Most of us have been there, but all of us are aware of the risk. You’re riding along, having a good time, when you hit a nail or some other such thing, and you end up with a flat tire. To prevent getting stuck far from home, you should make sure you know how to plug a tubeless motorcycle tire.
The 5 simple steps to plug a tubeless motorcycle tire are:
- Prepare your workspace
- Remove the object that caused your flat
- Clean and enlarge the hole
- Add glue and insert the plug
- Clean up the tire and check for leaks
These basic steps more or less cover the process of plugging a tire, but there’s a little bit more to it than that, especially if you haven’t done it before. Read on, as I’ll go through the process of plugging tires more in-depth, as well as some frequently asked questions.
Is It Okay To Plug A Tubeless Motorcycle Tire?
Plugging a tubeless motorcycle tire can be a great short-term solution to a flat, but depending on the situation, it may work as a long-term solution as well. There are a lot of variables that matter here, so you should consider your exact circumstances before deciding if you should plug your tire.
Where Is The Hole?
The first criteria for whether a plugged tire is a 10-mile or a 1000-mile solution is where the puncture occurred on your tire. According to most manufacturers, tires should only be plugged in the center, in the middle 75% of the contact zone that actually interacts with the road.
This is also known as the crown and should be pretty easy to tell apart from the other portions of your tire. These other portions are known as the shoulder and the sidewall. In an emergency, a tire plug may work in one of these places, but it will really be a very short-term solution and will have some risk that comes with it.
Normally this isn’t an issue though, as punctures are far more likely to occur on the contact patch of a tire than on the sides. The closer to the center of the tire a hole is, the more likely the plug is to be successful and safe.
How Big Is The Hole?
The next criteria for whether a tire plug is an emergency fix or not is the size of the hole. Again, this recommendation can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but a general rule of thumb is any hole under 8 mm (0.31 inches) is safe to patch, while any hole 8 mm or larger is probably not.
Most nails and screws and such should not create holes larger than 7 or 8 mm, so this should be fine for most people, as those are some of the most common causes of motorcycle tire punctures. If you happen to run over some weird larger spike thing somehow, though, just know that patching it may be more difficult and less permanent.
How Old Is The Tire?
Another thing to consider when dealing with a flat tire is the age of the rubber itself. Rubber is not an incredibly long-lasting compound when it comes to flexibility, so old rubber may not have the same ability to hold a plug that new rubber would.
Old rubber becomes much more brittle and cracks when it’s worn from the elements, from the sun, and from use on the motorcycle. For these older tires, a plug may be a great emergency measure but probably won’t last as long as it would on a newer tire.
How Worn Is The Tire?
The last but certainly not least important thing to evaluate when patching your tire is how worn it is. Again, many manufacturers don’t recommend plugging tires that are under a certain tread depth. Most manufacturers say you need at least 1.5 mm (1/16th of an inch) to retain a plug properly.
If you have less tread depth than 1.5 mm (or 1/16th of an inch), a plug can again work to get you out of a pinch, but you should probably look to replace your tire sooner rather than later.
On the other side of this, if you have a newer tire that you get a flat on, chances are that plug will hold much better. A tire plug isn’t ever going to be quite as safe as an unpunctured tire, but if you just shelled out a bunch of cash for a new tire, only to accidentally put a nail in it 100 miles later, I wouldn’t blame you for riding on a plug for a while.
How Long Can You Ride On A Plugged Motorcycle Tire?
If your tire is in good condition it’s safe to ride longer with a plug. Some motorcyclists won’t use plugs at all, or will only ride plugged tires to the tire shop. How long you can ride on a plugged motorcycle tire and how safe it is will depend on a multitude of factors.
The best advice I can give is to just make the best judgment you can. If you’re a frugal sort of person and you got a minor flat on a newer tire, you can probably plug it and run that tire for quite some time without issue.
If you’re a more cautious person though, or just don’t mind spending money to alleviate risks and worry, the only thing replacing the tire will really hurt is your wallet and your time. Different types of riders, different choices.
