Intermediate Tires Buyer's Guide - Dirt Rider Magazine

Perhaps our dirt riding lives would be easier if dirt were homogenized like milk, so it was always consistent, but how fun would that be? The truth is that dirt changes, but more often we ride on surfaces that are in between concrete hard or bottomless sand and mud. For these dirty little reasons, intermediate-terrain tires are the most popular segment of dirt tires. An intermediate design tire offers the best odds of being correct for conditions the majority of the time. You can expect tires of this category to get you through a muddy practice, be perfect in a loamy first moto and handle a dry and packed second moto. Likewise, off-road you should have the traction you desire on a variety of terrain surfaces including some rock and sand or mud.This buyer's guide is a collection of brands in the most common sizes. We asked for 80/100-21 fronts and 120 rears in both 18- and 19-inch sizes. In some cases the sizes available were not exactly what we were looking for size-wise, but each company hit as close to the target as possible. Dirt tire specs are not set by a governing body, so they have no exact dimension parameters. Most knobbies are measured at the carcass and don't take into consideration the horizontal knobs, thus there is a big difference among the various brands. Then there were some differences within a brand-in the case of Pirelli, its 19-inch MX Mid Soft is a motocross tire, and its 18-inch XC Mid Soft looks similar but is actually a separate model. It was, however, the closest combination available.Each tire was first weighed on a certified scale. Weight is an important stat on a tire, since it has a major effect on suspension action and machine handling. Lighter is typically better, yet durability and construction have as much to do with performance. Next, the tires were photographed and, finally, each set was tested at a variety of tracks on motocrossers in the 19-inch size as well as off-road through multiple conditions in the 18-inch version. We wanted a feel for performance as well as longevity. When it comes to value, those comments were largely based on the price you would likely pay for a tire. Interestingly enough, the MSRP for tires is about as misleading as the claimed weight on a motorcycle used to be. In an effort to be consistent, we are publishing manufacturer's suggested retail prices where they are available, but in the world of tires those prices don't always reflect street price. As you digest the information here, check real-world prices in your area and at your dealer, because they could differ considerably from the MSRP listed. In the end, opinions from multiple riders from novice to pro were boiled down into a final review.Bridgestone

Models: M403 And M404

These are great motocross and off-road tires, and every rider's notes compared this set with only the most premium of tires. Some on staff rated the 403/404 as the best overall value for performance and wear qualities. We used one set of these tires for the 24-Hours of Glen Helen, and they had one ride on them when we started! That race has a radically wide range of surface conditions, and the Bridgestones handled them all. On the track the feel was very consistent, with opinions rating these tires more for an overall consistency of traction than blow-me-away stickiness. Testers said: "Even when the track gets baked and watered over that, when some tires get way too scary, these are still consistent and predictable," and, "These are true intermediate tires that like to ride the middle of the terrain scale and transition to both hard and soft to the same degree." When the M403/404 did wear out they lost performance sooner than some of the newer tires around. The rear was a good performer in the middle and to the soft side but lost a little on hard-packed bite. It is hard to miss with these tires for the track or off-road. They're universally good with few faults.

Size Price Weight (lb)
120/80-19 $134.64 12.50
110/100-18 $109.18 12.25
80/100-21 $104.90 8.50
800.543.7522 ext. 3442

Continental Tire North America

Model: ContiGelandeSport Intermediate

Continental only offers an intermediate in a 110 designation. On the track the tires rated pretty well, with the rear ("hooks up as well as any tire") earning higher marks for traction and handling than the front. Most riders felt the front was narrow or had too round a profile, so it can fall into turns. True intermediate conditions made these tires the happiest, though they transitioned to mud and sand well. Groomed hardpack was within the range of the ContiGelandeSports, but neither the front nor the rear liked watered hard clay. Off-road the comments were mixed, but the performance aspect was positive: "Ran them on the RMX for about 70 miles, and I'm still pretty impressed with them, more than on the moto track. They have really good bite front and rear, especially when there is an edge on the rear. Rear is all-around good and consistent. The front bites into sand pretty well, but on loose gravelly stuff or mud on top of hard it can go away quickly." They were dinged for poor durability in the dry, especially in rocks where they chunked easily and wore quickly. These tires strike us as a better choice for the softer side of the dirt scale.

|||| |---|---|---| |Size|Price|Weight (lb)| |110/90-19|$83.99|11.95| |110/100-18|$77.00 |12.45| |80/100-21|$69.00|7.90| || |973.471.8890| CST

