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When you walk out to your motorcycle in anticipation of taking a ride and run through your mental checklist…
1) Tires look like they have air - check.
2) Battery is strong enough to start the bike - check.
3) Oil level is good - check.
4) Gas tank is full - check.
CAUTION! All may “look good” on the outside, but your tires having the “appearance of air” is NOT good enough. Proper motorcycle tire pressure is a key influencer to you having a safe and comfortable motorcycle ride. Proper motorcycle tire pressure will allow your tires to ride cooler, corner better, get better traction, evacuate water more effectively, provide suspension, and even increase your fuel and tire mileage.
In addition to tire pressure, what else should you check?
- Tread Depth
- Tread Condition
- Sidewall cracking
- Load Rating
If all of these indicators are in line, you are safe to ride. If not, replacing your tires is imperative for your safety as well as the safety of your passenger and other riders near you. But how do you find the best tire for your application?
|In days of old, tire size was one of the only real metrics to look at… But today tires have become sophisticated tools with a myriad of specs, numbers and factors to take into consideration. These included but are not limited to the following:
- Tire Size
Let us begin with tire size. Most modern motorcycle tires will have the designations shown here to the right which will include:
- Tire Width in MM
- Aspect Ratio (height)
- Speed Rating
- Bias or Radial
- Rim Diameter (inches)
Some older tires (and many Harleys) may have different designations than the modern sidewall readings. Here is a list of the abbreviations, meanings, and designations for the Alphabetical and Inch tire designations.
Never mount a tire which does not meet the designations found in your motorcycle owners manual.
Maximum tire pressure can be found on the sidewall of any tire. NOTE: This is the MAXIMUM tire pressure ever recommended in the tire. You can adjust tire pressures down depending on your terrain and load. Please see the load index chart below for the proper amount of weight which can be carried as per the amount of air pressure.
Next topic is speed. Speed ratings are rated from B to W and dictate the maximum mph and km/h the tire can handle for a sustained period of time. If this is not heeded to, a tire may potentially explode or tear apart while riding down the road.
Warning: Speed ratings are not to be messed with!
Bias Ply or Radial? Now this is a good question! Typically you will not want to mix these two front and rear, although from time to time this does happen at the manufacturer. Traditionally bias ply tires have softer sidewalls, wear quicker and have older bike model fitments.
Some tires are directional and you NEVER want to mount a tire backwards. Why? First off, the way the tread layers are laminated is crucial to directional rotation. Secondly, tread pattern can dictate water displacement as well as on / off road traction.
Rim diameter is critical. If your rim is 17”, run a 17” tire. If it’s a 21” wheel, run a 21” tire. A tire too big or too small should NEVER be mounted on a motorcycle rim.
Now… when should you replace your tires? Any tread depth less than 1/32” is in need of replacement. What is 1/32”? You can measure this with a tire tread gauge… if you have one… but if you don’t have one of those handy you can use a penny. Flip it upside down and if you can see the top of Lincoln's head, you need new tires! If your tire is bald, you need new tires! If your cords are showing, you need new tires! If your tire is flat and not round, you need new tires! If the tread wear indicator (bump inside the tread) is flush with the road, you need new tires! The image above is an example of all of the reasons you will need new tires!
What brand of tire is best? Are all motorcycle tire brands created equal? If you talk to manufacturers they all have reasons that their brand is best. Some have characteristics others do not… some corner better, stop faster, wear longer, and the list goes on! Really at the end of the day, they are all black, round, made of rubber and will treat you well if you treat them well! Some key brands are as follows:
Conclusion: Tires and wheels are your insulation from the road and are responsible for keeping your bike rolling smoothly and firmly planted to the road! Proper inflation, tread depth, and tire size are super important for keeping you safe and sound on the open road. Please remember that new tires are slippery and it is important to scuff in your tires for at least fifty miles before cornering or braking hard.
Thank your for checking out this Motorcycle Tire Buying Guide. Until next time, take care and ride safe!
Kyle and the Cruiser Customizing Team