Amazing grip and stability, amazing value

By Adam Waheed, Road Test Editor

Whether it’s iPhones or motorcycle tires, faster, lighter and better rules the market. And after establishing a new performance standard for sport riders with its outgoing Q2, Dunlop follows up with its new and improved Sportmax Q3. The Q3 is an all-purpose sport tire positioned between Big D’s more affordable Qualifier and race-grade GP-A tires.

Considering the Q2’s phenomenal road handling (winner of the 2010 Street Motorcycle Tire Comparison), engineers didn’t want to reinvent the, uh … tire. Instead, it employs new manufacturing techniques and lessons learned during its five years of supplying competition tires for the AMA Pro Road Racing series.

The underpinning and exterior profile of the front hoop (available in two sizes: 120/60-17 and 120/70-17) is similar to before and continues to employ twin nylon and aramid fiber carcass plies that make for a solid footprint regardless of speed. However, engineers tweaked the way the tire deforms under load by introducing carbon fiber into the sidewall. To do this, it mixes ground up pieces of carbon fiber with rubber and extrudes it into certain areas of sidewall, above the steel hex-shaped bead. This helps give favorable flex characteristics during braking, cornering and acceleration.

Like before, the Q3 incorporates separate rubber compounds designed to give the best of both worlds: Acceptable mileage and wear resistance on straight roads and enhanced grip and road holding at lean through corners. It does this by using a tough section of rubber at the center that’s sandwiched between tackier mixtures on either side. The Q3 also benefits from a new tread design that closely mimics the GP-A race tire. This improves grip on dry roads without sacrificing wet weather performance. Although there is fewer tread grooves, each one is longer in length and placed strategically to evacuate water on wet asphalt. To prove it Dunlop soaked down a portion of the track with its sprinkler system. While the tires don’t have the sure-footedness of a purpose-built rain- or sport-touring tire, they do offer plenty of grip to keep you rolling if the skies open up on you during a ride.

Aside from the updated tread design and inclusion of carbon fiber filament in certain areas of the tire’s sidewall, the shape of the 180/55-17 and 190/55-17 rear tires was modified to enhanced steering precision while yielding a bigger contact patch. Specifically, the 180 is narrower, which contributes to quicker handling. The 190/55 version is taller at the center and has a more triangulated profile akin to the AMA-spec race rubber. Also of note is the availability of a 200/50-17 for fitment on the newest liter-class sportbikes (Aprilia RSV4 and Ducati 1199 Panigale) and a 240/40-18 for stretched and slammed drag-racing-style sport motorcycles like Suzuki’s Hayabusa or Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-14R.

To experience Dunlop’s newest Sportmax, we were invited to Dunlop’s testing center in Huntsville, Alabama. Although the proving grounds were originally built for car-tire testing, it has since morphed into a motorcycle-only facility where Big D evaluates all of its on- and off-road motorcycle tires. We sampled its fresh shoes on a 2011-2013 spec Suzuki GSX-R600 in standard sizes (120/70-17 front, 180/55-17 rear). Since we were riding exclusively on track, Dunlop lowered tire air pressures from the OE setting (36 psi front/42 psi rear) to 32 psi in the front and 30 psi in the rear – as this was the optimal setting based on previous testing.

Typically track day outings necessitate the use of tire warmers so that the rubber is pre-heated and ready to adhere to pavement as soon as wheels turn on track. But with the Q3s warmers are almost irrelevant. The rubber compound generates heat quickly, allowing the rider to begin exploiting the performance of their motorcycle right away. Of course some caution should be exercised to avoid a cold tire crash, but the Dunlops warm up so quickly that it’s easy to pick up the pace by the second lap or after a few minutes of riding.

The Q3s continue to have a more rigid-feeling carcass than other road tires in this segment. This gives riders the feel they need to be assertive with the controls during acceleration and braking. Yet the tires still soak up bumps and deliver a controlled ride that isn’t harsh. You’d be hard pressed to find a tire that offers a better compromise between that solid race-tire feel and everyday comfort over chop and rough pavement.

