Budget Rubber

The days when cheap tyres meant tough black donuts rather better employed as fenders on a Thames barge than on your bike, are long gone. Tough rules on quality; changes in technology (in both computer-aided design and materials) and intense competition mean that it’s now difficult to buy a really bad tyre.

Yet big price differences remain between brands – with top name products costing up to twice as much as the less well known stuff. Is this justified? We gave the job of finding out to Graham, our long-term bike tester who’s also a biking instructor; kitting his Honda Hornet out with a brand new set of Maxxis Supermaxx M6029 Touring tyres, a W-rated item good for up to 168 mph and hence suitable for most high powered road machines.

A qualified instructor, our tester Graham puts the Supermaxx through its paces.

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There can be few more demanding testers than Graham. As a professional rider, working with tight profit margins, he needs something economical but with good performance, both wet and dry. The tyre needs to give precise steering at low speeds yet perform well under heavy braking when something unexpected happens. He needs it to have good cornering capabilities and not be perturbed by white lines, mud or or other road surface hazards.

Often spending 9 hours a day out in all weathers trying to get his students to pass, Graham works hard. Not surprising then that he should expect the same of his bike, his kit and above all, his tyres.

Maxxis? Never heard of ’em….

Ask most bikers about tyres and they’re likely to come out with names we all hear the most; Bridgestone, Michelin, Pirelli, Avon and the like. For many riders, Maxxis is uncharted territory, even though they have factories in both the UK and the US.

Is this because the products just aren’t as good, or does the firm just spend less on marketing and racing enabling it to offer decent stuff at lower prices? We all want to save cash, but with only a few square inches of rubber between us and the tarmac, many are understandably cautious about risking their necks for what might sound like just a few quid.

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Leaving aside thee fact that it’s usually more than just a few quid at stake (for instance Graham’s Hornet would have cost £210 to be shod with BT023’s, whereas Maxxis did it for £145 – a saving of £65), it turns out that Maxxis is a bit of a dark horse.

While others have been spending millions on high profile events like Moto GP, Maxxis have been quietly developing their product on the much cheaper BSB circuits and, critically in Motocross, where in fact their tyres have an excellent reputation for grip and durability – often lasting an entire race where some better known brands need a change. They are also good enough to be used at Chris Walker’s Race School, Mallory Park, where they are fitted to their Kawasaki ZX6R’s.

Design

If this all sounds interesting, then check out the technical stuff – that’s even more surprising. Development included computer aided initial design, which was used to work out where the tyre needed to be reinforced to ensure good load distribution in both a straight line and when cornering.

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This was then refined with months of real-world testing on European roads in all weather conditions. In order to retain stiffness, while keep weight down, Maxxis used Kevlar, rather than steel belting; not what you’d expect on a budget tyre but good news for riders since handling is generally better when unsprung weight stays low.

The tread pattern was also developed to shed water rapidly but to enable rapid changes of direction without impairing high speed stability. Compound is relatively soft to put grip over long life. Sounds good. But anyone can talk the talk – question is, can they ride the ride..?

OK, but do they work?

The short answer is, yup, they do, and way better than you’d expect for the money. Once bedded in, Graham found them to have good grip, wet or dry, and completely neutral handling characteristics. He felt that they were very slightly less grippy in the wet than a Michelin PR3, but pretty much better than a BT021 and oh-so-nearly as good as a BT 023. No problems even under severe braking (as in when a student drops their bike on a corner). No increase in braking distance noticed. For everyday commuting or riding they’re fine, and for dispatch riding or instructing they’re great. You’d only want more if you plan to go round every corner with knee down and sparks flying.

After 1000 miles we checked the tyres, and found chicken strips of just 5mm, with wear running at about 1mm per 1000 miles on the back measured on our depth gauge. This is relatively high for a touring tyre that has only 6.5mm of depth at the start, and suggests a mileage of around 6000 for a rear and 9,000 for a front. Not epic for a touring tyre, but then they are cheap.

A word about the bedding in process though. Maxxis, more than most tyres, seem to need this. Grip for the first 100 miles is significantly reduced. In fact straight out of the workshop it’s so bad that opening the throttle coming out of a corner produced a near-slide. Go easy and be patient, and they’ll keep on getting better right up to about 250 miles when they are really good.

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Lifetime Guarantee

Something that came as a very pleasant surprise to our tester was Maxxis’ lifetime guarantee. Basically, Maxxis will replace any tyre if it shows irreparable damage just from normal road use. Nicks, tears, major punctures are all covered.

It’s a proportional guarantee, which means that the amount you get back off a replacement is dependent on the amount of tread left. It won’t cover every situation, and you have to register especially for it, but it’s a nice extra to have, especially on a budget tyre. It suggests to us that the company are confident of the quality of their product.

Verdict

Based on our experiences (and we’ll be updating these as the tyres wear, so stay tuned) we’re happy to recommend the Supermaxx. It won’t satisfy knee-down sports bike power rangers, but for most everyday bikers they’re just fine. Not perfect but well up to standard.

It’s not often you get a genuine bargain, but the Supermaxx is just that. It works fine and is excellent value for money. Now you really can have your donuts and eat them. Or something…
(That’s a terrible pun, Ed.).

A qualified instructor, our tester Graham puts the Supermaxx through its paces.

A qualified instructor, our tester Graham puts the Supermaxx through its paces.

Graham’s Hornet. A working bike shod quite happily with Maxxis