Ben Spies believes that his...
Ben Spies believes that his ability to conserve a tire during a race has been the reason behind many of his victories. Spies’ longtime crew chief, Tom Houseworth, told Sport Rider that the Texan’s tire management skills “kind of complete him.”
Last year contributing editor Henny Ray Abrams interviewed Ben Spies’ longtime mechanic, Tom Houseworth, as part of a story that focused on the crew chief/rider duo (“The Other Half,” May ’11). Houseworth spoke about all things Spies-related, but put special emphasis on the Texan’s ability to conserve a tire. “The next thing we worked on, which was really evident in World Superbike, was tire management,” remarked Houseworth, who went on to say that Spies’ ability to manage a lead from the front and conserve the tires “kind of completed him.” The ability to conserve a tire isn’t valuable solely on a world stage however, and riders of all levels can actually benefit from the skill.
When considering the cost of new tires, it’d be easy to assume that a fresh set of rubber will last multiple days at the track. Wrong. In fact, if your tire pressures are off, suspension settings imperfect or riding habits rough-edged, a new set of tires can get chewed up in just 15 to 20 laps at the track. Adapting your riding and better preparing your bike can therefore make your tire — and dollar — go that little bit further.
A number of factors contribute to tire wear, including track temperature, tire temperature, tire pressures and suspension settings. Among the most influential factors, however, are the rider’s throttle inputs through the corner. To better understand, it’s important to recognize how a tire is affected by the forces applied to it. A motorcycle tire — be it a DOT tire or slick — is designed to perform best at a given temperature, and heat is built into the tire when the carcass is under load. On the track and on the street that load comes from such things as throttle application, brake application and cornering G. Once the tire is past its optimum temperature, performance starts to deteriorate, as does the tire’s lifespan.
With improper suspension settings,...
With improper suspension settings, a tire will wear abnormally. But don’t throw out a set of tires that were torn up in practice so quickly, most tires with abnormal wear will clean up once the proper suspension settings are dialed in and tire pressures are set.
The art of conserving a tire requires the rider take each of the aforementioned factors into account. Your suspension settings should be considered first: Spring rates that are too soft are perhaps the most punishing and allow the bike to sag as you accelerate out of the corner, putting increased pressure on the tire’s carcass. Overly soft suspension also allows the bike to pump through the corner, which loads and unloads the rear tire. In both cases, the stress on the tire’s carcass will build detrimental heat.
Abnormal wear marks are the first indicator that a tire is being abused by incorrect suspension settings, and you should investigate further if your tires are coming off the track looking like they just went through a cheese grater. A few things to consider: If the rubber on the outermost edge of the tire appears shredded, that is an indicator that the tire is being overworked by a soft spring. If the treads of your DOT tire conversely appear to be cupped, that’s generally an indicator that your shock’s rebound settings are off. There are a number of other indicators to look for — so many that you’d likely get a headache trying to spot them. That said, if you’re unable to determine what direction to go with your suspension, confer with your local suspension tuner. Remember, the sooner the suspension is sorted, the later you’ll be replacing tires.