In case you’ve recently had to use the motorcycle tire changer to get yourself off the side of the road, then you might ask yourself what the right approach is in terms of changing tires. This question applies as well if you are the proud owner of your first bike, and you want to make sure that everything necessary is done to properly take care of it.
Keeping your motorcycle in top shape is not only a matter of using it for a longer period, but it’s also one of safety, as any seasoned rider knows very well. The roads can sometimes get tricky, since there are so many different weather and terrain conditions you can ride in, so there’s a lot to learn and know, and in the following lines, we’ll zoom into some useful details about tires.
Are the tires worn out?
When tires are worn out, you can tell by simply looking at them and measuring their physical wear. The general rule says that you need to replace them when the depth of the tread is lower than 1/16″. The good news is that, nowadays, tires almost always come with a helpful tread wear indicator (also known as TWI) which shows the user the exact level of wear.
These indicators are molded in an open tread area, and even though tire manufacturers might have various recommendations as to when you need to change the tires, they all work in pretty much the same way. Some of these TWIs are placed on the tire’s outer circumference, and once the wear gets to the symbol, you need to change it quickly.
One piece of excellent advice from experienced riders is that as you are checking your motorcycle’s tires, you want to look for uneven wear as well. This can also depend on how you are usually riding since, for example, continuous highway riding in a straight line affects the centerline, but the outer parts and edges of the tires can still look good.
You should also be aware that even if the tires look good on the sides, if the center indicators are already worn out, then you should change them altogether, for safety reasons. Worn-out tires are not safe, especially when it comes to wet conditions, as the water might not be correctly purged from the contact surface, which can lead to hydroplaning.
Other types of damages
Given that, just like any complex vehicle, a motorcycle is a system in which each piece plays a role, it’s important to know that suspensions as well can affect a tire’s condition, causing it to wear out faster. In some cases, this can lead to what is known as “scalping”.
What this means is that the tire can feature various areas that are differently worn out, causing rather powerful vibrations when you’re riding. Of course, this is both a matter of safety and one of comfort. If you suspect this is the current condition of your tires, but you are not sure what to do, the right approach is to take your bike to a specialized shop and get an expert’s advice.
Since you’re there, you can also make sure that there are no other damages to your tire, such as punctures or slashes. It’s true that you are usually able to tell those right away, but in some cases, a small puncture can cause the tire to deflate over the course of a few days, so there’s a chance you won’t be able to see the effects until it’s too late.
If we’re talking about a nail or a screw that causes a puncture, the little damaging item usually remains embedded in the tire until it’s taken out, so this might prevent the tire from going flat as well. However, you shouldn’t try to fix it on your own, unless you are a professional. In case this is not done right, a flat tire can become a much bigger problem when you less expect it.
Furthermore, the general rule says that you cannot fix slash cuts or other similar damages to the sidewalls and you need to replace the whole thing. Since tires are the only parts of a bike that come in direct contact with the road, they need to be in top shape at any given point. That’s why you should never remove any tread sections either.
What about the age limit?
While it’s true that these are sturdy items, rubber compounds do oxidize after a while, which means that less flexibility and higher brittleness can appear, thus a less safe tire with a little effective traction. This process doesn’t happen all at once, but it develops over each day, month, and year. Even if you use them or not, tires do have a limited lifespan.
If you want to check the manufacturing date, you can easily do this by taking a look on their surface. Every tire has what is called a “DOT” code which contains four digits. These indicate the week and the year of manufacture, so if you see something like 2217, this tells you that the tire was made in the 22nd week of 2017.
Therefore, you can begin the countdown for your tire’s lifespan from this particular date. The rule of thumb says that tires are safe up to 5 years from the manufacturing date. If you want to buy a tire that was made last year, this is considered to be a new one by the industry’s standards. The rubber compound is supposed to remain reliable up until the expiry date.
You can always ask a local shop for a second opinion about a tire, or ask the manufacturer for details, in case you need to purchase a new one, but you are not sure which model is the right one for your particular needs.
Once a tire goes past the five years point, the oxidation process may accelerate. You might already know this, but old tires are hard, shiny, and have sidewall crackings, so you can easily tell when they are clearly no longer suitable to be used. This goes without saying, but if you notice cracked tires on a bike, you should definitely avoid riding it, since it’s a hazard.
Do both tires need to be replaced at the same time?
Many riders have this question, and the short answer is “no”. However, there are a few things you should take into consideration when changing only one tire. First of all, the rear tire often wears out faster than the front one, which means you may need to replace it sooner.
If the front tire is over the 5-year period or it shows that it doesn’t have too much mileage left, you can replace them both. On the other hand, it’s true that manufacturers design tires in pairs and they need to work together for optimal traction.
That’s why, according to experienced riders, even if you do change only one, you should choose the same brand and model as the one remaining on the bike. Mixing tires from different brands can lead to unpredictable levels of performance, and so does using a worn-out tire with a brand new one.
If you want to make the safest bet, you should replace them both at the same time, using a new pair. The rear tire is the one that sends all the engine power directly to the road, and that’s why in many cases it can wear out twice as fast as the front one, which makes the whole replacing one tire or both a matter of budget as well.
Once you have a brand new tire or set of tires, remember that they can be somewhat hard and slippery at first and that they need to be broken in. Don’t force the turning, braking, or acceleration for the first 50 to 100 miles, to get them ready for all types of adventures.