With these triple-flavour Bridgestones, you can have your tires and ride them, too
By Éric Ménard
Nowhere is it more obvious how much motorcycle tires have changed in the last 15 years than in road racing. Anyone who has followed the sport for a while might be nostalgic for the great slides of past riders. Mick Doohan was an expert; Nicky Hayden came from flat track so he was also a sliding demon, and more recently Casey Stoner was known for leaving burning rubber in corners, sliding even his front rubber sideways.
Nowadays, the game has changed and everybody is leaving elbow marks. Different times, different riding styles. Even if motorcycle racers are incredibly gifted riders, the truth is that their lap times would be much slower if it wasn’t for the drastic improvements that tire engineers have made possible. These innovators truly are an important part of the show we get to see on any track.
As Captain Speaking, who has ferried us across the Atlantic, announces final approach on his track, I wonder how long it will take to get to mine. I hear the rubber of plane tires touching down in Abu Dhabi and I get out of the tin box I have been in for 13 hours. Signs that we have landed in a different world are everywhere. Men are wearing the traditional dish dasha and keffieh, secret service–style black-tinted windows are on every car to keep the blazing sun from frying the AC, and there is sand . . . sand . . . sand . . . everywhere as far as the eye can see. Also, gas is 46 cents a litre.
As I enter the Yas Marina Viceroy Hotel, I get a warm welcome from Joana, the stunning Spanish hostess, hired by Bridgestone to organize logistics. She gives me the key to my room and the traditional goodies bag and tells me that dinner is at eight. In my modern room I can hear the roaring sound of sport cars passing by. I walk to the window and discover that my view is right on corner 5 of the Yas Marina F1 circuit. The one we are going to ride on tomorrow to test that new Battlax S21 tire. This is going to be fun.
Dinner is taken with journalists from the U.S., Spain, Japan, and Portugal. We are the second group of six waves of journalists to attend this event. Decidedly, this is a big event for Bridgestone and they want to make sure the entire world hears about their new tire.
The next morning, six white Land Cruisers with heavily tinted windows pick us up in front of the hotel. We are going dune bashing. After a 45-minute ride out of town, we hit the sand tracks and realize dune bashing is basically like motocross but in a truck with a crazy Arab driver. I feel like I’m stranded in a metal box on a mad sea of sand while our Emirati driver Mohammed is laughing as he slides sideways down the largest sand dunes I have ever seen.
After lunch, we finally get to the launch and the engineers finally introduce us to their new rubber. This tire is aimed at motorcycling enthusiasts who own sport bikes and use them on winding roads. What do these guys need? According to Bridgestone, mostly performance and durability. That’s easy to understand, but let’s add one more quality: security—riders want to make it to work on Monday morning.
Grip and durability were chosen as the two main areas of research for the Bridgestone engineers. It seems they managed to produce a tire that has 36% more grip than their last Battlax model. This improvement in grip should reduce durability, but no, they also managed to increase mileage from 6,000 to 8,000 km before the tire wears out, they say. Not bad, but how does it feel and handle on the track? Short answer is: impressively.
The Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi is a 5.56 km long beauty with 21 turns. Designed for F1 cars, it is not ideal for a motorcycle. The pavement is glassy looking with not many sharp edges. Also, many corners are slow and off camber—tricky riding conditions but ideal for testing tire behaviour. Front end confidence will be very important at this technical circuit and very smooth lines will be needed for good lap times.
The crew of pilots hired by Bridgestone to show us the track needs to get every bike out to break in the new tires and warm them up. Front tire pressure is set at 29 psi cold to have 33 psi warm and rear tires at 26 psi cold to get to 29 psi warm. The engineers in the pits explain that the rear tire has three compounds spread across five sections: hard in the centre, soft on the shoulders, and even softer on the sides.
Once the shredding is done by the pros, we get the green light. The wait has given us time to choose our bikes—not an easy task, because they’ve managed to gather an impressive fleet for this launch: GSX-R1000, Kawi’s big ZX-10, Ducati Panigale 959 and 1290R, Yamaha R1M, Honda CBR1000R, all there waiting for us.
Feeling our excitement, they tell us to start gently, which of course we do . . . for the first session. I climb on the last bike I’ve ridden on a track, the Panigale 1290R. I get in line and we start following our leader, Jose Luis Cardoso, former MotoGP rider. Discovering a new track is always an experience in memorization, but following a GP rider while doing it is a treat. Seeing a rider with that level of experience and talent is as exciting as it is humbling. The guy is a gentleman and kindly waits for us each time the group falls behind.
Once the first session is done, we have an open track until midnight. At each session, the pace consistently climbs to a point that few motorcycle enthusiasts could legally reach on winding roads. On each lap, I push a little more, braking later and harder. The tires stay stable, only showing their street-oriented tire limits on the hardest braking spots of the F1 track. These are not race slicks.
On acceleration, I repeat the process, twisting the throttle a little harder or longer until the session comes to an end. The tires stick like glue, even when accelerating while still leaning in a corner exit. These tires, combined with a modern bike’s sophisticated traction control system, give stability and grip on acceleration. Even under a heavy torque–producing machine like the Panigale 1290R and its supersized V-twin engine, the S21 stays neutral and confidence inspiring.
Throughout the evening, riding under the lights of the Yas Marina circuit, on every bike I could try, the new Bridgestones offered stability at high speeds (up to 250 km/h) and made me feel confident about entering every corner at an almost daylight track pace.
I was exhausted before the last session and decided to quit while I was still safe—but what a day this was. Riding the S21 Battlax on this track was a convincing experience of their performance level. The front tire’s smaller crown profile allowed impressive lean angle and precise handling. Turn-in was great and the tire offered a very neutral feel.
The rear tire, which they say has now 30% less slip area in the contact area, gave cornering stability and good grip on acceleration. This allowed most riders on track enough confidence to put a knee down in some corners and twist the throttles of high-powered litrebikes without thinking twice. To my knowledge, nobody crashed on that day even if some seemed like they were trying to.
Of course, I cannot comment on the promise of a 36% durability increase for this tire, but the Bridgestone’s new “ultimate eye” facility seems able to confirm it. They say this indoor testing machine simulates real life conditions for consistent testing. We will have to trust them on this, but since everything they’ve told us during this launch has ended up being true, I think 36% might be a fair number.
While this is by no means a track tire, it is a street tire you can ride very hard and should be able to ride for a long period of time. It won’t give the same level of performance as a slick, but then again you can’t ride slicks to and from the track. With the Battlax Hypersport S21 you can, and you can expect great performance, apparently for a long time.
For GoPro footage of the F1 Yas Marina circuit lap, check out the video of the track lap here.