Test: Dunlop Sportmax Q3

| June 19, 2013

If you had asked me a few months ago if Dunlop was going to come out with a new Sportmax Q3 tire, I would have said, ‘Why bother? Their current Sportmax Q2 is already a fabulous tire that’s been on the receiving end of plenty of rave reviews, including a couple of wins in motorcycle magazine tire shootouts.

On a personal note, I’ve also had great success using the Dunlop Q2 while instructing at Jason Pridmore’s Star Schools. So how could it get better?

Well, the strive for more performance coupled with better tire longevity and value for your buck are very important to the motorcycle market. It is also very important to Dunlop North America, which is were the Q series began. Back in 2009 Dunlop introduced the Sportmax Q2, and with its race-proven pedigree it soon became a instant hit. So even though Dunlop was feeling good about the Q2, it opted to step it up a notch for 2013 and introduce the new Sportmax Q3.

Dunlop has been the spec tire in AMA Pro Racing for several years now and has the contract through 2015. And that commitment to the development of racing tires here in the U.S. has played a major role in the introduction and continued investment in the Sportmax Q series.

Having the ability to produce tires in the U.S. has significant advantages, especially since Dunlop has a dedicated testing facility located in Huntsville, Alabama. The Dunlop Proving Grounds is the only one of its kind in North America as it’s devoted only to the development of motorcycle tires. No car stuff here – just a big fun area for two-wheeled gear heads like us.

Within the confines of the Dunlop Proving Grounds there are several different track layouts available – plus an in-house sprinkler system to simulate wet weather conditions. We were there to test the new Q3, but the grounds also houses off-road testing areas as well. We got a tour of the dirt area out back and it was very inviting as it features a supercross- style track as well as a nice outdoor track and woods trail section. What a job that must be – just go out there and burn some laps or hit that triple a few times.

So if you already have a great product, what could you do to make it better? Well luckily for us Dunlop had arranged a press into at its Proving Grounds where I would be able to test the new Q3 and let you know.


As a tire company you are always playing catch up with the corresponding market your product is designed for. In the case of modern sportbike, it’s no different. With a relentless search for increased power output, better chassis and suspension components to maximize grip and drive, you are never afforded the chance to rest on your achievements. The mighty pace of technology marches on.  So even though the Q2 is a great tire, like the bikes it is made for – there’s always a way to make it better.

The main focus of the new Sportmax Q3 was to improve the tire’s contact patch and its ability to maintain its consistency under extreme conditions. Today’s modern sportbikes abuse tires in many different ways. And with increased power output and braking forces, a tire can lose its composure rather easily. And there are also substantial cornering loads to consider.

In order to deal with all these inputs, Dunlop decided it was best to focus its attention on a new carcass construction. The cut-breaker radial construction already present in the Sportmax Q2 was chosen as a base set-up for the new Q3. With its two nylon-carcass plies and two aramid reinforcing belts, cornering stability and braking loads are maximized for optimum performance, while a sport-oriented carcass stiffness provides exceptional steering response as well.

What’s new for the Q3 is the introduction of Dunlop’s Carbon Fiber Technology (CFT), which is now incorporated into the sidewall design in order to increase stiffness and cornering performance. By bonding the carbon atoms together in crystals that are aligned parallel to the long axis of the fiber, a high-strength-to- volume ratio is created. Locating these carbon fiber elements in the lower side wall/bead area of the tire increases sidewall stiffness, which results in better high-lean angle stability and steering performance.

Carbon fiber is a wonderful material with its outstanding stiffness, high tensile strength, low weight, high temperature tolerance and low thermal expansion. It’s the perfect match for a tire such as the new Sportmax Q3.

The new Sportmax Q3 also features Dunlop’s outstanding Intuitive Response Profile (IRL). In other words they studied the IRL profile of the Q2 and after extensive cross-section analysis by the Dunlop engineers, they decided a change was needed. So for the new Q3 they created a slightly taller profile in conjunction with sides that taper in more aggressively. This new design increases the contact patch and deals with controlling the tires contact patch pressure distribution more evenly.

At first glance you can’t even notice a profile change, but at closer inspection at the rear tire there is a slight difference. The new rear Q3 tire profile enhances turn-in and gives greater control when hard on the gas exiting the corners.

