By Mark Kitaoka -
This article is about tires, those which I’ve used on my Sur Ron Light Bee over the past 3.7 years with 7900 miles on the clock as of December 2021. All recreational, no commuting used for my steed Jackson who I named after the late Jackson Edwards; the man responsible for me forking over my money to Luna Cycle back in 2018. RIP Jackson - I miss you; hell we all do.
By Mark Kitaoka - When the GritShift staff asked me to write about suspension their suggested title was “Best Suspension Upgrades.” Anyone that kn...
Here’s where I’m coming from
I want to explain my intent here before going further. I know that most ‘reviews’ that are popular tend to have oodles of tires comparing them to be ‘the best’ and I’ve always called bullsh*t on articles like that. Sure there are rare exceptions where established and recognized organizations do a comprehensive test on cars, motorcycles, trucks, armored vehicles etc. Each of those has manufacturer’s send tires and they are spooned onto rims of the same vehicle and put through the same terrain or tarmac. Lateral G forces are measured with scientific instruments and documented, mileage life is extrapolated, on and on and on and on…
This is simply one man’s view of how the tires worked for me on various terrains. To give you some stats I’m 5-8, 187lbs in full riding gear, pants, boots jacket, full face helmet and gloves. I’m a former road, motocross and desert racer having competed in the Barstow to Vegas race twice. Tried to do flat track and was damn shitty so I stopped before I hurt myself and other racers. And yes I’ve been addicted to mountain bikes too along with e mountain bikes, the full suspension types
There isn’t one Sur Ron tire solution – compromise is key
Tires are much like shoes. If I’m hiking I don’t wear dress shoes and if I’m running (which I hate) I wear shoes that fit the run. My motto is ‘use the right tool for the right job’ AND ‘you never get something for nothing.’ Meaning EVERYTHING IS A COMPROMISE E V E R Y T H I N G. A shoe that is great in the mud is crummy on the dance floor. A paddle tire is dope in the soft sand and shit on the street.
I have the following thought about the Sur Ron. It is NOT a mountain bike, but uses mountain bike parts. It’s not a traditional motorcycle but uses motorcycle rims…kinda. It’s like a kid that you call a ‘tween’ no longer a kid and not quite a teenager, somewhere in between. My full suspension analog mountain bike weighs around 33 pounds. My e mountain bike with full suspension weighs around 56 pounds. The Sur Ron when I got it weighed 110 pounds. Yes it’s heavier now due to my modifications.
Several factors affect how a tire will handle in any given situation. Simplified explanations of what affects how a tire handles include some of these factors:
- Thread pattern and depth
- Rim width and tire profile
- Weight of the tire
- Tire width
- Tire pressure
- Alignment of front to rear tire
- Dishing of the rim (only spoked rims)
- Tire compound (how sticky or hard the tread is manufactured)
Your OEM Sur Ron tires are fine for pavement
During the first 7 months of ownership I used the OEM tires, rims and tubes. Hell I was just happy to have this new amazing toy to ride, plug in to charge and ride some more. Keep in mind that my primary goal was not to transport the bike via a trailer, truck or rack on my car, but to ride TO cool off road areas near my home. I’m lucky to have fun areas to ride my bike less than a mile from my driveway. The OEM tires/tubes are hella light in weight. And unsprung weight or the lack of it meant the bike was very flickable and easily handled the local single track trails where I rode my mountain bike, both my analog and electric ones. The tires were very sticky, but did not fare too well in heavy mud or deep sand. I tried to avoid both at the beginning since I didn’t want to break the primary belt drive in heavy and deep sand or mud. After wearing down the OEM tires I opted to buy more aggressive knobbies.
MAXXCROSS MX-ST - TM00103200 Intermediate/Soft compound
I purchased these tires on the recommendation of someone who I trust. I spooned them onto my OEM 19” 1.4” wide rims.
