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Do It Yourself: Motorcycle Tire Maintenance and Inspection

Inspecting, fixing, and choosing motorcycle tires to keep you and your bike safe

By Brittany Morrow, Contributor
5/7/2018

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance and inspection brittany shawty dog
Brittney and her pup, Shawty (“Shorty” with a southern twang), tackle DIY motorcycle maintenance in their own garage together.

In this do it yourself (DIY) section, we’ve been covering simple, affordable check-ups you can easily perform yourself that will keep your motorcycle safe and running well. You can find your bike’s regular service intervals and other important bike-specific information in what we like to call M.O.M., or your motorcycle owner’s manual. M.O.M. always has the answer!

In this article we will cover one of the most important parts of your motorcycle — tires. Your bike’s tires are the only things that make contact with the road when you’re riding, so it’s important to take good care of them.

How to Check/Inspect (Before every ride)


do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection
Inspect your tires before every ride by hand for punctures for things like thorns, sharp rocks, nails, etc.

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do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection puncture
Punctures can be present without a leak and are hard to notice without a good inspection.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection psi
Check your motorcycle’s tire pressure often, at least once a week, but better yet before every ride, even if you ride every day. If there is a significant change in air temperature overnight or between rides, there’s a good chance your tire pressure may have changed too.

It’s important to check your bike’s tire pressure if you have added a load or have changed elevation significantly in a single ride and will be staying at the new elevation for longer than a lunch break. As an example, the difference between sea level and Big Bear Lake, CA, is almost 8,000 feet and can be ridden in three hours.

Information on specs for tire pressure will come from M.O.M. It might even be on a sticker on your bike somewhere if you’re interested in a treasure hunt.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection wear bar
Keep an eye on your tread wear as well, always making sure it has not yet worn down to the level of the wear bar (arrow). If the wear bar is level with the tire’s surface, it is time to replace it.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance and inspection tread depth meter
If you are unable to find a wear bar on your tire, you can measure the tread depth with a tread depth gauge or a simple ruler (if it fits).


How to Maintain and When to Replace

If you find a puncture in your tire and the offending object is embedded in place, if your tire is not losing air, cautiously ride to your shop and have them take a look.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection windex test pass
You can check if the puncture is causing a leak by spraying a small coating of Windex or soapy water (or saliva in a pinch) over the object or puncture wound and watch for bubbles. If there are no bubbles it is holding air.

Whether it is leaking or not, you may be able to get professional help to remove the object and repair the puncture on site. You can also apply a tire patch that is designed to get you far enough to be fixed by a pro without leaving you stranded.

If your bike’s tire pressure is high or low, simply release or fill with air until it is at the recommended pressure. It is normal for tire pressures to vary due to heat, elevation, and weather changes. So check often and maintain accordingly.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance and inspection motopump air compressor
This portable MotoPump Mini Pro inflator gets power right from your motorcycle’s battery, and has a built-in LED light and backlit air pressure gauge which makes it easy to inflate tires on the go.


do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection 90 degree valve stem
90-degree valve stems like this one allows for easy access when checking tire pressure and adding air. If your motorcycle doesn’t have one, they can be installed the next time you have the tires changed.

The general rule of thumb for tread wear is that anything less than 3/32” or approximately 2mm (just touching Lincoln’s head on a penny) means it’s time to replace your tire.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection lincoln test fail
This tire won’t be able to maintain traction even in a small of puddle and could cause a crash.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection lincoln test pass
This tire passes the Lincoln penny test.

Keep an eye on the age of the tires. Every DOT tire has an age stamp on the sidewall, indicating the week and year the tire was manufactured.


do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection date stamp
This number represents the week and year the tire was manufactured. This tire came to life on the sixth week (February) of 2016. Fun fact: the date stamp is always on the left side of the front tire and the right side of the rear.

A guaranteed safe age is less than two years for sport tires and less than three years for touring or cruising tires. This will change significantly between manufacturers and how you treat and store your bike, so use this information as a basic guide.

If your tire is beyond its age limit and you’ve confirmed this with the manufacturer, replace it. You never know what the inside of the tire looks like and dry rot can be a dangerous and invisible problem.

If you find that you only need to replace one tire, you need to replace it with the same make and model of the tire. Tire tread patterns are engineered to work together, and mixing two different tread patterns and compounds can cause a dangerous situation. And please, for the love of riding, always select a motorcycle-specific tire!


How to Choose a Motorcycle Tire in Four Simple Steps

Do not get overwhelmed by the overly-complicated size, load rating, speed rating, and compound explanations you might find on many online tire guides. What you really need to know can be explained in a few simple steps.

  1. Determine your rim size—front and rear will be different—and motorcycle weight. M.O.M. has the answer (unless your bike’s wheels have been changed from the OEM standard equipment.)
  2. Determine your riding style: adventure, sport, touring, long distance, commuting, cruising, etc. Most manufacturers make a tire for every situation imaginable.
  3. Determine the most important feature to you. Do you want a tire that will last the longest, have the most traction, have an aggressive profile, perform best in rain or dirt, or some combination of several factors? You can find descriptions for what all these features mean right on the manufacturers’ websites. We’ve included a few examples below.
  4. Search for tires available in the correct size and style that focus on your top priorities. The best way to do this is to combine online research and advice from your local shop/dealer. Asking for help is a great tool, just always consider the source!
do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection kawasaki ninja 400 abs
Many original equipment (OE) motorcycle tires were designed to work best on that very bike. So if you don’t know what tire to choose when it’s time to replace them, you can always stick with the OE tire.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection tire change
Many shops or dealerships will charge extra (or won’t install them at all) if you buy the tires elsewhere and bring them in to be mounted. Don’t deny your local shop the opportunity to earn your business: shop for your tires there.

Falling prey to price: Online deals can seem too-good-to-be-true and are hard to pass up. Keep in mind, tire blowouts from a warehouse could mean a batch of tires is getting too old to sell and they want to get rid of them by slashing prices.

Glossary of Tire Terms

Longevity: meant to last as long as possible, usually requires a hard compound that heats up slower and doesn’t “melt” or wear down as quickly. Great for touring and cross-country riding.

Aggressive Profile: meant to maximize traction at excessive lean angles. Great for racing.

Multi-Surface: meant for riding both on and off the street with a ratio represented in percentages (For example, 70% street, 30% dirt). Great for exploring the wild outdoors.

Multi-Compound: meant to combine longevity (commuting or touring) and traction (curvy roads) by making the tire out of rubber that is harder in the center and softer on the edges. This means certain parts of the tire heat up faster/slower and have more/less traction and flex. Great for riders who commute every day and hit the twisties on their days off.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance inspection metzeler 888 pirelli mt 66 route
The Metzeler 888 Marathon Ultra (left) and Pirelli MT 66 Route (right) are good examples of touring tires that are engineered to last for many miles.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance and inspection metzeler racetec rr pirelli diablo supercorsa sc
Sport tires such as the Metzeler Racetec RR (left) and Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SC (right) are designed to have maximum traction and can handle high speeds.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance and inspection dual sport enduro
Dual-sport or enduro tires such as Pirelli's Scorpion Rally STR (left) and Metzeler's Karoo (right) offer riders the best of both worlds, combining on-road performance with off-road capability.

do it yourself motorcycle tire maintenance and inspection sport touring roadtec 01 angel gt
Metzeler's Roadtec 01 (left) and Pirelli's Angel GT (right) sport-touring tires offer riders sporty handling in wet and dry conditions without wearing out quickly.

Like the saying goes, keep the rubber side down!


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