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Old 10-17-2014, 10:15 AM   #1
dieselcruiserhead OP
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Thumper Tires: All Around Western Desert & Mountain Tires for 90%+ Dirt

Yay, another tire thread!

I'd like to start a thread for guys in this area who ride everything from California and Nevada desert and mountains to as far east as Colorado front range - a very common type of terrain in most of the west.

Photos of the type of terrain we're talking about:

Tire recommendations and experience vary widely and everyone has an opinion. This is similar with mountain bike tires too.

However, at the end of the day I've found there are collective winners, so that's what I'd like to see if we can find.

First, a couple general conclusions that I've made (please correct me/comment if you think I'm wrong):
  • After running a couple of the Desert specific tires, I've concluded they have really stiff sidewalls and lugs (such as the Bridgestone ED78, Dunlop 739, Maxxis Desert Cross IT) and many have been around for 15 years in the same design as far as I can tell often before extra heavy duty tubes were widely used.

    This said there is nothing wrong with desert tires and they have a use. My take is that both their stiff sidewalls and really hard rubber cause loss of traction. I think they are great for things like the Baja 1000 or a single super long trip that will eat a tire, but they are overkill on the heavy duty scale for most riding - thoughts / agree??

    As a result, basically I am personally moving closer to using hard-terrain motocross tires that seem to have a smarter lug design and won't last as long but are relatively cheap, smarter, and meet all of my needs other than they only seem to last about 500-800 miles depending on terrain, temps and location of where I'm riding, and how much slab is on that ride. Basically you get better performance in exchange for having to change tires more often. Luckily they're not super expensive ($60-85 a most on average). As I'm looking for a good tire, I'm looking be something that behaves like a hard motocross tire, but that lasts longer.
  • I've noticed a lot of Rocky Mountain riders are now adhering to the philosophy of motocross tires, but take it a step further with intermediate motocross tires, IE the MX51 Dunlop and the Birdgestone m404 in western terrain. I've seen a couple of posts online that in the Rockies, many rider's favorite tires are the 404 or the MX51. These are the same as their harder counterparts and they don't chunk, but they just last even less in exchange for better traction (in my humble opinion). Personally, the hard terrain motocross tires are great for me and have plenty of traction.

  • I also personally keep my eye on my lines, I run 14-15 lbs in the front and 12 in the rear regardless of what tires I use. I have limited tire dings (with good head duty rims), and almost no flats, in years. I change out my tubes maybe every 2 years (way beyond the recommendation of changing every time) and generally run the michelin 4mm heavy tubes.
  • Also, after a long time of dicking around with different gauges, etc, I spent $25 on a ARB Large Dial Tire Gauge (designed for off roader who air down) from a local 4WD shop/buddy. I use it only on low pressure moto tires to make sure it stays accurate for years. This is how I know my exact pressures - no more guess work, and no more flats.

  • Tire size matters a lot too and a lot of people mess with this and aren't fully aware of some of the effects that can occur.

    Front tires basically come in two sizes, big, 80/100, and extra big 90/100. They are the same diameter and basic footprint, but the 90/100 have a wider profile in the curve except for the occasional front tire model that just comes extra narrow. Narrow fronts also seem to be DOT typically and more "dual sport" oriented, such as the michelin M-63 which is a very small tire in general.

    A heavy front tire is also really noticeable on large thumpers. I notice it when I get on my bike with 90/100s, heavy duty tubes, and a HD wheelset when doing lots of whoops. This said I personally still choose 90/100 with the idea that they might do better in sand. I can't confirm this though.

    Rear tires. KTM and many others OEM spec for rear is a 110/100 x 18 for XC and EXC models (what most of us are on) or really close to this. I have messed with huge 120/100 tires like the ED78 Desert, and they are balloons and look cool, but can mess up your turning a little. Jury is still out for me on these and big rear tires in general.

    KTMs (as I imagine many others) are sensitive to fork position and setup, despite everything on the internet about "later year KTMs that turn better." I find 90% of handling, for all years, is actually just correct setup and sag, and where your forks are set in your tripleclamps. This includes RFS models. I have ridden many RFS bikes that outhandle most 2008+ bikes due to just being setup correctly. Especially having your fork angle and weight-to-fork height by having the suspension in the triples out a couple MM.