Emergency Tire Repair
The only type of plug that I really recommend against leaving for any long period of time is a plug that goes outside of the previously listed criteria. Some riders have gotten out of tricky situations by using patch kits to fix holes in their tire shoulder or sidewall.
Again, do what you have to do to get out of a situation safely, but something like a sidewall patch is an incredibly temporary emergency measure, and really shouldn’t be ridden on for any amount of time longer than getting to a safe place to replace the tire.
5 Simple Steps To Plug A Tubeless Motorcycle Tire
1. Prepare Your Workspace
Firstly, prepare your workspace for the procedure of plugging the tire. If you have the ability to do so, elevate the tire from the ground. Many bikes have center stands that work great for doing this. If you’re in a proper workshop, you may have even better ways to do this. Just do whatever you can.
Make sure you have all of the necessary tools and materials for attempting this operation. This includes pliers to remove the foreign object, a tire plugging kit with plugs and tools (such as a reamer and string insertion tool), glue (rubber cement) if you need it, a knife to trim the plug, and whatever else you may need to clean up after.
Make sure you also have an air pump so that the tire can be re-inflated once patched up. If you have a pressure gauge to make sure the tire is pumped up correctly, great. Also, having some soapy water to test for leaks is very useful.
2. Remove The Object That Caused Your Flat
Now that your workspace is prepared, you can begin the operation. The first step is to remove the foreign object in your tire that caused the flat to occur. If your tire still has some pressure in it, just be aware of that when removing the object, as it may force it out more easily, or just make some noise.
Use the pliers to muscle the object out of your tire. Having a nice big pair of pliers, or even some locking pliers such as Vise-Grips can really make this process much easier. Pull the object until it has been fully removed from the tire and dispose of it.
3. Clean And Enlarge The Hole
Now that the offending item has been removed, you should be left with a small hole in the tire. It’s now time to clean up the hole and make it even and large enough to accept the tire plugging material. Whatever tire patch kit you have should have some guidance about how to do this correctly.
A good tire patch kit should come with a reamer tool, this tool should be inserted into the hole and worked around until the hole is cleaned up and equal. Take some more time to do this if the tire has steel belts in it, as those take some more time to work through. There isn’t a set amount of time to do this for, just until it feels done.
4. Add Glue And Insert The Plug
Now that your hole is prepared, it’s time to insert the tire plug. This is where the process may differ somewhat for different types of tire plugging kits. I prefer the string/worm type, so I’ll go over that, but just be aware that the mushroom type plugs or other plugs may have some different processes to install correctly.
Install the string/worm on your insertion tool. It should be perpendicular to the tool and centered. I’d recommend looking up a picture if you’re confused about this part. Put some rubber cement on the string and put a little bit on the hole as well. Excess is better than not enough in this case.
Slowly insert the string into the hole in your tire, maybe 2/3 of the way, but be careful not to push it too far. Once you’re happy with where your string is at, slowly remove the insertion tool. The tool should come out while leaving the string inside the hole of the tire. The hard part is over, time to clean up now.
5. Clean Up The Tire And Check For Leaks
Once the tool is free and the string is in place, give it a minute (or a few) to set and then use a sharp blade to trim it down. Cut off the excess of the string, leaving it flush with the rest of the tire. Clean off your blade if you need to.
That’s it, tire plugged and trimmed down to the right height. Give it a few more minutes to fully set up and it should be good to go. Inflate the tire with the appropriate pressure and then spray the patch down with some soapy water. If you don’t see any bubbles, you’ve successfully plugged your tire!
What If My Tire Isn’t Tubeless?
So, most modern motorcycle tires are tubeless, but if you have an older bike, it’s possible you have tires with innertubes. If you have this type of tire, it cannot be plugged with tire plugs, you’ll have to fix the flat by replacing the tube.
If you have a hole in your tire though, you could throw a plug in it to keep it sealed. This won’t affect whether the tire will inflate or not, just how robust that area of your tire is. Again, it shouldn’t cause an issue, but you’ll need to replace the tube no matter what. Just take care to make sure the plug isn’t poking the innertube.
