June 21, 2012 by Rider Newsletter Staff
Keeping your tires properly inflated eliminates a major risk factor.
Like many activities, motorcycling carries with it a certain level of risk. Some risk factors are beyond your control, such as poor road conditions, weather and bad drivers. You do, however, have control over one important source of risk: maintenance. Failing to properly maintain your bike can cost you dearly.
Tires are the most critical safety-related item on your bike and inflation is the most important factor in tire maintenance. Under or over inflated tires can affect the way your bike rides, cause uneven or fast wear and put you and your passenger at risk. Let’s look at some of the potential problems that may beset you if you don’t keep tire pressure within the manufacturer’s guidelines.
We all know that “squishy” feeling that comes from riding on a low tire. That uneasy feeling is a warning and not something to be ignored. In fact, if your tires are low enough for you to feel it, you may be at serious risk. Not having enough air in your tires will make cornering less sure, which could cause a skid and a fall. It can also reduce gas mileage. More importantly, an under inflated tire may wear unevenly and more quickly. Because a low tire flexes more, fatigue cracking can create weak spots and endanger the structure of the tire and, as a result, you. Low tires run much hotter, increasing the chances of a sudden failure.
Too much air in your tires causes other potentially serious problems. When the tires are too hard, the bike rides roughly which, in addition to being uncomfortable, causes the center of the tire (where it contacts the road) to wear more quickly. Over inflating a tire can actually decrease the width of the patch that meets the road, reducing traction. Harder tires are also more susceptible to punctures from road debris and sudden impacts.
Now that we’ve determined that tire inflation is a critical safety factor, what should you do? First, get a high quality, accurate tire gauge that keeps the pressure level on display until you review it. Next, use your new gauge at least once per week and before every long trip. It won’t hurt to check the pressure during the trip, just be absolutely sure the tires are cold when you check them.
Check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended tire inflation and be aware that some companies recommend different tire pressure based on the load you are carrying. You may find inflation guidelines in the trunk, under the seat or in other locations on the bike itself.
Here are a few links that will provide useful information on motorcycle tires:
Chet Walters, the now retired proprietor of rattlebars.com has a detailed and interesting treatise on tire wear at this link. There’s a lot more to it than you might think.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers some suggestions for tire safety here.
If you do get a flat, NHTSA has suggestions for handling a blowout on this page.
Most manufacturers offer tire information and suggestions. Maxxis offers a “Motorcycle Tire School” at this link.
Motorcycle-usa.com provides a lengthy treatise on motorcycle tires here.