If you're wondering if you need tire warmers for your motorcycle, there's just one question you should ask yourself: street or track?
There's an easy answer here: If you're riding street-legal tires, you don't need a warmer. Your tires are designed to run just fine cold and will heat up on their own to run maybe just a little bit better once you've gone a couple miles.
But for the track rider, the question gets a little trickier.
Basically, cold rubber is very different from warm rubber. In track tires, cold rubber is brittle and slippery, while warm rubber is pliable and sticky. Obviously, you want the second -- it allows your tires to adjust to the shape of the road, offering a bigger contact patch, and the warm rubber of this contact patch grabs the pavement better than cold, brittle rubber.
There are two ways to get warm rubber -- you can either ride the tire for a couple laps or warm it to operating temperature (usually just under 200 degrees Fahrenheit) using the equivalent of an electric blanket.
There's more: Riding a racing tire before it's warm can result in what's known as a cold tear, as cold, brittle rubber cracks and splits. Needless to say, that's bad. Also, it can take four to six laps before a cold tire reaches operating temperature. That can be your whole race day, or at least enough time running on non-optimal tires to shake your confidence to the core. That is, if you don't crash first -- you know your limit, and if you push that limit on cold tires, you're going for a slide.
So for the track rider, yes -- tire warmers are an essential piece in your race-day toolkit. For the everyday recreational rider, not so much.
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- Sportsbike. "What are Tyre Warmers -- what do tyre warmers do?" (May 21, 2011) http://www.sportsbike.com.au/tyre_warmers_what.html
- Waheed, Adam. "PowerStands Tire Warmers Review." Motorcycle USA. May 27, 2008. (May 21, 2011) http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/543/84/Motorcycle-Article/PowerStands-Tire-Warmers-Review.aspx