Proper Motorcycle Tire Maintenance and Care

Maintaining proper tire pressure is a common maintenance issue.

In my last article on how tire makeup affects performance, I claimed tires blend into the background when customers look at bikes. Furthermore, they tend to take a backseat on the maintenance list for owners as well. In fact, if there’s one area in which motorcycle riders fall short in terms of motorcycle maintenance, it would be maintaining the proper air pressure in tires.

It’s such a simple maintenance fix, and yet all the experts I spoke with agree that low tire pressure is one of the biggest issues they come across. For instance, Brian Davenport, senior sales manager for Metzeler, notes, “I would estimate around 70% of the motorcycles on the road today are not running the proper air pressure. The lowest bike I checked at the Sturgis Rally this year had 18 psi in the front and 21 psi in the rear. Proper inflation should have been 38 psi in the front and 45 psi in the rear. The consumer didn’t even notice how low the tires were.”  

Contrary to popular motorcyclist belief though, proper tire pressure is not set by the tire manufacturer — it’s set by the bike manufacturer. “The recommended cold tire inflation pressure is usually found on the swing arm and/or owner’s manual,” Jared Williams, general manager of motorcycle products USA & Canada for Bridgestone Americas, and Andrew Decker, project engineer – sales engineering for Bridgestone Americas, point out. “This should be checked often, as tires can lose upwards of 1 to 2 psi a month.”

In fact, all the experts I interviewed agree that riding habits and tire pressure are the most important aspects to determining the life of a tire. For instance, Williams and Decker state, a race tire may last only a few laps during a sprint race, whereas a touring tire could potentially travel for thousands of miles.

“The lifespan of the tire is largely determined based on the type of riding and proper tire maintenance, specifically tire pressure. With the proper tire pressure and regular riding, your tires will last thousands of miles,” Josh Whitmire, director of sales moto for Pirelli, notes.

And while riders might be tempted to put some brand-new tires to the test as soon as they’re outfitted on the bike, you’ll want to hit the brakes on that idea. According to Williams and Decker, some riders don’t realize that there is a scrub-in/run-in period for new tires. Basically, tires need time to break in, and riders need that time to adjust to the new tires. An excerpt provided from Bridgestone’s maintenance literature reads:

“We recommend that you ride slowly and carefully for the first 60 miles (~100 kilometers) until you become accustomed to the performance of your new tires in conjunction with your motorcycle. We recommend avoiding extreme maneuvers, including sudden acceleration, maximum braking and hard cornering, until you have become accustomed to the performance of your tires in conjunction with your motorcycle.”

So, now that we’ve covered tire pressure and the scrub-in period, there’s only one part of maintenance left: cleaning. Luckily, keeping tires dirt-free doesn’t require any special chemicals. In fact, chemicals are discouraged.

Davenport asserts that when cleaning tires, customers should only use soap and water with a soft brush. “Never put a conditioner or ‘tire shine’ on the sidewall or anything of that nature,” he explains. Basically, stay away from all petroleum-based products and harsh cleaners, since they could affect performance or damage the tire.

Dealers should make note of these maintenance issues when they’re stocking tires. We’ll discuss more tips for selling tires next week.

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