Steed: Built to Ride

Tires: The Meat of the MAtter

Tech Tip Index

John Covington of Steeds Interviews with Larry Hoppe of AVON Tyres about the "State of the TYRE" and the new 300.

On January 8, 2004 we announced the debut our new Steed Musclebike, "Sintaur" model motorcycle with the new Avon 300 Tyre. Steeds started this project in April 03 with the need to update our proprietary Monotail chassis. We've been running our own proprietary frame on our bikes for over 6 years with fitment for the AVON 180/200 tire with a monoshock design under the seat. It became time to jump into the big tire race, and we found ourselves a little behind the times in the Fat Tire department. Re-tooling frame jigs is no easy task, and the tires kept getting bigger and bigger, literally, by the month. So last year I decided to do a little research before we spent the dough to fixture up a fat-tire Monotail platform. With a little help from Bandit at we got the inside track last year that Avon was in the process of tooling up for a massive 300mm tire.

I contacted Larry Hoppe, who heads up the Sales and Marketing for Avon.? He assisted us with the advance tire specifications, so we could begin fixturing up to produce an updated Monotail chassis that would accept this giant performance gripper long before we actually could get our hands on one.? Finally, Steeds was privileged to get one of only a handful of prototype 300 tires in mid-December Now we're ready to roll out our first Steed Machine next week in Anaheim, California, at the NAMM show. Then it's off to Ohio for the V-Twin expo with the first of our bar-raising 300 bikes.

There seems to be a bunch of confusion about tires; who's, what's, when's, and where's don't get asked very often regarding tires. Bandit and I felt that this would be a good opportunity to ask Larry about the meat of the matter, and here's what he had to say:

JC: First off Larry, how did you get involved with AVON Tyre company, and what is your personal history in the motorcycle market?

LH: I have been heading up the sales and marketing efforts for Avon in North America since 1985. Prior to that, Avon tires were one of my favorite product lines that I represented through distributors to dealers in the North Western States. How much further do you want to back? I am slightly age sensitive. Prior to forming my marketing firm in 1977, I was a very lucky student, working his way through college buying and selling motorcycles. Of all the bikes I have owned, I miss my Indian ?41-Four the most.? It was old enough to be my father by the way.

JC: Why the goofy spelling of "Tyre" in the company name?

LH: Nearly every English speaking country spells tire with a "Y." Well, except one. So who's goofy? In the world of "Global Corporate Identity" consistency on how to spell your name is kind of an issue, especially to the Vice President of Communications. We are an American owned company, but the Avon brand has its deepest roots in England. Personally, I don't care how you spell it, as long as you pronounce it properly.

JC: What makes a motorcycle tire different than automotive tires?

LH: You gotta be kidding? OK, I'll answer. One has a rounded tread arc; the other has a flat tread surface. Guess which one is which!

JC: Why are motorcycle tires more expensive than automotive tires?

LH: This is a good question. As a consumer, I appreciate good value. I also believe that cheap is seldom better. But the laws of economics and manufacturing efficiency are the main reasons motorcycle tires are generally priced higher. It is probably true in most cases that bike tires require a more intensive research and development regimen than passenger car tires. Simplistically, they need to operate in a straight up position (like a car), as well as at high lean angles (not like cars.) Now I could go into plies, angles, Kevlar belts, variable belt density, compounding etc, and how these all play a part in the bikes handling and performance.

But easiest for all to understand is this: Cooper Tire builds more passenger tires in a day than we sell motorcycle tires in a year. In automotive tire production, it is a highly automated process whereby they set up the production line with all the chosen tooling for a particular size. They then flip the switch, and let 'em run forty thousand or so tires as they fill rail cars of a mile long train. When they turn off the switch, they usually have to shut down the line for a few days to make all the tooling changes for a new size or type run.

Motorcycle tires, on the other hand are often produced in batches of around a 1000 tires, sometimes 3000. But typically, bike tire manufacturing is far less automated, and more hand built because the quantities do not allow us to shut down the production line for days to change a size or model. We can change motorcycle tire model production in hours and run 1000 of this, then a 1000 of that. We are highly efficient at producing small runs, then quickly changing out molds and tooling for another run. But the "Quick Change" scenario means less automation, more hand labor, lower quantities, and higher unit cost.

JC: What makes AVON Tyres different/better than other motorcycle tire brands?

LH: How much time do you have? I have been practicing my sales pitch for over 20 years and could probably ramble on for hours. But seriously, I believe a big part of Avon's popularity over the years is due, in large part, to the lack of Original Equipment influence.

Tire manufacturers are willing to sell to OEM motorcycle manufacturers at cost, and sometimes even below their cost. Harley certainly puts tremendous pricing pressure on their suppliers, so the supplier needs to keep the cost of the product down with less features and benefits. And why would a tire manufacturer sell below cost??? Because they believe the bike purchaser will replace his tires with the same original brand, and the bike manufacturer agrees to recommend only the Original Equip tire as a trade off for cheap prices (there is that word again!)

JC: I believe in the motto "Cheap is never good, and good is never cheap." That's how we've survived in this business since '89. Something has to give if you start cutting price, and that's normally the products quality. I don't know many people who want to put cheap rubber under their motorcycle, when it's their ass that is on the line at 85 MPH.

