How to Make Sure Your Motorcycle’s Tires Are in Good Shape
You’ve only got two tires, and that means they’re twice as important.
Spring is coming in hot, and that means almost time to break out the motorcycle and finally start enjoying yourself. As tempting as it may be to just jump right on and get rolling, that can be a deadly move if those tires haven’t been in service for an extended period of time. Tires are crucial safety components on a car; that's especially true on a two-wheel vehicle. And since you're probably likely to ride your motorcycle less than you drive your car (if that isn't true, then congrats on living the dream) you might run a bigger risk of using worn, outdated tires.
Jumping on a bike with shot tires is a surefire way to wind up taking a ride you didn't sign up for. That's why you always want to give them a thorough inspection before your maiden voyage and keep an eye on them throughout the season. The good news is that the process of inspecting your motorcycle tires isn't unlike any other you've encountered before.
This quick refresh from The Drive’s gear crew is just what you need to get your head in the game. Let’s get into it.
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Time Needed: 10-15 minutes
Skill Level: Beginner
Cost: Possibly a new set of tires
We're inspecting motorcycle tires. It's not like you need power tools and torches to get the job done. If you do, you probably won't be riding the thing any time soon. That said, you still need to use your head a little to keep injuries at bay.
For the most part, you're just looking over the tires to spot any irregularities. You likely won't need to remove them from the bike to do so, but if you do, make sure to securely lift your machine before proceeding. Also, since there's a chance for sharp objects or frayed chords to rear their heads, it's best to throw on a set of protective gloves.
Everything You’ll Need
We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s a fresh list of what you need to get the job done.
What to Check For on Your Motorcycle Tires
Here’s what you need to do.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty, take a quick look over the entire tire and try to spot any signs of cracking or dry rot. Even if everything else checks out, this is a death sentence for the tires. It tells you the compound is starting to break down and the tire needs to be replaced ASAP.
The next most obvious thing you need to look for is any damage to the tire. Missing chunks, bulging in the sidewall, flat spots from sitting too long, excessive wear to the tread, and punctures are all things that tell you it's time to replace the tire.
If you find a puncture, you can opt to patch it yourself, but it's usually best to take the tire in for a professional replacement. Plugs and other solutions are generally temporary solutions meant to get you to a tire shop as soon as possible.
If there are no signs of dry rot, the next thing you want to do is inspect the profile of the tread. As a motorcycle tire reaches the end of its life, the tread will start to flatten out in the center. This is typically found on a worn rear tire, but its presence on either warrant tire replacement.
Be thorough when inspecting for a flat spot in the tread. If you find the flat spots kind of skip across the circumference of the tire, you're looking at what's called scalloping. This wear pattern is a symptom of faulty suspension components, which will need to be addressed along with the addition of fresh tires.
Out of Date
With all of that out of the way, you might be tempted to blast through the remaining steps and call it a day. Hold your horses. There's one more detail that'll make or break the deal. You'll find a series of numbers stamped into the sidewall following the DOT acronym. The final four digits in that series — which are usually circled — tell us when the tire was born. The first two digits are the week, and the final two are the year. Most motorcycle tires have a shelf life of around 7-10 years. If your tire's age exceeds that, you need to replace them, even if they appear to be in good shape otherwise.
Now for the fun part. In order for a tire to be legal for street use, it needs to have at least 1/32 inch of tread depth. You need to take measurements from the center of your tire in several locations to verify. If you really want to science this out, grab a tire tread depth gauge. Otherwise, you can use a penny.
It just so happens that the top of Lincoln's head is about 2/32 of an inch from the edge. Place the edge of the penny with his head facing toward the inside of the tire between tread blocks. So long as his head is covered to any degree, you're within legal spec. If his head is only just slightly covered, consider replacing the tires in the near future. This is also a good opportunity to inspect the tire for any wear irregularities that aren’t as obvious to the naked eye.
The last thing you need to do is check the tire pressure and make any necessary adjustments. Get that in check, and you’re ready to rock. Just make sure you fill the tire to the pressure given by the bike manufacturer on the spec sticker or owner's manual. The number on the tire's sidewall is the maximum allowable tire pressure. Filling the tire to that rating will cause you a lot of heartaches.
FAQs on Motorcycle Tires
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q. Do motorcycle tires have tread-wear indicators?
A. Most motorcycle tires have tread-wear indicators. They are cast between the tread blocks, sitting higher than the remaining low point. It's time to replace the tire when the tread sits flush with them. These are meant for a quick inspection, but they don't tell you the exact measurement of the remaining tread on a tire. It can also be hard to identify any existing tread-wear issues by reading these alone.
Q. Is it OK to mix and match motorcycle tires?
A. You might see racing bikes with a mix-matched set of tires, but this is not recommended on a street bike. You want consistent performance for safe on-road driving and should match your front and rear tires accordingly.
Q. Do motorcycle tires need to be broken in?
A. Yes. If you need to replace your tires, make sure to follow up with a proper break-in process. Breaking in the tires for the first few miles will scuff up the tread and give the tire the time it needs to settle out to perform as it's designed to.
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