Apollo Tyres has got into a new segment of tyres and this one is particularly interesting for me. The company recently introduced its brand new Alpha-H1 motorcycle radial tyre, which is the first steel radial motorcycle tyre from them. The tyre will go against the likes of the Metzeler and Michelin Pilot Sport Street tyres, the former being a standard fitment on KTM 390 Duke and RC 390. The Metzelers on KTMs provides excellent grip so can the Apollo tyres live up to such high expectations? I've been testing these tyres on my 2015 KTM RC 390 since the past few weeks in order to find out if they make for a good replacement for motorcycles such as the KTM twins and TVS Apache RR 310.
So what is the Apollo Alpha-H1? Just another tyre, or not?
First things first, I'm not going to give the Apollo Alpha-H1 any benefit of judgement because it's an Indian tyre going up against reputed and older international tyre makers. Being an Indian product is no excuse to get away with lower performance in today's globally-exposed market. So the Apollo Alpha-H1 should be able to compete with Metzeler and Michelin in relation to its price. Does it succeed or fail is what I'll tell you in the next few minutes.
The Apollo Alpha-H1 has been made with multiple belt strips with steel coated wires that run from one end of the tyre shoulder to the other. Since these wires are wound across, they offer better rigidity to the structure of the tyre. This improves handling at high speeds as the tyre doesn't deform much when stressed and hence allows the rider to keep the bike stable.
The Alpha-H1 is made of Multi-Grip Compound (MGC), which in simple words means many layers of different compounds. The idea behind using such a combination is to balance things such as grip on different surfaces and wear and tear. Now Metzelers with their soft compounds offer excellent grip but the downside to that is the high wear rate. I ran through my first set of tyres under 10,000 km, primarily due to lot of spirited riding in hills. Lesser enthusiastic riders have reported the set to last about 12,000 km, which still isn't exactly light on the pocket. The Apollo Alpha-H1 is claimed to last 50 % more so expect about 18,000 km of life, which is a good number.
Another thing I quite liked about the Alpha-H1 is its design with a cool-looking electric bolt tread pattern. In the images, you can spot 'V'-shaped grooves on the tyre shoulders. More than aesthetic reasons, they are there for improving the outward water flow on wet surfaces. While Monsoon hasn't hit Delhi yet, a couple of thunderstorms meant I did get a chance to test these tyres in the body-piercing rain. Straight line stability was faultless from the tyres on soaking wet roads and braking too was within the safe zone, allowing the ABS to take over in time. Having used Metzelers extensively in rain, I can safely say that the Apollo Alpha-H1 are almost at similar levels and that is quite a big compliment.
Flat Out, what does it feel like?
On dry surfaces, the Apollo Alpha H-1 performed well and did leave me a bit surprised. Considering Apollo's lack of experience in premium motorcycle tyres and the absence of any technology partner, I expected performance slightly above commuting level. However, within a few days, it became clear there was a lot more to the tyres. Around high-speed corners, the high structural rigidity of the tyres comes in handy. Unlike the Metzelers, which at times do tend to deform under pressure, leading to a bit of slide the Alpha-H1 remains steady. Now make no mistake, the absolute grip on Metzelers is better but it's just the slight sideways movement that is more controlled on the Apollos.
Grip from the rubber is impressive and experienced riders won't find it hard to achieve high lean angles on their machines. Even under hard braking, the tyres offer impressive grip, leading to a safe ride.
Now one thing I absolutely loved about the Metzelers is their ability to offer exceptionally good grip even on surfaces glazed in dust and sand. Honestly, I didn't expect the Apollo Alpha-H1 to be anywhere close to the grip level of the Metzelers but wrong I was proven again! On dusty and dirty surfaces too the Alpha-H1 grip levels do not switch drastically to surprise the rider. There is still enough grip to make corrections and that is something that can be the difference between you being on the bike or on the ground with a sprinkle of luck or the lack of it.
While I've been telling you how impressive the Apollo Alpha-H1 turned out to be in various conditions, it does have some shortcomings too, two exactly. First is the fact that the tyre takes a little longer than the Metzeler ones to heat up adequately and when cold the Alpha-H1 can be a bit iffy around corners. A few minutes to warm it though brings it upto the impressive performance levels I explained.
The second shortcoming I found was that while the tyre offers good grip in corners, it requires some effort to quickly lean into a corner. One might not perceive this trait through one sharp corner but a series of sharp turns is what make this clear.
Conclusion – Should you buy it?
As far as grip and performance on various surfaces and weather are concerned, the Apollo Alpha-H1 is an impressive product. It is presently available only in 110/ 70 R17 size for the front and 150/ 60 R17 for rear. Another impressive fact is that these tyres are 'W' rated so they are certified for speeds up to about 270 kmph. Now, this speed isn't possible on the motorcycles that can wear these tyres but it's comforting to know the extra capability is there.
The Apollo Alpha-H1 can be bought for Rs 6,499 for the front and Rs 8,499 for the rear, bringing up the tally for a set at Rs 14,998. For the performance offered by these tyres, I find the price to be competitive. The Apollo Alpha-H1, hence makes for a good replacement option as you don't need to compromise on performance but get better life from the tyres.
The next big question then is how good or bad is the wear rate on these tyres and what exactly is the running cost per kilometre. Stay tuned for our next update where we'll answer all this and a lot more in detail.