Warming Up Motorcycle Tyres on Track


One of the things that’s drilled into us day in and day out as track day riders is the importance of properly warming up your tyres. There’s obviously a good reason for this; a tyre that hasn’t reached operating temperature is not going to give you the levels of grip needed to go knee scratching around the track, and trying to go full tilt on cold tyres is only going to end one way 90% of the time.

The problem is compounded the more ‘racey’ the tyres are too. Road tyres are a little more forgiving and can offer better grip at lower temperatures, but they also reach those temperatures quicker. Going hell for leather on a cold Dunlop slick on the other hand will have you on the deck quicker than you can say “ambition outweighed talent”.

So, we know tyres need to be warmed up, but how do we do it? In this article I cover how to do just that as well as touch on a few other points such as the use of tyre warmers and the myths of riding on brand new rubber.

No Need to Weave

One thing I have seen on numerous occasions on track days is riders weaving about, almost like they’re dodging a pack of skittish squirrels. Either coming down pit lane or on the sighting laps, they’ll throw the bike from side to side in an attempt to generate some heat in the tyres.

In reality this weaving does very little to get any considerable or worthwhile heat in the tyres with the modest lean angles that are being achieved, but what is in fact worse is you are actually asking for cornering grip when the tyre is not up to operating temperature.

Again, the lean angles are modest so they’re probably not at a massive risk, but all it takes is one flick and a bit too much lean and you’re asking a lot from the tyre before its ready.

Why Do Cars Weave?

If you watch F1 for example you will no doubt see that all the cars are weaving around as they make their way to their grid position on the warm up lap.

This is because the tyres they use work on a horizontal plane, and it is their sidewall flex that builds the heat into them as they throw them left and right.

Properly Warming: It’s in Your Right Hand

It is under strong acceleration and braking that the most heat is built up in the tyres. This is because it is during these times that the carcass of the tyre flexes the most due to the strong forces that are being put through it. That flex is what generates the heat, which then transfers to the tread compound.

Use smooth but strong acceleration and braking while reasonably upright to slowly build heat into the tyres. During this time in the bends you can be gradually increasing your lean angles (which in turn will further increase the heat being generated) like you would normally do on your first few laps of a session.

How Many Laps?

There is no set answer to this question as it will take varying amounts of time to get a certain tyre to operating temperature based on things like the bike being used, the tyres, their pressures, the nature of the track and what the weather’s doing.

Personally I have varying amounts of time depending on the track I’m visiting, but as a general rule of thumb if you gradually increase your speed and lean angles over two laps, by the third lap you should have the tyres up to operating temperature and be able to ride at your maximum pace.

As you get more experienced you’ll begin to feel when the grip is there. I know guys that give it just a few corners before they go all out (fresh out of warmers that is), but that’s because they have a very good feel for when they do and do not have grip.

The ‘Scrubbing in’ New Tyres Myth

There has been a long standing notion that new tyres won’t offer good grip right from the off and will need to be ‘scrubbed up’ with gentle use before you can go full speed on them. Some people have even used sand paper to rough up the tyre surface, thinking that if they don’t the tyre is going to be treacherous to ride on.

I don’t know where this myth came from, quite possibly from the old days of heavy, greasy mould release, but I can tell you now that a new tyre will be good for grip from the outset.

Today, the vast majority of the big name manufacturers don’t actually use release agents, and the ones that do use them have much lighter agents than was used back in the day.

However, this shouldn’t be taken as permission to go out and give it the berries as soon as you’re let out. Even if you’re replacing your tyres with the same brand and model, a new tyre is going to feel different from the old one, and it is still going to need to be carefully brought up to temperature like any tyre.

As with the advice above, take your time warming and building heat into the tyres (and in turn your confidence in them) slowly. This will allow you to become accustomed to the feel of the new tyre and in turn make best use of the grip that is being offered. You won’t get that chance if you ask too much from a tyre that isn’t ready.

Do You Need Warmers?

Many newcomers won’t have the benefit of tyre warmers, so it’s going to take a little bit more time to build the heat in the tyre, but again just take it steady for two or three laps and you’ll be absolutely fine.

Don’t think that you’re going to have less grip if you don’t have warmers though. This is just not the case.

Those with warmers will have the benefit of being able to get heat deep into the tyre and the rim before heading out on track. This will mean it will come up to temperature more quickly.

Warmers also have the ability to extend a tyre’s life by reducing the amount of heat cycles it goes through (assuming you get them straight back on after a session).

I eventually got mine more for the mental safety net it gave me. Knowing I had some good heat built up eased my fears somewhat of cold tyre crashes in my earlier track day life, but I have no doubt now that I could get a tyre that wasn’t using warmers up to the same level of performance as one that had been in warmers. It would just take me a little longer.

An up to temperature tyre is an important element to have in place to allow your bike to properly do its job of transferring the various forces it generates down into the ground. Acceleration, braking and turning would be greatly affected without a decent foothold of the road.

Using the above advice on warming (and dismissing the myths) will put you in a good position to ensure you get your tyres up to temperature quickly, but more importantly safely.

Photo by Brian Snelson