By Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

Making your tires better and better

A set of Metzeler ME 888 Marathon Ultra Tires arrived recently, and we’re eager to spoon them onto our 2004 Harley Sportster 1200 Custom project bike. With a wider ply line, new tread pattern, and a contact patch said to be 15% wider than the Metzler ME 880 Marathons it’s replacing, we’re eager to find out if the “Triple 8s” are indeed an upgrade to the 880s. Coincidentally, the Sportster 1200 Custom project bike was already shod in a set of Metzeler ME 880s when we acquired it, and we’ve been put a couple thousand miles on them ourselves, providing us a solid foundation by which to compare the 888s.

To say the ME Marathon line is significant to Metzeler would be an understatement. The cruiser/V-Twin segment is “by far the most important to Metzeler in the U.S., making up the majority of our sales,” said Metzeler’s Chet Plewacki. “The ME 880 was very successful, and the combined volumes of the ME 888 and ME 880 are the two most critical products for us.”

While the Metzeler ME 880 helped secure the company’s foothold in the V-Twin segment, it has been an evolutionary process, starting with the Marathon ML2 and continuing with the ME 88 Marathon. As the demands of riders have progressed, so has tire technology, from longer-lasting compounds to tread design. We talked to Plewacki about what differentiates the ME 880 from its predecessors.

“Metzeler R&D put a lot of effort into choosing and tuning all features of the tire: profile, structure, tread pattern and compound. These efforts were aimed at achieving the mileage goal while keeping all the characteristics which made ME 880 so famous: handling, grip, wet behavior. In short, the contact patch was made wider and shorter (better force distribution), while compounds, tread design and structure improvements all lead to better mileage,” said Plewacki.

When asked for more details on what differentiates the latest ME, Metzeler broke down the changes to us.

  • Compound: The polymer chosen had a better abrasion resistance, and by combining with a unique resin, it is able to maintain its chemical grip on wet surfaces. To ensure this performance lasts across the life of the tire, improvements were made in the mixing process, granting us better and more uniform dispersal of the compounds and resins.
  • Structure (carcass): Heavy bikes can cause a lot of fatigue in the carcass. Reducing the fatigue was achieved by employing a ply line whose geometry is flatter and wider than traditional designs. The revised geometry helps by pushing the stress towards the sidewall, where it will be dissipated without causing any additional fatigue on the contact patch. The ME 888 also features polyester carcass plies and aramid belts for the sizes in need of a structural reinforcement.
  • Tread pattern: Compound bridges between the tread grooves assist in keeping a more rigid/solid tread block under load. We’ve also addressed some wear irregularity issues commonly found on the grooves edges. [Grooves walls don’t work symmetrically: One wall faces toward the same direction of the force, while the other faces against it. This means that one side of the groove “bites” the road, while the other slips away from it, effectively being subject of different type of wear.] To assist with this, the groove walls have different designs between front and rear (based on direction of tire rotation) so they wear more evenly. The groove direction also changes from center to shoulder in conjunction with the groove wall changes to adapt to different forces. A side benefit of this combination is increased water drainage and resistance to hydroplaning.
  • Profile: The ME 888's contact patch is 5% shorter and 15% wider than the ME 880's. This profile has been chosen because the longer the footprint shape, the more there is tread wearing due to movements and deformations of the compound footprint. A shorter and wider profile, such as the ME 888's, helps by better distributing the force necessary to transfer the engine torque on the ground. This results in reduced overheating and better distribution of forces across the tire.
  • When asked about how many miles could potentially be achieved on the new ME 888’s, we agree with Plewacki that this depends on many variables, from riding style to road surfaces. He did venture to estimate that under typical usage, smaller rear tires should hold up for approximately 12,000 miles while larger rear sizes could see up to 20,000 miles. Range of a Metzeler ME 888 Marathon Ultra front tire is said to be as much as 24,000 miles if properly inflated and maintained.
  • Metzler’s ME 888 fits Harley-Davidson’s new FL Touring motorcycles in addition to Softails and Sportsters. The bias belted versions are produced in Brazil while radial 888’s are produced in Germany.
  • We’ll get these mounted on our Sportster project bike soon and look forward to reporting whether the latest Metzeler cruiser tires live up to claims.