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ADV NewsDunlop K950: Street-Legal Trials Tire For Technical Dual Sport Riding

Dunlop K950: Street-Legal Trials Tire For Technical Dual Sport Riding

Testing the grip, durability and versatility of Dunlop's DOT trials tire.

Published on 05.15.2023
Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

I remember waking up from my tent early one morning years ago realizing we’d set up camp the previous evening right next to a trials practice area. A few riders were already ascending the craggy cliffs behind us on their trials bikes, higher and higher they climbed, jumping from rock to rock like a billy goat. It was hypnotizing seeing first hand how their ‘trials’ tires wrapped around the rocks like a tentacle, with tiny little suckers giving them incredible grip.

But you don’t only see this type of tire on trials bikes. Trials tires have long been popular among dual sport riders who want maximum traction on challenging off-road terrain. Whenever I’d ask riders on the trail about how they liked them, I’d often hear them say that they lasted a long time and offered incredible grip in the rocks, but weren’t so great out in the open desert and could be awkward turning-in on the street. Seeing how well they worked on technical trails always had me curious about trying one. So when Dunlop announced the release of a new DOT-approved rear trials tire — the K950 — I figured why not give it a go.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire
The K950 features bias-ply construction, along with a block pattern and sticky rubber compound that helps it cling to contours of rocks and other obstacles. And while off-road grip is priority, it meets DOT standards for the street.

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Dunlop’s K950 features a traditional trials-style block pattern that helps it cling to the contours of rocks and other obstacles for high-levels of traction. It has been engineered to excel in hard-packed dirt, rocky terrain and root-lined trails, for both wet or dry conditions. Yet its bias-ply construction, harder rubber compound and unique tread is designed to give the K950 additional versatility over a traditional trials tire. And while off-road grip is the priority, it meets DOT standards for the street.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

For this evaluation, I decided to put the K950 on our KTM 500 EXC test bike in size 4.00-18 (roughly a 115 tire width) — the only size it comes in. That would be paired with Dunlop’s ISDE-winning Dunlop Geomax EN91 front tire in size 90/90-21. The only thing left to do was get it installed and hit the trails.

How It Performed

More often than not, we are installing big adventure bike tires, so it’s always nice when we get to spoon rubber on a slimmer dual sport wheel. This tire change was particularly easy though thanks to the K950’s fairly soft sidewall, plus the extra leverage of our Rabaconda Tire Changer. While some riders like to run a Tubliss setup on their trials tires to allow for extremely low pressures, we opted for a standard heavy duty tube since we’d be testing on a wide mixture of terrain, including the street.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire
The K950 was easy to install thanks to its fairly soft sidewall.

With new rubber installed, it was time to give the tire a proper test on some of the trials-like terrain they were designed for. We headed up north for a heaping of slick granite and rocky trails in the Sierras around the Huntington Lake area. The trails here are famous with the rock-crawler jeep crowd (think King of the Hammers) and there are massive holes from giant tires spinning, along with deep scrape marks in the rocks to show for it.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

Riding through boulder fields and up steep slippery rock faces, I definitely noticed a grip improvement over a knobby tire. Wheel spin was greatly reduced and the tire seemed to hold a straighter line when propelled forward. While the performance gain at a standard 15 PSI was noticeable, an even bigger boost was achieved when taking pressure down to 10-12 PSI. Some might prefer to go lower but I chose to play it safe and avoid any issues or unwanted handling characteristics when back on the main fire road we’d come in on.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire
Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

I was definitely feeling the tight block pattern wrapping around the rocks and other obstacles. It’s a smooth grip that lets you slow down and concentrate on controlled movements, compared to a knobby where there is more tire spin and a need for momentum. The trials tire made the technical climbs easier to conquer and we were able to reach some breathtaking views few people get to lay their eyes on.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire
Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire
With tire pressure set at around 10-12 psi, the K950 wraps around rocks like a tentacle.

While I was satisfied with the performance over a knobby, I will say the improvement wasn’t quite as dramatic as I was expecting. With the K950’s rounder profile and harder rubber compound, I suspect it doesn’t perform quite as well as a competition trials tire. Those characteristics also make it more versatile for dual sport riding. Ripping around hard-packed single track and fire roads, the K950 performed like a knobby — without any of the trials tire drawbacks I was expecting. 