    By adding a big ass balloon tire to the rear or vise versa this can cause your suspension setting to be off so its important to pay attention to this in my opinion in all regards. Best way to setup your suspension is go ride some local single track with a few buddies, hopefully 1 or 2 who knows how to do suspension setup (clicks, rebound, etc) and then switch bikes to see what you like and what you don't.

    I have my bike setup very tall and basically it handles as well as I can humanly get it for all terrain, including really high speed and tight single track, at 20mm offset on the 18-20mm adjustable offset (never imagined that - thought I was an 18mm guy for sure), a 90/100 front tire (not necessarily recommending this), a 100/100 factory spec size in the rear, correct sag at about 30%, and it's a 2010/2011 era frame, the predecessor to the current ktm frame. Handles incredibly.

    By controlling tire size and profile and can choose and control how the bike handles in different terrain from front-steer (later KTM, Jap bikes, and more motocross style) to rear steer (more older KTM style). There is nothing wrong with this - a lot of it is a matter of choice and simply being use to your bike, and then what terrain you are riding (rear steer is great for desert in my experience), but I like a combo of it all personally. So I think its important to make sure your bike is setup especially if you start experimenting with different tire sizes.
  • Different people have different priorities, for example for some people it's about getting 1500 miles or a wicked cheap tire. That would be great but I find tires that last 1500 miles or are super cheap generally sacrifice performance. Some people also run them bald while others change them out a lot, and then finally a tire's characteristics will change as they wear, and there are tremendous variations in terrain. In short, there are a lot of variables, and lots of opinions but it is helpful to hear them all..

On to the tires...

  • Current Favorite Tire: Bridgestone m604. Intermediate / Hard Motorcross Tires that are 1-2 lbs lighter than most heavy desert tires, only get maybe 500 miles of hard riding or 600-800 with some slab and lower overall temps. If it is over 85 degrees on slab, they will roast very quickly. However, they stick like glue though especially in rough and rocky terrain. The rear tires have wide spacing which is intended for mud shedding, and in theory this might cause them to last shorter due to less rubber actual rubber in the center areas. The fronts have relatively tight spacing compared to many others and I love this - they really grab. Tires are made in Japan. As they wear their traction actually seems to get even better in rocky areas - there are no major issues with them on desert and rock terrain at even 25-30% in my experience, other than if its greasy or muddy.. They also comes in a 404 version, as mentioned above, which is the same tire with a softer compound for soft/intermediate motocross tracks and many people prefer the 404 for rocky terrain due to even better traction. To note also, the Bridgestone m404 and m604 are being discontinued for the X30 and X40 new tires, as I understand it. I'll post about these below. The pricing hasn't come down on them though, yet. They are a solid $85+ for the rear tire right now, as best as I can find.

  • Another honorable mention very similar to the 604 is the MX71 Dunlop Geolander Tire. Nearly identical to the m604 but sized slightly differently so in a 18 it's slightly smaller, as I seem to recall. The wear profile for my particular sets of MX71s have been flatter in the middle, oddly for some reason, and this seems to be related to the tire profile. They seem to last lightly longer than the m604 with the additional rubber in the center and have an interesting offset lug design in the middle that definitely highlights it a modern, recently designed tire, and it handles great as well. I got about 600-800 miles out of my last one down to about 25-30% worn and traction remained excellent as they wore. They are made in Thailand I believe, but are still a great tire by a very reputable brand. They also come in the MX51 for intermediate / soft motocross tracks as well, and KTM is stocking this tire on many of their bikes new as a performance tire (their choice of a MX51 for the spec'd tire is a marketing point).

  • The front tires between the MX71 and 604/404 are nearly identical in design by volume. I found no major issues with either tire though the 604 seems to grab a little better as noted above and just like the rear, the MX71 will outlast a 604. I found that slab wears the side knobs really quickly on both tires. I'll take and post a photo about this when I get home.

  • The ED78 Bridgestone Gritty. This is a massive, super heavy duty tire that only comes in 120/100 x 18 and is designed for desert racing, It weighs about 14 lbs so it's actually still about a 1/2. lb lighter than than the Dunlop 739, but still super meaty and super heavy duty and it the most heavy duty and durable of the any of the tires offered by any large manufacturers (Michelin, Dunlop, Birdgestone, etc) though the Maxxis Desert IT might give it a run for its money.