That being said, to replace the tube, the tire will at least need to be de-beaded from the wheel hub if not removed entirely. In this case, you might as well remove the tire and get the best possible plug installed that you can, or replace it, should it be old enough to merit doing so.
When Should You Replace A Motorcycle Tire?
So, beyond the issue of a particular puncture, when should a tire be replaced? Well, it depends, but if you’re dealing with a lot of flats, it’s possible that could be an indication of a tire that should be replaced.
Tires should be replaced when one of a few criteria becomes true. If the tread gets too low, if the rubber gets old and cracked, or if the tire becomes squared off and not as round anymore. If any of those become true, it’s probably time for some new tires.
Rubber is not an everlasting compound either, and even if a tire doesn’t do a lot of riding, after a certain amount of time the rubber will become brittle and lose its ability to grip properly. Most manufacturers suggest only using tires 5 years old or newer.
Things To Carry When Riding
Though flat tires aren’t the most common occurrence with motorcycles, they certainly can happen, so having the means to deal with them can save at minimum, some money and time, but at most, your life.
Depending on the sort of riding you do, you may be out somewhere in the middle of nowhere and blow a tire. It’s possible you may be outside of cell service, so in this situation, it’s good to have the means to get yourself out. There are a few useful things to carry when riding, especially when riding long distances. Let’s go over a few of them.
Tire Repair Kit
As discussed before, a tire repair kit could literally be the difference between life and death. Obviously, this won’t apply in most cases, but they’re still really useful to have. Getting a tow back to where you can have your tire fixed or replaced can be expensive and time-consuming.
Tire repair kits aren’t terribly expensive, and they give you a lot more freedom. Having a backup plan means that if you really get stuck somewhere, you have the ability to patch your bike up and get out. That’s worth a lot, so given the price, they seem worthwhile to carry.
An air pump is a necessary addition to a tire repair kit. Without the ability to pump a tire up after it’s been repaired, repairing it really doesn’t serve much use.
For this emergency purpose, a small bicycle air pump should do the trick
You can get a motorcycle-specific one if you like but it doesn’t really matter. Most tires use the same standardized filler plug, so any sort of air pump that has that will work. Just find one within your budget that you like and that should do the trick. It really only has one job to do, but it’s an important one, so having one is worth it.
Small Tool Kit
A small tool kit is another great little thing to have with you while you ride. Again, these are not that expensive, unless you decide to go for some sort of fancy adventure rider toolkit, which I’d only recommend if you have lots of money and nothing else to use it on.
A good tool kit should have a few things. A flathead screwdriver and a Philips or J.I.S. (Japanese Industrial Standard) screwdriver. A few wrenches that match common bolt and nut sizes on your bike. A pair of pliers and a little knife.
All of these little things can help you solve simple problems, avoid being stranded, and avoid costly and unnecessary tows. Sometimes simple things go wrong, and simple tools can get you back on the road in no time. Not too big, not too expensive, worth bringing.
Tape & Ties
Last but not least, it’s always useful to have some random tape and fasteners. Duct tape is the industry standard, but there are lots of variations and brands. I’m fond of the Duck Max Strength Tape, but a lot of folks prefer Gorilla Tape.
Carrying some extra zip ties or even a hose clamp or two can also be super useful. Zip ties are about the most bang for your buck you’ll ever get on a connector. They’re incredibly cheap and incredibly useful, as well as pretty strong and hard to break.
I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve been rescued by duct tape and zip ties. They’re super useful for a million different situations, and I think they’re worth having in every vehicle you own, motorcycles included. Throw a couple on your bike somewhere, they will come in handy.
Flat tires can be really annoying to deal with. They usually don’t happen too much, but if they do, they can cause a lot of stress, financial burden, or even danger. However, having some simple tools and the knowledge of how to use them can save you from getting stuck somewhere with a flat tire.