Bridgestone are definitely a premium tyre manufacturer, but they’ve wanted for a defining full-on adventure tyre. Their Battle Wing tyre has been something of a 90/10 (road/dirt) offering, pretty much like a Metzeler Tourance. Their Trail Wing we’d call a 70/30 at best, but still not a proper town and country. But now they have the new AX-41 – the Battlax Adventurecross and at last we have a real 50/50, perfect for super-adv riders wanting to go proper off-road (but still ride there on the highway). As such it goes head-to-head with the likes of Metzeler’s Karoo 3, Pirelli’s Scorpion Rally and Michelin’s Anakee Wild – pretty tough oppo’.
The AX-41s are pleasingly chunky, but still with a profile of limited height as tall knobs really don’t suit the heavyweights. Bridgestone have done their research and come up with a technology they call A-IW (that’s Anti-Irregular Wear) that limits the movement of the blocks and so reduces wear on the leading and trailing edges, so extending tyre life and improving the performance (particularly on road). They’ve also worked hard to create a block pattern that maximizes off-road traction with plenty of leading edges to cut into the dirt while leaving enough of a footprint to ensure good grip on road – always a tricky trade-off. While the first tyres out of the moulds have been for super-advs there’ll be smaller sizes arriving in early 2020 for lighter adventure bikes.
We fitted a set to our KTM 1290 Super Adventure R long termer– a stern test given its fair weight and 160hp power output. Coming from a 90/10 (road/dirt) OEM tyre there was an initial readjustment needed. The road tyres generally grip the road well and the only time they move is that millisecond before the traction control or ABS kick-in (on the road this is). You fit a 50/50 tyre like the AX-41 and straight away you’ll feel the tyres moving on the blocks. It’s every so slightly off-putting at first, but with the Bridgestones (as with other premium brands) you do get a decent compound, and I have to say the AX-41s ultimately stick well on-road, to the point I could ignore that mini-squirm and in fact reached maximum confidence in them to the extent I felt I rode on-road the same on these as I had with the road tyres.
Riding in the Isle of Man a fair few strops along the TT course certainly tested the high end on-road performance of these tyres, and while I wouldn’t say I was riding with ten-tenths attack I was tramping into some of the TT’s iconic corners at a fair lick and committing bike and tyres to some sportbike style pressure. For the tyres – not an issue.
On the trails, well, I’ve ridden the 1290 and the AX-41s both in Wales and the Isle of Man and the tyres impressed in both environments. Off-road there is a limit to just how much I like to push a super-adv, but I have to say the AX-41s performed on a par with their competition. In all but the slickest grassy conditions I could ride with a fair amount of confidence. Like other adv tyres their limitations come in slick condition (where they just can’t cut-through – they’re too wide, too shallow) and in the amount (or rather lack) of side grip you can expect – again adv tyres lack the edge of the sidewall knobs you’ll find on an enduro/mx tyre.
By the way, in Wales on Bridgestone’s advice we settled on 25/25psi (that’s about 1.8bar) for best grip off-road, but in the Isle of Man, with lots of sharp rock to contend with I couldn’t face the prospect of a pinch flat so stuck with the road pressures of 36/42 (2.4/2.9bar) and rode that bit steadier. The tyres felt to perform just as well. Pinch flats, where you get little (or large) cut in the sidewall, are the most common kind of puncture I’ve seen on super-advs and while you can typically plug these on the trail you are faced with immediate tyre replacement, so I take it easy anytime the rocks look at all sharp and menacing.
Finally, let’s talk on-road practicality. First, I have to say I was very impressed with the low road-noise these tyres generate. Some knobbly tyres make the sound of a Sherman tank, but the AX-41s roll pretty quiet for a tyre of their type and that’s good especially for long distance work. Secondly, I was impressed with their durability. I got up to 3500 miles on them before the long termer had to go back. Looking at the wear to that point I’d say there was well over 4000 miles available from the rear with a lot more yet to be gained from the front. But as well the rear AX-41 hadn’t squared off despite the long highway miles, which meant the handling was still good, too. Now there are higher mileage 50/50 adventure tyres out there, but that durability typically comes at the cost of grip, and for me I don’t think I’d like to be trusting £17,000 of super-adv to such a tyre (false economy).
In all, the Bridgestone AX-41s impress. In every measure of performance they’re a match for the other premium tyres. Unless you tested them back-to-back it’s impossible to say unequivocally whether these are better, or some other tyre. But if I’m riding an expensive adventure bike for sure I’d be very happy to fit the AX-41s, for performance and for security. Top tyres!