At the beginning of this year, I contacted Shinko Tires about their off-road offerings. Since I had plans to compete all season in Kentucky Cross-Country Racing (KXCR), Shinko sent me 3 tires to test. Full disclosure, Shinko didn’t ask me to publish any particular content, use any specific language, or even link back to their website. The words that you read here are all mine, Shinko only asked that I ride and test the tires and share my thoughts on my channels. Moreover, as the season progressed, I purchased, with my own money, 3 additional tires, coincidentally Shinko branded buns. With the housekeeping details out of the way, let’s talk about some “tars”.
216MX (Extreme Offroad/Enduro/Desert tire)
90/90-21 & 90/100-21 (DOT & FIM)
Last year I ran the Michelin Starcross 5 medium for the entire season. Comparing the 216 to the Starcross 5, I felt more confidence under heavy breaking and as advertised, felt like the 216MX fatty “danced” a lot less in the endless wet roots found on the KXCR courses. This season, the fatty front has seen 8 Cross-Country (XC) races in the Bluegrass state. I took a peek at the hour meter yesterday and realized this tire has been on the Husky for 46 hours. After all the rocks and nonsense around KXCR’s training facility (“The Holler”) in Clay City (KY), and Dayton Dirt Riders, I’m retiring this 216 after the next race. The rocks have finally started taking a toll on the knobs after nearly a full race season. Despite some tearing, I was surprised to find that the breaking edges of the knobs still look sharp considering how long they’ve been mounted. After consulting the Shinko website, I discovered that these tires are actually DOT; I had no idea prior to this writing. While I am concerned about these knobs flexing on the twisty pavement of the Kentucky backroads, at some point I may buy a full set of the 216s for my Dual-Sport to see how they hold up to featherweight adventure riding.
Considering the diverse conditions I see here in southern Ohio and Appalachian Kentucky, the guys at Shinko thought it best to send me a front tire intended for enduro and extreme off-road terrain. Shinko sent the 216MX tire in both the “Chubby” 90/90-21 and the 90/100-21 “Fat Tire”. Historically I’ve run a 90/90-21 front tire on both my CRF250L, so I chose to run the “Fatty” 216MX for this year’s XC racing season. According to Shinko, the 90/100 “fat tire” has a “fuller” profile to avoid deflection through rocks, over roots and other obstacles.
I’ve loved the 216s to the point I will be hesitant to try something new for racing. After all of this time, I think the biggest downfall has been “tire flex” at low pressure. This, like so many other things, is a combination of factors. I run ultra-heavy-duty tubes. Folks that run tubliss, bibs, or traditional “heavy-duty” tubes will likely encounter different behavior from the same tire. Because I run tubes, I try not to get below 8 PSI when racing, with the exception of serious mudders. incidentally, I was running the 90/90-21 216 MX at the John Vincent mudder this year and stopped to let more air out of the tires during the first lap. Unbeknownst to me, I apparently let virtually all the air out of the front. With the ultra-heavy-duty tube and a rim-lock, the front wheel felt really low, but never felt flat, despite having no air in it the next morning. The 216 obviously does a great job of clearing mud, and under “normal” circumstances feels great (in my unsophisticated hands), and only struggles in the worst conditions. Having run both, the 90 and 100 width tires, the 90 definitely feels a bit more “twitchy” by comparison, especially on the slick stuff. I have no empirical evidence, but I suspect the “fatty” also flexes a bit more and helps clear the treads.
520 Dual Compound (Intermediate to Hard Terrain Tire)
120/100-18 (Not for Highway Service)
When discussing the Kentucky terrain conditions, Shinko recommended the 525, however, because of supply chain limitations at the time, they suggested I give the 520 Dual Compound tire a try. The Husqvarna’s manual calls for a 110/100-18 size rear tire, however, Shinko sent a 120/100-18. Long-time followers know, I have no qualms with trying various tire sizes, so this was a no-brainer for me. Moreover, I suspect a lot of folks run 120 width tires for trail and cross-country riding (more on that in a minute).
The 520 was my first experience with a “hybrid” soft compound off-road tire. As anyone that knows me will tell you, if I see a rocky creekbed or a boulder field… I’m hitting those lines with the dirt bike. With that, Dayton Dirt Riders has a rule, they don’t cut trees. If a tree falls, you go over, or you go around; that’s the way it is. Between rock ledges, river rock creekbeds, and endless logs, the 520 was well at home at my in my favorite riding areas.
Beyond enduro obstacles, my mind was blown by the way the 520 put power to the ground. In the fluffy loamy soil, the 520 tractored up the Appalachian foothills in “The Holler” with gusto. I could definitely feel the traction improvement considering the combination of the wider profile and the softer compound that could spread out over the dirt.
