When it comes to taking bike related advice, lots of people seem to go to ‘my mate’. My mate knows absolutely everything about everything, apparently. He’s wheelied further than Rothwell and had his knee down longer than a toy soldier. Has ridden through more winters than Father Christmas and has ridden more bikes than he cares to remember. My mate knows the lot.
I’ve seen people on track days trying to squeeze back protectors down the front of their leathers, chains so slack you could trip over them and helmets so tight that a nosebleed was normal. Each time I asked what in the actual fuck was going on, the answer was always the same, “my mate told me to do it like this”. I’m not sure who is more stupid, the mate or the matey.
Either way I’ve taken a leaf out of everyone else’s book and decided to ask my mate what tyres he’d recommend for a summer of fast road riding and the odd track day. My mate’s reply involved kicking the Bridgestone S21 while giving me thumbs up and a knowing smile.
My mate is Josh Brookes. He’s faster than your mate and if you stick with this, I’ll tell you what he really thought of this tyre at the end.
You might be looking at these sweet images of me frazzling my berries at Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi thinking that this is primarily a track tyre, and much like your mate, you’re not quite right. The S21 is a performance mileage tyre (I just made that phrase up, but it sticks so I’m keeping it). A tyre born out of skinflint sports bikers that were migrating towards out and out touring tyres in search of more miles, rather than the short sharp hit of grip that super sticky barely legal track focused rubber offers.
Who could blame them? Modern touring tyres have more than enough rubber to cope with big power sports bikes and a fair chunk of sports bike owners spend more time on the road than on the track, it makes complete sense to want to save money and eek a few more miles for the money. The S21 makes the most of Bridgestone’s experience when it comes to mileage, but leans towards performance end of the Battlax scale. Despite clocking 36% more useable miles than the S20 EVO, Bridgestone were so confident of this road biased tyre’s performance that they laid on a run out around Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi. They even put a massive fifty pence piece in the metre and turned the floodlights on… nighttime knee down? Don’t mind if I do.
The fleet of bikes available was huge, everything from a Yamaha R1M, the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R down to a cheeky little R6. I didn’t get a chance to try each of the four front and six rear sizes available, but I did ride my cock off in an effort to fully appreciate the hard work the Bridgestone development team had put in. Yas Marina is not really a bike friendly circuit, some of the corners have less run off than the South Circular and others have more negative camber than a church roof. It’s a genuinely technical circuit and not one that I got to grips with at all. Being knee down underneath a balcony full of people enjoying their dinner at the amazing Viceroy hotel focuses the mind almost as much as the braking zone at the end of the back straight. Getting it wrong anywhere appeared to be a guaranteed way of extending my stay. There wasn’t a tyre warmer in sight either, when they said this wasn’t an out and out performance tyre they really meant it. I jumped on a ZX-10R for my first session, during which we did three laps behind a Bridgestone marshal, one of whom was Josh Brookes, the other was Jose Luis Cardoso.
I can’t remember who I had to follow as they set off on the sighting lap like they’d left the iron on. Within three corners we were knee down, on the exciting side of scary and generally riding like we knew what corner was coming next. I had no idea. That meant plenty of double dabs on the brakes while I sat up like a Meercat looking for turn in points that I’d never seen. It meant rolling the throttle mid corner when I should have been constant and it meant running onto the dusty edges of the track while I shouted at myself. All of which proved to be a great test of the tyre. I got a more neutral turn in than I expected, no flopping onto its ear, just smooth transition from upright to knee down, even if I was on completely the wrong part of the track.
I decided to play it safe in the next session and jumped on a BMW S1000R, a former long term test squeeze of mine, at least I’d know what the bike was doing while I got used to the track and the tyre. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when a track launch of a new tyre is going well, you forget about what the tyre is doing and do your thing, for me it means I’m relaxed and confident of the performance the rubber is giving me. This was one of those sessions. I found a section of the circuit I really liked, coming off a second gear left hand hairpin pinned for two gears before scrubbing speed and two gears for a bus stop style chicane. I quickly found plenty of faith in the front, carrying brake and lean on the way in felt easy, as did the transition from left to right that followed. The exit was onto a huge straight, which meant full gas from the left edge of the tyre to upright. The neutrality of the profile made it easy, no head shaking acceleration like I’ve experienced with sharper tyres and no back of my mind worries about the tyre not being able to cope with a fist full of throttle while changing direction.