FYI tire dates are week of year in two digits and year in two digits. So this one was made the third week of 2018, meaning January 2018. Tires work well within 10 years of manufacturing. Research has proven this. And the OEM rims have their sizes stamped on the side which is the DOT rule. This means that the rims on the SR are DOT, but the rest of the wheel is mountain bike material.
Higher performance Sur Ron tires – Maxxcross MX-ST
Removing the OEM tires was a breeze primarily because they are so thin and light. The Maxxcross tires are higher in profile and heavier. I did not weigh the tires to find the delta so I cannot comment on that measurement. What I can say is they were a huge pain to spoon onto the rims because they are designed for a 1.6” rim. 0.2” may not seem like a lot, but when it comes to rim width it does have an effect on tire choice. And even though the 100/70 is ‘technically’ the same size as the OEM tires these have a higher profile and are wider. I had to trim down the chain side of the knobbies to clear the chain, not my favorite thing to do.
I did not take a photo of the tires but the photo below illustrates the lack of clearance between my Shinko 244s (talked about later in this article) and the chain.
The Maxxcross tires hooked up in sand and mud. I found they fling mud well when traveling at moderate speed and although any tire will cake up in really sticky mud these did well. Also on wet roots and rocks, especially in terrain that is not in the sunlight the compound of the tire holds well, or as well as can be expected. When I first installed these I used the OEM tubes and ran my tire pressure at 20 pounds off road 29 on pavement or fire roads. Even with the higher profile I experienced a pinch flat when traveling at speed over really gnarly rocks. The OEM tubes were just too thin to survive low tire pressure combined with sharp hits. Roots are tricky because I find that much of it depends on rider skill even more than tires. Angles hitting roots and the amount of moisture will give fits to any tire. In my experience roots are not fond of knobbies, but less deflecting to dual sport tires.
Correct tire pressure is critical to performance
No rim damage was ever experienced using the Max’s. The front bites well into soft dirt or mud. In sand these perform very well and I run 26psi in sand. Running lower pressure yielded more bite, but in sand my range is greatly reduced by lowering the pressure lower than 26psi. The deflection level of the tires is well controlled IF you run proper tire pressure for your riding style and terrain. TIRE PRESSURE IS KEY IN ALL INSTANCES!!!
The Maxxcross does have some drawbacks
My issue with the tires came on off camber turns to the right where my lean angle started to depend upon the knobs I had to cut down to clear the chain. Because of that the rear end would wash out sooner than I had anticipated. The front was fine, but not the rear on high lean angle right handers while on the pipe... oops electrons! LOL On the street the Max’s are not that great and I didn’t expect them to be. Due to the wide spaced knobs which are great in sand and mud they don’t have a lot of surface area on pavement or fire roads. And the cut off knobs on the right made cornering a bit sketchy on pavement WITH ANY MOISTURE at all.
I decided to change to a thicker inner tube than the OEM tubes which in essence are about the same thickness as Trojan Ultra Condoms! LOL. Running lower tire pressure made me nervous about pinch flats and possible rim damage so I switched to Outlaw Racing OR2859 Motorcycle Standard Inner Tubes. Yep they are heavier than the OEM, but much thicker and I didn’t get one pinch flat while using low pressure. The only time I had a pinch flat was well… when I was changing to my next tires. User error! If you are the person who truck/trailers/tow hitch racks your Sur Ron to off road areas this next portion may not be for you. I sold my Max tires on craigslist to buy a set more suited to where I ride most often.
Shinko 241 impresses on hard surfaces
I had talked to some people who used these on their DRZ 400s and they raved about them. RAVED. Now I know the DRZ is a motorcycle and my SR is not. But they are both men whose view I trust so I decided to spoon on a set, front and rear. I found that I was riding less in deep sand and mud. My skill level at damp root trails made me nervous so I started avoiding that type of terrain. Plus mountain bikers were not kind to me riding Jackson on those trails.
