Multinational corporations make for difficult nationalistic classification of brands. Cooper Tires, based in Findlay Ohio, manufactures tires in 63 facilities in 13 countries on five continents. It is a publicly held company traded on the New York Stock Exchange which means that, although its headquarters are based in Ohio, the true owners of the company (aka, the shareholders) are located all around the world and are probably of widely varied nationalities. Despite the widely distributed geographic nature of Cooper Tire’s facilities and ownership, Cooper would be considered, by most folks, to be an American company.
Cooper manufactures tires under an assortment of brandnames including Cooper, Mastercraft, Roadmaster, Dean, Starfire and Avon. Avon Tyres was acquired in 1997 by Cooper which ended Avon’s 112 years (more or less) of independence and converted Avon into a Cooper Brand with a fair degree of autonomous discretion. Given the vagaries of multinational definitions discussed above, this acquisition converted Avon into an American tire brand, produced in Melksham, Britain.
Readers of Roadracing World with rear rims wider than three inches most likely do not have much experience with Avon tires. Avon produces popular race tires for vintage racers but had abandoned the modern radial race tire market in the US to pursue the lucrative cruiser and touring markets where they have thrived are known for making high quality and durable tires.
As Ducati discovered, being acquired by Americans can be a bit of a blow to the nationalist ego but the accompanying investment can yield welcome results. In this case, Cooper has decided it is time to rebuild the Avon brand in the US beyond the cruiser and touring markets.
Avon has seized the opportunity by developing three new tires for modern motorcycles. The Azaro-SP Pro-Series, the Azaro-SP and the Azaro-ST.
The Azaro series share carcass technology but have some compound and tread differences to optimism performance for their intended uses.
Avon has used Variable Belt Density since 1997, recent improvements in the technology have been deemed sufficient to earn the Advanced Variable Belt Density title. The spiral wound joint-less Aramid fiber belt is closely wound in the center of the tire and more widely spaced on the shoulders of the tire. This construction yields a tire that is resistant to centripetal growth at speed (for durability) while providing a soft shoulder that allows the tire to conform to the road while cornering (for more grip). The soft shoulder should offer a more compliance in the tire to absorb road imperfections exactly when the bike’s suspension is at its worst.
Although the tabloid format of Roadracing World does afford its editors the luxury to expand on topics are a much greater length than other periodicals, a comprehensive examination of the variables involved in the performance of motorcycle tire compounds is well beyond the limitations of these pages. In the interests of forests everywhere, we are going to reduce the entire realm of tire compounds down to two basics: Carbon and Silica. There are hundreds of carbon based and silica based compounds.
Basically all road going (and many race tires) utilize these two ingredients to tune the dry, wet and wear characteristics of the tire. In general carbon is going to give you dry weather traction. Silica is going to give you wet pavement traction and silica is more hard wearing than carbon. A slick might be a pure carbon compound, a rain tire pure silica rubber, but in reality, they are almost always a mix.
Avon has decided, given these parameters, to let the consumer decide which compound best suits their projected riding. The Pro-Series (designated by a red stripe on the tread and a tiny little “pro” on the sidewall) has more carbon in the compound. This results in a tire more oriented to dry pavement, perhaps dry pavement in some sort of loop comprised of ten to twenty turns covering 1.5 to 3.0 miles. Although Avon studiously avoided the term “race” they did mention that the “Pro” would be the appropriate choice for track day participants.
The Azaro-SP has a bit more Silica. This will provide much better wear characteristics and improved grip on damp or wet pavement.
The Azaro-ST has a different tread pattern and is the hardest (and longest lasting) compound of the three.
The Pro and SP versions are available in:
All of the Avon representatives did make it a point to mention that the Avons are intended to be long lasting. That may or may not be a big selling point to the average American sport bike rider that puts, on average, a whopping 3,000 miles a year on their bike. The sport touring guys with a capitalized SPORT and a lowercase touring will see this as a huge benefit.
Avon invited the North American sporting press to Pahrump Nevada to sample their new offerings. They had an array of motorcycles fitted with the three different models of tires. Pahrump is more of a test track layout than a road racing course layout; several of the turns are almost first gear tight with a back straight that is fourth gear at best. The pavement is, for the most part, in excellent condition with just enough car ripples and chuck holes to keep one honest. The track also features a number of extended dance mix 180 degree turns which keep the bike on its edge for long periods of time.
