When choosing the best Dirt Bike tires for Dual Sport and Adventure riding you first need to consider where you spend most of your time riding, and the types of off-road terrain you mostly ride on.
Dirt Bike tires are categorized into percentage on/off-road use. In this review, I am looking at tires that are street legal, that are DOT approved.
The Dual Sport and Adventure tires compared below would fall into the category of ‘street-legal knobbies’.
They’re OK on the road provided you keep in mind what you’re riding on, but be careful on wet roads. They aren’t like a 100% road tire, they will wear faster than a road tire, purely because there is less rubber on the road. But that’s the tradeoff for off-road capability.
The more aggressive tread patterns with tall widely spaced knobs will obviously wear quicker, be noisier, and may be prone to squirming (knob flexing) on bends. Knobs may even break off at highway speeds, which is why tires like the Continental TKC80 (below at No.3) have larger and shallower knobs.
Pushed for time? Here’s a quick look at 5 of the best dirt bike tires for Dual Sport & ADV being compared here:
- Shinko 700 Series Dual Sport Tire – 60% street, 40% dirt
- Kenda K270 Dual Sport Tire – 60% street, 40% dirt – Best Bang For Buck Dual Sport Tire
- Continental TKC80 Dual Sport Tire – 40% street, 60% dirt – Best heavy ADV bike Tire
- Dunlop D606 Dual Sport Tire – 20% street, 80% dirt – Best Intermediate Terrain Dual Sport Tire
- Pirelli MT21 Dual Sport Tire – 10% street, 90% dirt
Top 3 Things To Consider
1. What percentage is on/off-road?
The tires below range from 60% street/40% dirt through to 10% street/90% dirt. Some riders only ride on the street long enough to get to the next trail, while others like adventure riders do almost 50/50 street/trail. You need to weigh up what percentage split suits your riding habits.
2. What terrain do you mostly ride off-road?
Knowing this will help you with the second major decision, the tire compound. Whether you mainly ride off-road in soft, intermediate, or hard terrain or a mix of whatever you encounter. I go into this in detail below.
3. Your Budget
You’ll get better mileage out of the higher-priced tires. The tires below range from about $67 up to $110. The lower to mid-price range Dual Sport tires.
If you do a lot of street miles, you’ll get a lot more mileage out of a 50/50 or 60/40 tire than you will out of a 10% street/90% dirt tire. The right selection will save you money.
How To Choose a Dirt Bike Tire
Matching the right dirt bike tire to the terrain you ride is the key to getting the best performance out of your tires.
Understanding the differences between hard, intermediate, and soft terrain tires is the first step to choosing the correct tire for your dirt bike.
Put simply: Hard rubber compounds suit soft terrain surfaces, while softer rubber compounds suit harder terrain surfaces.
It is best to use the same rubber compound on both the front and rear tires.
Soft Terrain Dirt Bike Tires
Ironically, a dirt bike tire made for soft terrain is manufactured from a harder compound. The difference in the tread pattern of a soft terrain tire is that the knobs are taller and wider spaced to help the tire ‘scoop’ the soft terrain to achieve traction.
The harder compound of the soft terrain tire helps to prevent the knobs from breaking away due to the wider spacing. Better suited to terrain like sand, loam, and muddy conditions. The wider knob spacing helps with self-cleaning in muddy conditions.
Intermediate Terrain Dirt Bike Tires
The intermediate terrain tire is obviously the in-between tire that is well suited to the weekend trail rider that has to deal with a wide variety of terrain. The tread pattern is closer than the soft terrain tire and the compound is slightly softer.
If you don’t always know what type of terrain you’ll be encountering, then intermediate tires are the way to go.
Hard Terrain Dirt Bike Tires
The hard terrain tire is well suited to the trail rider who spends a fair amount of time on the pavement and when off-road encounters a lot of hard-packed trails and rocky terrain.