Considering the tire’s stiffer construction, both steering precision and stability is at lofty level. Not only do the Q3s boost the handling accuracy of a modern sportbike like the GSX-R we rode, they do so without compromising stability. We encountered not even a hint of headshake or handlebar wiggle during full throttle acceleration. In fact, the Q3s made the Suzuki handle so much more responsively that it takes some time to get used to. It was actually challenging to find the sweet spot in terms of rider steering input (too much and you’re clipping the apex), but the bottom line is the tires will allow you to put the motorcycle anywhere on track with laser-like precision. You just have to get your brain acclimated to how quickly it will arrive there.

Outright grip continues to be astounding for a street tire. The Q3 delivers such a high degree of adhesion that exploring its true potential on public roadways will prove difficult due to typical road hazards (traffic, guard rails, animals, etc.) Still, it’s nice to know that if you come across an open stretch of tarmac that you know well, you’ll have all the traction needed to put a grin on your face. The Q3 can achieve impressive lean angles, and as mentioned before, the stability near maximum lean is incredible. Dunlop’s latest Sportmax gives more authentic track-grade performance than any other street tire we know of.

Given the class-leading performance of the outgoing Q2, it could have been easy for Dunlop to simply keep producing it. Instead, through a series of careful refinements born in AMA racing, it has designed a tire that enables sport riders to explore the outrageous performance of their motorcycles with added control – but not cost, as the Q3 is priced the same as the Q2. Never mind value; if you’re seeking a versatile high-performance sport tire, the Q3 is it.

The Dunlop Sportmax Q3 Front and Rear Tires are available at Motorcycle-Superstore.com

  • SIZES: Front: 120/60-17, 120/70-17; Rear: 160/60-17, 180/55-17, 190/50-17, 190/55-17, 200/50-17, 240/40-18
  • MSRP: $165.95-170.95 (front); $204.95-290.95 (rear)

Dunlop Sportmax Q3 Highs & Lows

Highs

  • Accurate steering precision
  • Tremendous grip and road holding
  • Exceptional value

Lows

  • Steering is almost too responsive
  • No increase in wear resistance against mileage

Inside Dunlop’s Proving Grounds

The process of creating a new tire incorporates much chemistry, physics and engineering, a measure of art, and loads and loads of hard work. After the computer designing and lab work are completed, tires are put to the real-world test. One place where they are tested is the Dunlop Proving Grounds (DPG) in Huntsville, Alabama. Dunlop develops, evaluates and then builds motorcycle tires for the North American market here in the U.S. to best match U.S. riding styles and needs. Much of the development and evaluation process takes place here at DPG, a dedicated motorcycle-only tire-test facility and the only one of its kind in the U.S. using American-spec bikes. This 80-acre facility opened in 1989, and ongoing improvements to the road course, the wet-test track, the multiple Supercross and motocross tracks, and a recently expanded off-road course make it a leading-edge tool for tire development. DPG is also the only dedicated wet-track test facility designed specifically for motorcycles in the U.S., which explains why AMA road racing teams test their wet setups there.

DPG STATS

  • DPG sits on 80 acres. That includes the building, road course and off-road area.
  • The road course takes up 40 acres, and the off-road course sits on 35 acres.
  • DPG was opened in 1989 and originally designed to accommodate passenger car and motorcycle tire testing.
  • A decade later, DPG became a motorcycle-tire-exclusive testing facility.
  • Numerous changes to the shop/office area and track were implemented at that time.
  • The short road handling course (also the portion used for wet handling) is 0.5 miles.
  • The long road course is 1.3 miles.
  • Total asphalt surface length is 4.0 miles.
  • The off-road area includes a 3.0 mile enduro (woods) course, an outdoor-style national Motocross track, and an indoor-style Supercross track.

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