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ADV BikesDunlop Trailmax Mission Adventure Tire – First Ride Review

Dunlop Trailmax Mission Adventure Tire – First Ride Review

 New dual sport tire claims 8,000 miles & knobby-like performance?

Published on 11.21.2019

Scurrying across the parking lot about as gracefully as one can wearing a pair of moto boots, I wondered to myself “why am I always the last one ready?” I was a minute or three late for the test ride of the new Dunlop Trailmax Mission dual sport tires and I could see most of the other journalists raring to go.

I arrived at a long row of the latest and greatest adventure bikes, ranging from the Honda CB500X to the BMW R1250GS – all there for the taking and I’m the last to pick. One bike that didn’t already have a helmet on it was a KTM 1290 Super Adventure R. I coyly asked, “Is anyone on this?” Since no one answered, I eagerly hopped on.
Dunlop Trailmax Mission Front Tire

The 1290 Super Adventure R is one of my favorites – wicked power, long-range capable (except for the stupid little windscreen) and amazing off-road suspension that is head and shoulders above anything in the Liter+ Class. And what better bike to test a set of tires with than a 1290 Super Adventure? With 160 horsepower and 103 ft-lbs of torque, its roost can be lethal and it does power wheelies in 4th gear. Plus, its tall suspension can achieve sportbike-like lean angles on asphalt making it punishing on a set of tires.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure R shod with Dunlop Trailmax Mission 50/50 dual sport tires.

Soon we were off for a full-day of riding in the mountains around Lake Arrowhead, California – an ideal testing ground with hundreds of miles of dirt roads, trails and twisty asphalt. Dunlop reps spoke confidently about their new Trailmax Mission dual sport tire’s versatility and performance in the previous evening’s presentation, marketed as a 50/50 tire and claiming it “delivers knobby-like performance off-road, has impressive grip on the street, plus great ride quality and stability everywhere it goes.” A bold statement, especially after getting a first look at them. They appear fairly smooth, more like the tires that come on your adventure bike from the factory than a proper set of knobs.

Aiming High

Just based on appearances, I had a feeling the Trailmax Mission tires wouldn’t be great in the dirt but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and keep an open mind. This was Dunlop, right? One of the largest manufacturers of tires in the world, who have been putting rubber on vehicles since the 1800s. And they were ‘all in’ with this project, starting with a ton of consumer research, rider surveys, meeting folks face to face at ADV Rallys to gather requirements. That all led to two years of development and no less than 30 prototype tires before coming up with the final design.

Dunlop's lineup of dual sport tires.
Dunlop is positioning the TrailMax Mission as a 50/50 tire in their adventure tire lineup.

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Dunlop Tire Design Engineer, Ron Winkelman, admitted this was the most challenging project of his career, and one of the most rewarding. He fondly reminisced about hand cutting tires on the trail during testing to get immediate feedback from riders on different tread patterns. You could feel the sense of pride, dare I say ‘mission’ in this project.

For many years Dunlop has been absent from the premium 50/50 dual sport tire segment. With the healthy growth of dual sports, scramblers and adventure bikes in the market, it was clear they needed to get into the game. And when you are late to the game, you’ve got to get it right. But you also have the advantage of seeing what everyone has been doing wrong. Their goal was to reinvent the 50/50 tire, with a primary focus of delivering longevity and durability above all.

Dunlop Trailmax Mission different front tire designs.
The front uses a symmetrical tread for more even wear. The 17” and 19” diameter tires use a coffered out area on the knobs for greater traction to compensate for the smaller tread blocks compared to the 21″.

“We developed a product that reaches both sides equally [street and dirt]. A product customers can run with confidence, and not feel like they have to compromise, and oh by the way, they are going to get that killer mileage they’ve been looking for,” said Mike Buckley, Senior VP, Sales and Marketing. With 50/50 dual sport tires typically lasting between 2500 to 4000 miles, some ‘killer mileage’ would be greatly appreciated.

