Stuff That Works: a review of Tomahawk Tires.

I wrote this product review for the BMW MOA Owners News 4 years ago:

Getting through this product evaluation might be a challenge for some of you, but please keep your mind open enough to read it completely. Tomahawk tires are re-manufactured, or as the president of the company likes to say “re-moulded”. Do not confuse Tomahawks with re-caps for the simple reason that these tires have been re-moulded onto a used tire core from “bead to bead” including the sidewalls. They are not merely capped with new rubber in the middle of the tire. Before I get carried away with the technology that goes into a set of Tomahawks, let me tell this story in a somewhat chronological manner.
I spend a lot of time on the web and a good amount of my playtime there is spent on the BMW MOA web forum. Just for fun I started a couple of threads to see what my fellow web-riders reaction to the notion of riding on re-manufactured tires might be.
The feedback was almost all negative. Here are some samples: “I would never entrust [my life] to off-brand tires.” “There is no freaking way I would buy, use, or ride on retread or remanufactured tires.” “Running refurbished used tires appeals to me about as much as buying a used toothbrush.” And “This is a joke, right?”
It was no joke. I contacted Steve Chlavin and he arranged for a set of the Tomahawks to be sent to Grand Rapids BMW for installation. The fine folks at my favorite dealership were not too sure of my sanity when I explained that I had some re-manufactured tires on the way for them to install on my ’04 Rockster Special Edition. They gave me some good natured teasing, including calling me “Re-cap Cliff” but they also expressed genuine concern for my safety if something should happen to the tires at speed. (Hey, at least they forgot to razz me for not keeping my bike clean enough!) It was worth the abuse because they let me drive back home on a loaner Dakar F650 and they let me take a K1200R out for a test when I came back to get my Rockster. The availability of loaner bikes and demos are just two reasons I like this dealership so much.
When I picked up the bike on July 11, there were 5,979 miles on the clock. I took some pictures before leaving the parking lot and measured the tread depth. It was 8/32 at the center of the rear, the deepest portion of the thread, and 6/32 at the outside. The little grooves were 7/32. The front tire had 4/32 the whole way around. I didn’t take the time to measure all of the treads, but picked seven of them on each tire to measure.
I am riding on Tomahawk’s sport compound, which Steve told me is similar to Michelin Pilot Sports in that they are sport oriented, but not an ultra soft (read sticky) compound that will wear out too fast. In addition to the basic black ones, Tomahawk also makes really cool colored tires for sport bikes and moto-cross bikes, tires for quads, and slicks for racing motorcycles. One guy set a speed record on April 5th of this year on a set of Tomahawks. He blistered the track in Chandler, AZ with an 8.65 second ET at 160 mph which is quite a bit faster than the Tomahawks on my Rockster have ever traveled. There are also a couple of motorcycle stunt teams who use Tomahawks exclusively. Those wild riding folks put their tires under way more stress that I ever will with their wheelies, stoppies, and other antics.
I was careful to spend the first 100 miles or so scrubbing in the new tires. One of the ways I did this was to go to a vacant parking lot and do some low speed maneuvers like circles and figure eights. I put on about 400 miles during the first week with the tires and about half of that was on a slab, which is unusual for me. I also rode for 45 minutes in a really heavy Michigan downpour and did some two-up riding out to Lake Michigan as well. My initial impression of the tires was to be very, very impressed. Wet or dry they handled as well or better than the Metzlers and Dunlops on which I have ridden in the past.
My style of riding is best characterized as “moderately aggressive”. I am not a speed freak, but I thoroughly enjoy the 0-70 mph portion of riding. I tend to avoid highway riding, much preferring to stay on the two laners when ever possible. I commute 20-30 miles six days a week and ride in to work every day the temp is above 20 and there is no ice on the roads. During the summer months week-ends are spent covering three local racetracks for a small newspaper chain which can add up to 300-400 miles a week with the bike being ridden seven days a week. I have a favorite S curve on one of my routes to the store. It is marked 35 mph, but I have worked my way up to 58-60 on the Tomahawks with no problem except the big grin on my face.
One of the most consistent remarks from the nay-sayers about re-manufactured tires involves pointing out all the “alligator tails” you see on the freeway from trucks. There are studies from a variety of sources which point out that such freeway blow outs occur because of under inflation and have nothing to do with the quality of the tire or whether or not it is re-manufactured. (You can read a lot more at the Tire Retread Information Bureau’s website: http://www.retread.org/.) The culprit causing our freeways to be decorated treads is abuse, and under inflation is considered abuse, is responsible for tire failure and not because a tire is remanufactured.
