With more than half of all motorcycle tires sold in the United States purchased by riders in the cruiser segment, the ME 880 has found its mark since its introduction to the market in 1990.
“The U.S. and Canada is a niche market — this is us; this is not Europe,” Johnston said. “Every year we see an increase in market share. The commitment that we have continues to grow every single year. We bring in more sizes. A couple of years ago Harley-Davidson introduced the 2009 chassis for the touring bikes and it had a brand new set of tires. Literally, within nine months of Harley introducing that bike, we had a set of tires for it. So I mean that’s always been our commitment, to bring new products to the range.”
Manufacturing custom sized tires for both V-twin and metric cruisers provides Metzeler, based in Germany, with additional market share.
“We’ve tested and used many different sized tires and wheels on many different motorcycles,” Johnston said. “We’re the only company that really does that, where we’ll rent a bunch of bikes and take them and put 18-inch wheels front and rear on them and ride them. My competitors don’t offer what we call a stage 1 or stage 2 upgrade for their motorcycles. We’re very, very proud of what we do.”
In fact, Metzeler custom tires have found a niche in the U.S. From a 318 to a 120-70-21 with reinforced sidewalls for the newer Harley-Davidsons, Metzeler’s product range is extensive.
“Our custom sizes are second to none,” he said. “The American market is all about customization.”
Johnston says the popularity of the ME 800 can be attributed to three qualities:
• Well-rounded profile. “It almost helps the bike steer easier. It’s almost like, in essence, putting power steering on your motorcycle. In many applications, competitors’ OE tires don’t have that same feel, so immediately a guy switches to a set of ME 880s, and the bike steers easier and goes around corners more comfortably.”
• Tread pattern. “It has a unique design where it doesn’t have a groove that goes through the center of the tire, especially in the front that’s important. On bridge grading or grooved pavement, the 880 tread pattern tracks over the irregularities of the pavement and the grooves of the pavement and makes the bike much more stable.”
• Handle in both wet and dry. “We pioneered the use of silica saline in motorcycle tires many years ago. It’s a compound additive which gives chemical wet grip and lessens rolling resistance.”
Like other tire manufacturers, Metzeler has had to endure the rising costs of oil, and the subsequent price of the carbon black additive, over the past few years. The additive provides the tire’s black coloration.
But that won’t stop the company to continue to enhance its products, in both bias-ply and radial. It’s an OEM supplier on the new Kawasaki Ninja ZX14, and BMW is perhaps its largest customer. It also supplies OEM tires to Triumph, Indian and Yamaha.