We talk about the proper care and feeding of your tires, possibly one of the most overlooked regular maintenance parts of your bike.
The Dos and Don'ts of Motorcycle Tires
Did you know that if you don’t regularly check your bikes’ tires and air pressure you can compromise your bike’s performance and put your own life at serious risk too?
We spoke to Bridgestone Tires’ T.J.Tennent, to get some sensible advice from a man who has the impressive title of “Engineering Manager, Firestone Consumer Products, Government Products, Bridgestone Motorcycle & Karting Products.” An avid long-time motorcycle rider, Tennent in his spare time is also an instructor for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and is Chairman of the Tire & Rim Association, Motorcycle Sub-Committee, which decides specifications for bike wheels, tires and tubes that are sold here in the U.S.
Before you ride your bike you should check your entire motorcycle over every single time. “That doesn’t always happen in the real world,” said Tennent. “But it should. It’s a bit like being an air pilot carrying out a pre-flight inspection. You should examine your bike from front to end and pay particular attention to your tires. With a motorcycle you only have two wheels on the ground and you should take time to inspect your tires as often as you can.”
Even if you are a long-time experienced rider, Tennent recommends some basic things you should do to keep you and your bike safe out on the road.
Firstly, buy an electronic tire pressure gauge from any good automotive store. They are not expensive and start from as little as around $10. An analogue gauge is good too, but the electronic ones are a little more accurate and easier to use.
Before you ride anywhere you should always check your motorcycle’s tire pressures – both front and rear. Get down and look them and see if there is any unusual wear, bulges in the sidewall or anything sticking into them. If you do find something wrong you should take a photograph and e-mail or text it to your tire dealer or even the tire manufacturer’s customer service department, who will tell you whether they think it’s safe for you to ride.
“We also recommend that you read your owner’s manual that came with your bike to see what the recommended tire pressures should be,” said Tennent. “But if you don’t have a manual you can sometimes find it marked on the sticker on a bike’s swing arm. Failing that, call the manufacture and get the correct figures.
“Some people like to ride their bikes with reduced psi (pounds per square inch) as it offers a softer ride. But don’t do that. The load bearing capacity of a motorcycle is not in the actual tires but the air inside them. In effect you are compromising your tires, the way your bike handles and possibly your safety.
“The best way to achieve the ride you want is to adjust the suspension. Not all bikes have a sophisticated suspension systems but most will allow you to make some adjustments. It’s a much better and safer option than playing around with your tire pressures.”
Tennent also advises that a rider should run their tire pressures between one and two psi above the manufacturer’s recommendation. That way you take into account any changes in weather (heat and cold can affect pressures). But also if you are only going to do the bare minimum and check them just once a month, it will compensate for that too, as on average tires will lose one psi every four weeks under normal riding conditions.
READ MORE: How to Change Motorcycle Tires
“Once you have checked both tires are in good condition with no serious wear or damage, you should then do the pressure check. This should always be done when the tires are cold. If you have been out riding let the bike stand for an hour and let the tires cool off,” said Tennent.
“Move your bike each time you take each pressure reading so the tire valve stem is directly at the bottom of the wheel. Press the gauge as firmly as you can into the stem to make sure you get a good seal.
“If you need to increase the pressures use a regular air pump. Ideally you should be putting in dry air or even nitrogen but that can be an expensive option. As long as the ambient air is dry that should be perfectly fine.”
On average, a sport motorcycle’s front tire can last 3,700 miles and 1,800 miles for a rear before both need to be changed. This is if both tires are well maintained and are regularly checked. However, by running two or even three psi less than the recommended pressures you can actually cut the life of a tire by as much as half.
“It may not seem a lot but let’s say you rode with 27 psi in your rear tire rather than the recommended 32psi for an average sport bike. Then you will be lucky to get as many as 1000 miles out of the tire. You’re reducing its durability by almost half. Not only that, by running deflated tires you are altering the way your bike handles and performs and ultimately could be putting yourself in real danger.”
If you are checking a tire and you are unlucky enough to find a nail or a piece of debris stuck in it you should not attempt to ride the bike. Instead you need to find a way to get your bike taken to the nearest motorcycle tire dealer either on a trailer or in the back of a truck.
“If there’s a nail in the tire do not under any circumstances use a rope plug to repair it. There is an option for patch and plug that looks a bit like a mushroom. An expert should fit it, as it fits inside and creates a seal around the material of the tire. In all honesty the best thing to do is replace the tire if it has been damaged in any way. It’s not worth the risk,” explained Tennent.
If you do opt to use a patch plug to repair your tire remember you lose whatever speed rating the tire had before it was damaged. With a repaired tire your maximum speed is reduced to no more than 85mph. You also should not under any circumstances take a passenger on a bike with a patched tire.
Never ever consider using a car tire to replace a motorcycle tire on your bike. Known as ‘Riding On The Dark Side’, some bike owners have done this as they think they will get better durability out of a car tire rather than a motorcycle tire.
“A Bridgestone car tire and a Bridgestone motorcycle tire are completely different and have been designed for entirely different purposes. For a start, there are different compounds in both and different traction properties.
“The contact patch on a motorcycle tire is much larger than a car’s. In wet weather with a car tire on your bike you will have less water dissipation and the bike could be fundamentally dangerous. Just don’t do it,’” said Tennent.
If you also like to attend track days with your motorcycles, pay extra special attention to your tires. Check with the manufacturer before you go and seek advice from other riders at the circuit as to the best tires and set-up and ask them what they suggest.
“You may also be at a track that has a lot of right hand corners. Consequently you may start to notice a lot of wear on the right side of the rear tire and not the left.
“Some people have been known to take the tire off and flip it around. Don’t do it. That is potentially very, very dangerous. Motorcycle tires are unidirectional – marked by those arrows you see on the sidewall and are designed to rotate in just one direction. You potentially could have a very big accident as the tire’s material will start to peel and then the will tread come off.”
It’s worth remembering that your bike’s tires are the two things that separate you and your motorcycle from the road. Check pressure frequently and keep an eye on them for wear and tear. It could save your life.
For further information on Bridgestone and the technology it uses to manufacture motorcycle tires go to its web site.