Speaking of tire inflation, the Tomahawks did an excellent job of maintaining pressure levels. I got religion about keeping my tires up to recommended pressure a few years ago when I went through a front tire in a little over one thousand miles because my method of checking pressure was looking at the tire and maybe kicking it a little. Since that lesson I have acquired a nice digital gauge and check my pressure about every 3-4 days because of the wide temperature fluctuations in Michigan. The Tomahawks performed very well in this regard and did not require additional air nearly as often as the Dunlops they replaced.
What further separates Tomahawk tires from the alligators littering the highways is the extreme amount of quality control behind the Tomahawks. The parent company, Dresser Tire and Rubber, also remanufactures tires for airplanes. Almost every tire, an estimated 90% of them, on commercial airlines is remanufactured and there are only 5 companies with approval from the FAA to supply planes with tires in the US. Dresser is one of those. For those readers who don’t think airline tires are under stress you can take a look at a graph prepared by Goodyear on the Tomahawk website: http://www.cycletires.com/. Airline tires hit the ground standing still and instantly accelerate to speeds up to 190 mph and must absorb up to a 50,000 load at the same time. That is stress by anyone’s definition.
What enables Dresser/Tomahawk to remanufacture some of the safest tires in the world is something called laser shearography. It is like taking an x-ray of the tire. Every single Tomahawk tire is tested on the $100,000.00 shearography machine to look for problems before it leaves the plant. New tires are not tested that thoroughly, most plants only test random batches of the tires for problems, but Tomahawk tests each and every tire before it goes out the door. You can’t get any better quality control than that.
The Europeans have been riding on remanufactured motorcycle tires since 1998. When the airline business slowed down after 9/11, the folks at Dresser began to look for new ways to keep their plant in California active and went to Europe to learn about remoulding motorcycle tires and Tomahawk was born.
It is worth noting that the “core” tires upon which the Tomahawks are bonded are also carefully inspected before the remanufacturing process begins. Tomahawk imports almost all of the tire cores it uses from Europe because tire re-cycling is much bigger over there. The cores are inspected for holes, plugs, weather checking, and other types of problems. If any problem is evident, then the core is rejected. The Tomahawk plant is selling everything they can make. I had to wait patiently for a couple of weeks before mine arrived in Grand Rapids.
I have saved one of the most fun parts about Tomahawks until now. Steve Chlavin, the owner of the company, is one of us. By that I mean he rides a BMW motorcycle and reads the Owners News. He just traded in his 1150RT (upon which he had Tomahawk blue tires) for a 2005 R1200RT that will have Tomahawks as soon as Steve finishes with the stock set. Steve is familiar with the Owners News because his other company, Cee Bailey’s, advertises in here on a regular basis. Cee Bailey’s has been making aircraft windshields since 1955 and they branched into motorcycle windshields as well. As an important side note, I had no idea Steve was a BMW rider until I had been riding on his tires for well over two months. I learned of the connection with Cee Bailey’s at the same time – near the end of September when I interviewed Steve about his tires. Editor Sandy Cohen had no idea of the connection until I told her a few days before the evaluation was turned in. I feel it is important to mention this lest anyone think my positive reaction to the tires had anything to do with Steve riding a Beemer or the fact that he offers other products for our motorcycles.
Thus far I have 4,065 miles on the Tomahawks. The tread depth on the rear varies from 6/32 to 5/32 on the main tread while the little ones are at 5/32. The front tire treads measured between 3/32 and 4/32.
Tomahawks are a total winner in my book. The tires performed as well or better than the Dunlops and Metzlers I have ridden on with this Rockster and on my two previous Beemers. In fact, I much prefer them to the Dunlops that were stock on my Rockster SE. The Tomahawks for my bike run $150.00 for the pair and if you tack on $80.00 labor to have the dealership install them the total is $230.00. The last time I had Metzlers put on my previous bike the total installed price was $405.00. For me the savings is substantial and meaningful enough to make a difference, especially when you factor in the confidence I have in them after several thousand miles of almost daily use.
Remanufactured tires are not for everybody. I know that and Steve Chlavin knows that as well. He acknowledged to me that BMW riders probably do not constitute a large portion of his target market, but he was very happy to have me evaluate his tires for the Owners News nonetheless.
“The tires are selling as fast as we can make them,” Steve remarked. “People that use them love them. Disinformation comes from people who have never seen or ridden them.”
Tomahawks are made in the US using the best technology currently available. I bought a BMW because it represented a good “bang for the buck” factor to me. I was interested in remanufactured tires for the same reason. I have every intention of continuing to ride on Tomahawks in the future.

NOTE: I just ordered my FOURTH set of Tomahawk Tires after having ridden a little over 34,000 miles on the first three sets.
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