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If you continue to ride long enough, you will need to replace your motorcycle tires at some point. What concerns some riders is the question "When is the right time to replace the tires and with which ones?" You don't want to wait until the tire is completely unusable. That could lead to highly dangerous riding situations. And sure you could keep replacing the tires with the ones that are currently on it, but what if you want something different for your bike. Follow along with the guide so you can choose the best motorcycle tire the next time that you need to replace them.

When to Replace

The first step that you need to take is to determine when it is necessary to replace your motorcycle tires. Over-worn tires are an obvious reason to change your tires, but it can get tricky to know when the tire actually reaches that point. Worn out tires are only one reason to change your tires though. In addition to tread depth, some other reasons why you would want to replace your tires is if they have become damaged, the tires are getting old or you may just want to change the style, brand/model or size of tire.

  • Tread- The most obvious sign that you should replace your motorcycle tires is if the tread is worn past its safe level of depth. Over worn tread can lead to serious safety issues including less grip to the road and even blowouts. Periodically checking the depth of the tread on your tires can help prevent some of these unsafe issues and it should become a part of your regular maintenance.

    Checking the tread depth of a motorcycle tire may sound like a difficult task, but it can be done with just a penny and you get to keep it. The least amount of acceptable tread left on your motorcycle tire is 1/32 of an inch or 1mm. If you've reached this depth, it's time to start looking for new tires. To find the depth, you can use the penny for your measuring device. First, find the most worn part of the tire, which is usually the center of the tire. Next, insert the penny into the tread with Lincoln going in head first. If the tread reaches any part of Lincoln's head, you have at least 2/32 of an inch left.

  • Damage- A damaged tire is an unsafe tire. If there are any major imperfections in the tire it may no longer be safe to ride on. It's important that you periodically inspect your tires to make sure that there is no damage. You should be looking for bumps, broken chords, uneven wear, missing lugs (on tires that have them), or any other imperfections in the tire. If you find any one of these imperfections, you should consider replacing your motorcycle tire.

  • Age- Even if your tires have very few miles on them, they can still become old and breakdown. There is no specific age limit on tires, but they do deteriorate over time. A telltale sign that your tires are becoming old is if they have become weather checked. But that doesn't always have to be the case. Many tire manufacturers actually add anti-oxidants to help prevent the breakdown from exposure to air. The integrity of the tire could still be compromised with increased age though. It's because of this and the fact that not all tires are manufactured the same that it's a good rule of thumb to try to purchase tires with the newest manufacturer date. This date will be printed on the sidewall of the tire. The large turnover of tires at retailers like Dennis Kirk help ensure that you are buying the newest tires.

  • Style/Model Change- The tires that are currently on your bike just may not be what you are looking for. Maybe you're looking for a tire with more grip or more mileage capabilities. Maybe you want to switch brands or models. Whatever the case may be, it's important to know which group of tires may fit your bike and style of riding the best. It may take a little trial and error to get the exact model that works best for you, but you can narrow the selection down when you know what style is the best fit.

Motorcycle Tire Styles

As the technology for constructing motorcycle tires has increased over the years, the manufacturers have been able to increase the variety of tires that are available. This means that riders have a larger variety of tires to choose from to better suit their motorcycle and riding style. It can, however, make choosing motorcycle tires a more confusing venture. Riders should start their search by first understanding which style of tire best fits their style of motorcycle.

  • Cruiser/Touring- Heavyweight cruisers, touring bikes and baggers require a tire with a load rating that can handle the weight of the bike, riders and luggage. Mileage is also a huge factor for these bikes as they tend to be ridden many miles per year. To achieve this, cruiser motorcycle tires are often made with harder rubber compounds that take longer to wear down.

    Cruiser tires are mainly designed for just that, cruising at highway speeds. They are not designed to be ran at high speeds or aggressively through corners. They are designed to give a smooth, consistent ride in a mostly straight line. The tread patterns are made to provide the best possible grip in a wide variety of conditions on paved roads. Rain sipes are a common feature on cruiser tires to help channel water from the tires in wet conditions.

  • Sport- Tires for sport bikes need to be constructed so that they provide the most grip, without sacrificing high speed performance and mileage. Because sport bike tires are used on a variety of different paved surfaces and in varying riding conditions, they need to be far more versatile compared to track tires. The compounds that are used to construct sport bike tires are generally softer than that of a cruiser tire to provide more grip to the road.

    Since sport bike tires for street use will encounter varying conditions, they must have more tread than a race tire. They do tend to still have quite a bit less tread than cruiser or normal street bike tires, though. The less tread allows the tire to have more of a contact patch on a smooth surface. There are rain tires for sport bike tires available for the riders who plan on encountering wet surfaces.

