When you’re out riding off road, all the weight of you and your bike are on two tiny contact patches of rubber – that’s why it’s critical to make sure your tires are in top condition! Check out our guide to inspecting and maintaining dirt bike tires so you know exactly what to look for.
Whether you’re riding on dirt or on the street, one of the most critical parts of your entire bike is your tires. At any given moment, the weight of your entire bike (and you) is being held upright by two tiny contact patches of rubber where your tire meets the ground, and the condition of your tires can make all the difference between a fun ride on the track or through the trails and ending up on the ground!
In this article, we’ll take you through all the things you need to know to inspect and maintain your dirt bike tires in top condition, to make sure your bike always performs, and your rides are always safe and fun. Taking care of your dirt bike tires is easy to do, but of critical importance, so make sure you get everything covered!
Inspect Your Tires Before Every Ride
With as much as you have riding on your tires (quite literally) it’s very important to make sure you inspect your dirt bike tires before every ride. It only takes a few moments to do, and gives you a chance to find any critical problems that could endanger your safety on the ride, so a “pre-flight inspection” is one of the most important things you can do as a rider!
When inspecting your tires, there are four important things you’re going to be checking out:
- Checking your air pressure (this is the most important step!)
- Checking your valve stem
- Checking out your tread for cracks, cuts, or missing knobs
- Checking your spokes and rim locks
Now let’s go through each one individually to show you what you should be looking for.
1) Checking your air pressure
Whenever you’re riding off-road, maintaining proper air pressure in your tires is one of the most important maintenance steps you can take! Here’s what can happen if you’re not running proper tire pressures off-road:
Tube or tire failure
Irregular or premature tire tread wear
Overinflation reduces the contact area of your tires, because your tire cannot form to the terrain as much, which reduces traction
Underinflation can cause your tire to slide off the bead, causing it to lose even more air, and can cause pinch flats
Now you can see how important running proper tire pressure is – but the big question is, what is the right tire pressure? Well, when you’re riding off-road, it can get a little tricky, because off-road riding allows you a lot more flexibility in varying your tire pressure to suit different kinds of terrain.
As a general rule of thumb, dirt bike tires run best at 13-15 PSI (but can go as low as 10 or as high as 20 PSI depending on the terrain and type of tire) while ATVs and UTVs run between 6-10 PSI. You can adjust tire pressures up or down to get the best traction on the terrain you’re riding on, but as long as you stay within this range, you should be good to go. By just checking your tire pressure and knowing what level you’re running, half the battle is won – many riders don’t even do that!
To check your pressures, you’re naturally going to need a good quality tire pressure gauge as well. You can go with an analog dial tire pressure gauge like this Motion Pro Professional Tire Gauge, but the more modern varieties are all digital, like this Cruz Tools Tire Pro Digital Tire Gauge. As long as go with a quality gauge, neither will steer you wrong. Keep in mind that tires can lose up to 1 PSI of pressure per week on their own – without even being used – so make sure to stay on top of it and check it regularly.
2) Check the Valve Stem
The most common way tires leak air is not through a puncture in the tire or tube itself, but in the valve stem. Valve stems can be worn and leak air slowly, and it is also very common for dirt or debris to get caught in them and make tiny gaps in the seal (which is why it’s so important to run valve stem caps on a dirt bike.)
When checking your valve stem, first make sure your caps are on and fastened tightly, and make sure the stem hasn’t spun. If it has, you will have to deflate the tire and reset it.
3) Check your Tire Tread
Next, check your tire tread. On a dirt bike tire, most of your traction comes from the knobs digging into the terrain, rather than from friction between rubber and pavement when you ride on the street. That’s why it’s important to look for worn down or rounded knobs – or worse, missing knobs altogether. If wear is excessive or knobs are missing, you will be compromising traction and your bike could act skittish; especially when climbing a hill, or when taking corners (in other words, when you need traction most!) If worn, rounded, or missing knobs are evident, it’s definitely time to replace your tires.
When checking your tread, look also between the knobs for cracks and cuts in the tire carcass itself. Unlike a street tire, tubed dirt bike tires won’t lose air from cracks in the carcass, but it is an indicator that the tire is worn and has become brittle, and is more likely to chunk off knobs and lose traction. If the tire is cracked, dry, and grayish looking, it is old and should be replaced.
4) Check Spokes and Rim Locks
While checking your tires, take a moment to look over your spokes as well, making sure they are all straight and tightly in place, and take a look at your rim locks as well, to make sure they are fastened securely. If everything looks good up to this point, you’re good to go!
Time For New Tires? Here Are Some Tips!
If your inspection has led you to believe that it might be time for some new tires, you’re in luck, because BikeBandit does tires better than anyone else in the industry! Before you start shopping for your next set, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Compound does matter with off-road tires! The compound you should be looking for depends entire on what kind of terrain you’ll be riding. Off-road terrain varies widely (unlike the street) so it’s important to get the right type of tire for your riding.
- Hard terrain compounds are made with softer compounds to give more grip in hard packed surfaces.
- Soft terrain tires are made of harder compounds, but have bigger, chunkier knobs to dig into soft terrain for traction.
- If you ride on varying terrain, or don’t know what kind of terrain you might be riding, go with a set of intermediates – these are the most common type of dirt tire and good for a wide variety of off-road applications.
When you’re ready to start shopping, check out our Off-Road Tire Buyer’s Guide for recommendations for every kind of riding style, terrain, and budget – everything you need to know in one place!