How do I know when to replace my motorcycle tires?
Many people don't know that motorcycle tires aren't designed to last as long as car tires. For tires with 5 years of use, manufacturers typically call for an annual inspection by a professional. For a tire that is 10 years old, even if the tread looks great, the manufacturers claim that the tire is at the end of it's useful life and should be replaced.
Motorcycle tire rubber is softer than car tire rubber because it has to be. A typical contact patch between your motorcycle tire and the pavement is about the size of a credit card. Hard tires are more likely to slip and slide, while soft rubber will grip the pavement. You need that grip to stay on your bike.
Unfortunately, that extra grip comes at a price. The softer rubber of a motorcycle tire wears out and gets hard faster than a car tire. If you are riding on old tires, please be careful because you probably don't have the same level of grip as your friend's new bike. Your friend's "credit cards" are stickier than your "credit cards".
If you think all this talk about soft rubber is purely subjective, it's not. A hardness scale for rubber was created and we have a gauge to measure it. Acme Cycle Chicago can test your tires and give you your hardness rating.
Here is a simple guide to determine if you are due for new tires:
1. Check to see if you have tread. Federal and state regulations dictate that you must have 1/32" to 2/32" of tread depth. The middle of the tire sees the most contact with the road and usually wears out first. We can measure your tread depth for you or you can check your wear indicators.
Many motorcycle tires have wear indicators cast into the rubber tread grooves. Look for one of the tire grooves with a raised segment of rubber. These groves are typically located off the center of the tire. That raised segment indicates the manufacturer's lowest amount of tread to remain safe. Most manufacturers will take the position that you should replace your tires before you hit this mark. 2. Look for defects in the tire. The first tire has tread, but cracking along the sidewalls (commonly known as dry rot) is a clear sign the tire must be replaced. Tire number two has a worn out, square profile. That tire is not going to feel good when you lean to the bike into a turn. That contact patch on the "corner" of that tire will be very small. Another type of uneven wear is tire number three. The bike had one good shock and one failed shock. You can see the effect the bad shock had on that poor tire. All 3 of these tires were replaced.
2. Look for defects in the tire. The first tire has tread, but cracking along the sidewalls (commonly known as dry rot) is a clear sign the tire must be replaced. Tire number two has a worn out, square profile. That tire is not going to feel good when you lean to the bike into a turn and the contact patch on the "corner" of that tire will be very small. Another type of uneven wear is tire number three, which was mounted on a bike with one good shock and one failed shock. You can see the effect the bad shock had on that poor tire. All 3 of these tires were replaced.
3. Consider the age of the tire. How far from 5 years old is it? The picture below shows the date code imprint stamped into the tire's sidewall. You are interested in the last 4 digits 4310, which is the 43rd week of 2010. This tire is a little over 5 years old. You can have tread on a 10 year old tire and it is still unsafe because the rubber is hard. To get a quick idea of the tires hardness, stick your thumbnail into the rubber, it should feel soft and compliant. For a reference, find a bike with a new tire and stick your thumbnail into that.
To get a precise evaluation, bring your bike into Acme Cycle Chicago and we will measure the hardness with a gauge and give you the numerical measurement.
Don't forget that new tires have seen great improvements in technology and there may be a whole new level of performance that you may have never experienced on your bike. I'm talking about a more planted feel, a more compliant ride over bumps and an improved feeling of confidence. It's true!
We recommend that you bring in your bike annually for an oil change while you wait. We will inspect your tires and give you your tread depth measurement and your hardness measurement. This way you can track your tires' wear and be better able to plan for replacement.
We'll write more in depth about tires, but here we discussed the basics. If you want to improve your safety and experience a riding satisfaction upgrade, consider a new set of tires.