It used to be that bikes weren’t on-road, off-road, enduro’s, or big trailies, instead it was a bike and it’s job was to go everywhere and tires were just tires. Luckily, that “go everywhere” spirit has returned in modern form with the growing crop of adventure touring machines; the Honda Varadero (in Europe), KTM 950 Adventure, Triumph Tiger, Suzuki V-Strom, Ducati Multistrada and Aprillia Caponord, join the venerable BMW 1200GS in the class, but the tire bit is still a sticky issue.
“Go everywhere”, you see, is a nice thought, but the technicalities of getting the job done are a different story. One major consideration to being able to travel the tarmac, gravel, dirt, and perhaps even a bit of single track, is tires. It boils down to a simple equation; no traction, means no go – regardless of surface.
Enter the Continental TKC 80, a solution to the thorny issue of having to satisfy your multi-surface wanderlust. It’s the balancing solution to the traction equation, with a unique proof. This is not a road-biased tire with limited abilities off-pavement, nor is it a road tire that looks longingly at the dirt but shies away when it comes to doing the business. Rather, the TKC-80 is a design that purports to traverse all terrain that the bike and rider have the nerve to handle.
The Conti’s certainly have the look of a serious all-roader – with the emphasis on the “ALL” part. The tread is deep, with a meaty knobby pattern. Indeed, the overall diameter of the tire stands noticeably taller than its street-oriented counterpart of the same size. If looks alone determined the ability of tires, the TKC 80s would have to rank near the top, but unless you’re riding the Hummer H2 of bikes, looks count for naught – it all comes down to real world riding.
To see how these rugged doughnuts actually perform, we mounted a set onto a BMW 1150 GS for some real world roundabouts. In the modern world, “go everywhere” begins with pavement. As much as most adventure riders disdain the thought of spending time on the blacktop, on-road is still where a majority of the riding is done. Street performance, then, is a vital consideration of a tire’s behavior.
Right out of the driveway, the TKC 80s are surprisingly compliant on the asphalt. True, the grip is less than a purpose built street tire, but it’s still within an acceptable level of performance. Pushing to about 80 percent of a street oriented tire’s performance envelope is not a problem. There is a slight tendency for the TKC-80 to flex around a little on its knobs while in a lean. Though, under the control of a competent rider, the Contis will be able to keep ahead of speedier cars and hang in near the front of most sane sporting group rides.
In the rain, the TKC 80s offer a fair amount of grip and feedback. The feedback is certainly put to good use though. The Contis will take about 80% of the push you’d expect from any of the major brand road tires on rain soaked city streets, as the R1150GS did the duties. Realistically 80% is not a limitation, as soggy streets are not the ideal place to go testing boundaries and pushing limits anyhow.
Overall, the Continentals will handle pavement far better than most would expect of a knobby tire and with a minimal adjustment period. Five minutes of commuting around town leaves you quite comfortable with the tires. And simply by keeping in mind that these are not “all out sport tires”, I was able to ride my favorite local back-roads with only minimal drama and without drastic changes to my riding style.
But that’s all on the road, what about the dark side…
Off-road is where the TKC 80s show their might. For starters the tires hook up much better than any street oriented dual sport rubber in most situations. Gravel and packed dirt logging roads are non-issues; it’s here on these surfaces that the Conti’s thrive, offering a good level of grip and a confident feel.
The heft of the BMW may have contributed to some issues; as the gravel and packed dirt turn to mud the TKC 80’s began to slip. Even then an adequate level of grip was provided. If the slop worsens however, the knobs do tend to pack up with mud, which doesn’t fling away easily to clear the tread. Although, at this point we are closer to testing the limits of the bike and rider than the tire.
Similarly, on jagged rocky terrain, the TKC 80s will lose grip resulting in the occasional wheel spin. Though once again, the weighty GS likely had a role with the drawbacks in this situation.
It has to be noted that off-road we took the liberty of airing the Continental’s down to about 22psi for a bit more bite and grip. We experienced no problems running off-road at this pressure, nor did we notice any damage to the rims.
Mileage is a bit of a sticking point. On our BMW 1150 GS, the tires lasted about 7800kms, and a bit of research amongst other adventure riders indicates that 6000 to 8000 km can be expected. If you’re riding a lot of road, expect the mileage to be towards the lower end of the range as the TKC 80s wear faster than a street-oriented dual sport tire – particularly if a majority of the riding is on pavement. This is largely do to the soft, grippy compound used to give the tires their street handling characteristics. In return for a shorter lifespan the Conti’s add a much bigger range to your adventure motorcycling.
The Continental TKC 80s, then, are probably as close to a “go everywhere” tire as can be bought today. The Conti’s still have limitations at the extremes of the performance envelope in comparison to either a purpose built street or dirt tire. Though, as a partner to machines like the R1150GS, the TKC 80s are well-matched and worth serious consideration. The exceptional thing here is that the TKC 80s are by no means a compromise – they are adventure tires that let you have it all.
– Written by Evan Leung
For more information: Continental Tires.