LH: Avon does not play this game. Consumers buy our tires as a matter of choice because they want improved handling, or better wet-grip, or stability on rain grooves, or that sure footed feeling in high-speed sweepers. Perhaps they purchase Avon for the Fat Tire Fashion. But in the end they choose AVON because they want a better product. Whether we use Kevlar belts instead of steel or fiberglass, or we use special silica compounds for better grip. AVON can afford to put more into our tires because we are not under the Original Equipment pricing pressures.

JC: OK, now for the questions that a lot of people are afraid to ask... Why do they use inches for the wheel diameter and then millimeters for the width and sidewall height? Who' the jack-ass that sets these standards for describing tire sizes?

LH: Millimeters for width, and inches for diameter still baffles me to this day. It is absolutely ridiculous. It sure as hell wasn't Einstein that developed this system. Perhaps it was a compromise between the German, French and English, as the Brits were big tyre producers and not metric back then. The Brits got to keep diameter standards in inches, and the French and Germans were elated to keep width in mm. (Besides can you imagine having 20 differing diameter standards varying by 10 mm instead of 5 or 6 diameter standards varying by one fraction of an inch?)

JC: Well at least we English speaking people got a few consolations in the tire size department. We're doing our best to resist the metric bolts on our American bikes, but we just can't get too far away from the millimeters on the tires and batteries.

But I digress. Let us get back to the questions.

What is a "speed rating," and who came up with the whole lettering system? Please fill us in.

LH: Tire speed creates heat. Load under use creates heat. Strap your Snap-On toolbox (and your wife too if you want) on the buddy seat and I guarantee the tire will run warmer. I can also guarantee you that it will run a lot warmer at 70MPH than 35MPH. Consequently, it is customary for a tire's load rating to drop as the speed rating increases. It is possible for us to build an H speed rated tire at say 961 pound.

JC: When did this whole big motorcycle tire phenomenon start?

LH: How old are you?

JC: Here's a clue; I made it out of high school at the height of disco, but I never owned a leisure suit!? How about you?

LH: I remember back in the early '70's selling wide rims with spoke kits so you could lace a 15-inch rim to your hub and mount a wide car tire. OK, wide by then and their standards. I think they may have been VW in super beetle. I remember back in the late 80's when Donnie Smith (Minneapolis, MN.) wrote an article a biker magazine about how to fit a 150/80-16 Avon on a stock bike. It just barely cleared the fender, swingarm and belts with his adaptors.

In 1995 we adapted a 180/55-16, and by 1997 this was expanding to 200/55-18's. Since a new wheel was necessary to accommodate the fatties, the diameter increase was preferable to show off the new wheel designs. Guys like you and Arlen Ness finally had something new to build around; an AVON Tire!

It was a breakthrough by early 1998; we spaced an existing mold to make the biggest m/c tire in the world, a 230/60-15. It was actually a modified 170 X 15 mold that was cut in half, widened, and voila... the "Fat Freddie" was born.

JC: That wasn't the most pleasing looking tire, but it was big.

LH: I agree! That tire on its own was not all that attractive. We got the factory to build this tire because it was far less expensive than a new mold. Before embarking on a new tire size, the factory always wants to know what the application is.

In that case, the tire fit NOTHING! But the bikes that were being designed around this fat rear tire were incredible. Hot Bike gave Avon New Product of the Year Award, and a huge new industry was born. I call the new industry "Adapt a Fat."

In 2002, the 250/40-18 VENOM was announced, again the biggest bike tire ever. Along with it came a 120/70-21 front, wider than the previous 90/90-21's. AND, in 2004, and soon to be available, is another record breaker...the 300/35-18 VENOM. So, there you have it.

The widest m/c tire used in 1972 was about 130mm wide, used on both Harleys and Sochiro Honda's CB 750-K2 had a 120. Up until a couple years ago, that was still the norm for a Harley, but everything has been continually expanding.

JC: Are there any performance advantages to wider street motorcycle tires?

LH: Yes, there are advantages. Race bikes have gone from 130's 30 years ago to 220's today. The biggest advantage of course is a larger contact patch. But let's be realistic. Most of the bikes being artistically created around our fat tires are sculpted most for beauty and style. But if they ever start an AVON 300 V-Twin racing class, we will definitely see evolution first hand.

JC: Do you foresee a tire size that will be the maximum girth for a street motorcycle?

LH: Personally, I would think the 300mm width is a nice stopping point. But the consumer, designer, builder will determine that, and Avon shall continue our 120 year history of responding to the market demands.

JC: How much time does it take to develop a new size tire?

LH: Once the market research has taken place and the decision to order mold and manufacturing equipment has been made, it can usually be done within nine months or a year. Market research, in this case, is quite easy as there is no market...they fit nothing. It is also much quicker to add a size to an existing product range and tread pattern, rather than having to design an all new pattern.

JC: Do you think it's a fad or is it here to stay?

LH: Yes, it is a fad. Yes, it is about style. Yes, it is here to stay. You can say the same thing about "Choppers."? I haven't met anyone who says they would like to buy a skinny tire kit. And I can't imagine anyone who doesn't agree that the fat tire bikes look way better.

Sure, the 300 may be overboard for some, but they can still go with 200 or 250. Thanks to a few gutsy moves by Avon, and all the loyal customers, friends, and associates like Steeds who have helped promote these trends, bikers now have choices!

JC: Larry thanks for all the breaking news, and the prototype 300 for our new Steed bike. We'll have these new Sintaur Monotails up in production for March delivery to dealers.? Judging by? the reaction I've gotten from people that have seen this monster at our shop, you've got a hit-record on your hands.? I hope you can keep up with the demand.

Keep the rubber side down.
- John at Steeds

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