Your tires are some of the most important parts of your bike – if not THE most important – and it’s essential to take care of them, so they can take care of you. Check out our quick guide on inspecting and maintaining the tires on your street bike, to make sure your machine is as ready to hit the road as you are!
These days, rubber composite motorcycle tires are standard on everything from dirt bikes to sport bikes to big adventure bikes, but one thing is certain – they are certainly not all created equal. In this article, we’ll give you a basic rundown of what you need to know about your tires and check on a regular basis, to make sure your tires – one of the most important parts of your entire bike – are always in shape and as ready to ride as you are!
Tires: The Most Important Parts of Your Bike?
Your tires are one of the most critical – if not the most critical components of your entire motorcycle. Unlike cars and other vehicles, motorcycles only have two tiny points of contact with the road at any given time, so it’s essential that these points of contact be the right size, shape, and compound to make your bike ride properly. You can usually get away with mismatching tires, putting on retreads, or even driving with steel cables showing in a car – but try that on a bike, and your ride wont last long!
Reading Your Treads
So your tires are one of the most essential parts of your bike, but they are also the part that wears out the fastest, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your tread (the rubber that literally “meets the road.”) One important thing to know about tread is that the “pattern” (the grooves cut into the surface) of every tire is specifically designed for riding in certain conditions – on a street motorcycle, this mostly has to do with the tires ability to shed water and maintain traction. The wetter the conditions, the more tread is needed for safe riding, so 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 tread wears down, the grooves become more shallow, and their ability to shed water and maintain traction becomes compromised – so the depth of the grooves in your tread is a solid indicator of how much life you have left in your tire. Built in tread wear indicators are typically set at 1/32nd of an inch (0.8mm), so once they start showing, it’s time to replace your tire.
But as the web’s leading motorcycle tire supplier, we’re especially particular about our tires, so we recommend actually replacing your tires before the tread wear indicators begin to show. Truth be told, when you’re at 1/32nd of a inch, you’re already in the “red zone” where traction is dramatically compromised, so we recommend changing them a little earlier than that.
How can you tell when? Well you can spend a few bucks and buy a proper tread wear indicator that will measure exactly where it’s at, but we have a simpler trick you can use called the “penny trick.” Just take a penny from your change cup, 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.
Mixing and Matching
When replacing tires, it’s generally not a good idea to mix and match different brands, styles, or constructions. Some people do it with no problems (and in some rare cases, even brand new motorcycles come with mixed tires from the factory), but for the most part, tires are engineered to work best as a matching pair, and combining different models can create some instability in your ride, and we recommend sticking with a matching set in most cases.
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 often go through two rear tires for every front tire you burn up. While most manuals will recommend changing them at the same time, this is not necessary for most street bikes, and you’ll only be wasting money doing it.
Does Age Matter?
In addition, age does matter with your tires – even if they have never been mounted. Most tires have a life span of five years and should be changed at that time; the reason for this is that tires are made with chemical compounds that give tires their “stickiness,” and these chemicals evaporate over time, leaving the rubber hard and brittle (a process called “outgassing.”)
In order to find the birthday of your hoops, check the sidewall for the date stamp, a four-digit code inside a rectangular box. These indicate the week of the year, and then the year, that your tire first popped out of the mold. So a date stamp of “4012” would read as “the 40th week of 2012,” or some time in early October of 2012.
Inspecting and Maintaining Tubes
Just as tires get worn down, tire tubes do as well. Though not all tires require tubes, if your tires do (generally these are found on spoked rims), 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. Also, be sure that the tire size appears on the size markings of the tube, so that the two are compatible.
Keep An Eye On Your PSI
No matter how old the tire, having the right pressure is very important, and it can be easy to both underinflate or overinflate them. In order to keep them in the proper range, make sure to check them with an accurate pressure gauge like the BikeMaster Digital Tire Gauge at least once a week, or before any long rides. This should be done when the tire is cold, because as a tire heats up, the inflation pressure increases, which will give you an inaccurate reading.
An underinflated tire will not only diminish your gas mileage, but can actually have dangerous effects. They tend to build more heat which can cause them to be more likely to fail, they will wear unevenly, and the change in sidewall profile can cause your bike to handle and corner poorly.
Overinflating tires can be just as dangerous. Because the inflation pressure increases as it is ridden, an already overinflated tire is more easily damaged by sudden impact, and will ride harder, causing unnecessary wear and tear to the tread.
To keep your tires at the right PSI level – and this is important – you must consult your owners manual. While max PSI figures can be found on the tire itself, remember that this figure represents the maximum that the tire can withstand, not the optimal tire pressure for your specific bike.
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. If that happens, we recommend removing the tire or tube to inspect it for leaks, and a patch job or valve stem replacement might be necessary.
Breaking In Your New Shoes
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 when switching to a different brand, as they will often have a different profile and sidewall feel. It’s usually a good idea to give new tires approximately 100 miles to fully break in (check out our article How To: Properly Breaking In Motorcycle Tires for a full rundown on this procedure), so try not to push the performance of your motorcycle until you’ve really gotten a feel for how your bike handles. In addition, new tires sometimes come with a coating that makes tires quite a bit more slippery, so go easy at first until it is worn off and the slick surface of the tire is worn down to get some traction (a process called “scrubbing in” the tire.)
Bias-Ply or Radial: Does It Matter?
Not all tires are created equally – or rather, not all tires are created in the same way. Bias-ply and radial tires are 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 (for a full discussion on the nature of bias-ply and radial tires and what they work best for, check out our article Bias-ply vs. Radial: Which One Is Best For You?)
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.