Story updated below with Dry Track Session at Buttonwillow Raceway Park (April 4, 2015)
With technology such as Traction Control and ABS improving on what seems like a daily basis, motorcycles can be pushed further and stopped harder.
This creates more demand on arguably the most important part of a bike—the tires. Naturally, updates are needed as this technology grows. To remain competitive in the motorcycle-tire industry, many resources must be put to work, from scientists experimenting with various compounds to riders testing at the track.
The German tire manufacturer Metzeler understands these concepts well. Metzeler—a subsidiary of the Milan-based Pirelli Tyre S.p.A. since 1986—is the only sole producer of motorcycle tires, meaning no automobile distractions and 100-percent focus on two-wheel rubber.
With this in mind, we expected positive impressions from Metzeler’s newest lineup of tires—the track-ready Racetec RR K1, K2 and K3, and the sportbike-ready Sportec M7 RR. Metzeler was hoping the same, and invited us to the south of Spain for some testing aboard BMW machinery, including a track day at the world-class Almería Circuit.
Unfortunately, rain plagued one of Europe’s driest climates, halting any testing of Racetec RR rubber. It was a shame to a 2015 BMW S 1000 RR shod in Racetec RR rubber tucked away in a garage at Almería Circuit.
However, this didn’t stop us from ripping around the countryside of Andalusia and a wet Almeria Circuit on Sportec M7 RR rubber. First, we got in some street testing with the M7 RR, me switching back and forth between the S 1000 RR and the naked S 1000 R. At the track we unsealed the true potential of the M7 RR on the 2015 BMW S 1000 RR – a very forgiving motorcycle in the rain.
The Ideas Behind the Sportec M7 RR
The Sportec M7 RR replaces the Sportec M5 Interact, which has ruled Metzeler’s sportbike lineup for the past five years.
Metzeler Head of R&D Piero Misani says when designing the Sportec M7 RR, a few factors were a must—sporty handling across a variety of road services, ability to perform optimally in the wet and under cold conditions, and durability for extended mileage: “It comes down to enjoyment, safety and affordability – this is what our riders wanted so we made it.”
Major changes over the M5 include tread patterns with variable depth that increases lateral “push” on dry conditions, and wide grooves for better water drainage at higher speeds. Speaking of the latter, the front tire features more grooves with a “land/sea ratio” raised from 12.6 to 14.7 percent over the M5, but the rear tire becomes more “slick” with a land/sea ratio decrease of 12.6 to 11.1 percent over the M5.
In non-tire tech talk, what these land/sea ratio changes do is provide better clearing of water from the front tire, which allows the rear tire to be more slick, allowing both to work together and provide better traction.
The M7’s chemical compounds were designed with new silica mixes for extra feel in the dry without loosing grip in the wet. The front tire “cap” (curved part – centerline and shoulders – to the sidewalls – where tire info is) is created from a 100 percent silica content rubber – similar to what a pure supersport tire uses.
The rear uses a unique mix of silica, which is created from 70 percent silica on the centerline, and 100-percent silica on each shoulder. The unique part is what’s underneath the shoulders; layered underneath is an extended layer of the 70-percent silica found in the centerline. This draws heat from the warmer centerline section to the shoulders, improving overall tire warm up – helping to decrease those dreaded “cold tire” crashes at the beginning of rides.
Other changes include a new profile, which was designed with input from international road-racing stars such as Guy Martin – an Isle of Man TT sensation. The Sportec M7 RR’s new profile follows a “trend” in modern sportbike tire design, and is taller and utilizes steeper and wider shoulders, all attributing to increased lean angle.
Speaking of this profile, Metzeler says “With this kind of geometry, this profile provides an immediate descend into lean from the upright position and agile handling in quick change of direction. The shoulder portion is flatter, providing a 5-percent larger footprint area which provides a better grip and trajectory precision when leaning.”
The M7 RR’s sidewalls are 3mm taller than the M5’s, allowing for quicker steering and improved grip while at high lean angles.
Also, the overall carcass is stiffer, which means less flexing under heavy loads, and arrives with five separate zones of damping capability that provides for additional feedback at lean angle.
The Metzeler Sportec M7 RR Verdict, Please?
OK, enough of the technical jargon, and onto performance. When I arrived the Parador de Mojácar in Almeria, Spain, the hotel for the launch, I was greeted with dry, cloudless skies. Due to this, the Metzeler staff pushed up the street ride a day, giving journalists a choice to ride or not.
I was from a later flight, and though the trip was nearly 16 hours, and I had only a few minutes to get ready, I literally ran to my hotel room and got geared up into my latest Dainese/AGV setup. No way was I missing a dry-weather ride.
I chose an S1000R naked, and was told the tire pressures were based on BMW’s recommendations. Heading out of town and into the mountain passes of southern Andalusia, cold tires were not an issue, and we began employing the true character of the S1000R – many times on one wheel.
With ABS and TC set at a minimum, and a few times completely off, I was able to push the tire to its limit. On the straightaways at speeds sometimes deep into the triple digits, the rubber provided input without losing comfort. And once things got fun in the twisties, traction was never an issue when aggressively loading the front tires during heavy braking.
Following this load, the tire responded well with flexibility throughout the corner, keeping traction at a peak. On exit, I attempted sliding the rear out a few times (using no traction control) by cracking the throttle open, and sliding was incapable; the tire directly hooked up, lifting the front wheel off the ground a few times. Traction available? We think so.
The following day I had two rain-soaked rides – one to the Almería Circuit and one leaving the circuit. This time I chose a 2015 BMW S 1000 RR.
