If you think it’s hard for bike manufacturers to make new models perform better and appeal more than the old ones, imagine how hard that job is for tyre companies. It’s not like they can stand out in the shops by being a different shape or colour to anyone else. The black and round foundations are immovable and constant, if you deviate in design, chances are you’re making a product fit for Kart track corners and nothing else, if you’re lucky.
I’m sure you’re aware that Dunlop is aware of this. But what you might not be aware of is the amount of work that goes into ensuring they stay on top of their game. With every new tweak in a bike, the addition of traction control and ABS, weight saving and power increases all push at the seams of tyre technology, looking for a thread to pull. If adjustments aren’t constantly made riders lose can lose faith in a tyre and that’s not good for sales.
With that in mind, I got the opportunity to carry out a two-day road and track test of the Dunlop SportSmart2. This new version supersedes the 2010 SportSmart and features some major changes.
The first part of the ride involved a dawn raid on a national park in central France. Our target was the Mireval test track on the south coast. Before the ride was over, we’d have taken in some stunning empty A and B roads, flashed underneath the Milau bridge and ridden flat out past a couple of hookers that I thought were builders waiting for a lift home.
First things first, it was freezing. Zero degrees meant cold tyres stayed cold and we crisscrossed into patches of sunshine in the hope of warming up. The Suzuki GSRs were on a mix of SportSmart and SportSmart2. I started on the old tyre. Once I got some feeling back into my fingers and toes, I felt reasonably happy on the old tyre. It felt stiff, not particularly uncomfortable and largely unremarkable. I got on with riding and enjoyed the scenery as it blurred past. There’s a lot to be said for a tyre when you can forget about it and confidently stride down unknown roads, but I’ve got more to say about the new tyre so I wont bother. After fifty odd miles I jumped onto a bike wearing the new tyre, the difference was immediate.
Sharing the same pressure as the old tyre, straight-line comfort was noticeably better. Bumps and ripples in the road that were previously beamed into my contact points on the old tyre were much harder to pick up on now. The road was the same, it just felt smoother. I have no doubt that if you’ve been commuting on the old SportSmart and you switch to the new one, you’d feel the same difference I did. That wasn’t the only plus point, the other big difference came when changing direction. The amount of effort required to get the same reaction from the bike was much less on the new tyre. It was doing a better job at everything than the old tyre was able to. I’m not saying I was able to ride faster because of the tyre, I’m saying that riding at the same speed was much less of an effort. If road riding comfort and handling are top of your tyre priority list, this tyre is definitely worth your time.
Manic road ride over, we arrived at a dry Dunlop test facility. The road ride element was over and I was impressed.
We started on the wet track, a place I’m reasonably familiar with as we spend our summer holidays riding round Mireval’s myriad circuits. The wet track is a mile of constant depth standing water, most of the corners are camber free and the grip levels are consistent. My first session was on last years SportSmart, and was a chance to get into a bit of a groove on the ABS version of the Suzuki GSR. The laps clicked off without a hitch, I was able to load up the brakes to the point of ABS intervention and without wanting to sound like I know exactly what I was doing, I was doing alright pace wise. Jumping off the old tyre and onto the new one back to back, in exactly the same riding environment, on the same bike with the same suspension settings, is the kind of thing that forum know-it-alls forget to do when they’re dishing out pearls of Yoda grade bullshit about tyre choice. The pace was the same, I’d reached my limit on the old version and didn’t go any quicker on the new one. What the new tyre did was make the same job much easier. It was clear that the new tyre was making an easier job of water dispersal. Coming off the first gear hairpin and clutching away at the back wheel meant a wheelie, not wheel spin, in standing water that’d be over your toes in seconds. Reassuring all the time, I was more than happy at the pace I was at and came in without that tense, white-knuckle feeling that fast riding in the wet sometimes gives. If wet weather performance is nearer the top of your priority list than the bottom, this could be the one for you.
In a similar scenario to the wet track, our first session on the dry circuit was on the old Sportsmart. A fleet of Honda CBR600RR (ABS) waited. I made sure I found a cold set and fed myself onto the fourth gear start finish straight. I lasted two and a half laps before I stopped thinking about warming them up and started focusing on riding as fast as I could. Even during warm up, I got that feeling that the pressures were too high, despite knowing they were track ready. I was struggling to get a feel for what was going on. Giving the tyre the benefit of some heat worked and despite feeling a little detached, we cracked on. I formed the opinion that this wasn’t a tyre with outright track performance in mind and the tyre did little to change my mind. It was good, but nothing special. Onto the SportSmart2 (cold, as per the first tyre) and out for exactly the same kind of ride, I felt that I was lapping marginally quicker. I put it down to a combination of confidence and familiarity in myself, the bike and the added bonus of knowing the new tyre must be better. It was better, on both the CBR600 and the Yamaha R1s that were available. The TC light becoming a regular feature on corner exits. I finished the dry track riding phase of the launch with the opinion that the SportSmart2 makes for a much better road tyre than it does a track one. If track-riding performance sits above road manners on your priority list, I think you might be better off looking at something else. Now would be a good time for me to mention the outrageously good GP212. The feedback that Dunlop used in developing this new tyre was primarily from road riders and it was clear after nearly a full day or road riding that the biggest improvements have been made in that area. It really is a better tyre in every area, it’s a real shame it had to stay black and round. The only way you’ll find out for yourself is to put your money where my mouth is.
The Dunlop SportSmart2
What’s going on in there?
JLT Jointless Tread
Strip-winding technology allows multiple compounds to be precisely positioned on the tyre to achieve advantages in durability, wear resistance, grip from the tread centre to shoulder and high-speed tyre stability
JLB Jointless belt construction.
The use of JLB construction elimintates the belt overlap that can be found in some tyres, resulting in smoother handling. This type of construction also minimises dynamic growth of the tread centre at high speed, maintains a stable contact patch and reduces distortion and excessive heat build-up.
MT Multi-Tread Technology
Is Dunlop’s latest innovation. The central traction compound contacts the road when the motorcycle is upright. It uses a tougher, cooler-running compound that maintains straight-line stability, traction, braking and longer tread life. The lateral compound contacts the road when the motorcycle is leaned over. It incorporates a rubber compound, which is developed specifically to enhance grip at maximum lean angles.
The Dunlop SportSmart2 should retail at £249, check them out here