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

Next trip riding on the K950, we’d be spending a few days exploring the eastern side of the Sierras. This area is marked by steep hill climbs and descents with many wide-open trails, along with softer, looser terrain, plus sand and loose rocks mixed in for good measure. Here once again, the K950 performed much like a knobby, even at higher speed. Getting the bike leaned into a turn, I noticed it handled a little differently than a knobby tire. Yet, once I got used to it, I realized there was no real limitation in the grip and I was able to push as hard as usual.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

Whenever the trail turned into a rocky, technical climb, the K950 did its Billy Goat thing, ascending in a controlled, methodical manner. About the only drawback that I noticed during this trip was on steep descents. The tire’s smaller tread blocks just don’t have the same bite as those on a knobby tire, causing it to start skidding a little sooner on loose surfaces. On a few sandy sections, I noticed it struggled a bit compared with a knobby but the drop off in performance was slight. 

During a few more trips down in Southern California, I was determined to explore the upper limits of the K950’s performance envelope. So I headed out on a mission to find some soft loose dirt, deep sand and yes we even got some mud to play in this last winter. While riding in the Sequoias, we ended up doing more street testing than I’d initially planned. Discovering many of our favorite trails being closed due to recent fires, we found ourselves traveling for miles on the twisty backroads in search of dirt options.   

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

Getting aggressive in the turns on asphalt, I was able to achieve pretty good lean angles without any problems. You feel it start to squirm around when pushing it hard on the edge, but it’s better than a knobby in terms of maximum grip and it’s quiet too. Just keep in mind, we ran a tire pressure of 15 PSI for mixed trail riding. Single digit rock-crawling pressures would have likely exhibited more sketchy characteristics in the turns. 

On the wooded single track trails of the sequoias, there’s a lot of deep loamy dirt under the trees. This is where the K950 met its match. On one particular hill climb, the steepness of the trail was too great for the tire to overcome in combination with the soft soil. Being loaded with camping gear and a short run up the hill, I just couldn’t get the rear tire to hook up. A true knobby would have gotten much farther up the hill and possibly to the top. But this was definitely at the extreme end of any challenges we had during the trip, and the only one the K950 couldn’t conquer.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

Weeks later riding in the San Bernardino Mountains, I put the K950 to a new challenge on a rather sandy hill climb locals call ‘The Widow Maker’ in the Baldy Mesa OHV area. The KTM 500 EXC powered up the hill no problem but seemed to suffer from inconsistent rear grip, losing traction sometimes and then power wheelieing violently mid-hill once it caught traction. It seems sand and hills together give the tire trouble. As long as the trail was relatively flat, deep sand wasn’t much of a problem though.

Deep sand is one thing, how about Dunes then? We set out to explore the limits of the K950 once again, this time in Ocotillo Wells where you can find Dakaresque dunes in the Superstition Mountains. I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous entering the dunes riding on a trials tire. I could think of more fun things to do than digging my bike out of the sand for hours. But for the purpose of testing, we gave it a shot.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire
Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire
If you’re heading for some dunes, swapping tires is probably the best choice. But It’s still doable if you don’t.

Once again, the tire surprised with better than expected performance. It’s not as good as a knobby but the dump in performance isn’t large. You just have to be careful not to lose your momentum in the deep stuff because it’s more prone to getting stuck. There were definitely some sections I shied away from and I ended up burying it a couple of times. If you’re heading for some dunes, swapping tires is probably the best choice. But It’s still doable if you don’t.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

What about mud and snow? Well this winter we were blessed (or cursed) by the rain gods in Cali. Even now in late spring, many of our trails are still closed due to snow in the higher elevations. Riding around the Crestline area, it was a bit of a slop fest with mud from the snow runoff and a number of snow drifts large enough to swallow a lifted full-sized 4×4 truck.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

In light mud, the K950 seemed to have no problems and the E91 front tire always kept everything tracking straight, as long as you were light on the throttle. Once the mud got deeper though, the tire would load up and get overwhelmed quickly. Performance was similar to a 50/50 dual sport tire in mud. OK, deep mud checked. How about snow?