En route to the track, we rode a few mountain passes that had blind corners that sometimes opened up to huge puddles or flower pedals from the roadside fields – both scenarios that quickly dilute traction.
I was forced to alter my line many times mid corner for additional traction, and the tires—and BMW’s amazing traction control—allowed this without any “Oh s+*t!” moments. One time, a bicyclist—one of the hundreds riding in rain—was on my correct line, and I was forced to stand the bike up and brake hard. Even under slick conditions, the tires responded well, and I was able to quickly maneuver past the cyclist and regain focus.
OK, luck on the street, but how about at rain-soaked Almería? Metzeler representatives kept the Racetec RR-shod S 1000 RRs at bay, saying the Sportec M7 RR was the most optimal tire for the wet conditions. By day’s end, I agreed.
Nerves set in quickly, but by turn three of 16 on the 2.5-mile circuit, the nerves settled. And after a full lap, comfort began, and it was all due to grip. The Sportec M7 RR’s quickly came up to temp in what felt like two laps, and things only got faster.
The M7 RRs combined with the S 1000 RR in Rain Mode, which reduces power and pumps up the TC, and Almería’s naturally grippy surface, provided many challenges, but it was the first time I actually had fun on a wet circuit.
Track time was scheduled for three groups of 20-minute sessions each, my group running with the journalists. By the end of my first session, I had found my most optimal line, and was able to really push things.
The tires provided non-stop feeling and traction under heavy braking and acceleration, and only twice did I slip the back tire on the same section of the track – an uphill leading to turn 3 when I gave too much throttle while the suspension was unsettled. Luckily, the traction control kicked in, putting me right back on line.
I was most impressed with the heavy braking the tires allowed at the back of Almería’s straight; I reached speeds of up to 16o mph, and was able to really grab a handful of those dual 320mm disc brakes. The ABS light flickered many times, but my confidence continually built until I instinctively knew to hold back, not wanting to find the limits and scrub in my leathers during a Spanish Sliding Shuffle.
At one point I strung together about 25 laps before pitting for gas.
Another proving point came from the lack of accidents. There was only one from a fellow American on the track—an ex-racer and amazingly adept rider—and it was a small low side. Regardless, he was unharmed and returned to the track, back up to speed within a few laps. This type of situation attest to the confidence these tires can instill in riders that are pushing at speed. Imagine the confidence instilled in the everyday rider facing a simple rainstorm?
Overall, on both the street and the track, the Sportec M7 RR steers quicker, and has improved grip and feeling under heavy braking, acceleration and while at lean angle during cornering. And the best part? It performs these tasks nearly as well in wet conditions – something needed for that added confidence of the real-world rider during the inevitable rainstorm.
As for mileage, two days of non-stop riding was not enough to even begin to test durability. Metzeler claims 20 percent more mileage than the M5, which we have observed last to nearly 2000 miles a set under conservative riding.
We’ll have one of our steeds shod in M7 RRs soon, and will report back on these mileage claims. We are also planning some extensive track testing with the Racetec RR series, so stay clicked to Ultimate MotorCycling for updates.
UPDATE: Test From Buttonwillow Raceway, California, by Ultimate MotorCycling President Arthur Coldwells
- Bike: Suzuki GSX-R1000
- Track: Buttonwillow April 4, 2015.
- Ambient temperature: 76 degrees.
- Tire pressures (cold) 32 Front, 30 Rear.
The Metzeler M7 RR tiress were really grippy, and surprisingly to everyone who looked at them, showed little sign of wear after a day running faster than my buddies who were all frying their tires from several different brands. Clearly the Metzelers are going to have a long life without sacrificing any grip.
But the handling wasn’t as good as the Dunlop Sportmax Q3s. Comparing videos from last February at Buttonwillow, I was carrying another 10 mph through the fast (100+ mph) Riverside corner. The Metzelers don’t have the sidewall stiffness of the Q3s, so under hard braking they squirm, and ultimately one time it was enough that the bars twisted, the front tucked and I almost went down — I had to take to the escape road. Aaargh! Granted, I was braking hard from about 145, so it was pretty extreme.
The good grip encourages aggressive corner exits, but the rear would squirm enough that the tire would squat and the bike would then slightly understeer when picking up the throttle, so it’s a little harder to ride precisely the way I can on Q3s.
Turn-in was nice and quick, but once initiated the bike would tend to flop a little, unlike the Dunlop profile that progresses with perfect linearity through to maximum lean angle.
The bottom line is the Metzeler M7 RR tires were actually a pleasant surprise, as they gripped well and didn’t give me any bad/slippery moments. I had tons of confidence in the front. They are clearly going to last very well; they will make an excellent street tire and for a B Group track day guy, they’ll be fine as well. For hard riding on track they don’t quite have the stiffness and so the handling suffers a bit at the edge of the envelope, especially hard on the brakes.
Gimme back my Q3s please.
Metzeler Sportec M7 RR Pricing, Sizes, & Competitors
- Front, $162 – $169
- Rear, $195 – $275
- 110/70 ZR17
- 120/60 ZR17
- 120/70 ZR17
- Dunlop Sportmax Q3
- Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S20
- Michelin Pilot Power 3
- Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa
- Continental Sport Attack 2
- Helmet: AGV Corsa
- Suit: Dainese Aspide P One Piece
- Gloves: Dainese Carbon Cover ST Gloves
- Base layers: Woodcraft Stay Dry Shirt; Alpinestars Tech Base Pants
- Boots: Dainese Axial Pro In