When do I need New Tires?

If you take care of your tires, they'll take care of you.

There's an awful lot riding on your tires. Poorly maintained tires compromise the bike's handling (and your safety) to a degree that can't be overstated. Making sure your tires are roadworthy is one of the most important per-ride checks you should be performing before you hit the road. Fortunately, it's a job that's quick, easy and requires nothing more than a tire pressure gauge and a Lincoln head penny.

All tire maintenance starts with a quick visual inspection of your tires and wheels. The first thing you'll want to examine is the tread depth. Those serpentine channels and cutouts in your tire aren’t there just for style you know; they are there for performance reasons. A worn tire can throw you down the road faster than a blink of the eye, especially if the road is wet. Worn tires are also more prone to puncture, so unless you enjoy the peace and tranquility of waiting for tow trucks, you best pay attention to the condition of your tires.

Measuring Tread Depth

Because "worn" is sometimes open to interpretation, tire manufactures and the DOT have come up with a way to you determine just how worn a tire is. To eliminate the guess work, all current DOT approved tires incorporate wear bars that run across the tread to provide an easy to read visual indication of the tread condition.

The tire on the left is new, and the wear bar is almost invisible. As the tire wears, the wear bars become more apparent. The bars are located not only in the middle of your tread, but along the edges as well. Although most tires end up wearing mostly in the center section, check your edges as well (…where you depend on grip for corning). Once the tread reaches the wear bar, its doneso and should be replaced.

Check both of your tires! Rear tires are the drive wheel so they wear out roughly twice the rate as the front, but your tread depth is equally important on the front tire as well. The mileage and wear rate can vary from brand to brand, and temperature/road conditions effect wear rates as well. Touring tires have harder compounds to increase their mileage, where sport tires will sacrifice longevity for performance (softer tires =  sticky tires). How hard you ride also plays in as well. No one will ever quote you on how much mileage you will get out of a certain tire, it's up to you to keep an eye on it.

Alternatively, you can measure the tread depth with a tire tread gauge. Normally a tire is considered worn out when the tread depth is 2/32" of an inch deep.

There are several types of tire tread gauges on the market, fancy digital models and tried and tested old school analog versions (Well hey, they will never run out of batteries).

Obviously, these gauges will provide a degree of accuracy the following method lacks, but there is good value in a GO or NO GO indication of your treads depth.

Insert the head of a Lincoln penny into thread. If the tread still covers the part of President Lincoln’s head, you are good to go. When the tread is shallow enough that you can see Lincoln’s entire head, it’s time for a new tire.

In addition to inspecting the tread depth, inspect the tire for any foreign objects, slashes in the thread, cracking or budging of the sidewalls. Any cracking in the tire tread or sidewall indicates that this tire is way past it’s freshness date. As rubber gets old, it hardens and cracks from the stress, providing much less grip than the tread depth would indicate. If you find something wrong with your tire, take comfort that your found the problem in your driveway and not at 65mph on the interstate or a knee dragging in a turn.

Tire Inflation

Always keep the motorcycle manufacturer's recommended air pressure in both tires. This is an important requirement for your safety, the tire's performance and mileage. For accurate readings, measure your tires inflation when cold. Yes, your tire has tire pressures stamped on the sidewall of the tire, but they are there only to define Maximum Loads… these are in no way recommended tires pressures for your specific bike! Your motorcycle owner’s manual will tell you the recommended cold inflation pressures.

Correct tire pressures provide the largest contact patch and the maximum amount of grip to the road. Riding on tires with too little air pressure is dangerous. Underinflated tires build excessive heat. That heat accelerates wear and dramatically reduces the life of the tire. Overinflated tires decrease the contact patch of the tire, and tend to reduce the amount grip available to the rider.

Adding tire inspection to your pre-flight checklist provides an extra margin of safety, reliability and will help you get the most out of your tires.

And with that, lets try and keep the rubber side down y'all.