What’s the point of investing in all those flashy accessories and chrome if they end up scattered on the road after a tire blowout? Not to mention the potential danger of road rash or worse. Tires are the most crucial safety component of your bike, yet many riders neglect them, try to cut costs, or overlook important factors. Tires bear the weight of the vehicle, absorb road shocks, transmit traction and braking forces, and ensure control over steering, stopping, and acceleration. This is not an area where you can afford to skimp or ignore.
For touring cyclists, tires hold even greater importance. Long distances and heavy loads increase the risk of tire failure. Do you know the load capacity of your bike? Have you considered its weight when riding with a passenger or carrying cargo?
Tires endure more abuse than any other part of your bike. They face extreme temperatures, exposure to the elements, potholes, and road debris. Add incorrect inflation, overloading, wheel spin, and lockup to the mix, and it becomes clear why tire maintenance is critical.
Remember, it’s the air inside the tires that carries the weight of the motorcycle, not the tires themselves. The tire’s ability to maintain air pressure, the recommended pressure, and the space between the tire and wheel all determine its capacity. It is vital to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for load and inflation. Your owner’s manual will provide guidance on your bike’s load limits, and the tire sidewall will display inflation information. You can also find this information on the VIN plate, typically located near the steering head.
Checking tire pressure during your pre-ride inspection is crucial. Always measure tire pressure when the tires are cold. Even riding just a mile can heat them up and give higher pressure readings. If you’ve been riding, wait at least one hour before checking. Ensure that the valve stem cap is tightly secured, as centrifugal force can open the valve inside the stem.
Using an accurate tire gauge is essential. How do you know if your gauge is accurate? The best way is to compare readings with several people using their gauges simultaneously. Some gauges come with features like flashlights or sound for checking tires in the dark. Look for gauges with large displays or digital readouts. Invest in a top-quality gauge and never bleed air from a hot tire.
Underinflated tires flex excessively when they flatten against the road, generating excess heat and causing premature tire wear. In severe cases, it can lead to catastrophic failure. Tire rotation, or slippage, can also occur, particularly with tube-type tires, and result in the valve stem being pulled from the tube.
In addition to checking inflation, regularly inspect your tires for any signs of damage or wear. Keep an eye out for tread groove stress cracks, sidewall cracks, blisters, bulges, uneven wear, cuts, punctures, flat spots, and knots. If you notice any of these issues, it’s imperative to replace the tire. When in doubt, consult the manufacturer for guidance. Don’t solely rely on wear bars. Pay attention to how your bike feels while riding. Any changes in handling, difficulty in steering, vibrations, or wobbling should be taken seriously, and you should stop immediately to assess the situation.
If you’re towing a trailer, it can further impact your tires and bike handling. The additional weight of the trailer tongue combined with quick starts and stops puts excessive stress on the rear tire, increasing the risk of failure. Ensure that the load rating is sufficient and expect accelerated wear on the rear tire. Also, consider the cumulative weight of all your bolt-on accessories.