Mar 09

Inspecting and maintaining your Motorcycle Tires

Motorcycle Tires, how they differ from your car’s tires, how to inspect them, and when to replace them.

by Anne DT


Making sure your tires are in top shape is very critical on a motorcycle.  The contact patch where your rubber meets the road is much smaller, and the consequences of an accident due to neglect are much greater when compared to our four wheeled cages.  Tires that are in good condition provide better handling, traction and of course a much safer ride.  Today we look at how to inspect your motorcycle tires for wear, and how to decide when it is time to replace them.

Motorcycle Tires have different compounds of rubber

Leaned right over, your contact patch is a fraction of what your car experiences.

Leaned right over, your contact patch is a fraction of what your car experiences. Would you want to do this on worn out tread?

Unlike your car, the contact patch of your tire, (the rubber that actually touches the road), is very small.  It gets uneven wear as the center of your tire sees more contact with the road over the tire’s lifetime than the sides.  Because of this better motorcycle tires are made with different compounds of rubber with harder long lasting rubber down the center, and softer rubber that has more grip along the outer sides for cornering.

How to inspect your Motorcycle Tires

The easiest way to examine your tires is put your bike on the center stand in a well-lit area.  If you do not have a center stand, get yourself a paddock stand or have a friend get on the bike and walk it very slowly forward as you look at the tires.  Things to watch for are holes, nails, cracks, and embedded rocks.  Pay attention to the side wall and make sure there is no severe dry rotting – or “cracking.”  This is most noticeable when there is weight on the bike, so have someone sit on the bike when you check the side walls for cracks.  Also notice if there is any uneven wear on the tire – also called “cupping” or “feathering” – this is usually caused by insufficient inflation.  On the other hand, over-inflated tires are more susceptible to punctures and cuts, so make sure you follow the owner manual instructions to get the tire pressure right.

Get yourself a small air compressor

Air Compressor motorcycle

A basic air compressor in the garage eliminates excuses for not having your tires correctly maintained.

Keeping the tires properly inflated makes you bike easier to handle and prevents them from wearing out prematurely.  The best time to inflate your tires is when they are cold.  It is recommended to check your tire pressure at least once a week.  The best way to do this is at home before you ride as even a short ride to the neighborhood gas station will warm up your tires.  We bought an inexpensive air compressor for the garage so we could always service our tires before riding off. While cold tire pressure perfection isn’t too critical for your car, on a motorcycle I believe it is worth erring on the side of safety.  You can buy a decent air compressor for around the same price as a tank of gas for your car or truck.

The recommended PSI levels for your motorcycle tires are listed in your owner’s manual and normally on a decal near the chain guard..  We wrote the PSI for each motorcycle’s front and rear tire on the wall in the garage with a sharpie.  Now we don’t have to look it up every time.

garage scibbles

A sharpie, and a bare garage wall means never having to double check you manual each time you service the tires. When the Versys was sold the Tiger’s PSI’s got added.

It is also a good idea to have a digital tire pressure gauge always tucked below your motorcycle seat. This way you can make sure the tires are inflated properly when you go on longer rides. Proper inflation means better fuel economy, better handling and keeps you safe.

How to check if it is time to replace your motorcycle tires

Have a look at the side wall of your tire and you will find a little triangle (or arrow).  This shows you where to find the wear indicators on the tire surface.  Inside the tire groove by the triangle you will find a wear bump that is a couple of millimeters higher than the bottom of the tread.  Use this wear bump as a guide for when it is time to change the tire.  (See the video at the bottom of the article to view a demonstration of using the motorcycle tire wear indicators.)

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”25%”]Motorcycle tires aren’t cheap, but the risk of postponing the replacement of worn out tires far outweigh the cost.[/pullquote]

When the surface of the tire is worn down to the same level as the bump, it is time to change the tire.  At this point the depth of the tread will be 1/32 inch (0.8 mm) and then it is definitely time for a new tire.  Your rear tire wears out faster than the front – and for those riders showing off doing wheelies the rear tire wears out even faster.  Some riders use another guide to find out when it is time to replace their motorcycle tire. They simply use a penny. Just take a penny and stick it upside down in the tread groove. The space between the edge of the penny and the top of Lincoln’s head is about 1/32nd of an inch. If Lincoln needs a haircut, then you need a new tire.

Don’t postpone getting a new set of motorcycle tires

Stay safe, inspect your tires frequently.

Stay safe, inspect your tires frequently.

Motorcycle tires aren’t cheap, but the risk of postponing the replacement of worn out tires far outweigh the cost. It has always amazed me that some riders take pride in riding on shreds of rubber. Considering good rubber is only thing separating your bike and the asphalt, it is worth making sure the tires are in decent condition to prevent skids and blowouts. Besides, good condition motorcycle tires that are properly inflated can improve your gas mileage up to 10%. So by replacing your tires when it is time may not only save your butt but also some money over the long term.

Finally watch this video which demonstrates where to find your wear indicators and what “chicken strips” look like.


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