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Even the experts admit that your tires are one of the most important parts of your bike. We reveal how to inspect your tires and talk about motorcycle tire pressure recommendations.
How to check motorcycle tire pressure
- Check Tire specifications – Take a look at the tire sidewall to see how much air should be in the tire. You’ll see a number followed by ‘PSI’. for example, ’42 PSI’.
- Use a tire pressure gauge to see how low the motorcycle tire may be.
- Let your tires cool off – Remember, tires heat up when you ride and that heat can affect your reading
- Remove the valve cap – There shouldn’t be any air escaping the valve stem.
- Add Air as needed
- Replace the valve cap on your tire
- Check the other tire – You’ve done one tire, now it’s time to check the other. Always check both motorcycle tires before you ride.
- Do you have new tires you need to break in? Check out our article on how to break in new motorcycle tires to keep yourself from getting into a crash.
Why are motorcycle tires important?
Motorcycle tires aren’t exactly the sexiest subject in the world to talk about when it comes to riding, but they are pretty important. But what is sexy is staying alive, which is why you need to be paying attention to the pressure in your motorcycle tires.
Think about it;
Your tires are the only thing keeping you from having fun cruising to sheer disaster at any given time while you’re on the road.
Find the area of your Contact Patch
Try this on for size;
Put your motorcycle on a center stand or have someone sit on it so that it stands up straight. Pick either tire.
Slide a piece of string (or something thin, like a ruler) just in front of the tire as a marker and then something behind the tire. Place them just in front of the tire and the rear, so that they just touch the tire.
Get a tape measure out;
Take your tape measure and measure the distance between the two makers.
Measure the width of your motorcycle tire.
Do some simple math for area;
Length X width.
The number you come up with is the amount of rubber that actually contacts the road surface!
This is what’s commonly referred to as the contact patch.
Notice that it’s really not that big of a number (meaning, not a lot of tire rubber on the road) for the job it does.
That contact patch is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 – 6 square inches (maybe). It’s scary to think that’s all that’s holding you on the highway!
This is why double checking your motorcycle tire pressure and the condition of the tire are critical to your riding safety.
In fact, tire pressure is one of the most basic maintenance or inspection items that even the non-mechanically (like myself) do as often as it should be done.
A quick Disclaimer
I’m not a motorcycle racer, I don’t ride off road and I don’t do extreme riding. I’m a leisure rider and traveler on my bike.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to be discussing general motorcycle tire safety and how that applies to everyday riding.
If you’re involved in motorcycle racing (or any of the above craziness), not much of what your read in this article may apply to you, since the stresses of extreme riding or racing a motorcycle are far different than casual riding.
Do I need to check my motorcycles tire pressure every time I ride?
I could just give you the short answer and say yes, but there are a few things to consider.
Do you commute on your motorcycle or ride every day or are you a ‘weekend warrior’?
If you ride your motorcycle every day, does the weather stay pretty stable?
Here’s the thing;
If you ride once or twice a month (or longer intervals) you’ll want to check your tire pressure every time you ride.
If you’re riding once a week or more and have stable weather conditions, checking your tire pressure once a week will work.
If you’re in the middle of a long trip, you may want to check your tire pressure at least once a day, but twice is best. Once in the morning before you get started and again in the evening.
You’ll want to at least inspect your tires during your fuel stops to make sure you didn’t pick up any debris that can cause a slow leak.
A quick and easy tire check – Every time you get on your motorcycle…
I’ve noticed this about dealing with GL1800 tire pressure –
I know that my front tire is low immediately on my Goldwing when I sit on the bike and turn the handle bars. The front tire feels like it’s a bit ‘grabby’ and sluggish as I move the the tire back and forth.
That’s an indicator that my front tire is underinflated and that I need to make a quick pit stop to a service station (or your air compressor at home) and put some air in my front tire.
And since you’re already there, check the rear tire pressure as well. If the front tire has lost some air sitting in your garage, chances are the rear tire has lost a bit to.
Pay close attention to how your motorcycle feels (and handles) the next time you inflate your tires. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the loss in tire pressure, it will be very obvious.
When should I check my motorcycle tire pressure?
When you’re traveling down the highway, tires get heated up and the air inside will heat up as well. Once your stopped and your tires cool off and return back to ambient temperature. This heating and cooling of your motorcycle tires is referred to as a heat cycle.
Check your tire pressure either before you start your ride or the motorcycle has had a chance to sit for about 25 to 30 minutes.
For accurate tire pressure readings always check pressure when the tire is cold, as heated tires can increase tire pressure.
Buy yourself a high quality tire pressure gauge, not the cheap over the counter pocket kind.
