Tips for Maximum Tire Life

Extending your miles-per-tire dollar

tips to extending the life of your motorcycle tire
Okay, so this might not be the best way to extend your tire life, but think of this as the first tip on what not to do if you want to have your rubber live its life to the fullest.Photography by Dean Groover

For many cruiser owners, tires top the list of maintenance expenses, so getting maximum life out of them is a major concern. For most riders, a new tire means not only the purchase price, but the labor of having it mounted. How do you get the maximum mileage between the moments when you have to write those checks?

Plan ahead: Keep an eye on your tires so you know when they are getting thin. The appearance of wear bars in the tread shouldn't be a surprise. Before they show up, you should have a plan for replacing them. That means finding the tire you want and knowing what it will cost. There is nothing worse than wearing out a set of tires 738 miles from home and discovering that the local dealer doesn't have the tire you want, and charges two arms and a leg for what he does have. Better to replace those not-quite-dead tires before you leave home.

Some tire manufacturers or shops offer special discounts at events like Americade. You can save a bundle by replacing your tires at such an event, but there are some drawbacks. Some riders show up with tires that are dangerously thin, and some have flats or blowouts on the way as they try to nurse that obviously past-due tire to the event.

Metzeler has addressed the tendency of riders to ride to an event on worn-out tires by offering an early-season discount through dealers. This not only permits you to save money on the purchase, but you can deal with your familiar shop and mechanic and be sure of getting the right tire for your bike. Even if you don’t see that kind of promotion for the tire you want, you might be able to make an arrangement with your dealer before you depart.

Give 'em some air! Nothing is as important to maintaining a tire's integrity and performance as proper inflation pressure. The air, not the tire carcass, supports the bike. Low tire pressure—especially when combined with overloading—increases heat, which at the least will accelerate tread wear and impair handling and traction. At the worst it can lead to damage in the tire's structure. Slight excess pressure may reduce traction slightly and give a minutely rougher ride, but it won't hurt tread life in most cases.

Tires will last and perform at their best when inflated to the pressures recommended in your manual (also listed on the steering heads of late-model motorcycles), assuming you are running stock tires. If you change tires, call the manufacturer and ask for its recommendation. Be sure to observe the higher pressures when carrying a heavy load. You’ll also get better wet-road traction with an additional pound or two of pressure.

Gauge your gauge: Though most of those inexpensive pencil gauges are pretty accurate when new, we have found older gauges—including the dial type—that are way off. Tire manufacturers at rallies and other events will sometimes check them for you. Otherwise, simply compare your gauge to several others; using a large tire for the test.

Alignment: Shaft drive bikes have no adjustment, but if you have a chain or belt, pay close attention to alignment. Using two long straight edges, a piece of string looped around both tires, or an experienced eyeball may be better than the factory alignment marks (though these are more accurate than they once were). Proper alignment will assure better handling and keep the tires from working against each other and wearing faster.

Balance: Though it affects handling more, improper balance also hurts tire life. Since balance may change during a tire's break-in period, it's worth checking it after 500 or 1000 miles of use—or at least anytime the wheel is off the bike.

Cap it: The valve stem cap is an important part of your tire's sealing system. It prevents leaks at high speeds, when centrifugal force can open the valve inside the stem. Use a good one, preferably metal, with a sealing O-ring inside. Auto stores sell custom chrome ones, which add a nice touch but may affect balance.

Give 'em a brake: Hard braking, especially with a tire locked up, wears tires quickly. Practice your panic braking, but keep your normal stops mild. The same applies, to a lesser extent, to hard starts.

Look at them: Before you climb on, inspect your tires. We have caught a few nails and screws before they punctured the tire. Even if it has punctured, getting the object out soon may prevent damage that renders the tire beyond repair.

Freaky front tire wear: Unusual front tire wear (a wavy look to the front tire blocks, called cupping) may be the result of improper inflation, but it can also be caused by a front suspension problem. This may be a damper or spring problem, but it could be caused by binding as well. If you have changed front fenders, added a fork brace or fender rail, or assembled the front end without aligning the legs, there may be pressure in the fork assembly that causes the problem. If you replace the front tire, most tire manufacturers insist that the rear tire should be replaced at the same time, though the reverse is not true. Instability may result.

Soap and water only: Tire manufacturers say that the only stuff you should use to maintain the appearance of your tires is mild soap and water. They say that the so-called protectants actually remove the oils in the rubber, leading to premature cracking and finish deterioration. Wipe off chain lube, brake fluid and gasoline promptly.

Storage: Sunlight and ozone attack tires. Store them in a dark place away from electric motors (refrigerators, compressors, etc.) and solvent fumes.