The first bike I grabbed was the Ducati 998. Ducatis typically handle with nimble aplomb and I figured, if I was riding on Fantasy Island, that would be the bike for learning the track.
The Ducati did display excellent turn in and mid-corner feel. Given that the Ducati also had terrible brakes, it also gave me a chance to feel out the Azaro-Pro front tire for trail braking and speed scrubbing. The track designer and I both have a vision of the track in our heads concerning timing and distance between turns two and three. Unfortunately they built his version which means that the chute between turns two and three is about twenty feet shorter than I feel it should be. Although one sign of insanity is to perform the same action repeatedly, expecting a different result, I kept trying to use the fictitious extra twenty feet for braking purposes.
The net result, of course, was that I was always trail braking, scrubbing and turning late for that turn when, every lap, I crested the hill and remembered that the chute was twenty feet shorter than I felt it should be. With wide eyes, a clenched brake lever, and a steady stream of whispered invectives I carefully evaluated the grip and feedback of the front tire. The intact bodywork and my unscuffed leathers bear testament to the sort of abuse which these tires will withstand.
At 3000 feet above sea level the Ducati felt pretty anemic and certainly no match for the grip the rear tire was offering but I figured the GSXR 750 would be able to find any shortcomings. Race tires, as we are all well aware, must survive high temperatures. A side effect of that is that many race tires do not work well when they are cool, or even merely warm. Street tires, in converse, do not usually work well when very hot, but must offer a fair percent of their grip when cold or only mildly warm.
The Azaros, being street tires, offered very good traction when cold and came up to operating temperatures very rapidly. The GSXR shared the Ducati’s appreciation of the front tire although the superior brakes on the GSXR allowed me to shed more of the speed while still upright. The GSXR also had enough power, even at altitude, to start taxing the rear tire. There were a couple of spots in the track where pavement undulations caused the suspension to weight and unweight the rear tire. On the “unweight” cycle the rear tire would start to step out slightly. It was predictable, anticipatable and never scary. The R1, with its smoother power delivery, seemed less prone to rear wheel slides than the GSXR 750.
All of the bikes had very neutral steering. This was unexpected. Usually when you switch a group of different models onto a single tire brand you find that some bikes will tend to under or over steer due to the changes in ride height or tire profile. All of the bikes felt good on the Azaros. I thought at first that someone had carefully set up the suspension to match the tires on each bike but after bouncing on a few front ends and checking chain tension and the like I found that, actually, some of the bikes were set up quite poorly but the tires were masking a fair amount of the errors in the bike’s setup.
In the afternoon I tried the Pro tires back to back with the normal SP tires. Although I did not have laps times, I think I was keeping a similar pace on both the SP and the Pro tires but the comfort margin was higher on the Pros. In otherwords, when I forgot that the turn two-three short chute was twenty feet shorter than I wanted it to be on the SPs, it was a slightly more anxious moment than on the Pros. If you have the SPs on your bike and you are headed for a track day, do not feel compelled to switch them out for the Pros. Likewise, if you are going to be mainly riding on the street and have any concern for durability (or rain) you should mount up the SPs as the grip difference would not be noticeable on the road. All of that said, if you are going to buy a set of Avons for a track day, get the Pros.
The ST tires gave a little more movement through the turns but seemed to handle much better than the way I remember Sport Touring tires to handle from the bad old days. It was difficult to discern the character of the tires from the character of the bikes on which they were mounted. The high speed long distance people should use the STs but most of the clip-on crowd should look to either the SP or, in some cases, the Pro.
This year seems like the year of the “Sport” tire intro. In the last three months we have seen new performance street offerings from Dunlop, Maxxis and Avon. This is in addition to the already crowded market place with Michelin, Pirelli and Metzler. We have yet to ride on one of these performance tires that wasn’t fully capable of supporting a fast track day /slow race pace. And, although this bodes well for street riders everywhere, it must be immensely frustrating for the tire companies.
In the passenger car market tires have been reduced to a commodity where one tire is seen as being pretty much the same as another tire. Motorcycle performance tires have long enjoyed a certain cache by brand where some sport tires were clearly much better than others. In recent months that gap has closed significantly. At a given moment in a given turn the most expensive performance sport tire is not going to be significantly better than the cheapest and the companies will have to differentiate themselves by other means. Viewed in this context maybe Avon is clever in staking out the high mileage performance market.