Bridgestone’s exclusive proving grounds in Tochigi, Japan hosted our evaluation of the Japanese tire manufacturer’s release of the Battlax BT-023 sport-touring tire.
Tires are the only things that touch the ground on a motorcycle. Well, the occasional footpeg too, but only if the tires do their job. And that job, keeping the bike upright on a credit card-sized contact patch, often goes underappreciated. Not by the folks at Bridgestone, however, with the historic manufacturer living and breathing tires since its founding in 1931. Motorcycle USA recently tested the Japanese firm’s latest creation, the Battlax BT-023 tire on the company’s own home soil.
We sampled the new tires on a street ride and closed-course circuit. The street tour took us from Bridgestone’s Tochigi Japan facilities to the Twin Ring Motegi circuit and back, ostensibly to watch the Japanese Grand Prix. Though that Icelandic volcano threw a damper on the GP plans, we still made the scenic route. As for the track portion, our press tour was privileged to be the first journalists to ride at the company’s exclusive proving grounds. Located 10 minutes from Bridgestone’s sole motorcycle tire plant in Nasu, the BSPG proved an ideal controlled setting for tire evaluation (See Sidebar).
The latest generation of the BT sport-touring tire line, the 023 replaces the 021 and promises a 30% increase in tire life.
Battlax BT-023 Sport-Touring Tire
Bridgestone bills its new Battlax BT-023 as a full spec sport-touring tire – the design replacing its BT-021 (except where the 021 remains OE fitment, with the BT-020 actually still in circulation as OE fitment for some bikes, like the Honda ST1300). Representing the latest generation of sport-touring performance, the BT-023 aims to increase tire wear life and improve wet weather handling, all while delivering the optimal combination of touring comfort and sportbike handling. To do this, the 023 sports a new tread pattern and compound, as well as a special GT version for heavier sport-touring rides.
After visiting the Nasu plant and visiting the Proving Grounds, it’s obvious a lot of research and critical thought goes into tread development. The new pattern claims improvement in three particular areas: A V-groove aids braking, T-groove improves linear handling and a groove-free area at the crown of the rear tire promises a smoother, quieter ride. (The predominant sound emanating from tires being the air cupping within the groove spaces of the tread pattern, a phenomenon Bridgestone engineers measure and try to neutralize through testing).
The new compound makes use of an increased silica composition dubbed Silica Rich Ex (compared to the previous Silica Rich) and RC Polymer, the former improving wet performance and the latter a proprietary polymer blend said to “control the change of properties of rubber in any temperature and assist Silica effect.” The rear tire also utilizes the Silica Rich Ex and RC Polymer composition but in its 3LC dual compound format, with a stiffer center rubber formulated for stability and long wear life. Flanking the center, two grippier shoulders complete the dual-compound construction.
Back-to-back rides on the Suzuki Bandit with the new BT-023 and its 021 predecessor showed the new tire’s stability and grip in the corners.
Though designed with sport-touring in mind, the BT-023 services a wide range of machines including street bikes like the Ducati Monster.
Covering the interior carcass on both standard-spec 023 tires are Bridgestone Monospiral belts, the MS-belts made of a thin strand of steel spun repeatedly around the tire circumference to produce a single one-piece construction belt void of overlaps or joints. (We witnessed the belt-making process of a different tire during our tour of the Nasu plant, watching as two strands of steel wire spun onto the rotating, warm rubber interior before the tire’s tread layer was applied and then shipped away to the final curing process.) Claimed advantages of the monospiral belt design include lighter weight and less heat generation on the interior of the tire.
Enough with paper performance, it’s time for some real-world evaluation. While at the BSPG we compared the 023 on a variety of rides, including back-to-back sessions with its 021 predecessor on a Suzuki Bandit. We also tested the new GT and regular spec tires back-to-back (more on this later).
It’s difficult to make any strong assertions at tire intros, without direct comparisons to work off, so the quick sessions on the Bandit proved valuable. Both BT tires perform well, but we recognized some modest differences in feel. The 021-shod Bandit actually felt a little lighter on its toes, with nimble turn in and quick directional transitions. Which isn’t to say the new 023 felt sluggish, just not as light handling as its replacement. However, the 023 Bandit delivered a more planted, secure feel once turned over on its side. The regular 023 also felt smoother when we rolled over a rougher section of the high-speed straight compared to the 021.
In direct comparison the changes to the BT-023 are quite subtle. However, the claims for durability are not, with Bridgestone stating a 30% gain in tire life. If the 023 is fractionally slower to turn than its predecessor, the sensation is far off-set by the value of the extra mileage.
The BT-023 GT uses cross belt construction in the front, with
an extra belt supporting the monospiral design in the rear.
The GT also utilizes a different tread up front (bottom right),
compared to the standard BT-023 front tire (bottom left).
On the street the BT-023 handled all the regular riding conditions with ease. There were no gaffes to speak of, as it held up well to the tight, twisty terrain we encountered, as well as smooth comfortable stretches on the interstate. It also navigated bumps and road imperfections without trouble, including the striped paint/speed bump/rumble strips we sometimes encountered in corners where the Japanese road engineers made it clear they wanted traffic to keep the MPH down. About the only thing the BT-023 couldn’t handle was reorienting my brain to riding on the left side of the road… But we won’t hold that against it.
Amazingly, even though this karma-stricken reviewer was in attendance, it didn’t rain heavily during our riding days. Good news for us! Bad news for being able to vouch for the 023’s wet-weather handling. However, Bridgestone is keen to point out the new higher-silica compound improves corner handling in the wet.
BT-023 GT Spec
Bridgestone purpose built a separate BT-023 GT spec for heavier ST bikes, fitting sizes 120/70 ZR17 front and 180/55 ZR17 rear. The GT tire looks to rectify the durability complaints reported by owners of some ST bikes, the Yamaha FJR singled out in particular by Bridgestone reps.
Turns out the sport-touring crowd isn’t just puttering around, they like to hammer down on those tires with high-performance riding. The heavier weights of the comfortable ST platforms proved harsh on the 021, loading up the front and producing premature wear on the shoulder area.
Bridgestone counters with beefier construction on both the GT tires. Up front sturdier cross belt construction replaces the MS-belt of the standard spec, while the rear makes use of the MS-belt but reinforces it with another belt underneath. The BT-023 GT front tire also makes use of a different tread pattern.
The new BT-023 GT should deliver more high-performance miles for those riders of the heavier sport-tourers – a critical bonus for the touring set.
Riding the GT and standard BT-023 on the Yamaha FJR back to back at the proving grounds, we noted slight differences. The GT-equipped machine transmitted a little more stability at speed in the turns and felt faintly more comfortable over bumps. But the true benefit of the GT tire is not in short-term performance, perhaps even more than the standard version, it’s the long-term wear reduction where the GT succeeds or fails. If the GT treads hold up to the claimed 30% increase in tire life, the grey-haired gentlemen whose FJR needed new rubber every 3000 miles will be much obliged.
Price may be the best feature of the new BT-023, as it doesn’t sway much from the previous model. In fact, with fronts ranging from $174-190 and rears between $218-$261, the rear tire MSRP drops somewhat from the 021’s.
Overall the BT-023 delivered solid performance on both street and track. We couldn’t verify in our brief riding time that impressive claim of a 30% improvement in tire life. But if this extra durability holds true, fans of the original 021 will be extremely happy with the new rubber. More miles and solid performance with virtually the same prices as the tire it replaces. It’s a sound formula for a happy customer.