks of rubber) that allow less flex and perhaps help the tires run a little cooler. Our street test would also prove whether the Q3 increased mileage stories have any validity.
We replaced the thoroughly-worn-out Q2’s on our long-term project bike Suzuki GSX-R 1000 (Mar/Apr 2013 issue). I have to admit I was stunned by the difference the Q3s made to the Suzuki’s handling. The 190/55 size rear Q3 profile has actually been sharpened somewhat, and to say that the bike’s ability to turn is dramatically improved is perhaps the understatement of the decade.
Despite the worn-out nature of the Q2s, their performance was still excellent; I rode the bike to have the tires swapped out, and then rode it home. The change was significant, and immediately noticeable. The Gixxer’s turning ability (which is impressive to begin with) had been improved so dramatically I was literally shocked by the change. Riding into fast or slow corners I found myself trying to re-calibrate my brain on a bike I’m very, very used to riding. I found myself turning in too early, and several times I had to bring the big Suzuki back up slightly in order to change my line and complete the corner.
The first part of this test was an extended 3-day, nearly 800 mile ride around California’s Sierra mountains. The corners are twisty as heck, taken at speeds both fast and slow, and they have a huge variety of surfaces ranging from quite poor and bumpy to smooth and nicely grippy. Multiple combination series’ of corners that require precision handling, extreme lean angles, possibly changes in line mid-corner, and hard on the throttle exits, would test the limit of the grip, handling, and durability of the Q3s.
Another huge variable in tires is pressures, and from what I’ve seen, most people don’t check them nearly as often as they should. I typically run the front a couple pounds harder (to allow for hard braking) and in normal road use I run pressures of 32 Front, 30 Rear. These are really track pressures and Dunlop’s recommended street pressures are considerably higher, but for me and my typical riding conditions they seems to be a good compromise between grip and wear. For the track, I drop those pressures by two pounds and run 30 Front, 28 Rear. For this road trip (and because I had about 15 extra pounds of rear seat bag weight) I upped the rear pressure by two pounds over my normal, and used 32 Front, 32 Rear.
The first half day had me still acclimatizing to the sharper turning of the Q3s; I was caught out several times, especially as I was on roads I didn’t know. As always with Dunlop tires, the progression to maximum lean angle is very linear and smooth, so the Suzuki wasn’t flopping in to corners; it was simply transitioning much more quickly than I was used to. Most of the time I found myself slightly misjudging my trajectory towards a corner’s apex, and I would have to take a second or even third bite at the bend and realign the bike. This phenomenon wasn’t unsettling or worrying; on the contrary, it was actually very impressive, and I realized that once I had the Q3s figured out, I’d be able to either up my pace, or stick with the same pace and be more relaxed about it.
I was right. I consciously drove into corners a little deeper, turned a little later, and cornered a little quicker. The subtle aggressiveness of the Q3s was an absolute joy, and once I was used to them, over the following two days the Suzuki Gixxer simply became the sweetest handling, most predictable and precise machine I’ve ridden in a very long time.
In terms of wear, the Q3s seem to be doing rather well, I think. Whether they’re an improvement on the Q2s remains to be seen, but by the clean look so far, I’m daring to hope that these might actually have a noticeably longer life than their predecessor. Price is exactly the same as the Q2s, so it would be a great thing if true! The pictures above show the wear so far at 798 miles, most of which have been aggressively attacking corners, so you will notice the center of the tire is pretty pristine. Next installment of this story will be at 1500 miles, usually about the time Q2s need replacing for me. I guess we’ll see. But I have to admit, even if the wear rate hasn’t improved, the Q3s are a spectacular improvement over their predecessor, and that is a feat I simply wouldn’t have believed possible a couple of months ago. Kudos, Dunlop.