When Are Motorcycle Tires Too Old To Use Safely?

Tires are one of the vital safety components many people ignore before going on a ride. Most everyone grabs a helmet, some throw on a jacket, and even less will wear boots, but hardly a majority will perform a tire inspection before riding.

There are many factors to consider when inspecting motorcycle tires as well as some myths that will be discussed in this article. The main idea we will focus on today is tire age and what parameters govern safe usage.

As a general rule, once a tire exceeds five years old, an annual inspection should be performed by a trained mechanic. Once a tire exceeds ten years old from the date code, the tire should be replaced.

This is a recommendation based on information distributed by tire manufacturers, collected from personal use, and surveyed by experienced motorcycle enthusiasts. I will go through some details below to help you come to your own conclusion.

How To Read A Motorcycle Tire Date Code

There are various pieces of information stamped on the side of a motorcycle tire. Such items include product line, homologation number, size, rotation direction, DOT identification number, and manufacturer name.

For the purposes of this article, we are focusing on the date the tire was manufactured. The formula is very simple when reading a tire date code after the year 2000.

The four-digit code on the sidewall splits into two two-digit pieces of information. The first two digits read as the week the tire was manufactured. The second two digits indicate the year.

For example, 2319 would read “23rd week of 2019”.

The number serves as a “birthdate” by which to measure how old the tire is. The tire manufacturers must engrave this information into the sidewall, and riders should note this information when purchasing a new motorcycle or installing new tires on their current bike.

An interesting fact to note is that motorcycle tires made before the year 2000 had a three-digit code instead of four. The thinking behind this was that nobody would use a tire beyond the 10-year mark so only one digit was used to indicate the last number of the year.

Do Motorcycle Tires Have An Expiration Date?

One might ask at this point since motorcycle tires have a birthdate, do they have an expiration date?

Motorcycle tires do not have an expiration date indicated on the sidewall. Instead, tire manufacturers make recommendations based on the manufacturer date as to when a tire should be replaced.

Tires do not operate by the same set of rules as let’s say food for example. When you buy perishable food from the store, you will notice an expiration date stamped on the packaging.

From the moment the piece of food was collected and packaged, a clock started, and the aging process began similar to the one working against your set of tires. The difference, however, is food lasts a much shorter period of time which makes it easier to pin down a specific date at which it is no longer safe to use.

A motorcycle tire will last many years and as a result, makes it difficult to approximate a date at which the tires are no longer viable. Instead, the manufacturer makes a recommendation derived from the date of origin.

Tire Manufacturer’s Recommendations Regarding Tire Usage

Over my years of riding and speaking with other enthusiasts, I’ve heard a wide swath of ranges deemed the proper safe usable lifetime of a tire. Anywhere from one year to no limit has been thrown around, so let’s go straight to the source to try to pin down a reasonable conclusion.

Most of the mainstream tire makers like Michelin and Pirelli list 10 years as the allowable lifespan of a properly maintained. Some smaller companies actually mark a shorter timeline most likely as an additional level of liability against people pushing to the furthest bounds.

All in all, once the motorcycle tire date code reads ten years old, replacement is seriously advised.

Now I intentionally added the phrase “properly maintained” above as this is one of the most important factors when considering tire longevity. In the section below I will address the forces at play that age a tire and how to properly combat them.

As a final thought, manufacturers make note that after five years old, tires should be inspected annually by a certified technician. This is to notify the rider of any damages, premature wear, or other indicators the casual rider might miss.

What Factors Contribute To Motorcycle Tire Aging?

I’m going to spare you the intricate minutia of the chemical processes at play regarding rubber and oxygen and fission and vulcanization. There are a few things you can do to make a big difference in mitigating the aging of your tires.

  • Temperature

Cold temperatures are better for motorcycle tires than hot. Tires will wear faster when stored in hot areas like a sealed shed or hot climates.

If at all possible, tires either on or off your bike should be stored inside a ventilated garage or even a basement would be optimal. Once tires are in use, they will experience much higher temperatures than when sitting still, so this becomes a lesser issue at that point.

The carcass of the tire expands and contracts when the temperature changes which is not good for longevity. Ideally, a tire will be kept in a cold controlled environment with minimal variance.

  • Sunlight

Keep tires out of direct sunlight to prevent premature wear.

Do your best to at least cover your motorcycle if parked outdoors. You’ll notice a tire that has been sitting outside for an extended time will lose its elasticity and become very stiff.

  • Stress

Mechanical stress caused by physical forces will speed up the wear on a tire.

Obviously, riding around on a tire will wear it faster than sitting on a shelf. However, one thing that most people don’t consider is that when the bike is parked, using a front and rear stand to get the bike off the ground is advised.

  • Time

Regardless of what measures are taken, the natural forces and chemical reactions will take their toll on your tires and eventually wear them down over time.

Use the tips listed above to properly store and maintain your tires to get the maximum lifespan out of your rubber.

What Are The Signs Of A Tire That Is Unsafe To Use?

When performing a safety check on your motorcycle, there are some notable items to look out for that should raise a red flag. These all aren’t related to age, but are worth noting in this thread.

  • Thread Depth

Motorcycle tread is measured in inches and as a general rule should not fall below 3/32″.

  • Cracking

Old motorcycle tires can start to crack on the surface as a result of overexposure to heat or light.

  • Damage

Road debris can cause a puncture or gouge which compromises the functionality of the tire.

  • Age

Although obvious at this point, it is worth adding age on this list of tire safety indicators.

  • Rating

The last topic to be discussed regarding tires is load and speed rating of motorcycle tires.

Adjacent to the size stamp will be a load rating (numerical) and speed rating (alphabetical). These measurements are critical to assess two pieces of information:

  1. How much weight can these tires hold?
  2. How fast can I go on these tires?

Refer to the charts below to determine the rating of your tires. Then use good judgement and common sense to make a decision on usage.

Speed Rating IdentifierMaximum Speed (MPH)
Load Index IdentifierMaximum Weight (LBS)
Load Index IdentifierMaximum Weight (LBS)

These tables can provide you a reference for what tire should be installed on your bike. Obviously most people won’t be putting their fully loaded bike with rider on a scale, so use best judgement to look up your motorcycle curb weight, add fuel, add rider, add gear, and assess.

Too much weight can collapse the sidewall of your tire.

This wraps up the guide on tire age and hopefully provided you the necessary information to make a safe decision regarding your motorcycle tire setup.

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