Regardless of how advanced your motorcycle’s electronics are, the tires are the essential element that connects all that tech wizardry to the pavement.
Tires rarely get the focus they deserve—I’ve read numerous tests and reviews that have zero mention of what tires are used.
However, they are changing as rapidly as the latest traction control or ABS. Instead of the uniquely designed six-axis IMU that is the brain behind all those flashy electronics, the focus for tires revolves around design and compounds.
After analyzing the modern sport rider, Metzeler, a 157-year-old company, owned by Pirelli, and one of the only motorcycle/scooter-only tire OEMs, has revamped its sportbike tire offering.
Meet the M9 RR, a replacement of the M7 RR that I tested in 2015 in Almería, Spain, when the tire was launched. The new M9 RR’s official slogan is Ride the Unexpected, due to its versatility across cold/hot surfaces, wet conditions, and track use.
Does this tagline carry any merit? I headed to Spain again to find out, this time testing the new rubber at the Circuito Ascari in Málaga—a private resort-type track for motoholics—and along some of the country’s most beautiful roads around the Ronda area.
First, some quick background.
What makes the M9 RR different from the M7 RR is a refocus on the hypersport crowd. These riders pilot any modern sportbike loaded with electronic aids, from a naked KTM 790 Duke to a Suzuki GSX-R1000 to a dual-duty track-and-road BMW S 1000 RR, that latter being a motorcycle that arrives from the factory with Metzeler rubber.
According to Metzeler, the North America hypersport crowd is booming. For Metzeler non-cruiser riders, the segment controls 41 percent of the motorcycle market behind sport touring (36 percent), dual-sport/adventure (14 percent), road racing (7 percent), and custom (6 percent).
These statistics, along with the new offerings by Bridgestone, Michelin, and Continental, provided enough incentive for Metzeler to revisit its hypersport offering.
Let’s Talk M9 RR Tire Life
Metzeler’s latest studies show that the hypersport crowd focuses on the performance over the life of a tire. This market analysis prompted the German tire manufacturer to focus on better handling and grip, on both dry and wet surfaces. However, Metzler says the dual-compound tires should provide 10 percent more life over the M7 RR.
Unless you’re testing a set of racing tires that you can burn through in a single track-day, the biggest problem with the road- or dirt-specific tire tests is you can never report on tire life.
Metzeler Head of Testing and the Department of Technical Relations Salvatore Pennisi says each motorcycle demands different mileage claims. The rider’s style of riding, and the rider’s attention to correct psi, will also have a dramatic effect on mileage.
With that said, the new M9 RR’s rear tire should deliver 6,000 to 8,000 miles, and the front 8,000 to 10,000.
The tires I tested at Ascari, both set to 36 psi, still looked fresh after two hours of track time in the dry, plus 30 minutes in a section of the course that was closed off and moistened with sprinklers to replicate wet conditions. Keep in mind that the two hours of dry included six 20-minute track sessions, which forced the rubber through hot and cold heat cycles—something that wears tires down quickly.
At the day’s conclusion, the elephant branding in the middle of the rear-tire was still present. The edges of the tires didn’t show much damage, including a minimal presence of issues you can see and feel—cold tearing or hot tearing. These two conditions will deteriorate a tire based on aggressive heat cycles and cause traction issues.
Also, there was no sign of any discoloration, such as the typical blue—a condition from aggressive heat cycles when the oils used in tire manufacturing come to the surface. While these are typically scrubbed off in a few seconds of riding, the lack of a blue surface shows that the tires respond very well to eight cycles of hot and cold.
Metzeler says this progress on tire wear is derived directly from Metzeler’s intensive real-world race testing at the Isle of Man TT and North West 200.
Side Grip and Stability Improves
At extreme lean angles, the side grip and stability have improved over the M7 RR. This was immediately apparent on the racetrack, and the motorcycle was more planted during two of the longer sweepers at Ascari—the left-hand Senna S and the right-hand KZ1. Yes, all corners at Ascari replicate famous turns at tracks across the world.
Compound changes are to blame here rather than profile changes. Though the front tire’s design changed only slightly, it’s barely noticeable due to the feel of the motorcycle’s tip-in when cornering.
The M9 RR tips in the same way as the M7 RR, and feels much less aggressive than its parent company’s main sport tire—the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II. I don’t like abrupt tip-ins, which is why the M7 RR is currently on one of my favorites. It is brutal on the body, however, when on a Ducati 1198 with zero electronic aids.
On the rear, the compound has changed compared to the M7 RR—a tire that already more than enough side grip and stability under aggressive riding. The M9 RR’s sidewalls are just a bit softer than the M7 RR, which explains the increased reading of the track’s surface and, ultimately, traction at Ascari. Both tires are updated with softer sidewalls, which Metzeler attributes to the full silica and higher melting point resins.
Metzeler uses a full-silica compound across the entire rear tire instead of just the sidewalls. The M7 RR rear was constructed with only 70 percent silica in the middle 20-percent portion. On the M9 RR, the sidewalls (37.5 percent on each side) use softer compounds, and the middle 25 percent from a harder compound—a clear attribute to the 10 percent increase in tire life.
Like the M7 RR, the front M9 RR tire’s construction continues as full silica, with 33 percent of the middle composed of a harder compound.