The workout I was getting dealing with the circuit meant that I was learning more about the tyre when I was making small mistakes than when I was pushing myself and whichever bike I was on. I did make sure to spend some time on a 600 though, grabbing a session on a Yamaha R6. Obviously the litre bikes were quicker on the straights, but I had a blast in the corners on the little Yam. Not a sniff of doubt about traction at either end, even towards the end of the session when it felt like the rear was just starting to move about a bit. I’m not talking about sliding off apexes or anything daft, just a bit of squish that the tyre didn’t have for the first half of the session. I got off the last bike I rode in the last session (an R1M) and hung my helmet up happy that the S21 has everything that a fast group knobber like me needs in a day to day tyre. Obviously if I wanted more track performance, I’d look a little further up the Bridgestone food chain. As it stands, this tyre had more grip than I needed at Yas Marina.
Josh Brookes on the Bridgestone S21
I do about 3,000 miles max on the road a year, on a mix of bikes. I ride with good friends but they tend to be a little older than me. They share the same interests as me and want to take the chance to grab a couple of hundred miles on cool roads when they can. Luckily in the western suburbs of Sydney we have roads that are great fun. The problem that I see people having is when they opt for a race spec tyre for the road. Those tyres have such a narrow window in terms of optimum performance that it’s unlikely they’ll ever actually need or be able to find the performance gains. I’m lucky in that I spend a lot of time on race tyres, I’m confident that I know what a tyre is trying to tell me. I know that if I didn’t spend all my time on race tyres, I wouldn’t have anywhere near as much confidence as I do, so I would go for a road spec tyre. Racers are always trying to find the last tenth, it’s a little bit unfair to complain about the lack of side grip in a road tyre when I get off a race bike. It makes no sense. I have to recalibrate myself and my expectations when I get on a road bike. These tyres are designed to work in all conditions, sometimes two up. You can chuck anything at them. The S21 is a beautifully predictable tyre. Here we are at a racetrack, doing racetrack riding. The tyre isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary in terms of wear rate, feel or feedback but it’s primarily aimed at road riders. I’m getting this tyre spinning on the edge of the tyre and I’m able to drive off corners while it spins. You’d never even dream of trying that stuff on the road, but to have the confidence in the tyre to even try it on track speaks volumes of the qualities of the tyre. For what it’s worth, I’d have no problems at all riding 100mph plus laps at the TT on the S21.
Some words with Gary Hartshorne.
Gary is the motorcycle product manager for Bridgestone North Europe. Gary loves his riding and when he’s not sneaking up the inside of journos on track, he can often be found throwing dirt bikes at the scenery in Wales.
What are the competitor tyres to the S21?
The Pirelli Diablo Corsa 3, the Dunlop Sportsmart 2, the Metzeler M7 and the Continental Sport Attack 3. That’s where it sits, at that level of performance that road riders that like to take in the occasional track ride are looking.
Who is your ideal customer?
The target customers are sports bikers that are coming back to sports focused tyres that have been getting the durability they’ve been getting in touring tyres for the last few years. You only have to look at the tyre to see that it’s more than ready for track riding. The grooves for example have been pulled in from the edges of the tyre, giving you more rubber at the edges than groove. This will help with traction when you’re leant all the way over and obviously in the wet, you wouldn’t be using that section of the tyre, it makes sense in both a durability and performance approach. This has helped reduce walking (the feeling where a tyre is moving around, not sliding) by thirty percent over the S20 EVO.
And the price?
In terms of price point, the S21 is onto a winner. The 36 percent mileage increase over the S20 EVO is worth the investment alone, but Bridgestone also reported a marginal (1.8 percent) quicker lap time around the Sugo circuit where part of the development was carried out. This is all good stuff, especially when you consider that the price point will remain the same as the S20 EVO. Fans of the S20 will enjoy a 20 percent reduction in price, but it makes sense to opt for the S21.
After what can only be described as one of the best track riding trips I’ve been on in years, I know personally how well the S21 performs. Don’t just take my word for it though, I asked my mate Josh and he said they were good too…
Words: @Johnatsuperbike Images: Bridgestone