Review of the Pirelli MT21 and Kenda K760 DOT-approved Knobby Tires

This review is more of a comparison between the Pirelli MT21 and Kenda K760 DOT (street legal) knobby tires when mounted on a KLR650, for riders that like a bias towards the dirt side.

I ran old fashioned dualsport tires for years, and I hated them. I used to cringe at the sight of mud; the tires would instantly load up and leave me with zero traction. Then, one fateful day, I was in the bike shop ordering parts when the salesman mentioned, in passing, that they had just received a shipment of DOT approved knobbies.

I said "what?"

He said "Ya, they have street legal knobbies now."

I said "where?" We went off to the warehouse and he pointed out a set of Pirelli MT-21s and asked me if I wanted them. Stupid question, I was already wiping the drool off my chin while scanning them for the telltale "not for highway use" lettering on the sidewall. Not finding anything, I picked them up and threw them on my shoulder without even asking how much they were. I didn't even need new tires, the ones on the bike were fine. Well, they had about 80% tread left - but they weren't really fine. Like I said, they sucked in the dirt.

At that point, I learned one important thing about Pirelli MT-21s: they are expensive. Shortly thereafter, I also learned they added quite a bit of road noise. At very slow speed the bike vibrates from the tread pattern; I can actually feel the bike going up and down as the knobs roll over the ground. However, on the dirt they were amazing. The traction was fantastic and I started riding places I hadn't been to since I sold my XR250, places a KLR 650 had no business being. They gave respectable traction on the pavement too, more that I initially expected. From past experience running full knobbies on a dualsport, after shaving off the "not for highway use" lettering, I really didn't expect the good handling that the MT21s provided. But, after 6 months of riding, I learned another lesson: the MT21s dissolve on the road. With only 3000k on bike, the tires were shot, at least for serious trail work. Still, I went through several sets of them without even considering the possibility of going back to the old so called dual purpose tires. Now, however, there are quite a few DOT knobbies locally available.

After pondering options for a while, I ordered myself a set of Kenda K760s. When they arrived, the first thing I noticed was how strikingly aggressive the tread pattern was. It still amazes me how they can get those things approved for the street. The next thing I noticed is that they were almost half the price of the Pirellis. Unfortunately, after riding for less than a year, I now feel that they are also less than half the tires the Pirellis are. Basically, I hate the Kendas . First, they are LOUD, way louder than the Pirellis. And yes, the Pirellis are loud too. Going down the road, the howl from the Kenda tires drive me batty. After a while, I just can't stand it. Second, there's the handling. On the dirt, the front tire has a nasty habit of giving out a little when you first enter a corner, right when having it bite hard would feel really nice. It does grab, eventually, but that initial slide does take some getting used to. The back hooks up okay, but nothing special. It might be a little better in mud but it's less inspiring in the rooted single-track. On the road, I've heard the K760s can actually stick pretty well, but, when riding, I just don't feel like they're going to stick. They just don't leave me with the confident feeling I like to really enjoy the twisties. Third, the tires are significantly lighter than the Pirellis, light enough that I feel like I should run higher tire pressures just to avoid pinch-flats. I haven't had any flats with the Kendas, but the tire just doesn't inspire confidence, anywhere. Fourth, the Kendas are wearing out faster than the Pirellis, not that I care as I'll be tossing them before they are worn out anyway. About the only thing good I'll say about the Kendas is that they were really easy to mount, being so light and flexible.

Some people seem to love them; some like them more than the MT21s. I don't. In comparison, the K760s don't even come close. On a lighter bike, in mud or sand, they might have the edge. But on my KLR 650, either down the trails or the road back home, the MT21s are way, way better than the K760s. And yes, they are worth it even at twice the price. I'll be peeling of the Kendas and putting on a new set of Pirellis before the next race I enter.