Dunlop’s Multi-Tread technology is also a welcome feature present on the new rear Q3. This technology incorporates a cool-running, long-wearing central tread while the sides feature enhanced lateral-grip compounds developed for maximum grip at both moderate and full lean angles. The new Q3 rear also benefits from Dunlop’s Joint-less Band construction: A process by which the tire construction is continuously wound of joint-less bands for a more consistent tire diameter in all operating conditions.

Dunlop had two different 600cc sportbikes fitted with new Sportmax Q3s to help us evaluate the tire. For my first go around I chose the Kawasaki 636 and for the most part everything felt good, but I was mostly preoccupied with learning the course layout. It was not until mid-way through my second stint that I started to sense some real improvements with the new Q3. The layout features a long straight that leads you into a very tight left/right section that requires some extreme braking. I was on a GSXR-600 this time and the braking abilities of the Q3 were put to the test. Just as they said, the Q3 front gave a very stable feel under hard braking and the transition from off the brakes to leaning in was precise.

Sometimes a tire will fold over a bit, giving the sensation of the front end tucking under while trail braking, but I never got to that point with the Q3. This is a direct result of the stiffer sidewall carcass constructed with Dunlop’s new CFT process. Not only does the front Q3 keep its shape under braking, but it is also very bump compliant.

One might think that with a stiffer side wall a tire would become unruly in the bumpy section. Not so with the new Q3. Instead it just soaked up the bumps and was very capable in all scenarios.

The profile of the front Q3 is retained from the Q2 while both the front and rear Q3’s share the same compounds. I also found the new Q3 front to work very well in the high-speed section; again the feedback was exceptional with very little movement or deflection.

Even in the almost 360-degree final turn, it was as if I could have let go of the bars and the bike would have ridden by itself.

As far as the rear tire is concerned, it is also very user friendly. Modern 600cc sportbikes have enough power to give any tire fits when it comes to hard acceleration out of a corner. I was really hammering the rear tire, but it just held its own and kept the bike moving forward without any real squatting or moving around. You will be surprised at how much the slightly altered rear-tire profile of the new Q3 has to do with how your bike will enter and exit a corner.

By lunchtime I was feeling very good about the new Sportmax Q3, but I needed to do a back-to-back comparison with the Q2 to confirm my suspicions. After lunch we started out on a Q2 and it was not until I got back on the Q3 that I noticed how much improved the new Q3 was over the previous tire.

Sharper and quicker handling, with better stability under braking and acceleration, the Q3 offers up a smoother and more compliant ride. Out of the tight corners you can really give it the berries and the bike will go forward as planned. It is that much easier to steer the bike with the rear wheel through the last part of the corner by using the throttle.

When you’re in the fast stuff you will also notice that the new Q3 is planted and smooth. There’s less wallowing around and the transition at speed is easier to navigate. The combination of a new carcass design paired with the slightly different rear profile is a positive step forward in every aspect.

Since everyone had done enough laps in the dry, Dunlop opted to have us try out the wet-weather performance of the new tire. It’s one thing to ride or race in the rain, but to purposely wet the track and ride… well, that takes a bit more commitment.

When the Dunlop guys were giving the tech briefing they had explained that just by chance they came across a tread pattern that performed very well in the wet. By elongating the center tread groove and modifying the corresponding side groves, the new Q3 was able to gain 1.4 seconds in lap times during testing, Dunlop claims. The new tread design overlaps itself and therefore disperses water more effectively with no reduction overall to the surface area of the tire.

It was my turn to try the wet-weather riding characteristics of the new Q3 and although I never had a moment I was not really going for it. Hard to make yourself push it unless you have to and I did not want to be the guy who found out the hard way. We will just have to take the Dunlop test rider’s word on how well it works in the wet and by the pace he was keeping it looks quite capable.

The new Sportmax Q3 has all the makings for a proper street/track-day tire and the introduction of carbon fiber into the design is the real game changer. Even better is that the price for the new Q3s is the same as the older Q2.

Dunlop is getting its act together up in Buffalo and the investment in new technologies and updated machinery is really paying off. Longer lasting tires coupled with better performance and available at the same price…  how can you go wrong with that?

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By Tom Montano