The tires on your motorcycle are what connect you to the road and as a result, should be looked after with care. When you accelerate, brake, and lean into turns, you’re depending on a quality tire with plenty of grip to keep you off of the asphalt.
Whether you just purchased a bike, or maybe you’re a beginner who has been riding the same bike for a while, you need to know what to look out for when determining if your tires need to be changed.
In general, motorcycle tires need to be replaced if the tread depth is worn too low, if the tread is worn unevenly, if the tires are damaged in any way, or if the tires are too old. There are some simple methods to extend the life of your tires and best practices to consider for safe riding.
1. Excessive Wear
The most common reason your tires will need to be changed is because of shallow tread depth. Motorcycle tires typically begin their life at roughly 8/32 of an inch (6 millimeters).
Anything tire worn at or below 1/32″ tread depth is considered bald and should not be ridden on. I personally wouldn’t recommend taking a tire past the 3/32″ mark as you will be compromising safety.
The tread on your tire is critical to its functionality and serves multiple purposes.
- When riding in the rain, the tread on the tire wicks water away and helps more of the tire contact the ground to avoid hydroplaning. This is a critical safety function that separates consumer tires from race tires.
- In the middle of the tire tread, you will find a built-in tread depth indicator. This is a wear indicator that when flush with the top of the tread indicates the tire needs to be replaced.
It is difficult to put a mileage standard on tires as different riding styles will wear tires in radically different fashions. Generally, motorcycle tires do not have a mileage range to indicate replacement. Instead, they should be inspected visually before each ride to determine health.
If you want to take extra precautions, a tread depth gauge can be used to get a specific depth measurement at different points on the tire. This will be helpful to take multiple measurements at different spots on both the front and rear tires.
Disclaimer: The photo shows a car tire but the same principle applies.
Also, it is not uncommon for the front and rear tires to wear at different rates. Since motorcycles are one-wheel-drive, most riders will go through two rear tires before one front since the rear-drive wheel is under considerably more strain.
Sometimes, different sections of the tire will wear differently than others, so it is good to have that exact data to make a good decision on tire replacement.
2. Uneven Wear
Depending on riding style and surface, motorcycle tires may develop an abnormal wear pattern. This can happen to both the front and rear tires in different ways.
- This is when the front tire wears unevenly along the tread lines.
- If you look at your front tire from the front of the bike down at ground level, you will see “waves” along the sides of the tire but the center will be flat.
- Typically, this condition is caused by incorrect suspension settings (preload, compression, ride height) or an indication of the front forks needing to be serviced.
- Also, incorrect tire pressure can cause this condition.
- If your front tire is cupping, this can present a serious safety concern and reduce the amount of grip and stability produced by the front end.
- Found most often on a commuter motorcycle, a flat spot will develop on the rear tire after many miles of straight-line riding.
- This will typically only occur on the rear tire and will accelerate the need for a replacement.
- This can present a safety concern when leaning into a turn because the tire surface is no longer nicely curved but instead has a harsh lip where it is squared off which can create instability.
Damage to a tire can include anything from a puncture or a cut in the tread to a bulge in the sidewall. This is a good example as to the importance of performing an inspection to your motorcycle before every ride.
Sometimes, a leak can be very slow, and you might not notice it until you’re midway into your ride. A visual inspection can catch a partially low tire or even the damage itself.
The most common form of damage to a tire is a puncture caused by running over some sharp road debris. Motorcycle tires can be patched, but this is not a permanent fix and should not be ridden on for longer than absolutely necessary.
You also might see a gash in the tire from riding over some rough patch of road or maybe striking a larger piece of road debris. A cut in the tire may not cause it to leak air but does pose a safety concern as it compromises the structural integrity of the tire.
The last type of damage you might find would be a bulge in the sidewall. I’ve found this happens most times after hitting a pothole. The side of the tire will develop a lump that pokes out and this is also a safety concern in which you should replace the tire.
Something to consider if you see a sidewall bulge…Let all of the air out of the tire then reinflate to proper air pressure. Sometimes, the bulge will go away and the tire will regain its normal shape if the impact wasn’t that bad. I would still say replace either way from a safety standpoint (especially if you ride aggressively), but if the tire is nearly brand new or super expensive, I might roll the dice…
The final parameter to judge a tire by is age. I say final because I have personally found this to be the least common reason to replace a tire. Unless I’m buying an old bike and can see the tires are really old, dry, and cracked, this will not be an issue.
I wrote a separate article on tire age that dives deeper, but basically, just read the sidewall date code and be extra cautious after the five-year mark. Depending on how the tire looks, you may want to take the safer route and replace after five years as the tire has lost a lot of the oil that keeps the rubber supple and pliable.
Check out the link to the other article diving deeper into tire age here.
Preventative Measures To Extend Tire Longevity
If you ask any rider they will tell you that saving on maintenance costs is a good thing. Tires can add up to be the biggest expense for a motorcyclist. There are a couple of simple actions you can take to extend tire life to its maximum.
- Set Tire Pressure: The tires on your bike need to be set to a very specific tire pressure measure in PSI (pounds per square inch). Typically it’s somewhere in the 30’s but check your bike and tires specifically. Different tire types will have their own parameters so read carefully. Also, check the pressure at least once a week as tires do lose pressure slowly over time even without a puncture.
- Use The Correct Tires: Using the proper style of tire is critical to peak longevity and performance. If you’re a commuter, and you install a set of Pirelli Supercorsa SP, you will need a new rear tire approximately TOMORROW. Tires have a wide range of tread patterns and rubber compounds. A commuter should use a hard compound tire like a Michelin Road series tire.
- Use The Whole Tire: This may sound obvious or odd to mention, but I do feel the need to throw this in. I cannot count how many takeoff tires I’ve seen with brand new side tread and a tiny flat strip down the middle. If you commute regularly, go find some twisties and light up the sides of your tires. This is an easy way to put more miles on a set of tires.
Notice this motorcycle racer using “slick” tires. These are great for short distance and high performance, but would be terrible for commuting or wet-weather conditions.
Should I Replace Both Tires At The Same Time?
A common question about tires is should motorcycles be treated like cars in that most often they get replaced all at the same time.
As a general rule, motorcycle tires will not get replaced at the same time. The rear tire will wear faster than the front, so it can be the case that for every two rear tires you can replace the front at the same time.
There isn’t a hard and fast rule about this. A front tire will naturally last longer as it is not driving the motorcycle. Pay attention to tire pressure to avoid weird wear patterns and keep an eye on the wear bars.
Is It Ok To Mix Different Brands Of Tires?
Motorcycle tires should always have the same brand on the front and the rear.
Motorcycle tire manufacturers spend millions of dollars engineering their sets of tires to have great performance and longevity by working in unison. If you throw a Pirelli on the front and Michelin on the back then all bets are off.
They might both be great tires but it serves no purpose to mix brands. The tires will not work better if the brands are mixed. Each tire manufacturer will offer a set of tires for the specific purpose described, whether that is commuting, trail riding, or racing.
Which Tires Last The Longest?
Some riders may be wondering at this point, “Which tires will last me the longest?”. This is a fair question but a tough one to answer, as the tires that last the longest are the ones that are ridden conservatively and in a balanced style.
In general, a harder compound tire made of the highest quality rubber installed on a bike with properly setup suspension will last the longest.