Many people think bias-ply tires are just an old-fashioned tire design, and radials are the modern, better replacements. But that’s not entirely true – bias-ply tires really do have a place on today’s motorcycles, and might actually be even better for you than radials. Learn the difference, and see which style is really best for you and your bike!
At BikeBandit, we have the honor of being the leading motorcycle tire store on the web. We sell a lot of tires to a lot of customers, and as a result, we also get a lot of questions sent our way!
A lot of the most frequent questions we get have to do with the difference between bias-ply and radial tires: how are they built, what is each one good for, and what is the best type each bike and riding style. In this article, we’ll explain the differences between each, and give you the info you need to make the right choice for you!
Which One Is Better: Bias-Ply or Radial?
This is a good question that doesn’t necessarily have a “right” answer. Radials are a newer, more modern design that is best for high-performance riding, but bias-ply tires are better at certain things too. To give you the right answer, first we have to explain the differences between the two.
Bias-ply tires: a more old-school design of tire that’s been around for nearly a century. The carcass of a bias-ply is made of layers of fabric such as nylon or polyester (the “plies”…yup, just like in toilet paper!), wrapped over each other in a criss-cross pattern. The multiple layers flex and create a cushioning effect, which makes bias-ply tires comfortable to ride on and good at handling heavy loads. On the down side, they have more rolling resistance, less control at high speeds, and retain more heat.
Radial tires: the more modern variety of tire, with a carcass made of stiff cords that go straight across the tread, running perpendicularly from one bead to the other, with belts of steel, polysester, or aramid fibers (like Kevlar) criss crossing atop them. Radials tend to be stiffer, allowing better high speed performance, longer tread life, and more precise handling, but the down side is usually a stiffer ride. By and large, radials are superior tires, and you will find them as standard equipment on most bikes.
If Radials Are More Modern/High-Performance, Why Are Bias-Plys Still Used?
Here’s the thing: if a sport bike rider says a tire “performs well,” he probably means they corner precisely, have great traction, and provide good feedback in corners. But if the rider of a big, heavy touring bike says a tire “performs well,” they probably mean it feels secure under heavy loads, is comfortable to ride on, and works consistently under all riding conditions.
In other words, “performance” means something completely different to each type of rider, and in some ways, bias-plys perform better than radials.
Radials mostly came about from developments in the motorcycle racing worlds. In the 1970s, manufacturers were building machines with incredible power and handling ability, but the limitation was the tires … older bias-ply technology just couldn’t keep up with the demands of racing. The radial came about in the 1980s as a way to take race tires to the next level; they were lighter, shed heat easier, and flexed more, and their short sidewalls and large tread area allowed for deeper lean angles. Perfect for road racing.
However, even though they are an “older” design, bias-plys still work better for certain purposes. Heavy bikes that see a lot of miles, like touring bikes and big cruisers, often do better with bias-ply tires; customers often find them to be more comfortable to ride on, and more sturdy and secure feeling on big bikes due to their sturdier sidewall construction. In fact, several of our top selling cruiser and sport touring tires are still bias-plys! You will sometimes also see a mix of a bias-ply on the front and a radial in back in some bikes; Harley-Davidson is known for doing this on a number of models.
In addition, if you like the look of a spoked rim, as many cruiser riders do, you’ll actually have to go with a bias-ply by default. Spoked wheels require the use of tubes, and only bias-ply tires facilitate the use of tubes (radials should not be used with tubes, no matter what some dude on a motorcycle forum says!)
The Bottom Line About Bias-Ply vs. Radial Motorcycle Tires
Here’s the main takeaway from all this: do not assume that just because radials are a more modern design of tire, and are more common nowadays, that they will necessarily be best for you and your bike. Bias-plys may have been around a lot longer, but there are still big developments being made by manufacturers in bias-ply technology as well, and some of the best tires out there for cruisers and touring bikes are undeniably bias-plys.
Bottom line: most motorcycles these days have radials as standard equipment, and will work best with; however, if you have a large, heavy cruiser or touring bike and log a lot of miles, you may benefit more from using bias-ply tires instead.
With that said, check out some of our top-selling bias-ply tires to see what customers are saying about them on their own bikes.