Dunlop confidently claims their new Trailmax Mission is able to rack up 8,000 miles on a rear and even more on the front. That is based on an independent test on a 250-mile mountain loop with mixed terrain on a 2017 Suzuki V-Strom 1000. They say even if you are aggressive on the throttle, those numbers should still be within reach. If true, that’s something we can all get excited about, especially with the high cost of tire changes at your local dealer.

Trailmax Mission Technology

So what could Dunlop do that hasn’t been done before to achieve this next-level performance and versatility? Reps claim they used all of their years of knowledge and experience in building both high-performance street and dirt tires to come up with the ideal 50/50 dual sport tire. They even integrated technology from their Falken tire division that makes off-road tires for light trucks.

The Missions use ‘staggered step’ technology to increase rigidity and create additional edge grip surface area.

Front and rear tires have distinctly different patterns and you might think they are two different tires at first glance. The front uses a symmetrical tread for more even wear, and 17” and 19” diameter tires use a coffered out area on the knobs for greater traction.

Both front and rear tires use ‘staggered step’ technology on specific knobs to increase rigidity and create additional edge grip surface area. Like shark teeth, as one edge wears, there’s another one that steps in behind it to take its place. And deep tread grooves with connector blocks help the Missions grip in loose terrain while keeping lugs stabilized.

Dunlop motorcycle tire technology.
Dunlop used all of their bags of tricks to help ensure the Trailmax Missions punch above their weight.

One of the most distinctive tire characteristics is the use of wraparound sidewall lugs to increase durability, allow lower tire pressures off-road, and keep the tire tracking straight in muddy or sandy conditions. The sidewall tread is even said to assist in steering out of ruts by providing extra side grip. Interestingly, the final design of the Trailmax Mission was so different from anything Dunlop has created before, that it required retooling of their existing machinery to build them.

Street Test

So with my interest piqued, it was time to put rubber to the road. We started off with a street test on a brisk spring morning. After getting warmed up (where’s that heated grips button again?), we eased into a relaxed pace on tight twisty roads. Not quite fast enough to push the tires though, so I backed off the rider in front of me a bit so I could get enough space to ride more aggressively through the next set of bends.

Dunlop Trailmax Mission on the street.

Some knobby-style tires like the Continental TKC 80 are pretty good in the twisties, so I expected the Dunlops would perform at least as well on the road portion of our test based on their smooth appearance. And perform well they did. As I turned up the pace a notch, I was not acclimated to the powerful front calipers on the KTM 1290 Adventure R quite yet. I ended up grabbing more brake than I should have while entering the turn, causing the front end to dive. A lesser tire, might have tucked the front but the Trailmax Mission was unfazed by my mistake.

As the tires heated up, I was able to get the bike leaned deeper and deeper into turns. To my surprise, they gripped more like a sport bike tire than any dual sport tire I have been on before. And this was with a somewhat compromised 30psi in the tires for mixed on- and off-road testing.

Dunlop Trailmax Mission rear and front differences.
Front and rear tires have distinctly different patterns and you might think they are two different tires at first glance.

During a quick break, we were told that we had a photo stop coming up. Normally, photographers set up for a shot in ideal conditions, but sometimes they aren’t thinking about the riders and pick a turn based on what looks good for their photos.  As I came in fast for a tight 25mph turn, wanting to get that awesome shot, I noticed the road was covered with pine needles. With eyes wide open, I delicately tried to keep the bike upright as I maneuvered it toward a less furry section of road. The tires didn’t seem to notice any lack of traction though and I was able to precisely change my line on the slippery surface.

With such smooth riding, I began to wonder if it was the KTM’s sophisticated ABS and Traction Control systems keeping this beast in check. So with a big gulp, I turned off all the rider aids and threw it into ‘Sport’ mode. Normally that’s a recipe for disaster on a bike with this much power, but we’ve got to test these tires right?

Dunlop Trailmax Mission asphalt test.

