Honda 919 Tire Upgrade
The stock Michelin Hi Sports that came on my 2002 Honda 919 from the factory finally wore to an unacceptable level right at 5,010 miles. The front might have had a few more miles in it but was cupping horribly, and the rear was worn below the wear indicators. I was never really happy with these tires and was glad to get to upgrade.
Some friends of mine all use "race take-offs". Race take-offs are tires that a racer has used on the track. They differ quite a bit in use so it's good to be able to pick them yourself or have someone who knows tires and whom you trust to pick them for you. Typically if you know what to look for you can find a tire that has relatively few laps on it and is in great condition. I've seen several sets that look like they barely have 5 laps on them, with even the center still having the molding marks on it. Some people are against using race take-offs as they feel a racer is going to use the available heat cycles in the tire before giving it up. For a tire that has seen many laps, I'd agree, but if you can get your hands on some that are practically brand new go for it. Just be sure you know what you're buying.
The way it worked in my case was I got to ride to the Dunlop distributor with a friend of mine who used to work for Dunlop. He still has some friends there and frequently gets race take-offs for people to use. The tires he gets from Dunlop are the 208GP A race compound. These tires are extremely sticky with a soft compound and high profile. The high profile makes them really like the curves so if you're the type of rider who commutes or does a lot of straight line riding these tires are not for you as they are a tad twitchy when upright. However, if you're like me and love the long twisty roads then these tires are great.
Being the beginning of the season the tires were pretty scarce. They didn't have any fronts at all, and the rears they did have were worn too much for me to think they were worth the price. However, there was a pallet of brand new rears so I inquired as to how much they were. I was told they were a "test" tire Dunlop had been working on. It had a little different composition as they were trying to make them last longer on the track. The compound turned out good in that the tire did last longer, unfortunately the side effect was that it caused the bikes to be about 1 second slower on lap times. Dunlop decided not to use these new tires, and began selling off the stock they'd already made. I got the brand new rear for $90 out the door, however they had no fronts. After checking around I decided I'd run a regular street compound Dunlop 208ZR in the front. I found one on the net for $90 new and purchased it, talking myself out of the $170 price for a new front Dunlop 208GP. I decided I wouldn't be riding aggressive enough on the road to justify the extra cost of the GP front tire.
The main difference I noticed in the 208GP and the 208ZR is the profile. The GP is a lot more cone shaped. I've read the compounds are pretty close, but that the belts in the GP have more of an angle to them to aid in cornering ability.
For a little added spice I decided to paint in the letters on the new tires. I picked up a paint pen from a local arts and crafts store. If you decide to do this, make sure it's an oil based paint and that it's weather proof. Also, paint the letters AFTER having the tires mounted to the wheels. I made the mistake of painting them before mounting and had a lot of touching up to do when I got the wheels back. The yellow I chose really goes well with the flat black of the 919, and also goes with the yellow lettering on the Two Brothers exhaust I have. I've had several compliments on this and I may have started a fad haha.
I had the tires mounted and balanced at a local shop then took it for a nice easy ride to get them scrubbed in. The first thing I noticed was that the bike really wanted to lean over in corners. MUCH more than before. I went to switch lanes and was quite surprised at how quickly the bike tipped in to make the lane change. It nearly caught me off guard. As I got used to the tires I really began to like them. They are much smoother and have better feed back than the Hi Sports I was used to.
I took them on a 200 mile ride on some curvy roads and that is where they really began to shine. I never felt like the bike was going to loose traction at all. Running tight turns at speed became second nature as these tires are very confidence inspiring. At the end of the ride I was surprised to see that I still had about 1/2" of tread until I was to the edge of the tire. Touching the tire it was VERY warm showing it was holding heat very well. I know I had been leaning the bike over farther than while riding on the Hi Sports, yet the Hi Sports were worn all the way to the edge. The profile of the 208GP was really making a difference.
I'm still torn on what I'll do for my next set of tires. I'm sure the Dunlop 208ZR front will long outlast the Dunlop 208GP rear. I may end up buying a set of race take offs next time around and saving the ZR front for another day, or I may end up just buying a new 208ZR rear and keeping them matched up. I don't normally recommend having the softer compound tire on the rear, but in this case it has worked out fine for me. Race take-offs usually run about $150 a set in my area. Running these may not be for everyone, but they are a viable option if you have access to them and want a good sticky tire for the curves.
UPDATE March 2004
The 208GP lasted 3,128 miles before it was shot. I decided to go back with a 208ZR this time around. The tread pattern is the same on the ZR as the GP, however the treads on the ZR are wider and a tad deeper. Hopefully this tire will last longer than 3,000 miles.