  • Race/Track- A racing/track tire is very similar to a sport tire, but is more specialized to provide even more grip and high speed capabilities. There is very little, if any, tread on a sport bike race tire. These are commonly referred to as racing slicks. These tires provide the most amount of contact between the riding surface and the tire. These tires are not a good choice for riding where there may be debris or moisture on the road. Racing tires have a more triangular profile, which aids the bike during extreme lean angle cornering. They also need to be properly warmed up before ridden on aggressively so that they grip as best as they possibly can.

  • Dual Sport/ADV- Dual sport and adventure touring riding is a segment of riding with a wide range of possibilities. Tire selection is critical to get the best performance for your bike. The tire tread can range from that of a heavily treaded street tire to street legal knobby tire. The rider should know the types of terrain that they most often ride on to make the most educated decision for dual sport tires.

    Dual sport tires need to be able to perform on both paved surfaces and off road. How much you do of each will determine what tires you choose. Riders will commonly see tires labeled as 80/20 street, 50/50, 80/20 off road or some other ratio in between. The 80/20 street are designed for riders who spend 80% of their time on the street and 20% off road. The opposite can be said for 80/20 off road tires. The 50/50 tire is designed for riders who spend half of their riding on the road while the other half is done off road.

  • Off Road- Off road tires usually tend to not be DOT approved and cannot be used on public roadways. Read more about off road tires in our Dirt Bike Tire Buying guide.

(Link to Off Road Tire Guide)

Sizes Explained

Knowing what the best and proper tire size for your motorcycle is crucial, but the numbers can be a bit deceiving if you do not know what they mean. Go to our Tire Sizes Explained page to learn exactly what the sizes mean and what you should be looking for when you are replacing your motorcycle tires.

Tire Construction

The way a motorcycle tire is constructed can greatly affect the way that it behaves while being ridden on. There are two main construction methods: bias-ply and radial. Each type of construction has its advantages and disadvantages. Riders can match the type of tire construction to best suit their riding and motorcycle styles.

  • Bias-Ply- A bias-ply tire gets its name from how it is constructed. The plies that are used to build up the tire are laid on a bias (diagonal) from bead to bead. The next ply is laid over the top of the previous ply in the opposite direction, creating a crisscross pattern. Bias-ply tires carry a rating of strength at 2 ply, 4 ply, 6 ply and on. In the past, these ratings directly correlated with the number of plies used during the construction. Now because of the advancement in the materials that are used, manufacturers do not need to use as many plies and the rating is now based on strength.

    The construction of bias-ply tires makes the sidewalls very stiff, which makes them a great choice for heavier motorcycles or bikes with heavier loads. The stiff sidewalls will also help prevent the tires from washing out while cornering. Bias-ply tires are known for their high mileage capabilities as well. Bias-ply tires are the only tires that can be used with a tube, which is needed for spoked rims and off road riding.

    One of the main downsides of bias-ply tires is that they do not dissipate heat very well. They are not a great choice for high speed motorcycles as they can overheat and deteriorate quickly. The fact that the stiff sidewalls do not flex very much in corners, limits the amount of contact patch between the tire and the road.

  • Radial- The way that radial tires are constructed is what sets them apart from bias-ply tires. The plies are laid down perpendicular (90 degrees) from bead to bead, or to the direction of tread. The plies run over the face and down the sidewall of the tire to create a wrapping effect. Many radial tires are then belted (usually with steel), which helps to stabilize the tire and reduce wear.

    The sidewalls of radial tires are thinner than bias-ply tires, which makes them weaker. In order to make the sidewalls stronger, some manufacturers use materials like Kevlar for reinforcement. The softer sidewalls do however help to provide a smoother ride by acting as a "spring" to absorb bumps. The tire also will flex more in corners compared to bias-ply tires, which helps to keep more tread on the riding surface for more traction.

    The greatest benefit of belted radial motorcycle tires is their ability to dissipate heat well. The weight of the motorcycle is distributed more evenly throughout the tread of belted radial tires to accomplish this. This allows motorcycles to go faster because the heat doesn't build up to a critical point. One downside of radial tires is that the thin sidewalls are more susceptible to punctures. They are also not recommended to be used with a tube.

  • Bias-Ply w/Radial- In some instances, motorcycles can be ridden with one bias-ply tire and one radial tire. When this happens, the bias-ply tire is always on the front. This is a good mix for motorcycles with a tall tire in the front and a wide tire in back, like for choppers. The radial should never be on the front of the motorcycle.

  • Number of Compounds- The ability to produce a motorcycle tire with multiple rubber compounds has radically changed the performance that they are capable of. With only one rubber compound, the tire must sacrifice either mileage or grip. With a dual compound tire, a rider can get more mileage from their tire without sacrificing grip in the corners. A high wear compound is used in the center of the tire for increased straight line mileage, while a softer compound is used on the shoulders of the tires for more grip in the corners.