Riding other 1290s unleashed, I’ve come out of turns blistering the tires on pavement with handlebars near full lock. Yet somehow on this day, my power slides were significantly subdued riding on the Trailmax Missions. These things just hook up! And if you do get a power slide going, it’s gradual and controllable. Without any abrupt slides to worry about, I could ride faster with a lot more confidence. But after testing full steam for a bit, I was relieved to put my electronic parachute back on again.

We didn’t get on any highway stretches during the day but some long straights had us clocking well over highway speeds. There was no discernable whirring noise typical of dual sport knobbies. I also tried to ride in all the cracks and tar snakes I could find but the Missions remained as stable as any street tire. Even though I was expecting these tires to be good on the street, they still managed to exceed my expectations.

Off-Road Test

The off-road portion of our test was where I was less confident these tires were going to impress based on their appearance. But keeping an open mind, we set out on some flowing dirt roads and jeep trails that were a blast on the 1290 Super Adventure R. These were primo big bike roads with just enough rocks, whoops and the occasional soft spot to keep things fun and interesting. For the average big-bike rider who ventures off-road, this is the typical terrain they ride – staying clear of the technical rocky sections, mud and deep sand. 

Dunlop Trailmax Mission dirt test.

To make sure I was testing the tires and not the electronics, I turned off traction control and ABS, then selected ‘offroad’ mode throttle response to keep it at a usable 100 horsepower. On the mostly hard-packed terrain, the Dunlops gripped at a high level and offered a stable, twitch-free ride. Just like on asphalt, they have a predictable slide once they break loose and overall good traction on anything from mild to medium off-road terrain. 

Since we had a mixed group of riders with varying skills, we didn’t get into anything too challenging other than a short stretch of sand, so I got creative to push the limits of the tires. During a short break, I found a nice steep hill climb and descent for a quick test. The 1290 SAR had no problem powering up the hill and gripped slip-free like a tractor on the way up. Big bikes on smooth tires get good traction on hill climbs as long as it’s not soft, so I wasn’t all that impressed. But a heavy bike on a steep downhill running smooth tires is less graceful.

One of the most distinctive characteristics is the use of wraparound sidewall lugs to increase durability and keep the tire tracking straight in muddy or sandy conditions. The sidewall tread is even said to assist in steering out of ruts by providing extra side grip.

During the descent, I anticipated a premature slide to kick in at any moment while delicately modulating the front and rear brakes. I could feel my rear tire start to get unweighted but the Trailmax Mission rear held on for dear life and it gripped far better than a smooth tire should. It will require further testing before I can be sure about its downhill performance, but for this particular descent it was better than expected.

Scouring the terrain for the rough stuff, I found a stretch of side trail that was filled with soft sand and rocks. I headed into the chunky dirt you normally avoid like the plague during a ride, to see how much I could challenge the Trailmax Missions. To my surprise, the front tire tracked straight and didn’t wander, tuck or dive. I rode through the muck with good feel in the front end and it stayed up on top of it all. The rear tire was another story though. It began to spin and lost traction as soon as the soft stuff was more than a few inches thick. Repeating this experiment a few different times resulted in similar behavior. Not as bad as other smooth rear tires I’ve tested but ‘knobby-like’ it wasn’t.

Dunlop Trailmax Mission riding in sand.

Emergency braking, on dirt covered with a thin film of soft sand, was another test I performed. Grabbing a handful of front brake with ABS disabled, I was able to slow down the big 1290 Super Adventure to a rapid halt without tucking the front – a testament to the front tire’s exceptional grip. Overall, both tires offered confidence on the tracks we rode. Yet it was the front tire that excelled the most, while the rear tire revealed its limitations in loose terrain. 

Who Are They For?

The Missions’ excellent street performance and good control in most off-road terrain, make them a nice option for Adventure riders who love eating twisties and opt for less technical off-road routes. Assuming the 8,000-mile longevity is true, they would be a strong contender for long-range adventure travelers that don’t want to be burdened with changing tires on the road. They’d also make a great tire for most BDR routes, with enough longevity and versatility to link up several different states.  However, if you are looking for the hard routes at your local dual sport ride, you’d be better off with something more aggressive.

