All tyres may be round and black, but they don’t all behave the same. A quick session of tyre testing at the TVS Tyres manufacturing base in Madurai shows us why…
All tyres look the same – round, black and boring! But different tyres behave in different ways in different situations. And, to understand why, we were invited by TVS Tyres to their production facility in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. The two-day visit to the plant was followed by a real-world track test.
The first day, we were taken around the Madurai plant, where TVS engineers demonstrated the different processes of tyre manufacturing. Once you make a tyre, you have to validate its performance by testing it with the help of a professional test rider. And, for this sort of job, you need someone who knows motorcycles and tyres inside-and-out. The test rider for TVS is Hide Okamoto – an ex-Moto2 test rider, who also has a couple of speed records and championship titles to his name. He’s been testing motorcycles since the age of 17, which means that he’s been in the testing business for over 30 years. All in all, a perfect test rider – maybe even a bit overqualified. The best part was that he was there with us that day to give us lessons in tyre testing.
For the test, we had four vehicles, including a Bajaj Platina, Honda Activa, Honda Shine and KTM 390 Duke. All were fitted with TVS tyres, and we took turns to ride all of them. The session began with making figure-8s with the Activa. The idea was to see how a tyre affects the balance and turn-in of a scooter. That over, we then did the same exercise with the Platina and Shine. And this made things clearer. You see, different manufacturers want a tyre to behave in different ways. For instance, some prefer light steering and quick turn-in, whereas others may prefer a slower turn-in and more resistive steering. This was exactly what this test highlighted. The Platina had a sharper turn-in and it was easier to tip around a corner, while the Shine had a slower but more progressive steering. Difference? The former was shod with an 17-inch front tyre, as opposed to the Honda’s 18-inch tyre.
But TVS Tyres didn’t only have commuter tyres for us to test. The firm’s latest Protorq series is meant for performance motorcycles. To test them, we had a KTM 390 Duke at our disposal. I only managed to ride the bike over a short lap, and it would be unfair to reach a conclusion based just on that. I can, however, say that they don’t quite offer the same level of feedback as the factory-fitted Metzelers. That said, you’ve got to take in account the fact that they’re also about half the price. So, what we have here is essentially a far more affordable replacement tyre for sub-400cc capacity performance bikes, like the 390 Duke and Yamaha R3.
Overall, I have to say that it was quite an enlightening outing. However, at the end of it, I was left wanting more – since we had only just begun to scratch the surface of the black art of tyres.