Saturday, June 20, 2015

The new Avon TrailRider review!

Avon Tyres has a long and successful history. Based in Melksham, England, they have made motorcycle tyres for well over 100 years, and it shows. I've used Avon tyres personally for many many years and on a wide range of bikes from classics to sports bikes, and have always been happy with them. Quite a few bikes I bought over the years came with other brands but the handling and feel always improved after I fitted a set of Avons. For us it was thus a no brainer to fit Avon Distanzias to our bikes, even the Bonneville, when this trip came up and we needed something we could take off-road too. I'm glad we did. Despite the Avon Distanzia being on the market for 8 years now, and considered by some as an 'old' tyre, it outperformed the Metzler Tourance and both the Michelin Anakee 2 and 3 we also tried. Simply put we love the Distanzias... but now Avon has made something even better...!

It's the new Avon TrailRider and we are one of the first to have them fitted to our bikes! Quite a few motorcycle magazines, like Brake Magazine, have tested them during a press release in Germany, where you can read about the technical advances, the high speed stability and how they perform on bigger adventure machines. Editor Jonathan Pearson had only two reservations: he wanted to know how they would perform on a mid segment adventure bike and how they would handle some serious gravel, as he was unable to test both. Well, we have fitted them to our Yamaha XT660R and Triumph Bonneville (which in effect has a similar geometry to the Triumph Scrambler), so that's the first box ticked, and then we'll take them over some serious bad and dirt roads on the next part of our trip through Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Northern Pakistan, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. We will then take them on Australia's long, hot and desolate roads. The Kazakhstan to India part is known as tyre-shredding. Conditions will range from below zero to close to 50°C, the roads are hard, difficult and basically broken. It's an area for which most will carry a set of spare tyres with them. We won't. Actually we will already have 5,000 km on them before the hard part even starts. Fitting an unknown tyre before such a ride is a big gamble, but as I've been riding on Avon Tyres all my adult life, and never had a bad tyre from them, this was a non issue for us. There's nothing quite like throwing it in the deep end to find out what it is really capable of!

The man behind the design of the new TrailRider is Ashley, the motorcycle tyre design engineer at Avon in Melksham, where every bike tyre is still made today. During our visit last year, Ashley gave us a little bit of insight in what Avon does in terms of tyre testing before releasing a new tyre, which is quite extensive! As you would expect laboratory tests are being done to determine the effects of loading, temperature and wet weather for instance. Once that has all been passed, a small batch is made for actual road testing, which is done by experienced motorcycle racers. Once this stage has been passed and approved, the new design still isn't approved for sale. Before they release a tyre as fitment for a particular bike, they will actually test it on that very bike too... and test it to the full! The result of all this extensive testing is that a tyre like the Distanzia for instance didn't need any serious upgrades for 8 years... as they simply had it right.

Mike likes playing on the beach... you know: digging holes, throwing sand around... he doesn't use a bucket and shovel though :-)

The TrailRider name clearly describes the tyre's capability and intentions. It's not meant as a replace-ment for a knobby motocross tyre but a tyre for touring-adventure bikes. The design brief was for a tyre capable of high mileages and crossing continents, two-up, with heavy luggage and fuel loads. To do so safely requires good grip in all weather conditions, something for which the Avon Distanzia is already well known, and which is now even further enhanced. The Avon TrailRiders' domain is gravel roads, fire trails and high speed motorway work. Designing a tyre capable of all this required several rubber compound and construction break throughs, from a new type of belt construction to a new tri-compound thread and a specially designed sipes interlocking system for quicker warm up time.

I appreciate one of the comments made about US and Australian conditions being sometimes more off-road orientated, but to be fair even there the on-road distances covered between the trails are vast. Sure a knobby would have more grip in loose sand, but most likely be worn out before you get there. We also feel that Avon is perhaps a little conservative in their rating as well, as the current Distanzia is also rated 90/10 and yet we have taken them on far more than that without any problems. Quite the contrary, like I wrote above they outperform the Metzeler Tourance and both The Michelin Anakee 2 and 3. While in mud, gravel, wet and cold they really shine. By all accounts the new TrailRider should be even better. Anyway, we will take them slightly more off-road than 90/10 and will write what we find :-)

Sashia approved the new TrailRider too..
The TrailRider compliments the existing RoadRider range, a tyre which I had fitted to my Bonneville before I decided to take it around the world and ride it off-road as well. At this stage we can't give any details on tyre wear of the TrailRiders yet as we have only done 600 km on them at the time of writing, but we have tested the handling! Bear in mind that we compare the new TrialRider to what we recon is currently the best Dual Sport tyre out there: the Avon Distanzia. We have used the Distanzias on this trip for well over 80,000 km and simply love them. We can chuck the bikes into corners with full confidence, slam on the brakes and swerve around blind car drivers without even thinking if the tyres will cope. We simply love the Distanzia. The TrailRider thus had its work cut out and... big shoes to fill!