Snow wasn’t on my original checklist of things to test with this tire but sometimes things don’t always go as planned. After delicately crossing a dozen or so large snow drifts that were clinging on in the shadows of a north facing slope, I soon realized this tire struggles compared to a dedicated off-road knobby. But I pushed on to complete the loop route I’d set out, not wanting to backtrack some 50 miles to return to civilization. Eventually, I got to a point where I was just a few miles from where I needed to be, but the trail was completely blocked with 3+ feet of snow.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

Riding solo that day (with my SPOT), I tried to be cautious and scope out the trail ahead as much as I could. I thought I could see a patch of dirt up ahead, plus it was downhill so I figured I’d have gravity in my favor.  I hit the trail with speed, and the rear tire instantly began spinning with nearly zero traction. After about a block and a half, I could feel the bike slowly sinking down into the snow like a tractor pull, until forward momentum completely stopped. After inspecting the trail ahead further on foot, I realized that the patch of dirt I’d seen must have been a mirage or just wishful thinking. I was stuck in my tracks and there was nothing but more deep white fluffy stuff ahead as far as the eye could see.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

To make a long story short, I didn’t make it home on time for supper that night. What took seconds to get down, took an hour and a half of pushing, swearing, panting, and 3rd gear tire spinning to get out of.  I finally made it to the top of the hill just as night was falling. Yah, I know it was dumb decision. But hopefully, if you read this, you won’t make the same mistake I did. Needless to say, this tire doesn’t do snow very well, nor was it ever designed to. 

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire

Longevity: We tested the Dunlop K950 on everything from rock gardens to sand dunes, with even a bit of snow and asphalt in between. Our starting tread depth for the K950 when new was 11.6 mm. After clocking 1,000 miles, the rear tire measured 4.6 mm. Assuming the tire wears at a constant rate and is completely worn out at 1 mm of tread depth, the K950 rear still has 34% tread life remaining. Calculating that out, it would mean the tire would be worn out at about 1,500 miles total. For comparison, with a small dual sport bike like the KTM 500 EXC, I typically see somewhere in the range of 600-1000 miles on a rear when running aggressive off-road knobbies.

Dunlop K950 Street Legal Trials Tire
The rear tire measured 11.6 mm of tread when new (left above). After 1,000miles (right above), the rear tire had 4.6 mm of tread left.

Who Is It For

The K950 is ideal for dual sport riders that frequently explore rocky or tree-root littered  terrain and only occasionally ride mud or deep sand. Also, those who want a grippy dual sport tire for all but the most challenging traction conditions (deep sand, mud or snow), that also offers improved longevity over an aggressive off-road knobby (90% dirt/10% street).  

Our Verdict

While not as grippy as a competition trials tire, the K950 performed better than a knobby on rocky climbs and hard-packed terrain, only falling short in the most extreme traction conditions. With its rounder profile and harder rubber compound, it’s a much more well-rounded off-road tire than we ever expected with good road manners on the street. Swapping rear tires constantly can be inconvenient and expensive for those who ride a lot. Having a tire that lasts about 50% longer than a knobby, is easy to spoon, and goes for around the same price is a nice option. 

What We Liked

  • Better longevity than a dedicated knobby tire.
  • Increased grip over a dedicated knobby on rocky or hard-packed terrain.
  • Good versatility for a trials tire.
  • Easy to spoon on.

What Could Be Improved

  • Offer larger sizes for larger dual sports.
  • Make it even grippier.

Dunlop K950 Specs

Construction: Bias Ply
Price: $80
Sizes Front: None
Sizes Rear: 4.00-18 64P TT

Shopping Options

RevzillaRocky Mountain ATV/MC

Photos by Ely Woody, Sam Bendall and Rob Dabney.

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 Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, 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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6 Comments
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Jeff
Jeff
May 15, 2023 5:59 pm

Great article! Power on!

ADStryker
ADStryker
May 15, 2023 6:18 pm
Reply to  Jeff

Yep, ditto!

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
May 15, 2023 6:32 pm
Reply to  ADStryker

Appreciate the feedback!

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
May 15, 2023 6:31 pm
Reply to  Jeff

Thanks Jeff. We appreciate it!

Jeff
Jeff
May 15, 2023 6:49 pm
Reply to  Rob Dabney

What I liked most was how thorough you were in your testing and unbiased opinion. Highly doubt that any of us would have the time to test as thoroughly as you did. Refreshing to see indepth analysis vs. a superficial overview. Well done!

Rick Rezac
Rick Rezac
April 5, 2024 9:06 am

Why is the sizing so small? Will it be enlarged in the future? A 400, is just small-4.60, 5.10 would be great.

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