The tread pattern is closer together with shorter knobs and the compound is softer to get more grip on the hard slick surfaces.
Riding with hard terrain tires in soft muddy conditions will lead to a dramatic loss of grip. The closer tread pattern means that the tire tends to become clogged with mud and there is little self-cleaning capability.
The Trials Tire
At the extreme end of the hard terrain tires is the Trials tire. It is the polar opposite of the MX knobby. The tread pattern is more uniform and condensed and has a flatter crown for a bigger contact patch with the ground.
They have a more flexible sidewall and softer compound rubber which gives them incredible traction on hard-packed terrain. It offers no self-cleaning in soft muddy conditions.
It is not suitable for even intermediate terrain. Because of the flatter crown, it doesn’t have the cornering performance of the more rounded knobby tires.
The Hybrid Tires
The Hybrid tire fills the gap between knobbies and trials tires by combining the best of both worlds. The Hybrid tire has a more rounded profile than the trials tire, which improves the cornering performance.
The tread lugs are chunkier like the knobby, but spaced closer together. Most hybrid tires use a soft rubber compound.
The ideal hybrid tire will have the traction of a trials tire, with cornering performance closer to that of a knobby.
Both trials and hybrid tires have less impact on the trails than a knobby, which is great for preserving the environment.
The best way to find the right tire for you is often trial and error. If you ride motocross you’ll be looking at the soft to intermediate tires. If you’re a trail or enduro rider you’ll be looking at the intermediate to hard compound tires. It all comes down to your type of riding.
How To Choose The Right Tire Size For Your Bike
The majority of full-sized dirt bikes use a 21″ front tire. Trail and Enduro bikes use an 18″ rear. Most motocross bikes now use a 19″ rear.
The 18″ rear tire usually has a taller wall height which has added flex and gives a smoother ride over terrain like tree roots and rocks which you encounter more in enduros and trail riding.
It is important to use the right dirt bike tire sizes recommended for your particular bike. Using a wider or narrower tire than recommended will change the tire’s footprint and affect the performance and grip of the tire.
How To Read The Numbers On The Tire
The numbers on the side of the tire help you identify the size, tire model, load/speed ratings, direction of rotation, and date of manufacture.
- 130/90-18 (width in mm/wall height as % of width – rim diameter in inches)
- M403 (model number)
- 51M (Load & Speed Rating: 51 = load rating, M = speed rating)
- 2918 (Tire was manufactured 29th week of 2018)
Having the proper tire pressure is the most important factor in tire maintenance.
The correct tire pressure for you depends on the terrain type you’re riding on, and the type of tire you’re using. Check your tire’s service specs or your bike’s service manual for the proper inflation, but this is variable depending on conditions.
Generally, dirt bike tire pressures run between 8 to 16psi, usually around 12psi. The harder you inflate your tire the less grip you will have. The softer tire pressure increases your grip, but it feels spongy and is more likely to slip on the rim.
Harder tires will reduce the chance of punctures in rocky conditions, while softer tires can give more traction in soft terrain like sand.
It is a good idea to check your tire pressures every time you ride to maximize your tire’s life.
For more on tire pressures: Dirt Bike Tire Pressure: What You Need To Know
Let’s look at 5 of the best Dirt Bike Tires available ranging from 60% street/40% dirt through to 10% street/90% dirt.
1. Shinko 700 Series Dual Sport Tire
The tread pattern is made up of irregularly shaped blocks in an interlocking type of pattern with the larger tread blocks along the center of the tire. The smaller blocks on the shoulder of the tire have half-depth reinforcements connecting the blocks to help with cornering stability.
Being a 60% street/40% dirt tire they are quieter and smoother on the road than the other tires compared here.
Off-road, they offer good bite on intermediate to hard terrain tires and are suitable for heavy adventure bikes as well as lighter Dual Sport bikes.
