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Looking after your tyres

Tyres are crucially important on a motorbike. They need checking regularly and proper maintenance to keep them in top shape.

Regular checks needed for tyres

Your life depends on the tyres of your motorcycle. Poor grip or a puncture on four wheels are nothing compared to the dramas you’ll have on just two. So, paying the utmost attention to tyres makes sense.

Start by giving your tyres the once-over every single time you ride. Take a good look over both ends for anything untoward, and run your hands over the surface. You’re basically looking for anything that might have got stuck in the tyre, any damage, bulging or contamination, and that the tyres are inflated.

Check your tyre pressures at least once a week and, when you do, give the tyre even closer scrutiny. Look for any signs of cracking on the sidewalls or abnormal wear on the tread. 

Remember

It’s time to replace tyres when: the tread depth is less than 2mm; there’s any sign of cracking, bulging or other damage; they’re more than five years old; they have had a puncture repaired to get you home.

Legal thread depth or tyres

The legal minimum tread depth is 1.5mm in all the ‘principal grooves’ around the entire circumference of the tyre. ‘Principal grooves’ are the ones that have a tread depth indicator in them: these are the thin ‘flaps’ of rubber that sit crosswise in the groove and they are 1.5mm in height. Measure tread depth with a gauge or a steel ruler and make sure you do it at several places around the circumference.

While 1.5mm is the legal minimum, your tyres’ performance will be substandard before they get there, especially in the wet. It’s far better to replace your tyres at 2mm. And that’s not the only criterion for replacement.

If your tyres are more than ten years old manufacturers advise that you should have them checked annually by a tyre specialist. Frankly, motorcycle tyres can easily go ‘off’ long before then, especially if they haven’t been kept in the best conditions. The consequences show up in lack of predictable grip, poor feel and a lack of confidence. View five years as the likely ‘life’ of a tyre, even if it’s not worn out.

Tyre pressures

Tyre pressures differ from bike to bike. Use the manufacturer recommendations as a starting point, and a fallback if you’re unhappy, but you can adjust pressures to improve such things as grip, comfort, feedback and wear.

The essential trade-off is between grip and wear. In general, lower pressures will provide more grip, unless you go too low, while higher pressures make the tyre stand up better to wear but again you can go too far. Tyres should give about 25% of the suspension effect for the bike, but the way tyres are made can affect the pressures you need to achieve that. A stiffer carcass will need lower pressures than a softer one, and vice versa. A heavier rider or adding more weight will need higher pressures than a lighter one. Pressures also rise with temperature.

A little experimentation can yield a better result. Just don’t go too far. Make any adjustment no more than 2psi then evaluate the difference thoroughly before going further or back the other way.

If you do track days, experimenting with pressures is key to finding grip and making your tyres last. Getting it wrong can cause catastrophic wear. 

One last thing to note is what you put the air in your tyres with. The compressors for garage airlines aren’t always dried out as they should be, meaning water vapour can get into your tyres. This will make them vary wildly with temperature. Ask your local garage when they last cleaned and drained the air compressor, and see what they say. You might want to invest in a foot pump or your own compressor.