Safety and Awareness – Tires

Tires… I like mine round!

Tires are the unsung performance heroes of the motorcycle world.  Think about it, everything you ask of your motorcycle (accelerate, stay upright, turn & stop) is dependent upon your tire’s ability to create traction through its interaction with that big belt sander perpetually in motion underneath you (the road surface).  Accordingly, we should lavish some attention upon our tires, but many among us do not.

How often do you check your tires?  If you ride regularly you should check them once a week at a minimum, if not check them before each ride.  If you are on a road trip check them each morning before heading out, if not you could be caught unawares (roadside tire repairs are not on my list of entertaining endeavors).  Check for tread wear, cuts, embedded sharpies (nails, staples, etc.) and tire pressure.

The correct tire pressure for your machine is truly a subjective matter.  Your owner’s manual will give you the recommended tire pressure for your motorcycle based upon the original equipment tires and average rider weight.  What is the weight of an average rider you ask?  Hell if I know, but I bet it’s not as much as I weigh and there is generally a crap load of stuff in my bags.  If you are a fully blossomed American and you are carrying 20 pounds of gear for a trip, you need extra pressure in your tires to compensate for the extra weight.  Just make sure you do not exceed the maximum pressure indicated on the sidewall of the tire.  If you are traveling two-up, go to the maximum pressure on your rear tire and keep it there.  Also, if you are like me and experiment with different tires, remember that changes in tire design, sometimes changes the recommended pressure.  If you are no longer using OEM tires, forget the recommended pressure in the owner’s manual and use the online fitment chart for those tires on your bike as the proper starting point and adjust for extra weight from there. After you confirm the correct tire pressure, check your tires closely for wear. 

At first glance, this Metzler ME880 tire off of my touring bike looks a little worn but ok for another few thousand miles.  The tread looks deep enough without any flat spotting in the middle, but when you inspect more closely you can see an issue with this tire.

Near the center of this tire the tread is worn almost to the surface of the wear bar.  When your tire tread is worn to this degree, spend the bucks and toss it!  This tire is no longer able to effectively channel water and debris to give you traction in all conditions.  You can also expect a higher rate of tire failures, which can be very dangerous.  I know they are expensive, but isn’t your life worth it?  Besides, your bike handles a lot better with new shoes.

Closely related to tire wear is tire age, something we seldom think about.  No one likes drinking skunky beer and you shouldn’t want to ride on skunky tires either.  As tires age they lose their pliability, which is their ability to conform to irregularities in the big belt sander and that results in loss of traction.  Regardless of how well you store your machine, cruiser/touring bike tires are good for about 4 years, sport touring and sport bike tires with softer compounds, even less.  Much past that and you are compromising performance and safety.  The tire manufacturers and the boys and girls at the US Department of Transportation want you to know if you have skunky tires, so they stamp a born on date on each tire.

When you look at the DOT code on the sidewall of your tire, the last 4 numbers comprise the manufacture date, in this example “2112.”  The first two digits are the week of the year, and the last two are the year.  This tire was made in the 21st week of 2012.

Keep the rubber side down
See ya on the road