Dunlop TrailSmart Motorcycle Tire Test
Try a simple search for “Which adventure motorcycle tires are best for the (insert your adventure bike make/model here)?” and you’ll be inundated with hundreds of results from Internet tire experts claiming they have found the only tire worth your time and money.
Why is it so difficult to get a consensus from adventure riders on which tires perform best? It is because we have chosen to ride a “crossbred” motorcycle—a Frankenstein’s monster if you will, or a mash-up of street, touring and dirt.
After 10 years of exclusively riding the streets of Southern California, I made the decision that it was time to take my passion for the open road beyond the pavement. Adventure riding caught my attention back in 2014, and I was finally in the position to pull the trigger on the perfect adventure bike. At that point, there had been many aspects of riding that I hadn’t yet experienced.
My longest ride had only been a few hundred miles around the local canyons, and I was never equipped to wander off-road. I was ready to plan a multi-day tour throughout the West Coast and experience my first stretch of dirt roads. After reading nearly every Adventure bike review I could get my hands on, I purchased a 2014 BMW R1200GS Adventure (GSA).
When it came to tires, BMW offered the street-biased Michelin Anakee III or the knobby Continental TKC 80. With no previous experience on the dirt, the Michelin Anakee III seemed like the perfect balance of street oriented performance and off-road grip. The TKC 80s seemed a bit too aggressive, knowing I’d be spending more time on the street.
So how well do the Anakee IIIs perform? Well enough that I didn’t hesitate to purchase another set. In fact, I logged almost 30k miles on my 2014 GSA using strictly Anakee IIIs. I had the opportunity to experience them through all sorts of conditions, including aggressive off-road trails littered with rocks and deep sand.
Starting off with grip, the Michelin Anakee III tires didn’t have any issues keeping all 125 horsepower of the water-cooled boxer engine firmly planted to ground. The more confident I became with the GSA, the harder I pushed the Anakee IIIs, blasting through Southern Californian canyons. Grip was fantastic in dry conditions, as well as during a heavy downpour.
For light off-road jaunts, the Anakee III rubber gripped very well, considering the street-biased design. As expected, riding through sand or any kind of mud made for a very bad day.
With respect to handling, the Michelin Anakee tires did make for a quite a workout flicking the GSA from one corner to the next. The turn-in with the front tire was very slow, and required considerable effort to stand the bike back up. The GSA’s weight exacerbates the problem and I usually rode with about 30 pounds of cargo in the panniers.
The only real annoyance with the Anakee tires is the loud howl from the front tire, especially when the tires are new. You’ll need earplugs and a communication device blasting your favorite tunes to drown out the noise.
I’m fairly hard on the tires with my day to day riding. The GSA is a well-balanced bike that is always begging me to push a bit harder in the canyons; most of the time it’s difficult to say no. Lastly, my daily 100+ mile commute on the harsh roads of Los Angeles chew through the tough silica compound of the Anakee III.
Last year, I decided to part ways with my 2014 GSA and picked up a better-equipped 2016 BMW R 1200 GS Adventure, again shod with Anakee III rubber.
After burning through seven sets of Michelin Anakee III tires between the two bikes, I was still averaging about 5500 miles per set.
I still found myself spending most of my time on the street, so the 80/20 tire made most sense to me. I had stuck with the Anakees based on how well they performed, but I knew it was time to look for a tire that would last longer. Now I faced the classic conundrum of choosing between a soft compound with superb grip, or a harder compound with longer life. Why can’t we have both? Dunlop says you can.
Dunlop released its new TrailSmart 80 street/20 dirt ADV tire in 2016—the same year as my 2016 BMW R 1200 GS Adventure. The TrailSmart tires are designed to offer maximum dry and wet grip, while still placing a priority on longer tire life. I was ready to make a change and got my hands on a set of TrailSmarts.
With the new Dunlops mounted, I set out to the local Malibu canyons with my fully stocked GSA. The running joke in my riding group is that I’m only invited so that I can support the group with tools, air, gas, oil or anything else they may need. My panniers are always filled with supplies and they easily add another 25 to 30 pounds of load to the tires.
The very first impressions riding through surface streets were the quietness of the tires and the nimble feeling of the bike.
You immediately get the sense that the bike is itching to lean, and I couldn’t get to the twisties soon enough. Entering the first section of switchbacks, the front end tipped right into the turn. As the bike leaned, the front tire gave me sufficient feedback through the handlebars allowing me to comfortably lean as much as the radius of the turn dictated.
With the TrailSmart tires mounted, my BMW motorcycle requires very little input to establish the desired lean, and once the lean angle is set, the tires continue to hold the turn with minimal input. When you’re ready to straighten the bike and set up for the next turn, very little effort is required on such a beastly adventure bike.
All this equates to the ability to make quick transitions from one turn to the next. The tires absolutely make you feel as if you’re riding a completely different bike. No matter how hard you bring on the power, the Dunlop TrailSmart tires were able to easily handle the full power surging through the boxer engine. After logging close to 3500 miles, I found that the Dunlops were outperforming the Michelin Anakee III tires they replaced on my R 1200 GS Adventure in every respect.
At this point, I was already sold on making the switch to Dunlop solely based on their handling and grip alone. That had come as a surprise as I’d been okay with the Anakees’ performance, it had only been longevity I’d been looking for.
Now the true test—finding out how many miles can be had from a set of Dunlop TrailSmart tires. I set out on a 3200-mile, 10-day ride from Los Angeles to Vancouver, British Columbia, taking back roads almost exclusively. During the trip, I had the chance to test the tires through various fire roads as I rode through state parks in Oregon.
The TrailSmart motorcycle tires performed really well, and found grip in areas that were rutted or covered in deep gravel. The rear tire found plenty of grip through the loose surface, and the front tire tracked well.
As the miles packed on, the tires continued to perform as they had when they were new. At the end of the trip, the tires appeared to have another 1k miles left in them, and it was only as the tripmeter clicked past the 8300-mile mark, that the Dunlop TrailSmart tires were finally ready to be relieved of duty.
Based on my experience burning through a set of the new TrailSmart tires, Dunlop has successfully cracked the code for the Adventure rider looking for a street-biased tire that provides longer life, while still delivering massive grip and exceptional handling.
Photography by Jonathan Handler