The first trip was a good one to test them as it had everything we could have asked for. We took them straight onto a narrow gravel lane, followed by asphalt so worn and slippery that it glistered in the sun like a mirror. I deliberately induced a slide on a roundabout, just to see if they would break away out of control; they didn't. The route we took had fast sections, sweeping corners, hairpins, badly damaged surfaces and we ended the day with a downpour of biblical proportion. Perfect to test a tyre of course but rather more than we had wanted. While we do not claim to be professional tyre testers, and won't take them up to license revoking speeds or slide around corners on our knees, we do test them while crossing continents and on fully loaded bikes. Bikes we have been riding for 80,000 and 116,000 km respectively and thus know their handling well. We also ride them on roads which are quite frankly beyond repair and take them to the edge of the thread in corners. Just like you would if you're having fun while travelling. A real life test so to speak. We also won't hold back if there is something we don't like.

Having been used to the Distanzias, the new TrailRiders took a bit of getting used to. It is a different tyre than the Distanzia. The steering feels lighter, which is welcome on heavier adventure bikes but initially gave us the idea it lacked grip. We needn't have worried: the grip is there, if anything it grips even more than the Distanzia. It just feels light and turns in quick. Strangely enough, despite the steering being lighter, the stability on long fast bends is perfect. It wasn't long before we were chucking the TrailRiders into corners just like we used to. The lighter steering is actually a bonus, especially on the T100, as it takes less effort to chuck the fully loaded bikes into corners and it is now easier to change course halfway through a corner too. The XT steers lighter as well but Mike noticed it less as the XTs steering was already much lighter than the Triumph's. We have set the TrailRiders at the same pressures as we used for the Distanzias (ie T100 at 33/41psi and the XT 30/34). We haven't been able to check cold weather performance yet (it is supposed to be summer after all) but wet weather we did have! At the end of the day it was belting down, resulting in flooded roads and gravel all over the place. I had to slow Mike down! He obviously felt comfortable enough to ride at speeds which were simply too high in weather like this. Not for the tyres perhaps, as they never let go, but certainly for the conditions, the visibility and the rest of the traffic. Mike couldn't wait for the gravel sections on our trip to start and went playing on the beach... took his video camera with him and made a movie on the first 600 km on the new Avon TrailRiders. Nothing scientific, nothing high tech, just having a bit of fun... again, like you would have. It is early days yet but the new TrailRider seems not just a worthy successor to the Distanzia, but a big improvement. Over the next couple of months we will post updates on wear as we go along.

The good people from the Veliko Tarnovo campground in Bulgaria came up trumps once more. Not only could we send the tyres to their place but they also allowed me to fit them in their workshop. When the XTs rear rim presented too big a challenge to fit the new tyre by hand, a well known problem with the standard XT rims, they took us to a local tyre fitter, who fitted it for just 2 Euros and 50 cents...! They are definitely one of the most hospitable people we have met. 

Visually the first thing we noticed is that they look good. Yes I know this says nothing about the performance but we like it when something looks good! I was glad to see the sweeping V-shaped thread pattern, which works so well on mud with the Distanzia, is still there. We also noticed the threads are wide and curved to promote easy removal of loose gravel. The block pattern continues slightly over the centre of the tyre, to help in stability, while the edges have been chamfered to combat the common problem with most larger Adventure machines: cupping. The rear thread depth is a healthy 8 mm and a tri-compound to prolong tyre life.  

Avon motorcycle tyres are made in England, not just some but all of them, and they are all made by hand too... Each and every one of them is handcrafted by British craftsmen. No wonder the British Union Jack is proudly displayed on every Avon TrailRider, it's an expression of pride. Britannia once ruled the waves, now they rule the Trail!
Want to know how we feel about them after 5,000 km? See our interim review here