    I've been through two of these but stopped using them because they are super stiff and when they get below 50%, in my experience they slide all over the place and the traction isn't great. But they sure do last. I expect to get 1000-1500 miles out of these no problem when using them including plenty of slab at all templs. Because they are also big, high volume, they can create some of the handling issues as I discussed above. They were designed about 15 years ago+ so they are a dated design. They also went way up in price maybe 6+ months ago - they used to be about $85 and were a great HD option but now they are closer to $130 or so. Oddly basically Bridgestone is considering them a performance tire now I suppose. Maybe because they last so long. I personally think they'd be a great tire to try on something like a 690e or 950 SE to see how long they last and how well they handle in this app. They are a large 120 but are not a 130 or 140 necessarily.

  • The famous old d606 Dunlop DOT dual sport tire. This is basically a good combo of hard that also happens to be DOT that seems to stick reasonably well in my experience and have some profile attributes that make it decent for on road. I am actually a fan of these surprisingly even though they've also been around for eons, and I think they are a great tire for what they are. They don't last as long as the desert non DOT tires. On an 800 mile trip I did maybe 3 or 4 years ago through gobs of both slab and tons of really technical terrain, I ran the 606 which were basically roasted by the end, whereas the guys on Maxxis IT had at least 1/2 treat left. The 606 are sort of good at everything but don't particularly shine at anything necessarily either. They don't chunk too bad in my experience. Some people are getting much more (1500 miles) out of them.

  • Maxxis Cross IT Desert - basically the same as the ED78 but different profile with slightly narrower lugs. About $75-85 for them so they're priced where ED78s were before so they are pretty cost effective super heavy duty heavy desert tire. Similar characteristics as other desert tires - they wear a long time andare super beefy, heavy, stiff, and the handling/traction is only so-so.

Any thoughts / comments / tires to add??? Please post up....
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Old 10-17-2014, 12:29 PM   #2
dieselcruiserhead OP
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A couple more:

the Dunlop 739 Desert. Seems to be similar to the other desert tires in that they are heavy (about 14.5 lbs - heaviest of any one the desert tires I weighed). The traction is supposed the best of the desert tires - psyched to try one out. I hear traction is actually decent with these and they wear quickly for desert tires. I do have a used one I scored downstairs and its solid as a rock..

And then Bridgestone will be eliminating the 404 and 604 in favor of the X30 and X40 respectively. Here are photos. These look pretty sweet too but no idea how they'll handle. Not sure if all the "technology" is hype or if they're really actually pretty cool..
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Old 10-17-2014, 12:40 PM   #3
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Oh boy, it must be winter already. I love a good tire thread.

The Michelin AC-10's are DOT and are pretty good performers in the rocks, hardpack, and sand. They aren't great in any one of those areas but can do it all and work well on pavement also. Wear life is under 1000 miles in my experience.

For heavier bikes, the Michelin Desert front is amazingly durable and has the same basic tread pattern as the AC-10 front. Run it with lightweight tubes.
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Old 10-17-2014, 02:28 PM   #4
dieselcruiserhead OP
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I edited the original post quite a bit to get a little more info in there and it a little more organized....

Hope it helps
Grand Staircase Escalante Road Reports
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Old 10-17-2014, 05:01 PM   #5
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That was a lot of words.

MT21 front D606 rear.
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Old 10-17-2014, 05:36 PM   #6
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Think I mentioned this last night in the bar, but I love this tire Dre....
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Old 10-17-2014, 05:54 PM   #7
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Very well thought out post. Must be snowing in Utah!

Rears I have two favorites:

-M404 is amazing but wears fairly fast. Not bad mind you, but 4 good desert rides is all I can get out of it. Mtn single track without all the rocks it does much better. Hooks up real nice and gives great corner feedback.

-MX 71 is a great budget tire. Hooks up good enough, is predictable but lasts a long time, at least 1-2 times longer than the 404. It has become my go to tire.

For fronts I bounce around, but have used the Volcenduro VE39 (i think.... the harder compound one) over and over in between others stuff. Good tire that lasts.

I run 15 front and 12 rear with ultra duty tubes name brand tubes. A few flats but really very seldom.
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Old 10-17-2014, 06:45 PM   #8
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Michelin Desert front is very good all around but wears very fast on pavement(duh)

Michelin Desert rear is consistent; it always sucks but it always sucks the same amount!

I loved the MT16 rear for all 200 miles that it lasted

The TrakMaster rear on my XRR has been ok but it seems to be different every time you ride it. Pressure is always the same 15psi but goes from "planted" to "I swear it's flat"

I've had good luck with 908rr rear but at $200 they are not that good.

