If you own a sports bike of some description — be it a 600cc supersport machine or a 1 000cc super- bike pumping out in excess of 130kW — you know one thing: you need a race tyre. You need the grippiest, stickiest rubber you can get your hands on. This much is obvious, surely? With all that power just a delicate twist of your right wrist away, only the best will do. And, as we all know, the best is what the professionals use, so you do the right thing and fit pukka race tyres to your pride and joy.
Except that really isn’t the right thing to do. Not even close — at least not for the 99.9% of us who don’t earn a living putting life and limb on the line at the country’s race circuits. If you ride your bike primarily on the road, even if you take in the occasional track day, you shouldn’t be fitting the best race rubber you can buy. There is a better option, one that was explained to me in Spain last week by the chief research and development engineer at motorcycle tyre company Metzeler — an option that I got to test in some truly horrible conditions. Don’t get me wrong: if you’re a racer, or a dedicated A-group track-day enthusiast, you’ll probably be measuring your enjoyment in terms of a 10th of a second or less.
At this level, where a set of tyres (or two) is demolished in less than a day, the extra level of grip on offer from Metzeler’s Racetec RR will truly be appreciated. If you like to get your speed and thrills down your favourite stretch of twisty road on a Sunday morning, then you should be using Metzeler’s Sportec M7 RR. Not only are they a few hundred rand cheaper than a set of full race rubber, but they’re also going to make you quicker and safer. How so? Well, a lot of what makes a tyre grip comes from the temperature of the tyre’s compound. Race tyres operate at higher temperatures, and sure enough they do offer better grip up there.
But without a set of tyre-warmers and a grippy, twisting road free of traffic, you’re simply not going to generate enough heat to get them to the requisite temperature. Therefore, they will not grip as fiercely as intended, and you might well end up in a ditch. The Sportec M7 RR is the tyre best suited for these spirited road rides. They have been designed to offer their still astounding levels of stickiness at lower temperatures, low enough that you can generate optimum grip quickly — after just a couple of kilometres of gentle riding. In these conditions, they will provide more grip than the race rubber, and you will avoid the ditch and an uncomfortable ride in an ambulance.
And because the M7 RR has been designed with tyre life in mind (you’ll be lucky to get a useful 200km out of a race tyre), I’d be disappointed if the M7 RR isn’t good for at least 10000km for most riders. There are other inconsiderate factors thrown up by the real world. Let’s face it, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, rain is eventually going to catch you in the middle of a ride. If you’re on the (fully road-legal) Racetec RR race rubber, the lack of tread (especially on the shoulder of the tyre, which you use when cornering), will mean you and the bike will soon start twitching. Temperatures also tend to drop when the rain comes, which, combined with the deluge, will be enough to bring on heart palpitations, unless you’re on the right rubber: the Sportec M7 RR.
With its ability to operate over a wider range of temperatures, a tread pattern designed to disperse enormous volumes of water and silica compounds that sniff out every last element of grip in the road surface, you might actually enjoy the occasional wet ride. I know that might strike something of an overoptimistic note, but after last week’s Spanish experience, I’m a convert. Almeria circuit is situated in quite possibly the driest part of Europe, so close to North Africa you can practically see it. Take a look around the hilly setting and you could easily mistake the location for somewhere deep in the Karoo — it’s obvious this region doesn’t get much in the way of rain. It is, to all intents and purposes, a desert. Except now, when I’m here with some seriously ventilated leathers and the world’s darkest visor.
Oh no, now the wind is howling, the air temperature is hovering around 6°C and the rain is pouring in a manner best described as biblical. So much for testing the Racetec RR; that rubber is replaced with the Sportec M7 RR and against my better judgment, I head out on a BMW S 1000 RR, following ex-250GP racer and BMW tester Jürgen Fuchs. And I have some fun, because contrary to what all my senses are telling me, the tyres grip at both ends, and I can lean and accelerate and brake with enough vigour and confidence to make the whole “riding in a hurricane” thing rather enjoyable. So, ignore the myths that sports riders should use race rubber; it’s simply not true. And you never know, you might actually discover that you enjoy the occasional bit of rain in your biking life…