Model: Surge I

The Surge I tires mounted fine, and their sizing and roundish profile look normal for the numbers, but the front has a flat-top profile with knobs in a row. Regardless of pressure the CSTs offered a crisp feel and affected the suspension like the casing and compound were very hard. We got really solid traction out of the rear in the softer end of the intermediate spectrum. When leaned over and pushed the tire broke loose easier than the best, but it quickly dug in and drove well when stood up. Crossover to hard was not great, and the rear was skatey on dirt roads. Overall, it wore well. Then there is the front. It worked decently in soft dirt but felt drifty and skatey on packed cambers. The front tended to pack with watered track soil, making it very sketchy when pushed into turns or even when maintaining a straight line. It doesn't allow a racer to push up to jump faces when turning or even aggressive riding. For most of us the set was a little mismatched with more love for the rear.

|||| |---|---|---| |Size|Price|Weight (lb)| |110/90-19|$71.95|13.80| |80/100-21|$61.95|9.20| || |800.245.4118| Dunlop Tires

_Model: GeoMax MX51_

From its first introduction the GeoMax MX51 has proven both popular and effective. The front looks a little low-profile with knobs that are not especially tall. The front tire is biased toward the harder side of intermediate. It liked the prepped track, but when the soft stuff showed up it could float and drift away for some riders when pushing hard, and that was the set's only drawback. The front tire gave most riders excellent feedback in sketchy conditions like high-speed, stand-up sweeping turns, while others just didn't feel comfortable pushing it. The rear was awesome on tracks that have good prep with hard-packed jump faces. It gripped like crazy on the face of the jumps and was very confidence inspiring. The rear drove well on starts or straights. Wear was excellent on the track. Off-road the MX51 displayed good handling and suspension feedback along with top-rate traction. The front was a lot less bipolar off-road. In western off-road the set wore at a rate that is more than respectable for a high-traction tire, but more quickly than some other tires in the category.

|||| |---|---|---| |Size|Price|Weight (lb)| |120/80-19|$115.89|12.35| |120/90-18|$101.67|11.90 | |80/100-21| $93.88|8.35| || |800.845.8378| Maxxis

_Model: Maxx Cross IT_

The major factors that make a good tire are traction, casing performance, wear, price and, for more discriminating riders, suspension effect. The Maxx Cross ITs look aggressive but don't deliver motocross-level traction and performance very impressively. Once the tire got out of the deep dirt, the traction suffered. Watch out for the front on shiny watered MX dirt. Off-road the tires were happier. Traction was not at the level of the best race tires in any specific situations, but the ITs were pretty consistent with reasonable traction. Where the Maxxis really shined was in durability or in a really long event. When terrain was dry and abrasive and conditions destroyed other tires, the ITs stayed looking good. We've used these for Baja trips and found that while the traction may be lacking on the morning of the first day, it evened out with other tires as the miles pile up. Most of the other rubber in this test will be bald before the IT has appreciable wear. So while traction ratings suffered, the Maxxis scored well on value and over the top for wear. When riders are spending their own money, we see a lot of these tires at the track and even more on trails. Value for money does matter.

Size Price Weight (lb)
120/80-19 $113.95 12.45
120/100-18 $95.95 15.30
80/100-21 $77.95 9.20

Kenda Tires

_Model: Washougal K775 Sticky_

Kenda's Washougal K775 is available in a long-wearing standard compound and a "Sticky" race compound. We tested the K775 Sticky, and found that Kenda's Sticky model tires belong with the premium brands. The performance was amazing on a Yamaha YZ450F that has plenty of power. We went to tracks that varied from intermediate to hard, and the Kendas hooked up great with amazing traction in both a straight line and leaned over. If there was any weakness, it was that the initial bite feel was just off the best in the softer side of intermediate or when the track is baked hard. When the track surface was true intermediate, the K775 Stickys matched anything in outright traction. Bump compliance earned excellent marks as well. Given the aggressive nature of the tread pattern in the rear, we wouldn't have guessed it would transition to dry so well, but it does. The rear also transitioned to soft equally well. The front looks low-profile, but both front and rear worked fine off-road in a variety of conditions, though the front felt a little narrow in sand or mud. Also, the high weight of the 18-inch tire was not as much of a factor as other heavy tires. Despite the "race" compound, wear was more than reasonable for a performance tire. The front beads are tight, and getting the tube in took a little effort. Expect these to be priced with the other premium brands, but they have the goods to justify that hole in your wallet.

|||| |---|---|---| |Size|Price|Weight (lb)| |120/90-19|NA|13.65| |120/100-18|NA|15.05| |80/100-21|NA|8.80| || |614.866.9803| Mitas