Motorcycle tire pressure recommendations
There tends to be a lot of discussion about air pressure for motorcycle tires and what the best tire pressure for any given motorcycle. There is no ‘one size fits’ all answer in a forum somewhere.
The thing is;
It’s not that simple.
How much pressure your motorcycle tires needs will depend on:
The motorcycle you ride (make, model)
The type of riding your doing and the stresses you putting on your tires (touring/leisure, racing etc).
How much weight you’re carrying. Passenger, gear etc.
So who is the guru when it comes to tire pressure for your motorcycle?
You guessed it;
The motorcycle manufacturer knows best
Whenever your checking the air pressure in a motorcycle tire, it’s best to start with what the manufacturer recommends for your specific motorcycle. The engineers that that built the bike in the first place are going to know best, and they put that info in your manual.
Pay attention to whether the tire pressure indicated is for a tire that’s hot or cold (like we just discussed).
Here’s what the manual says for my Honda Goldwing:
NOTE: For those that have a Honda Goldwing and are curious, these stats are from the owner’s manual for a 2004 GL1800
It tells me very specifically to check my air pressure when the tires are cold and give me a brief explanation.
It also gives me a front tire inflation pressure of 36 psi and a rear tire inflation pressure of 41 psi.
Both of these pressures are below the maximum pressure for my tires, which is 42 psi.
Your owner’s manual should tell you what the optimum levels of both the front and rear tire pressure of the motorcycle.
Missing your motorcycle owner’s manual?
If you don’t have your owner’s manual, find the sticker that has your motorcycles VIN (vehicle identification number) usually located on the frame in the front.
Your tire pressures may be located there or other locations on the bike like the front fork tubes, the trunk (under the lid), or under the seat.
Of course, the last and final option is to call the dealership.
Although there are tire pressures listed on the sidewall of the tire, follow your motorcycle manufacturers specifications.
If you threw away or lost your manual, you should be able to get one through your dealer.
I did a google search for my owner’s manual online and was able to find it very easy. Here is the search query I used:
2004 gl1800 + owner’s manual
Use a search operator like:
[year, model] + owner’s manual
When searching, remove the brackets and put the year, the model and ‘owner’s manual’ (without the quotes). Try doing google searches with and without the plus sign.
Motorcycle manufacturer pressure vs Tire manufacturer pressure
So, what’s the difference between each specification?
The motorcycle manufacturer is going to tell you specific pressures that your front and rear tire should be set at.
It may also tell you under what conditions to take a tire pressure reading under (remember, take the pressure when the tire is cold, and yes I keep harping on this).
These recommendations are generally going to be based on your weight, the weight of your passengers and the weight of any gear or things you’re carrying.
For example, manufacturers may recommend adding some extra PSI (pounds per square inch) if you have a heavy load on board.
Death Wobbles Suck…
If you don’t follow what they recommend, your motorcycle may handle poorly, and may even result in the bike going into the dreaded motorcycle death wobble or weaving. Dealing with a death wobble can put a lot of stress on your both physically and mentally and contribute to your riding tired on your motorcycle.
As you become more experienced at riding and learning the ins and out of your particular bike, you may discover that making adjustments slightly below what the tire manufacturer recommends is okay.
Here’s an example;
Let’s say the tire recommends that you have 45lbs of pressure in the front tire. After taking a trip you decide that you’re getting a bit of a rough ride because the tire is too hard.
You could deflate the tire by a half pound to a pound of pressure to take some of the hardness out of the tire and make the ride a bit smoother.
While there’s nothing wrong with making these adjustments, you’re going to need to pay attention to how the motorcycle tire is wearing. If the tire is wearing too much on the outside edges, you’ve deflated the tire way too much.
Making these kinds of ride adjustments in your tire (should you choose to do it) doesn’t require you to massively deflate the tire. I usually inflate my tire to spec, take a quick spin around the block and just let out a half pound or so like I mentioned above.
Again, be careful with this and pay close attention to how your bike is handling.
Tire sidewall PSI
The tire manufacturer specs tell you the maximum pressure that the tire can hold, how much that particular tire can be loaded and what it can handle, etc. You shouldn’t run into a conflict between the two, but if you do go with your motorcycle manufacturers recommendations.
The thing is;
You shouldn’t run into any conflicts between manufacturers specs and the tire sidewall specs. The motorcycle manufacturer sets the their PSI below what the tire specs are (at least in my experience, pay attention, yours may differ).
Again, if you’re really stuck, call the dealership for your motorcycle, and contact the dealer for your tires if possible.
General tips about motorcycle tire safety you need to know
When checking out your tires before you jump on your motorcycle and ride, here are several safety tips that you need to keep in mind.
Get a tire gauge.