- 60% street, 40% dirt
- DOT approved
- Aggressive tread pattern with deep lug construction
- Heavy-duty 4-ply carcass for durability
- Reinforced side knobs for cornering stability
- Matching 700 series front tire available
2. Kenda K270 Dual Sport Tire
Either way, it’s a tire that is designed to perform well on and off the paved road. It has a deep aggressive knob pattern for off-road grip, and the rounded profile gives a smooth ride on pavement and would class it as a medium to hard terrain hybrid tire. Extended ranges of up to 6000 miles are possible with this tire.
The K270 has toughened sidewalls and some bead strengthening for increased durability and performance.
It is suitable for lighter weight dual sport bikes up to about 650cc.
- 60% street, 40% dirt
- DOT approved
- Great for replacing your OE (Original Equipment) trail tires that came on your bike
- Heavy-duty 4-ply or 6-ply rated carcass for durability
- Built with a special rubber compound for off-road traction and lasting wear on-road
- Matching K270 front tire available
3. Continental TKC80 Tire
It is a tire designed for bikes between 600 to 1200cc like the BMWF650GS through to the 1200 GS Adventure, KTM690, KTM990, and 1190R Adventure models.
The large block-style knobs make it very predictable on the street and suitable off-road for terrain ranging from loose to hard surface trails.
It is one of few tires available that can handle the weight of the big adventure bikes and has long been a popular favorite with hard-core adventure riders.
- 40% street, 60% dirt
- DOT approved
- Wide block pattern is designed to give optimal on and offroad grip
- Good self-cleaning properties
- Matching TKC80 front tire available
4. Dunlop D606 Dual Sport Tire
The full-depth tread pattern gives you good traction in soft single-track trails through to hard-packed fire roads.
The D606 has been around for years and is a favorite with the lighter enduro and dual sport riders looking for a tire that can do it all off-road, but also give good mileage on the road.
- 20% street, 80% dirt
- DOT approved
- Full-depth tread pattern designed for a wide range of terrain
- Compound engineered for good highway wear and grip
- Matching D606 front tire available
Sometimes unavailable on Amazon. Alternative link to Dunlop
5. Pirelli MT21 Dual Sport Tire
The Pirelli MT21 is a DOT approved 10/90 street/dirt for the rider who spends the vast majority of their time off-road.
The aggressive tread pattern is suitable for gravel, soft sand, and dirt conditions. It is not really suited to hard rocky and slippery terrain due to the wide-spaced tread pattern.
It is a popular tire for adventure riders who really like to push the boundaries off-road and is capable of handling high speeds while maintaining stability of handling.
- 10% street, 90% dirt
- DOT approved for street use
- Flexible carcass for high stability and precise control
- Carcass structure capable of supporting high-speed use and puncture resistance
- Optimized tread pattern for gravel, dirt, and desert riding
- Tire compound gives greater resistance to tearing
It’s difficult to call any tire the best, everyone has their favorites depending on their personal preferences. It’s a bit like the 2-stroke vs 4-stroke debate, arguing is an exercise in futility.
Personally, I’ve been riding dirt bikes on and off the road for over 30 years, and have used knobbies on the road before there was even such a thing as ‘street-legal knobbies’
If years of popularity and sales are anything to go, here is my selection of the best available today:
- Best Bang For Buck Dual Sport Tire: Kenda K270 Dual Sport Tire. At well under the $100 price range, this tire has long been a favorite for the lighter Dual Sport bikes, and an obvious choice for replacing your OE tires.
- Best heavy bike Tire: Continental TKC80 Dual Sport Tire. It’s long been a favorite for the big adventure bike crowd and is built tough enough to handle the weight.
- Best Intermediate Terrain Dual Sport Tire: Dunlop D606 Dual Sport Tire. A great all-rounder capable of handling anything you encounter off-road, for the rider who likes to ride aggressively.
Is there a Dual Sport or Adventure tire that you have been using that you think should be on this list? Please feel free to share your thoughts below.