The Bottom Line

Is the Dunlop Trailmax Mission a 50/50 tire? Just as good on asphalt as they are in the dirt? Unfortunately no. Partly because they are so good on the street that they’d have to perform like a full-on DOT knobby to be equal in the dirt, and that wasn’t the case.

dual sport tire ratings

We know of some dual sport tires that are just as bad on the street as they are in the dirt, so are those more of a true 50/50 tire than the Trailmax Missions under that rating system? Some view the rating from a perspective of how much you ride street vs. dirt but that depends a lot on ‘how’ you ride. The point is, the whole dual sport tire rating system is flawed because the math assumes the higher the tire is rated at one end of the spectrum, takes away equally from the other. Can we get a new rating system please?

We don’t blame Dunlop for rating these as a 50/50 tire though, following in the footsteps of other tire makers in the industry. While they do look fairly smooth, they wouldn’t appear out of place next to other tires rated 50/50 by their manufacturer like the Metzeler Karoo 3, Heidenau K60, Motoz Tractionator GPS, or Mitas E-07.

Do the Missions offer knobby-like performance? Not quite. Using the popular TKC 80 as a benchmark though, I’d say the Missions have a significant advantage on the street where they are grippy, quiet and stable. Off-road they were a close match for traction, up until you got into softer, looser terrain. The Missions have no problem handling any trails in the typical “Adventure” range though. And if you are able to get roughly 3x the mileage out of a set of Trailmax Missions as Dunlop claims, then that is a major selling point.

Dunlop Trailmax Mission wet pavement.

While some riders might be disappointed they don’t offer more grip off-road, the engineers at Dunlop seemed to be focused on achieving their mileage goals as first priority based on consumer research. Personally, I was pleased with the front tire grip but wouldn’t have minded sacrificing 2,000 of that 8,000 miles of longevity on the rear for a little more traction in the dirt. Then again, I was testing on a 160 horsepower, 530-pound monster of a bike. On a lighter, less powerful machine, the Mission rear might feel significantly better. Clearly more testing is needed.

The jury is still out on wet asphalt, deeper sand, mud, and rocky terrain, not to mention longevity. Luckily, we’ve got a fresh set of Dunlop Trailmax Mission tires sitting at the office ready to spoon on for a long-term test. And if claims are anywhere near accurate, we’ll have roughly 8,000 miles of great riding to fully analyze them. We’ll report back after giving them a proper test, including the gnarly stuff. Stay tuned!

Available Sizes

The TrailMax Mission will be offered in a wide size range launched in 3 phases throughout the next few months. MSRP ranges from $131.21 to $285.23 depending on sizes.

For more information go to dunlopmotorcycletires.com

Gear We Used

•  Helmet: Arai XD-4
•  Jacket: Alpinestars Valparaiso 2
•  Pants: Alpinestars Valparaiso 2
•  Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10
•  Gloves: A.R.C Battle Born Air

Photos by Simon Cudby

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney
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3 thoughts on “Dunlop Trailmax Mission Adventure Tire – First Ride Review

  1. Thanks for the frank comments. I have the Trailmax front and I am still waiting for the rear to be delivered. I think these will be a good match for the 790S I am currently running.

  2. It’s hard to rank any tire in any situation. On pavement you have factors like temperature, humidity and the mineral material used for the asphalt, that can have great effect on friction. Offroad you can encounter everything from deep fine sand to rough gravel to mud and wet vegetation. The Dunlop looks like it will work nicely under dry conditions offroad, but in loose material and mud you simply need a more knobbier profile. Too many vraiables, with other words.

  3. 120/70-17 front? What a pity they have no plans for Motard 17″ bikes? just add in a 120/70-17 front to your plans Mr Dunlop. Looks like a perfect tire to take on the TKC80 for motard riders who enjoy a bit of drifting on dirt roads with their 17″ rims.