In the UK winter tyres are surrounded by controversy, but there is no denying that they are proven to provide more traction in damp, cold, slippery conditions than their summer counterparts.
Facing the prospect of a long cold winter, and needing to replace my worn out Avon Gripmaster (or should that read Slipmaster?), I bit the bullet and plumped for a Heidenau K60 Silica M+S winter tyre. Here’s my review after 3,000 miles in the Spanish and British winter.
Understanding the K60 range
The K60 Silica is yet another variation of the popular Heidenau K60 (there’s three in total). Unlike the Scout, and the regular K60 M+S, The Silica is an out and out winter tyre. Here’s what Heidenua have to say about the K60 line up (bear in mind English isn’t their first language).
“…There are 3 version of the K60.
1. The “normal” K60. That’s the old pattern of K60. This tyre has a medium compound.
2. K60 M+S Silica. That’s a winter tyre., because of its soft compound (including a high part of Silicium) – we recommend to drive the tyre only in the winter.
3. K60 Scout M+S. That’s the further development of the “normal” K60. The tyre has a soft-medium compound.
On wet roads the grip is better than by K60. The pattern is a little bit different for better grip off the road.
Our recommendation is that if you only ride on a few cold days without snow take the K60 Scout M+S. If you drive many kilometers on cold days with (on) snow take the K60 M+S Silica.”
The original K60 tyres are famed for their longevity. It’s not uncommon for riders to go to 10,000 miles between tyre changes. One major criticism though is their performance in the wet. So how does the Silica fair?
The tyre was fitted to my BMW F650 Dakar towards the end of October 2013. Temperatures in the UK at the time were hovering around 12c. The 130/80/17 rear tyre was a direct replacement for the Slipmaster I’d been running previously. After some squeaky bum moments on wet roads in Hungary, I decided that the Avon tyre had to go.
I’d describe the Silica as a 60/40 tyre (road/off-road), compared to the 90/10 set up of the Avon. As such the tread is more aggressive, resulting in a physically larger and more imposing tyre.
For the first 50 miles or so while the tyre was being scrubbed in there wasn’t much to shout about. Cue a few days of rain and single degree temperatures and the tyre was transformed into a super grippy friction loving beast.
Banging down the gears on the F650 thumper produces some harsh engine braking making it all to too easy to lock the rear wheel if you’re not careful. The K60 Silica really held its own here engaging in a tug-of-war with the engine. More often than not the tyre won. It also transformed the rear brake into something that was actually worth using, as oppose to being a poor fashion accessory or a slide inducing device as it was with the Avon.
Just two weeks after having the rear fitted I embarked on a 2,200 mile trip around Spain. The weather varied but bar a couple of cold spots (Salamanca, Aragon) it was mostly dry with temperatures in mid to high teens. I wouldn’t say that this tyre is in it’s element two up and loaded with luggage, yet it coped with long stretches of motorway fairly well.
The tyre was tested to it’s limit just 50 miles in to my Spanish trip when my scenic route took us nearly 2,000m up through the Picos de Europa. There had been snowfall down to 500m and the roads in parts were covered in ice and frost.
I also rode up and back down at speed, the Sierra Nevada, and a lovely super twisty road from Ronda to the San Pedro. Both of these rides were in nice sunny conditions, and yet I was able to really push the pace.
During the review period I took the bike on heavy gavel roads, mud tacks, and light hill climbs. The results were mixed. On hard packed gravel, wet or dry, the tyre will grip all day long without problem. Dirt roads and tracks are problem free too, but things start to get interesting (for want of a better word) in the mud or clay.
Firstly I should point out that I’m hardly an experienced off-road rider, and many who are will tell you that no tyre works well in (deep) mud or heavy clay. That didn’t stop me having a go though and getting myself stuck a couple of times along the way. In a straight line in very light mud there’s no major problems if you take it easy but anything more than 1/2″ deep has the potential to leave the back wheel spinning up like a Catherine wheel, and all but the gentlest inclines in these conditions are out of the question (without masses of momentum).
Another thing to note is that there is limited scope to drop the tyre pressure. Despite the stiff sidewalls, Heidenau do not recommend pressures any lower than mid to high 20s (psi), and keep them above 30 on the tarmac.
Wear and life
I used the tyre in a variety of conditions, and while it’s seen some rain, snow and ice, the majority of the 3,000 miles I’ve done so far have been roads in temperatures ranging from 5-23c. Despite being pushed outside its main comfort zone the K60 Silica worn reasonably well, if a bit square. At the time of writing the tread in the centre of the tyre is about 65% worn, with the sides about 25% down on new (chicken strips anyone?). That would give the tyre an estimated life of around 5,000 road miles, less off road as you’d need larger knobblies to cut into the dirt. Don’t forget though most of my mileage was 2-up with fully luggage with plenty of motorway/autovia miles.
The final verdict
The Heidenau K60 Silica retails for £76 from Amazon, it has plenty of grip on dry warm-ish days, but when the mercury falls it really shows what it’s made of. Wear rate is acceptable and feedback is smooth and neutral. It’s performance on wet dirt is a little disappointing, but overall it’s a great tyre and one I’d certainly consider again next winter.
UPDATE: I’ve since bought the SiO2 Silica front for the KTM 950 Adventure. I’ll report back how I get on.