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7 Common Sense Thoughts on Street Tires

Buying new tires for your motorcycle can be a bit of an investment and it’s one we all need to deal with from time to time. What kind of tires to select, how to take care of them and understanding all you need to know about them before you buy can be confusing and sometimes overwhelming. Below are seven basic facts about tires that can help you save money and get the most out of the tires you choose.

1. Air Pressure

Simply put, most people don’t maintain their tire pressure with any regularity and typically run below the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) levels. Case in point was when we recently checked the tire pressure of every street bike that came in for service over a two- week period. The numbers were added up and divided and the outcome was that the average bike had 9 pounds of pressure per square inch. At that rate a tire is breaking down internally and even if the PSI is increased later on, the damage has already been done. Want to get more mileage and better handling out of your tires? Check and maintain the correct air pressure!!

Understanding air pressure is an art. You want more pressure when you’ve got a heavier load, less when you’re mixing off-road travel into your adventures. You want to use less pressure when it’s raining for more traction and more pressure when it’s dry. It varies greatly from bike to bike and tire to tire as to just where you want your pressure each time you ride. Ask around, talk to others, call the manufacturer and study up. Or, just use the air pressure your owner’s manual recommends and you will be safe!

2. Online vs. Store Bought

Think you’ll save money by buying your tires online? Think again because you might not. Unless you plan to mount those tires yourself, you most likely won’t be saving any money at all and in most cases you’ll end up paying more. Once you arrive at a dealer or shop and ask to have your internet- bought tires mounted, you’ll most likely be paying a higher shop rate to have the mounting done which negates your online savings. In addition, most reputable shops will decline from honoring the manufacturer warranty and won’t sell you their own warranty if they have one internally.

It can also be difficult and expensive to return or exchange tires that were purchased online. Several models have front and rear tires in the same sizes, which can make purchasing online confusing since front tires must only be used on the front, and rears on the rear. There are in some cases blems (tires with a manufacturer’s defect) that stores may purchase at a discounted price. Make sure to call first to make sure you are not purchasing one of these! Shipping and handling fees on tires can also be costly because sometimes they are excluded in “free shipping” promotions.

3. Tire Warranties

There are two types of warranties for tires: a manufacturer’s warranty and a store-bought warranty.

Some manufacturers warranty all their tires; others only cover some models (i.e. high mileage touring tire vs. a sport bike track day tire). Find out before you buy and get the details about what is covered and length of coverage.

Some shops offer a store-bought warranty which can be a good way to go, but be sure you understand the details before you buy. Is the warranty transferable to your next buyer? How much tread wear is eligible before the warranty is nil, and so on. Sometimes this warranty is offered only on new bike purchases.

4. Traction vs. Mileage

When it comes to choosing a tire, consider if you want more traction or more mileage out of the tire. Tires vary depending on what riding you do, what surface you’re on, etc. Want traction? Go for a softer rubber-- it’s soft and grips the road, although on the downside it wears quicker and takes longer to warm up. Thinking mileage? Get firmer rubber-- this way you can plan multiple road trips without worrying about how your tires will stand up.

Tread design is also an interesting concept. The only purpose of tread is to get the water and road debris out of your way. Touring tires have more tread lines because they are most likely going to be ridden in rain at some point during their life and need to be able to displace the water. Aggressive sport tires, on the other hand, have little tread because they are designed to be ridden in dry conditions. Sport-touring tires may have will have more because, being a higher mileage tire, they at some point will probably be ridden in wet conditions.

5. Plugging a Flat Tire

At some point you have had, or will experience a flat tire. Often times the only way to get to a dealer to replace the tire is to plug it. If you’re running steel belted tires, don’t expect the plug to last long. You’ll be lucky if you get 50 miles from either a mushroom or string plug, maybe longer with a bias-ply, maybe not. If you have a puncture in the side wall of a tire, plugging it is not an option. Bottom line is that once your tire has been punctured, it needs to be replaced as soon as possible. Unlike car tires, motorcycle tires don’t have the depth of tread to retain a plug for any length of time.

Some manufacturers, such as Honda, offer Roadside Assistance which will tow your bike to the nearest dealer in case of a flat tire. Also know as “AAA” for motorcycles, the cost can be minimal compared to the headache of being without it. Some companies also sell small tire inflator kits that can sustain you to the nearest dealer where you can get the tire replaced.

6. Tire Age

Tire age plays a factor. As years go by, rubber tends to harden and the traction that a new tire once had is gone. If your bike was sitting for 5 years in the garage, you will probably want to consider tossing those treads, even if they only have a few miles on them.

Make sure to buy new, not used! Your tires are the interface between your bike and the road—this is no place to pinch pennies! Race tires may have few miles on them but have been through several heat cycles, breaking down the rubber and making the rubber extremely hard and unpredictable.

7. In the world of tires, Size Does Matter

Be absolutely positive you are buying the right size tires for your bike! Some models only fit a certain size, and unless you need a new swing in the backyard for your kids, the wrong size could leave you with a useless piece of rubber.

And remember bigger isn’t always better! Just because you can squeeze on a wider tire doesn’t mean it has a proper fit, a situation in which the tire profile is forced to be altered from its natural position. Also, wider tires almost always result in a less nimble bike – a fat tire may look bad-ass, but it has several downfalls. Instead of having a larger contact patch with the road, you will have a smaller contact patch resulting in worse handling and quicker wear of the tire.

Engineers spent several weeks and months designing tires to fit that specific bike, who are we to tell them what tire size will work better? Stick with the manufacturer’s recommended size and tire type and you will get longer mileage and better handling resulting in you saving money and having the best ride possible!