MC Tested: Bridgestone Battlax BT-023

A big improvement over the 021, especially for sport-tourers

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Bridgestone

Sport-touring is the most ambiguous category in motorcycling. This convenient catch-all covers everyone from supersport-riding commuters and penny-pinching canyon carvers to callous-assed mileage junkies. Designing a single tire to satisfy such a diverse clientele is nearly impossible, but that didn't stop Bridgestone from trying with its new Battlax BT-023 radial. With advantages like the proven Mono Spiral Belt carcass and 3LC dual-compound tread, plus a special "GT" spec for heavyweight touring bikes, they have come close to creating a no-compromise tire for all the above.

Designed to replace the BT-021, the BT-023 benefits from a revised rubber compound with increased silica and RC polymer content for improved wet grip and greater durability. Both the front and rear tires utilize a similar Mono Spiral Belt for optimum straight-line stability and shock absorption, especially under heavier bikes. The rear tire benefits from dual-compound technology, with a high-mileage formulation at the center and softer, grippier rubber on the shoulders. The front is a single compound.

A solo rider on a 600cc sportbike puts different demands on a tire than a two-up couple on a fully loaded sport-tourer, even though both might have the same performance expectations and often buy the same tire. Recognizing this reality, Bridgestone engineers created the GT-spec BT-023 available in 120/70ZR-17 and 180/55ZR-17sizes just for heavyweight bikes. This tire features different belting front and rear and a special front tread pattern to maintain light handling, good braking performance and a long life even under the additional load of big bikes.

Bridgestone invited us to Japan to sample the revised BT-023 at its official Proving Grounds, located just a few miles from the Nasu manufacturing plant where all the company's motorcycle tires are built. This was a unique opportunity to experience the tires in the exact conditions they were developed, and historic in that it was the first time moto-journalists were allowed inside the secure facility.

Built in 1977, the Bridgestone Proving Grounds cover almost 200 acres and incorporate a high-speed, high-banked, 2.4-mile oval, a technical handling course, a skid pad, and a "ride-and-noise" test circuit featuring many different pavement types and features. We sampled the standard BT-023 on naked sportbikes like the Suzuki Bandit 1200S and Ducati Monster 1000, then experienced the GT-spec variant on Yamaha's FJR1300 and the BMW R1200RT.

The most impressive attribute of the redesigned BT-023 was its unfailing predictability over a wide variety of riding surfaces, whether racing around the oval at triple-digit speeds or winding through the handling course that mimicked a twisty backroad, complete with a tight hairpin turn and slight elevation changes. The BT-023 displayed neutral handling and good grip right out of the garage, making even the sluggish Bandit feel light on its feet. Ride quality was also exceptional, as experienced on the ride-and-noise circuit where we rode over everything from grooved pavement to faux cobblestones.

After a few sessions on the standard bikes we switched over to the heavyweight touring machines fitted with the GT-spec tires. Thanks to extra-stout belting the straight-line stability was exceptional, without any hint of hunting or wandering, even at 135 mph on the banked oval. Edge grip was excellent as well, allowing both the Beemer and the FJR to corner at peg-dragging lean angles with complete confidence, and the front carcass resisted deformation even under hard trail-braking. Though it wasn't apparent during our one-day test, Bridgestone reps say the GT's unique front tread pattern will be especially wear-resistant, to prevent cupping and other unusual shoulder wear that was sometimes a problem with the old BT-021.

The next day brought a 100-mile street ride from the nearby city of Utsonomiya into the mountains surrounding the Motegi circuit, where we assessed the BT-023 in real-world conditions consisting of everything from crowded and dirty city streets to multi-lane tollways. Street performance was not disappointing. The Battlax BT-023 did exactly what we ask a well-rounded sport-touring radial to do, managing everything from urban commuting to aggressive sport riding without argument or upset. The latest Battlax, available in six front and eight rear sizes to fit most modern sport and sport-touring bikes, definitely fulfills this mission.

Bridgestone Battlax BT-023 sport-touring tires
Price: $174.23-$189.93 front, $218.24-$261.20 rear
Contact: Bridgestone Americas

www.motorcycle-karttires.com.

Verdict 4 stars out of 5
An excellent tire choice for a wide variety of sport-touring riders, especially big-bike owners who opt for the reinforced GT version.

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