I did not have to trim any of the tread off of the 241s, as they fit just right on the bike. Enough clearance to the chain that even running lower pressure did not impact the chain/tire when hitting severe high speed bumps. Of course these are not nearly as good gripping sand or mud BUT they were excellent on hard pack single track, pine needles and pavement. I found I could go much faster than with the Max tires over that type of terrain. The compound of the 241s was not as ‘sticky’ as the Max tires, but offered enough material grip for most of what I ride. For some unknown reason I did begin to notice tire rotation around the rim using the 241s. My valve stem began to angle on the rear which meant that the tire was lagging behind the rim rotation. This didn’t happen with the Maxes even at lower pressures. It was at that point where I drilled my OEM rims and installed rim locks. That cured the tire rotation issue. Strange though that the 241s experienced this and the Maxes did not.
Overall I enjoyed the 241s, but ended up giving them away to go to the Shinko 244s…
Shinko 244 is even better
It was the more aggressive nature of the tread pattern that attracted me to the 244s over the 241s.
244s on the left 241s on the right.
For me the 244s have proven to be just the right ‘compromise’ in tire.
- Fine in sand but front pushes too much
- Meh in mud
- Excellent on hard pack
- Excellent on fire roads
- Not bad at all on roots and rocks
- Excellent on pavement
- Great on feel and turn in on single track
So for me these are the tires of choice. Again this is just one guy’s view and how/where I ride may be different than what you ride. I’m not into The Best because what’s best for me ain’t necessarily the best for YOU. As a new racer I’d ask veterans to ride my bike and tell me if I’ve set up the suspension and tires correctly. The best advice I’d ever received? “Mark I can ride your bike and tell you how I’ve set mine up and what tires I’m using along with pressure. But I’m not you and how you ride is different than me. I can tell you some tips that may help, but you need to set up the bike for YOU.” Amen Jason and thank you!
You don’t need to dish your rim, but you can
When I was running the Maxes I was informed that I could avoid cutting the knobs off of the right side by dishing the rim more to the left. What that entailed was for me to adjust the tension of the spokes to ‘move’ the rim more to the left which in turn ‘dishes’ the rim/spokes to give it more clearance on the chosen side. I did this after I cut off the knobs and it sure did allow more clearance. I remember thinking I wished I knew this technique before doing the cutting…
But what I found is that dishing the rim to the left made the alignment of the front wheel tracking to the rear out of sync. In my road racing days we knew that front and rear tire alignment was critical and checked or adjusted it each time we adjusted the forks or swing arm pivots. I didn’t realize that I would be able to feel it on my Sur Ron. Because the rear was dished to the left I found that on left hand turns on single track my bike would not ‘flick’ like it would to the right. As a matter of fact the bike felt a bit twitchy to the right on technical trails. So alignment is important on dirt bikes too…who knew?! Not me but I do now.
Tire choice will affect your Sur Ron’s comfort, handling, and range
The carcass of the OEM tires is way softer than any of the aftermarket tires I’ve used. In some ways the deflection of the OEM tires is better under certain circumstances than the Maxes or the Shinkos. The profiles of OEMs are shorter so they turn in quicker and are lighter, meaning less rotating mass. So my mileage was a bit better. Lighter tires means the bike felt more like an e mountain bike than my ICE bikes. So if you like the feel of a mountain bike I’d suggest going with a light tire/tube combo. For me I feel more comfortable with more rotating mass on the SR, it feels more planted to me due to the weight. And just like I said at the beginning you never get something for nothing. More rotating mass means the bike is tougher to slow down the wheels. So I changed things to make braking spot on. And I went to Tubliss instead of rim locks. I can practically run 5 psi using Tubliss when needed. But all of those changes are best served in a completely different article. Just like my change to a 21er in the front along with 1.6” wide rims, Dorado Pro forks, Ohlins rear shock, etc.
All of us like to think we are great riders. The truth is skill takes time to develop. Choosing the right gear FOR YOU takes time and experimentation. Use what’s right for you!