As the racing season proceeded, the 520 was forced to face off against the dreaded Kentucky Clay. “The Holler” in, aptly named, Clay City is kind of KXCR’s “home track”, like Dayton Dirt Riders, the clay soil is baked all summer by the sun until it’s hard as a rock or it’s ground to moon dust by the races. When it rains, the top surface of the clay holds onto the water, and yet the rain won’t penetrate the deeper levels of soil, which turns the course into a skating rink. This unfortunately is where I finally started to experience the limitation of the 520DC. As long as the rear tire had enough wheel speed to stay clean, things were pretty good. If I slowed down, the more compact knobs would become loaded. Clay is obviously a challenge for all off-road tires, so I blame my skill level much more than the tire. That said, I do feel like the softer knobs would flex and fold on the hard clay instead of dig like a traditional compound tire, but more on that than a second.
525 Hybrid Cheater (intermediate terrain Enduro/Extreme single-track)
110/100-18(Not for Highway Service)
After the first 5 rounds of XC racing, I noticed a lot of tread wear on the 520. Being a directional tire, I decided it was time for something new. Considering several of my racing buddies run the 525 Hybrid Cheater, it seemed like the natural successor to the 520.
Shinko says the 525 Hybrid “Cheater” is intended for intermediate terrain, enduro, and extreme single track. Like the 520, the 525 “cheater” is a softer compound for more tire flex. The 525 has lines square knobs, unlike the directional chevron patterns seen on the 520. The 525 knobs are also spaced further apart for more efficient cleaning; which was the biggest reason I chose it.
After 5 additional XC races through the Bluegrass and 1 in Ohio, I was happier with how the 525 handled the Miami River clay and avoided being loaded up on the race track. Like the 520DC, the softer compound really shined in the rocky hill climbs and creek beds.
Inversely, the limitation of the 525 appears to be tread life, and while not a severe as the 520DC (which feels softer, but I don’t have a durometer to check), the 525 knobs also felt like they fold on the polished clay. Tread life obviously has a lot to do with the hamfistedness of the rider. At the same time, one would expect a soft compound tire to struggle with longevity. In addition, per my comments above, 110/100-18 is the prescribed tire size for my two-stroke. After experiencing the 120 width tire, the wider tire definitely felt more confidence-inspiring, both in power delivery and cornering. Compared to the 520DC, I felt like the 525 had more wheelspin in the corners and hills climbs after the track had been beaten down over a few laps.
To test my theory about knob “folding”, long-term I want to try a standard compound 525 with a 120 width and see how I like it. I have a strong suspicion, despite my interest in the Shinko 546, the wider, traditional rubber 525 may be the best all-around solution for the highly variable terrain I ride.
504/505 Hard Terrain Tire
80/100-21 Front & 110/100-18 Rear (Not for Highway Service)
As the summer progressed, Red River Scramble was rapidly approaching. For first-time readers, 5 years ago a bunch of Instagrammers meeting for pizza and adventure riding turned into an annual rally near Red River Gorge, Kentucky. Between pre-rally reconnaissance rides and 4 days of the toughest dual-sport routes I know, I wanted the gnarliest off-road tires I could get my hands on, but still strong enough to permit me to ride like a hooligan on the pavement.
Again, I went back to look over Shinko’s offerings. Shinko sells the 244 and 804/805 tires, but I felt that neither of those DOT offerings would be ideal for a lightweight dual-sport and the copious mud and sand I see in the gorge. While not DOT approved, I landed on the Shinko 505 after seeing several friends run that tire at previous events. I was concerned the front knobs might not be firm enough to handle braking on pavement, but in the interest of “science” ordered the matching 504 anyway.
From sandstone ledges, bottomless Jeep pits, rocks, creekbed sand washes, and The Holler in “Clay City”, I couldn’t be happier with the 504/505. After five days of riding like a moron off-road and on-road, the front knobs still look like new, and the rear knobs aren’t half worn. The leading edge of the rear tire is beat up from some wheel spin on the rocks and braking on asphalt, but after 30 minutes with the “knobby knife”, they’re sharped up and ready for more.
The tight knob pattern of the 505 naturally struggles in the sticky mud and clay, so wheel speed is critical. That said, if the trail is dryer than it is wet, or you’re in the sandy loam of the gorge area, the 505 puts down solid traction. Having seen the 505 on the trail in the past, I was most impressed with the performance of the front. I expected those knobs to be fully loaded with clay and mud at the first sight of damp trail. The only time I really struggled was the swampy section of The Holler known as “no man’s land”. The 504/505 combo was so good, I want to take them to a race during the dry season to see how they fare.