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Street Motorcycle Tires

Inspecting and Maintaining your Street Motorcycle Tires

>> Ashley Benson

Back when some clever caveman invented the wheel, it's doubtful that he would have expected that, centuries later, there would be millions of materials, styles, and brands involved in the make up. Yet with all of the upsides that our modern rubber wheels provide, it can often be hard to decide what the best tire is for your street bike. And since a bike is nothing without its tires, it's important to know the in's and out's of what's carrying your ride over the asphalt - not only so you can get the best ride possible, but in order to do it safely at the same time.

All Tires Need Replacing

Since a dealer probably won't sell you a bike without tires (and if they have, you might want to get your money back) it's easy to forget how important the tire really is to the safety and integrity of your bike. But when your bike just doesn't seem to grip like it used to, it might be time to look a little lower than the shiny paint job to inspect the wear and tear on your tires. If you can spot any wire or fabric, it's time to get new tires immediately or the chances of your tire bursting mid ride and you meeting the asphalt in an all too intimate way becomes highly likely.

In order to avoid letting your tire situation get so dire, be sure to check the tread periodically. The tread, or tread pattern, is the outer most part or the tire that hits the road. Each type of tread pattern is specially designed for a particular type of environment. The wetter the conditions, the more tread is needed for safe riding. It's important to choose the right kind of tire with the right tread pattern for the conditions you will be riding in most frequently. As this tread wears down over time and use, the tire becomes thinner. Built in tread indicators are set at 1/32nd of an inch (0.8 millimeters) and when reached show that the tire should be changed immediately. But since the more thin the tire is the more susceptible it is to damage, keeping a little more tread is never a bad idea.

In order to measure your tread depth without relying on the tread indicators, it is easy and inexpensive to pick up a tread gauge from your nearest automotive shop or even borrow one from your neighbor. However, as a throwback to your fifth grade science class, save yourself a few bucks and the hassle of having your neighbor gripe at you when you haven't returned his gauge to him and use a penny instead to measure how much rubber you have left. After buying yourself a Camel Round Tire Patch Kit with the money you saved on the tread gauge, take the penny from the change, flip our fine sixteenth president upside down and place him in the groove of your tread. As long as part of Lincoln's hair is still covered by some rubber, your tires are at a decent thickness. And while you're down there, take a look at your rims. Any cracked or warped rims should also be replaced immediately.

When replacing tires, it's typically not a good idea to mix and match different brands, styles and constructs. Combining different tire models will cause instability. However, some tires are made specifically for just front or rear tires since the two perform different tasks. If you do want to use different tires, make sure they're the kind of tires made for that purpose. You can, however, mix old and new motorcycle tires. Since rear tires have a tendency to wear down twice as fast as the front tires do, you'll find that you will have to change them twice as much. While most manuals will recommend changing them at the same time, this is not necessary and will only make you waste money.

Unlike a fine wine, age does matter with your tires. Most tires have a life span of five years and should be changed at that time. In order to find the birthday of your trusty threads, check the sidewall. The date stamp should read four numbers. These indicate the week of the year and then the year that your tire was introduced to the world. Previous to 2000, the date stamp on the sidewall was formatted differently, however those tires should have been replaced long ago.

You may like mushrooms on your pizza, but they're never good when it comes to tires. Many people believe that a wider tire is better because they think it will give more traction but it only ends up changing the profile of the tire. For example, take a piece of paper and draw the ends toward each other to form a U. If you continue to draw the ends toward each other, you'll notice that the U starts to look more like a mushroom. This messes with the profile and degree at which the center transitions to the shoulder. The same goes for your tires and it's always important to make sure you have the right size tires for your rims.

Tubes Too

Just as tires get worn down, tire tubes do as well. Though not all tires require tubes, if your tires do, be sure to replace the tubes at the same time that you replace your tires. Over time, the tubes tend to stretch and if not changed when the new tire is put on, the tube could crease. If so, damaged tubes should only be repaired by an expert. Also be sure that the tire size appears on the size markings of the tube so that the two are compatible.

Important Inflation

No matter how old the tire, having the right pressure is paramount and it can be easy to both under inflate or over inflate them. In order to avoid incorrectly inflated tires, make sure to check them with an accurate pressure gauge (like the BikeMaster Digital Tire Gauge) at least once a week or before long rides. This should be done when the tire is cold because as a tire heats up, the inflation pressure increases and letting out air will cause the tire to become under inflated. An underinflated tire will not only diminish your gas mileage but can have dangerous effects. They tend to build more heat which can cause them to suddenly fail and also have a tendency to wear unevenly, which can permanently ruin the tire. Under inflation also affects how your bike corners and causes cracking from fatigue. Motorcycle tires are considered to be cold either before it has been ridden for a mile at moderate speed or after it has been let to cool for three or more hours.

Over inflating tires can be just as dangerous. Because the inflation pressure increases as it is ridden, an already over inflated tire is more easily damaged by sudden impact and will ride harder causing unnecessary wear and tear to the tread. For this reason, the maximum tire pressure is conveniently located on the tire sidewall.

When doing your regular tire pressure check up, if you notice that your tires are loosing two or more PSI per month and you're having to inflate them more than should be necessary, there could be a problem with the tire, the wheel or the valve. We recommend removing the tire or tube to inspect it for leaks.

The Break In

Just like a pair of new shoes, new tires are going to feel a bit different than the old worn in ones when first changed out especially if the construction of them is different. It's usually a good idea to give new tires approximately 100 miles to fully break in. In order to avoid blisters or road rash rather, try not to push the performance of your motorcycle until you've really gotten a feel for how the new tires affect how your bike handles. You may have taken that corner at fifty hundreds of times, but it'll certainly feel different with a new pair of tires, so be cautious. New tires also come dressed up in a new coating. This coating makes tires quite a bit more slippery but should also wear off after around 100 miles. It's also a good idea to check your tire pressure after the first substantial ride, once it has had a chance to cool off for at least three hours and adjust it to the recommended levels.

