Pirelli’s new line of high-performance tires is aimed squarely at cruisers. More precisely, the Italian tire manufacturer has its sights set on the Harley-Davidson market. Taking advantage of the high concentration of motorcycle press assembled to cover Daytona Bike Week 2008, Pirelli decided this would be a good time and place to roll out its brand-new Night Dragon line. Yes, you heard it right—Florida, flat and straight for a tire intro—interesting!
Over the years Pirelli has been well known for supplying the motorsports industry with tires designed to complement the performance of both cars and motorcycles. One of its main reasons for entering the cruiser market at this time was to give riders a viable performance tire choice in a market lacking real choices. The Night Dragon is designed to help riders realize all of the performance available from their large-displacement, high-horsepower engines, drag-strip-tested clutches and high-end chassis components. Until now very little attention has been paid to the rubber that makes the ride possible.
Over a two-and-a-half-day period Pirelli paraded a team of engineers, tire specialists, ex-racers and marketing people in front of us who explained the virtues of the new line, then we saddled up for what was scheduled to be a 140-mile ride. The route took us south from Daytona, ultimately landing us at the Kennedy Space Center some 60 miles from Daytona. Our group of writers included Pirelli staff members mounted on various models of Harley-Davidsons, including Road King Customs, Sportsters, Electra Glides and Softails. All of the bikes were set up with the Night Dragons configured in the bike’s stock sizes.
Premises of the new line are based on a tiered approach that includes tire compound, contact patch, construction, wet-weather performance and quick warmup times, with the ultimate goal of maximum grip between the tire and the road. All of these items are designed to give even the average rider the confidence that this new tire will perform at levels to which most riders will never push them. Since 2006 Pirelli has logged more than 700,000 miles a year testing different designs that would eventually find their way into today’s Night Dragon.
New compounds are used in the tires and are designed to provide a good feel, while still exhibiting decent longevity (Pirelli claims 6,000-8,000 miles per tire), and excellent traction capabilities. With these new materials in mind, Pirelli’s engineers designed a new 10 percent larger contact patch specifically for the Night Dragon. Even at severe lean angles, the tires are designed to give riders a predictable, repeatable response.
Although we didn’t have much in the way of turns or twisties to really get a feel for how well the tires performed, we did encounter a downpour in the late afternoon, about 15 miles from our destination. I think the Italians planned it that way, allowing us to get an idea how well the tires work when the pavement gets wet. From my perspective they performed well, with the front tire slicing a path through the water, allowing the rear tire to disperse the remaining water through its calibrated groves. The result was a confident feeling that the tire would stay under me even while whacking the throttle harder than necessary, and giving the brakes too much input based the slippery conditions. Another plus was realized as I rode over bridge gratings. No longer did the front tire want to track along the steel span like it had a mind of its own—all I experienced was a smooth, straight line with no wiggle at all in the bars. Initially (Q2 2008) the Night Dragon will be available to fit Harley’s Touring and Sportster lines. Soon to follow (Q4 2008) will be applications for other Harley-Davidson models as well as metric V-twins like the Yamaha Road Star, Suzuki’s Boulevard line, Kawasaki’s Vulcans and the Honda VTX1300. Check with your nearest Drag Specialties or Parts Unlimited Dealer for details.
For more information: See your dealer or visit www.pirellimoto.com