On this second day of our "learning to take care of business while on lockdown” series, we’re going to take a closer look at the only motorcycle component that keeps us grounded when we ride: the tires.
Here’s another type of maintenance that we easily forget about. Unless we notice a very obvious flat, as we get ready to jump in the saddle, we rarely take the extra five minutes to bend down and make sure the rubber is in good shape and properly inflated.
If we did things the right and were as thorough as we should be, inspecting the tires and check the pressure should be part of our pre-ride T-CLOCS checkups. In fact, it’s recommended we do this type of checkup weekly. If we have a hard time doing chain maintenance every 500 miles, I can’t imagine many of us remember to check the tires every week.
Since we're home anyway, looking for ways to keep busy, how about you go and do a little inspection and maintenance of your motorcycle tires? You’re likely not riding anywhere so you’re not in any rush, right? Go on, we’ll wait for you.
This is the easiest part of the process and the only tools you need for this part are a pair of eyes and a penny, which I assume most of us have somewhere. The first thing you’re going to do is give both tires a good look over. Like with the chain maintenance, if you’re able to prop the bike up on a center stand or with a paddock stand, it will make the job a bit easier but you can also push the bike around. As long as you get to have a proper look at both tires’ entire thread.
On The Surface
The first thing you need to check is the tires’ integrity. Are there cracks, either in the tread or on the sidewall? Pay attention, because those cracks can be very delicate and innocent-looking.
Cracks usually start to appear as a tire’s compound ages and loses flexibility. It’s part of the rubber’s natural aging process, but it can be accelerated by exposure to the elements, direct sunlight, and harsh chemicals.
If the tire is new, cracking can be caused by a manufacturing defect. One way or the other, a cracked tire is a sign you have to start shopping for a new set. A few hairline cracks aren’t an emergency, but keep in mind they will multiply and get worse with time. If the crack is more like a crevasse, I don’t recommend you ride the bike at all until it gets a new tire as this could pose a serious risk should the rubber cleave and the tire blow up.
Also look for bubbles in the rubber. The walls must be smooth and even and the thread, regular. If you notice a bubble somewhere, it’s also time to shop for tires. Bubbling can be caused by an impact or a broken belt. Because the tire isn't just a solid piece of molded rubber and features multiples layers of compounds and materials, an impact, for instance with a curb, can cause air to seep between two of those layers, compromising the tire’s integrity.
If the tire looks unusually flat, then chances are it is. You will only know for sure by checking the pressure (we’ll get to that part later).
Hitting The Nail On The Head
Another thing you must look for is whether the tire is punctured. If the puncture is too small to spot, the only real way to tell that there’s a leak is by regularly checking the tire pressure. Sometimes, however, the puncture is quite obvious, especially when the foreign object is still embedded in the rubber. Things like nails or screws on the road are the most common culprits. If you spot a tiny metallic head on your tire, chances are you picked up an undesired hitchhiker during your last ride.
Depending on how badly the tire is damaged, the puncture can potentially be fixed using a patch or a plug. If the damage it too important, you will have to replace the tire. The easiest way to deal with this is to wait to be able to have a professional have a look and determine what can be done. Don’t ride the bike in the meantime because if you do with the object still embedded in the tire, it will further damage the tire. Don’t pull it out either as it creates a temporary plug and helps keep some air in the tire.
If it’s the kind of fix you want to tackle yourself, then by all means, proceed. Once again, our colleagues at RevZilla have just the video for you. Note however that a few, more "unusual" tools are required to complete this job and that you might not be equipped for it. Look into it before taking any actions that might end up making things worse.
Don’t Tread On Me
Once you’re satisfied that the tire is in good shape, you have to check its tread—the part of the tire that’s in contact with the road with all the funky grooves. Tires have a recommended lifespan which varies depending on the type of tread and compound. One failsafe way to tell that the tire still has some life in it is the Lincoln test. It’s time to take out that penny I mentioned earlier.
With the Lincoln side facing towards you, insert the penny in one of the grooves at the center of the tire, Lincoln head down. If the groove is deep enough that tire covers the top of Lincoln’s head, you’re good to go. If the tire leaves the top of the presidential head exposed, this means the tire is worn down and will need to be replaced. You can check out this short video from Partzilla to see what the penny test should look like.
If your on or off-road-focused tire looks like a racing tire and that the tread is completely smoothed out (no grooves left to put your Lincoln in) you deserve to be hit on the head with a rolled-up newspaper and be told that you’re a bad, bad owner.
Another very important aspect of tire maintenance is the pressure. Once again, like all the other checkups, this one should be performed regularly, probably even more often than the full visual checkup. The pressure is part of the diagnostic when you try to figure out whether your tire has an issue like a slow leak or not. That’s something you will know for sure only if you check the pressure number regularly.
If you plan to get into the habit of doing this checkup more regularly, do it while the tire is cold, before heading out. The reason for that is simple: that way you make sure you get the most consistent measurement. If, on the first week, you check the pressure before going for a ride then the following week, you do the checkup after a few hours on the road, chances are you’ll notice “false” inconsistencies. The temperature (both of the atmosphere and of the air inside the tire) cause the pressure to vary which could lead you to believe that there’s a problem.
Check the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure either in the bike’s manual, on the tag located on the swingarm, or even online to know what number to look for. This is your gauge to determine whether you need to add air or not (and whether the tire has a leak). There’s usually an acceptable range you have to stay within. If the pressure is beyond or below that range, then there’s an increased risk of premature wear.
To check the pressure, you can use the same mechanical pressure gauge you use for your car tires if you own a car, or the one that comes with your air compressor, if it’s something you have. There are also electronic ones available at a very affordable price.
If you don't have a pressure gauge or that you find out that the tires need to be inflated and you don’t have an air compressor at home, you can head over to your local gas station. Most of them offer compressors with integrated pressure gauges which will allow you to check the pressure and inflate the tires all at once.
Of course, since this is a lockdown-inspired series, if you have to go to the gas station, I recommend that you follow the current distancing and sanitary measures so bring nitrile gloves or gloves you can wash to handle the air compressor nozzle, just like you would the fuel pump.
Note that in North America, tire pressure is usually indicated either in pounds per square inch (psi), in Kilopascals (kPa), or in bars of pressure (bars). Makes sure you use the same units as the ones provided by the manufacturer (it’s easier than trying to convert on the fly).
Your bike is starting to look good with that clean chain and those perfectly-inflated tires! Keep up the good work. Are you ready to move on? Next step, we’ll have a look at those cables. Stay tuned!