_Models: C-18 And C-19_

In addition to tread patterns for specific uses, Mitas marks each tire (like the C-18/C-19 combination we tested) with a colored stripe. Red is for motocross, green for MX using a mousse, yellow for off-road and has a softer compound with a wider crossover, and white for winter compound and is adaptable to spikes. The C-18 comes in all four versions, but we tested the green-stripe and yellow-stripe editions, and we used tubes in all the tires. Mitas claims these tires will be DOT road-legal by the time you read this. The C-18/C-19s were much better off-road where changing conditions prevented us from pushing really hard and expecting or relying on the tire to do something. They had a fair amount of carcass flex even at 13 psi. We ran them at 14-plus psi off-road and 12 rear/14 front for moto. The front did not like ruts, especially with low pressure. Traction in a straight line was great. In turns the feel was inconsistent. The rubber hooked up great on hard with loose stuff on top, an area where most other tires suffered.Even though we had tires for mousse, they worked pretty well on the prepped track, but when it got packed and was watered on top of that the Mitas felt slippery. The crossover to smooth hardpack wasn't great because we could feel the tires squirm, which put off riders familiar with stiffer carcass construction. If you are riding a stiff moto bike off-road, these tires alone can aid in a better suspension feel. And they even complement off-road suspension feel, too.

|||| |---|---|---| |Size|Price|Weight (lb)| |110/90-19 C-18|$69.80|8.60| |120/90-18 C-18 |$71.93|11.60| |Country Cross||| |90/90-21 C-19|$62.70|7.55| |90/90-21 C-19 Super|$58.98|13.35| || |See your dealer| Pirelli Tire

Models: Scorpion MXMS 32 And Scorpion XCMS

One ride on Pirelli's MX Mid Soft combo and you will know these are great tires that work well enough everywhere to feel like a race-replica tire. They look too aggressive for hardpack, but their "work in any condition" performance changed some minds about what the best intermediate tire combo is. The front tire's bump impact was very plush and consistent, and it had good side bite in dry hardpack as well as in loam. The tire was also predictable in the transition between different types of dirt. The rear had good feel on bump impact, and the tire had great traction on acceleration as well as under decel whether you're vertical or leaning the bike. The front and rear simply stuck, were consistent and were as impervious to changing conditions as anything here. Wear on the track was excellent as well.For off-road, the same rear tread pattern is an XC Mid Soft, but the front is a different tread pattern. The rear is a 120/100, so it is tall, and it squirmed and felt vague when we loaded the knobs hard, but off-road the size aided suspension feel in rocks, ledges, roots and other sharp impacts, and the traction was really good. The front lent itself better to the softer terrain but was overall on the higher side of performance everywhere. They wore pretty well, also.

|||| |---|---|---| |Size|Price|Weight (lb)| |MX Mid Soft 32 120/80-19|$112.00|12.05| |XC Mid Soft 120/100-18|$97.00|11.50| |MX Mid Soft 32 80/100-21|$94.00|8.05| |XC Mid Soft 80/100-21|$94.00|7.70| || |800.PIRELLI| Sedona Tire And Wheel

_Model: MX887IT_

These tires look good, with a normal profile and aggressive-looking tread blocks. They mounted easily, but are truly heavy and the knobs are comparatively soft and squirmy. Every rider returned from a short ride and rechecked the air pressure. It felt like we left the air pressure set at 30 psi. The pressure was fine, but typically we lowered it below 12 psi. The MX887ITs worked best in perfect, watered desert soil, or in any situation where the knobs can sink into the surface like in soft mud and dry or watered sand. Straight-line acceleration (not on a camber) wasn't bad. They worked far better when they were not pushed to the limits of traction or for someone who was not picky about the unsprung weight feel of a bike and how they affected the suspension. These were least comfortable on fast, stiff bikes, and on packed dirt cambers with loose rocks. Wear was not great. For some reason the weight affected the suspension more with these tires than other tires of similar weight.

|||| |---|---|---| |Size|Price|Weight (lb)| |120/80-19 |$76.95|16.25| |120/90-18|$76.95|15.60| |80/100-21|$54.95|10.10| || |208.376.8400| Shinko Tire USA

_Models: 525 Series And 524 Series_

Shinko's 524/525 combo looks something like the Dunlop D952 (and older 752s also), but the block sides aren't so sharp and vertical. For general desert riding the tires worked well at both ends. They climbed fine and drove in sand, but the thrust was more like a normal intermediate than the semi-sand pattern would lead one to believe. The front was fine in soft and loose dirt, but broke away turning on hard and in rocks. Wear was mild after 75 miles, so these last well off-road, even in rocks that chunk other tires. At a clay track we couldn't push the Shinkos like premium moto skins, but both tires worked pretty well, though the rear was the better of the two. On a true intermediate track surface the tires had really good performance all around. Only when the track workers watered did the front become scary, though it transitioned well from the deep sections of prepped loam to the hardpack. Straight-line acceleration was awesome with little or no wheelspin from poor traction, and it started well off a concrete pad, but traction when turning was off compared to the better tires.

Size Price Weight (lb)
120/90-19 $89.95 14.10
120/100-18 $89.95 13.85
80/100-21 $59.95 7.90