The Tractionator Desert H/T will probably be my next rear to try out. Seems to have good reviews for performance and durability.

I forgot to add that all these tires I have tried were in the 120/100-18 rear size and 90/90-21(Desert) front
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Old 10-17-2014, 08:14 PM   #9
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Nice I love talking tires. Been running a MEFO Stone Master 140/80/18 (Not the Explorer) on the rear. I love it its expensive with a HARD rubber compound long life like most MEFO's, but a really aggressive tread pattern. Taken it to Utah, Montana, New Mexico, live and ride Colorado. Point is it does it all well. I picked up 2 nails in the Stone Master riding the Kokopelli this year neither one made it to my tube. I carry them both now as good luck charms. Lot of guys running the Pirelli MT43 (rear) & loving it. I've yet to try it still an old school knobie guy. Think the Michelin Desert it the best front tire that exist. Mine still looks new after 1000 miles of Dual Sport mayhem.
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Old Yesterday, 08:11 AM   #10
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Not 90/10 But

I ride my bike to the trail so there is no way I do 90/10 because it is 20 miles of road each way, to go for a 150 mile ride. Everything around here is rocks so I run the Shinko 244s. They perform better in the loose rocks, than the Dunlops, Michelin, Bridgstones etc. I have tried. I get between 1500 and 3000 miles out of them depending on whether I remember to air back up for the street. I ride a DR650 so I only go down to 20 PSI or the combination of Rocks and heavy motorcycle causes rim pinches.
I use them on my rental DRs as well and my customers always have positive feedback about them. My customers who come in to ride the TAT to the west coast have always had high praise for there ability to do anything. They are smooth and reasonably quiet on the highway. I have yet to have one let loose on pavement and I push them hard.

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Old Yesterday, 08:46 AM   #11
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I'm a big fan of Dunlop D606's on my KLX450R, though a Michelin MT43 rear trials tire is fantastic in rocky terrain....

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Old Yesterday, 09:03 AM   #12
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70/30 bike (stock 98 DR350) I'm loving my first MT21 up front. Very confidence-inspiring on and off pavement. Didn't like/trust the D606 front, D606 rear was okay, both wore like iron.
Trakmaster rear currently, frankly not impressed with performance or durability (wears pretty fast/uneven and chunking). Seemed like the first 100 miles of pavement took them down 1/3. For the price I REALLY wanted to like it, but just didn't do it for me.
Trying a K270 rear next, liked the one I had on an XR650L

90/10 bike (WR200 2T): IRC Volcanduro mixed set (33 front, 39 or 35 rear IIRC) has been a great and durable (no chunking) in everything from rocks to mud; I have only ridden a little sand but they did well. I have at least 20 hours on them and they show very little wear.
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Old Yesterday, 11:40 AM   #13
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I took FlyingWombat's suggestion and went with the Mich Dez Race on my XR600 and am happy with it so far.

I've run all kinds of DOT tires over the last 10 years, for years I ran the Pirelli MT83/FIM Scorpion Pro as a front tire most of the time, it worked well but it wore quick (for me) and it's kinda expensive (cheap compared to the Mich Dez though).

Last year I decided to go with a Kenda Washougal front (DOT Approved). The tire has been AWESOME not only does it hook up well it is wearing really well. It's been on the bike since last August and it still is usable the knobs are just starting to round off at this point the Scorpion pro would be missing knobs and the diagonal knobs would be at a knife edge.

Another tire that has really surprised me is the ultra cheap Kenda Trackmaster. Again for the lighter bikes. It's DOT approved and I've now run this tire on a DRZ400S, CRF230F and my RM250. The tread is IDENTICAL to the old Dunlop 952 (the tire I removed from my RM). I get good traction and predictable slide from the tire. I didn't like the tire aired up on the tarmac when it was on the DRZ but I've done limited tramac on the RM at dirt pressure without a problem. I also have run the Trackmaster since last August and just flipped it around.

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Old Today, 06:32 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Slickhorn View Post
Think I mentioned this last night in the bar, but I love this tire Dre....
Love this for rear tire and good price.... HATE the front. No wait, hate is not a strong enough word.

But, my opinion may not be valuable since I am of the MT43 ilk and have taken the vow of abstinence from rear knobbies on trail riding.
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