Valve Victory

We all want our bikes to look the best from headlight to exhaust pipe but it's important to make sure your valve is just as useful as how snazzy it may look. Because inflation is so important to the safety of your bike (and you), proper valve maintenance is necessary to keep the tire's pressure where it needs to be. Be sure to keep your valve cores clean and free of any dirt and debris that might cause air leakage. Factory valve caps are usually the smartest choice since they have a rubber gasket that will give you a better seal and help protect against grime and air leakage. A valve may seem like such a tiny thing in the scheme of the mechanics of a motorcycle, but maintaining the right PSI is just as important as making sure to change your oil.

A Balanced Diet

Balance might seem more important to the tight rope walker at the circus, but it's just as important for the tires on your motorcycle. If your tires aren't accurately balanced there's more of a chance of vibration at certain speeds that can cause even more wearing as well as affect how your bike handles. In order to get a well balanced tire, most tires have a colorful dot that is stamped on the sidewall of the tire. This dot marks the lightest point in the tire and should be lined up with the valve stem in order to give the tire the best balance for your buck.

When installing new tires it can be easy to ignore the directional arrows on the tire. Let's face it, no one really likes taking directions from a piece of rubber. If there are no directional arrows, ignore this next bit, but many tires manufactured today have a particular tread that is meant to rotate a specific way in order to optimize their performance. The arrows can also be helpful in re-fitting a tire as the wear pattern can affect how the motorcycle rides if turned the opposite direction.

Bias vs. Radial

Not all tires are created equally. Or rather, not all tires are created in the same way. Bias and radial tires are both very different in the ways they are made and, unless approved by either the motorcycle or tire manufacturer, they should not be mixed on the same bike. Because of the differences in the way they are constructed, the two types of tires both have different advantages and disadvantages and most motorcycles are designed to work with one or the other. Trying to switch up the tires will most likely lead to more disadvantages than improvement in ride quality.

Weighing In

Like most things, every tire has a weight limit. The figures for the limit can be found on the sidewall of the tire or in the owner's manual along with a list of accessory restrictions. This is important to pay attention to because overloads can cause tire failure, accidents or irreversible damage. Before taking a trip, be sure to know how much the luggage weighs as well as the rider(s). We do not recommend, however, asking how much the lady who you will be taking with you on your motorcycle weighs, unless you want to be slapped. Because of the damage that trailers can cause due to extra weight, most tire manufacturers do no recommend their use. And if there were not already enough reasons to properly inflate your tires, under inflation will also lead to a lower load carrying capacity.

Storing is Better In than Out

It may seem like a good idea to keep your bike parked in the driveway so that the neighbors can leer at it with envy as they drive by every day in their "soccer mom" minivan, but while this not only isn't the safest place to store your motorcycle, it can also wreak havoc on the maintenance of your tires. Direct sunlight can easily age and harden your tires when left out for long durations of time. In order to avoid unnecessary wear, try to keep your motorcycle stored in a dimly lit or dark area as well as away from sources of heat or any electric motors, which produce ozone that speeds up the tire breakdown.

Keep it Clean

Whether it's to make your wheels shine or to uncover the strange letters and numbers that you never understood (until now) that are stamped on the sidewall of your tires, using the proper cleaning supplies is typically not a bad idea. Harsh chemicals can compromise the integrity of the rubber or remove important resistance to ozone cracking or weather checking. A simple soft soap and water with a rag and a little elbow grease can get all the grime off sidewalls without degrading the tire. And while Armor All might make your tires shine, it can also damage your tires.

It's important to keep tires clean and free of contaminants such as oil or gasoline since prolonged exposure can contaminate the rubber of the tire. Be sure to wipe any off immediately with just a clean wet rag and a mild soap.

The Writing on the (Side) Wall

Much like reading the washing directions on the tag of your shirts, the symbols on the sidewalls of your tires can seem like gibberish. And since misreading a tire can be just as disastrous as throwing your wife's dry clean only dress into the washing machine, here is a little help on how to understand what your tire is trying to tell you.

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Monday, August 15, 2011 4:13:06 PM
Kirk Kramer said:

Great info on tires! Thanks!


Friday, November 4, 2011 4:20:11 AM
Terry said:

very good article....need to mention proper rim and spoke maintenance as part of the tires safety and performance also.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011 5:40:28 PM
James Proietti said:

Been in the tire business 20 years with Goodyear and Firestone,and this was a first class post.Concise and informative but pleasant to read.Kudos!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012 5:24:00 AM
Ben said:

Good, informative article. I would have liked a little more information on load ratings ie: your "67" or "Load Range B" just what should you look for, what do these numbers mean? Riding a heavy cruiser I need Load rated tires and my owners manual only states to use the OEM tires.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012 5:37:13 AM
Billy said:

An explanation as to the "date of manufacture" numbering would also have been nice. Thank you for this.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012 5:31:21 AM
Danny Sales said:

For people that don't know about the safety on tires. They need to read this post. Thanks for caring about all the riders


Tuesday, January 10, 2012 5:52:27 AM
rick mooney said:

Just when you thought you knew everything along comes an article that shows you that you still can teach an old dog new tricks - Thanks


Tuesday, January 10, 2012 8:42:18 AM
George Gusty Jr. said:

I thought I knew everything about tires. Evidently I didn't. Excellent article. is the web's largest powersports store with more than 8 million factory fresh motorcycle parts, apparel, accessories and more online, including motorcycle helmets, motorcycle boots, motorcycle gloves and more.