Japanese tyre behemoth Bridgestone has a new tyre out – the S20. The ‘S’ is for sport. OK, it’s not just sporty but ‘roady’ too.
Bridgestone S20: As Austin Powers might say, groovy baby, yeah!
I can’t recall a tyre launch in the last decade where
the word ‘sporty’ wasn’t mentioned at least seven times. Under some
circumstances (with the Metzeler Racetec or Pirelli Diablo Corsa), that’s
hardly a surprise, but even on tyres with less track-biased aspirations, every
manufacturer still wants a piece of the sports/sporty action. It’s not surprising.
(Scroll down for Valentino Rossi video on the tyres. Funny guy...).
That segment of the aftermarket tyre business which lies
between super-stable, ultra-durable touring hoops for rolling gin palaces and
pure track tyres with just enough tread on them to convince the Department for
Transport that they’re worthy of road-going ‘DOT’ approval, is humungous. And
Bridgestone is a huge player, claiming 30 per cent market share and leaving the
other five or six players to hoover up the remainder.
Bridgestone’s ‘mission’ with its new S20 was the usual (and
perfectly understandable) search for improved grip, faster warm up and better
wet performance. And, while the development team was looking at ways to achieve
this, the wear rate of its own BT-016 Pro had to be maintained. Mission
impossible? Well, mission not easy, certainly.
Bridgestone describes the S20 as a tyre suitable for
hypersport machinery and things don’t get much more hypersport than the array
of bikes lined up in the sunny pitlane of the Portimao circuit where the test
riding took place.
On stone cold tyres around a still cool track, confidence
levels weren’t immediately sky high. The first half dozen laps were more than usually
embarrassing. Not – please note – that the tyres or bikes felt bad,
far from that. It’s just that since I already had a good idea of where I was
headed around the brilliant Portimao track, I expected to feel more confident
than I did. The front tyre felt a bit too ‘stiff’ a little too unyielding and,
while it was stable and the turn in was smooth, the transition phase from
upright to knee down felt a little vague. Once down, it was reassuring, but in that
transition phase, less so.
As it happens (and as is normal), it turned out that the
tyres had ended the session rather over-inflated and air had to be let out the
rear. Essentially the Bridgestone team has to take a guess with the initial
cold pressure and predict how much the riding will increase the pressure by. And,
in this instance, the rear needed about 0.5 bar less than it ended the session
OK, maybe it was self-deluding tyre voodoo, maybe it was
pure psychology and maybe it was just rider and tyres warming up, but by the
end of the second 20 minute session, feedback from the front end seemed better
and rider confidence ramped up. For the record, on that dry day at Portimao
with an air temperature of 15-17 degrees, the warm pressures were 2.1 bar front
and 2.5 bar rear. Nobody on the launch crashed all day.
I spent the day – five 20 minute sessions – on a
French spec 100bhp GSX-R1000 (by mistake), a Honda Fireblade, a Suzuki
GSX-R750, another French-spec GSX-R1000 (another mistake) and a full-fat
GSX-R1000. And the rear wheel didn’t step out or spin once on the exit of any
corners. After the chill of the first session had passed, it took between two
and three laps for me to feel completely confident on the tyres, which seems
fair enough and seems to back up Bridgestone’s improved warm up claims.
Abandon all pretence at objectivity and let's ride some great bikes around Portimao!
I would really have liked to have done some back-to-back blind testing of these tyres and their competition – something that Dunlop has started to do for example –and something that allows more confident conclusions to be drawn from events like these. There’s no doubt in my mind that the S20 is a impressive tyre in terms of grip and stability and gradual turn-in to corners (as opposed to a more track-focused front profile). And, once warmed up, you can take real liberties with the front (trail braking into an apex) and rear (accelerating out of corners) on a dry track.
What we weren’t able to test were the claims for improved wet performance and speedier warm up on the road. True, the OE spec tyre performed well on Miami roads on the recent wet Suzuki GSX-R1000 launch, but it was hot rather than cold (yeah, while it was raining) so those important cold road-manners claims will have to wait a bit longer to be put to the test. So far, so good.
The S20 tyres are in stockists now in the UK for about £250 a pair, fitted, from 150/60 to 200/50 rears and they even do a 130/70ZR 16 for those smaller front wheels. Got an old Fireblade have we? Or an old pre-1994 Kawasaki GPZ500? Get in.