Choosing Motorcycle Tires
As any motorcyclist knows firsthand, the way a bike handles depends a great deal on the condition of the tires. The tires provide the necessary grip and traction to safely take on the road on two wheels without worry. When it comes to choosing motorcycle tires, it may seem overwhelming at first, but once you know the basics, it is a lot easier to navigate.
When to Replace
Before we dive into choosing motorcycle tires, you need to know when to replace them in the first place. Here are a few signs it is time for new tires:
- Low to no tread. The tread on your tires is always a dead giveaway of when it's time for a change. The tread should be no less than 1/4th an inch in general. If the tread is worn down beyond this point, the tire will have a hard time gripping the road which is a recipe for disaster.
- Holes or punctures. This is a pretty obvious sign it's time for new tires, but a lot of riders choose a patch and go approach. While it is true that patching up a puncture is a quick fix, it shouldn't be a long-term solution. If you just keep patching up a hole in the tire, you are still riding on a compromised tire which isn't the safest choice.
- A square shape. Many tires, especially the rear tire, will take on a square shape over time. This is a surefire way to tell you need a new tire. It may not have major holes or significant loss of tread, but a square shape is still a sign you need a new tire.
Tips for Choosing Motorcycle Tires
Consider tube vs. tubeless. There are tires with tubes and tires without tubes on the market, and your bike will typically call for one over the other, depending on the design. There is an easy way to tell which one your bike needs. If the bike has spokes like in some older models, you will need a tube. If the motorcycle has cast wheels, a tubeless tire is the right one. Of course, make sure you check the owner's manual as your guide to be on the safe side.
Know the difference between tread and pattern. Many people use these two terms interchangeably, but they actually mean two different things. Tread is the area of the tire that comes in contact with the road as the tires rotates in motion. The tread can also be called the contact patch because it is the patch of the tire that is always in contact with the road underneath. The grooves or channels inside of the tread is what is called the pattern. The pattern is used to channel water through the tire without the tire losing grip on the road. If you use your motorcycle more for racing, then you will look for tires with more tread than pattern. If you use your motorcycle for road riding, you need a tire with both tread and pattern.
Consider compound. The compound is the material the tire is made of and there are differences to consider when shopping for new tires. For instance, racing tires tend to use a softer compound material that offers incredible grip and traction but doesn't last as long, whereas harder compound tires made for street riding or touring bikes offers a compromise in exceptional grip in place of better longevity. When looking at compound, you should consider your bike and the type of riding you usually do to get the right choice.
Know the difference between radial and bias. One of the biggest issues when shopping for tires is the matter of radial or bias. While it may seem confusing and intimidating at first, it becomes much easier to shop when you realize that these terms are simply indicating the internal construction of the tire. For example, radial tires have belts going straight through the tread at a 90 degree angle whereas bias has the belts in a diagonal direction. The general rule is that radial is used more often on newer motorcycle models as the standard while bias is seen more in older motorcycle models or certain cruiser models. Bias also tends to be for bikes with more weight to them. It is important to note that you can use either one on most models (unless otherwise noted by the owner's manual), but you should never mix and match them. If you have a bias tire on the front tire, you need a bias tire on the back tire. Mixing the two types will leave you more vulnerable to instability and accidents.