Buy yourself a good accurate tire gauge that you can read, whether its digital or analog and make it part of the regular motorcycle gear that you ride with. Many motorcycle tire manufacturers recommend checking the tires on every trip.
Once you’ve ridden you motorcycle enough and become familiar with it, you’ll good feel for how the bike handles and even how the tires look when they are at the proper pressure. However, don’t rely on ‘look and feel’ always check tire pressure.
Check your tire tread.
Before each ride, inspect your tire tread and keep an eye on your tread depth. In addition to getting yourself a pressure gauge, get yourself a tire tread depth gauge.
A tire tread depth gauge measures tire tread depth in the grooves of the tire.
Place the gauge on surface of the tire groove and pin of the gauge will go to the bottom of the groove. At the top of the pin will be a gauge with the depths listed in thirty seconds (32’s) of an inch.
In many states, car and motorcycle tires are no longer legal below 2/32’s of an inch of tread depth.
I hate to be captain obvious here, but the rear wheel of your motorcycle will likely be worn down first depending on how you ride (hard braking, burning out, skidding etc).
When the motorcycle rear tire tread depth is low, the motorcycle may slide or slip out from under in a turn (even at low speed).
After removing the cloth from your rectum from fright, make plans to a new set of tires.
Don’t put off checking your tires and other steering components like your front forks or you’re clutch and brake levers.
Motorcycle tire wear, what to look for
Here are a few common things to look for with your motorcycle tires that indicate that it’s time for them to be replaced.
Look for the tire tread worn down to the wear bars that are placed inside the actual tread. Get yourself a tread depth gauge and at least keep it in your garage. See the “check your tire tread” section above if you haven’t already.
Check your tires for cracking and dry rot
When motorcycles have sat for extended periods of time (specially in the weather) the tires will start to dry rot and crack. The tiny cracks will be most noticeable on the sidewall and down close to the area where the tire attaches to the motorcycle wheel or rim.
Dry rot happens when the motorcycle is left outside exposed to the elements (like direct sunlight) and makes the tire rubber hard and stiff. This in turn causes the cracking, because the tire is no long pliable.
If you’re tires are dry rotted, DO NOT RIDE!
Because the rubber on the tire has stiffened, the tire itself will not grip the road well and in fact may just fail entirely (as in come apart) even at a low speed.
Look for debris in your tire
Before you ride inspect your tire for any screws, nails and other debris that may have wedged into the tire.
A lot of times tires can pick up debris and not go flat until it’s removed.
Based on my experience (your mileage may vary), if the debris or puncture is in the tread area, the tire is most likely salvageable and can be taken to a shop for repair.
If the debris or puncture is in the sidewall of the motorcycle tire, guess what?
You’ll need a new tire, no repair shop will touch it.
Blisters and Knots
Check your tire for obvious blister or knots may occur, which means that motorcycle tire failure is imminent.
You’ll know’em when you see’em, because they look like the tire has a large boil or pimple!
Tire blisters and knots can occur anywhere and the tire, but I’ve seen them happen more in the sidewall areas.
Sometimes you may come into contact with road debris unknowingly or have a near miss that brushes against your tire(s) that leaves a cut.
If you see a cut in the sidewall of the tire, look at how deep the cut goes. If you look inside the cut (with a flashlight or gently peel it back) and see that the cut extends into any of the layered motorcycle tire material, the tire is done.
With motorcycle tire pressure and road conditions apply force to the area, it’s only a matter of time before tire failure.
Resources for motorcycle tire pressure recommendations
If don’t have you manual, and you need a couple of resources to check out, I’ve included a couple of links for you.
Keep in mind with these websites that they may not have every make and model available, since there are so many.
You may be able to find something that’s close to get you started.
If there are any problems with these links, please let me know.
Dunlop tire pressure chart
Running Dunlop tires on your motorcycle (Dunlops are also a favorite brand with other Honda gl1800 owners I know)?
If you’re a Dunlop tire owner or you’re thinking about checking out there tire this website has a very thorough pdf that you can download that should help you out. It has tire pressure for Dunlop, load ratings and tons of good information.
You can also a get a ton of great information directly though Dunlops website. The have a very extensive FAQ that can answer a lot of your questions.
Wrapping it up…
Your tires play a big ‘roll’ (see what I did there?) it keeping you on the road. If you’re checking your tires, servicing your bike and keeping your battery maintained there shouldn’t be anything that keeps you going on that weekend ride!
Air pressure in motorcycle tires should be taken seriously – after all there’s really not much rubber keeping you on the roadway.
Do you have any cool tire related resources or knowledge to drop on motorcycle tire pressure recommendations or performing a tire safety inspection? .