The increased footprint also helps with the planted feel at Ascari. At 60 degrees of lean angle, the rear tire has a five percent larger footprint. This is attributed to less tread on the side of the tires. The edges are closer to a slick for this type of performance, and even with the traction control on 1 (less intrusive) on the S 1000 RR, full lean felt less squirmy than the M7 RR at similar lean angles.
This enhanced grip proved much faster at the racetrack. Metzeler tested the tires aboard an S 1000 RR and compared to M7 RR, and at Autodromo Pergusa (-3.4 seconds) and Levante Circuit (-2.5 seconds).
The stability was not only felt at the track, but also during an 80-mile ride throughout the backroads surrounding Ronda. This is directly related to the new carcass construction.
The carcass is revamped for added stiffness at higher speeds and lean angle, Metzeler trying to balance riding pleasure at everyday speeds with improved handling at higher speeds and additional lean angle.
Over the M7 RR, the Metzeler M9 RR’s carcass across the front and tires includes:
- 25 percent more cord stiffness
- 6 percent more textile stiffness
- 20 percent less end-count (less stiff at the end of chords that run vertically down the sidewalls)
Metzeler says the stiffer cords with lower end-count allow additional room for thicker rubber interstices, which optimize the tire’s damping ability. The result is a larger contact patch, and that equates to a safer ride.
Although the sidewall is a bit softer and flexes more under heavy braking at Ascari, the tire also remained planted, even when I experimented with the traction control off a few times on the CBR1000RR.
I expected that, due to the M7 RR providing an excellent feel at the track. Where the M9 RR is vastly improved is during trail braking. I tend to brake aggressively upfront and trail the brakes to (and sometimes past) the apex of a corner. I do this both on the street and the track, and the slightly softer sidewall allows me to read the pavement carefully.
The improved feel was truly apparent during the street ride on some dusty corners just outside Ronda. While riding a Kawasaki Z900 in Sport mode, which has the traction control at the least-intervening setting of 1, the electronics worked as should, preventing severe loss of traction control.
Still, that’s not how you test a tire. Instead, I set up the Z900’s custom Rider mode with the TC off and felt the front and rear slip a few times in these slippery corners. The softer sidewalls allowed me to feel this slippage sooner, prompting me to provide proper input to prevent a bigger slide or, worse, a crash.
Street tires with stiffer sidewalls (think everything about 10 years ago!) don’t allow as much feel. By the time you feel the slippage at the wheel, you’re eating the pavement.
How Does the M9 RR Handle in the Wet?
Speaking of eating pavement, I did crash while testing the Metzeler M9 RR on a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R during the wet portion of the test. Metzeler shut down a 1.342-mile section of the lower circuit that includes corners Bathurst and Gachot, and replicated rain by setting up sprinklers and soaking nearly half of the closed section.
Under the wet conditions, the tire was able to warm up quickly, which Metzeler attributes to the revised tread pattern that allows more movement of tread, and subsequently, a quicker warm-up. The revised tread grooves channel water more effectively for better traction in the rain.
On my first time around the section, I already felt confident in the tire’s wet performance. So, during the dry portion of the wet section, I chose my line by bumping over a few curbs. The front tire washed out just below Brundle corner, which would be used as an access road if the full circuit was open.
The front tucked at 20 mph, and I experienced my first-ever crash at a press event, my 12-year record of crash-free launches had disappeared.
Upon further analysis, the painted curb is extremely slippery when wet. With a bit more speed, I likely would have recovered, but that didn’t happen on my first lap. Even if the bike had cornering ABS, I think I would have still crashed. The conditions were perfect for a mishap, and I also later learned that another rider fell at the same spot.
On the street, primarily due to the optimized channeling of water, the Metzeler M9 RR’s should provide increased traction over the M7 RR. When I tested the M7 RRs back in 2015, I experienced some hard downpours in southern Spain. The confidence remained on the street, and the track, where knees were dragging by the end of the first lap.
The M9 RR’s new design should only improve this tire that already builds confidence and rider safety in the wet.
The M9 RR’s new tagline, Ride the Unexpected, makes a bold statement, explaining in three words that sport riders can feel safe while riding aggressively, or at a normal pace.
The tires did slide a bit while riding some dusty sections of the street with the traction control off, and I did crash at the wet portion of the track with traction control on. However, not many ride on the street with traction control off nowadays, and I’d argue about five percent of riders participate in rainy track days.
Tire technology improves yearly, as do the safety measures of bikes due to improved electronics such as traction control and ABS. When both improved tire and motorcycle electronics technology mate, the result is inevitable—safer and happier riders.
Metzeler understands this well, and its M9 RR, a testament of that understanding. The question I had with the M7 RR in 2015 is, how can this tire get any better? Now the question is, how can the Metzeler Sportec M9 RR possibly get better? I’m sure those improvements are already under development, and I look forward to experiencing the progress, even if it takes another five years for the update.
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-X IOM
- Suit: Alpinestars GP Pro V2 with Tech-Air Technology
- Undersuit: Alpinestars
- Gloves: Racer High Speed
- Boots: Alpinestars Super Tech R
Metzeler Sportec M9 RR Sizes (W speed rating; suitable up to 168 mph)
- 110/70 x 17
- 120/70 x 17
- 140/70 x 17
- 150/60 x 17
- 160/60 x 17
- 180/55 x 17
- 180/60 x 17
- 190/50 x 17
- 190/55 x 17
- 200/55 x 17
- Dunlop Sportmax Q4
- Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22
- Michelin Power 5
- Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II
- Continental Sport Attack 4