When To Change Motorcycle Tires (Beginner’s Guide)

Having good tires is one of the most important things you can do to improve your motorcycle’s handling and safety. It’s arguably the most important thing, given that your tires are the only thing that connects your bike to the road. Many new riders may wonder when their tires should be changed.

Motorcycle tires should preferably be changed whenever the tread wears down, the tire squares off, the wear indicators show, the tire shows signs of age breakdown, or the tire becomes older than the acceptable age. This means you should be changing your motorcycle tires at least every 5 years.

There’s a bit more to understand when it comes to identifying these things on your own tires, as well as a lot to know about good things to look for in replacement tires. I’ll go more in depth on these things below.

How Long Do Motorcycle Tires Last?

Motorcycle tires can last anywhere from months to up to 5 years, depending on how often you use them and your riding style. Age isn’t the only thing that dictates how often you should change your motorcycle tires though, as you also need to consider general wear and tear.

Motorcycle tires come in quite a few different shapes and sizes. High performance sports tires will have much softer rubber compounds that provide a lot more grip, but these compounds will also deteriorate more quickly than some others.

On the flipside, a less sporty budget tire will probably last significantly more miles, likely being made of a harder and less grippy rubber compound. This will of course vary from tire to tire and from manufacturer to manufacturer, but bike tires definitely wear at different rates.

Another factor that can really affect how long your tires last is the way you ride. Like any physical component, if tires are pushed to their physical limits more consistently, they’ll wear down much faster. If you ride your bike casually and don’t push your bike that often, your tires will probably last much longer.

If you ride hard though, your tires will show that. Pushing a bike to its limits will simply wear down the rubber compounds much faster and increase the frequency at which you need to replace your motorcycle tires.

On average, you’ll probably see about 5,000-10,000 miles of acceptable use from your bike tires. A significant number of riders may end up replacing their tires due to age-related concerns before they ever see that amount of mileage. This all depends on how much you ride.

When Should You Replace Your Motorcycle Tires?

You should replace your motorcycle tires every 5 years at least, but more frequently than this if other wear factors indicate it’s time for a change. General wear and tear and breaching minimum legal tread limits are usually the deciding factors when it comes to replacing motorcycle tires.

There are a few things to look for as indicators that it’s time for a new set of tires. The first thing to look for is low treadwear. This is one of the easiest methods to accurately gauge how much life a tire has left.

A tire needs proper tread to operate as intended. Most motorcycles have tire treads designed for adequate road grip, shedding water well and, in some cases, good grip in off-road situations. The treads need to be thick enough to do all of these things properly.

Inherent Risks

Every tire comes from the factory with a certain tread depth. If the tread gets too low the tire probably won’t be able to grip properly and is at more of a risk of blowouts or flats. The risks of these things exist in cars as well, but for motorcycles, the potential danger is much higher.

Given that motorcycles have so many unavoidable risks associated with them, eliminating the avoidable risks seems like an easy and prudent step to take. Making sure you’re not riding with worn out tires is one of these steps. It can be some expense at times, but there’s something to be said against spending money on safety.

Obvious Damage

Another sign it’s time to change your tires is any damage or other such visible or obvious issues. If your tire suffers a puncture, obviously replace it. Especially if the tire is older, repairs may not always cut it. Also, in many cases, a puncture can be indicative of other issues, such as inadequate tread depth.

Other damage like dry rot or tire cracks can also herald an upcoming tire change. Older tires especially tend to develop issues such as this. Sometimes bikes end up sitting in a backyard or a musty garage for a significant portion of their life. Rubber, especially when exposed to the elements, will eventually just lose its structural integrity and start to crack.

How Much Tread Depth Do Motorcycle Tires Need?

In most places motorcycle tires need a tread depth of about 1-2 mm, or 1-2/32nds of an inch. While you may or may not get prosecuted for having tires below that depth, in many cases you may want to replace your tires before they get to that level anyway in the interest of safety.

A legal limit is obviously not the same as a guide, and some motorcycle tires may really need replacing far before that point in the life of their treads. It will vary from tire to tire.

Measuring treads isn’t too hard to do, either. Simply stick a small object in your treads and measure the depth between the top of the tread and the bottom of the tread cavity. Compare that with a ruler or some other measuring device, and presto, tread wear measured.

Different Tires, Different Treads

Check to see what measurements are acceptable for your specific tire, and you should have a good idea whether or not your tires need to be replaced, and if not, how much life you can expect to see out of them.

This is an area where it’s important to do the research for the specific tire you have. Though there is certainly a minimum tread depth, there isn’t really a maximum. Different tires will have different depths from the manufacturer.

Because of this, a certain measurement on one motorcycle tire compared to the same measurement on another might indicate different levels of wear and different remaining lifespans. Some tire treads will simply be produced with shallower depth than others.

Knowing where your tire is at in comparison to when it was produced can be just as useful, if not more useful than knowing what the exact depth itself is. By comparing those two figures, you can judge if your tires are safe to use, and if so, how long they will remain that way.

How Often Should You Replace Your Motorcycle Tires?

Beyond obviously apparent issues such as reduced tread and cracks, at some point motorcycle tires just expire. This may vary from tire to tire, but most manufacturers seem to quote around 5 years as the usual lifespan of their average motorcycle tire.

If you don’t know how old your tires are, don’t worry, as most tires have this imprinted on the tire itself. Look on your tire for “DOT” followed by a number. The last two digits of this number should be the year it was manufactured.

For example, if the last two digits are “19”, the tire was manufactured in 2019 and should probably be replaced in 2024. If your tire doesn’t have this information listed on it, chances are it’s way more than 5 years old.

How You Treat Your Bike Matters

Now, in reality, you can sometimes push tires past this 5 year mark. Of course, safety wise I cannot in good conscience recommend doing this, but it’s not like your tires hit 5 years and immediately stop working.

It would be a good idea to change them, but depending on what tires you have, what riding you do, and how you store your bike, you may be able to stretch them out a little further. Basic logic dictates that a motorcycle stored outside will probably use tires a bit faster than one kept in a garage.

Following the same basic logic, a bike that’s aggressively ridden constantly will have a shorter tire lifespan than one that’s casually ridden somewhat consistently. Again, after 5 years, replacing your tires is a good idea, but rather than simply replacing them right away, it’s worth having a mechanic look at them to tell you whether or not they’re still safe to use.

Should You Always Replace Both Motorcycle Tires At The Same Time?

You don’t have to replace both motorcycle tires at the same time. It will never hurt to replace both your front and rear tire at the same time, but it isn’t always necessary. If both of your tires have exceeded the safe age range or have other significant issues, of course it makes sense to do so.

In general, rear tires tend to wear down way more quickly than front tires. This may not always be the case, but usually it will be. Rear tires get a lot more abuse. They generally have more weight on them and sometimes will spin a lot more. Many veteran riders change their front tire every other time they change their rear tire.

Really, it all comes down to if your tires are within the proper specifications. If one of them isn’t and one of them is, you can usually get away with just changing that one. There’s no sense replacing a perfectly usable tire if you don’t have to.

Switching Brands

The only situation where this wouldn’t be true is if you’re changing the type or brand of tires on your bike. As long as you keep it consistent you should have no issues with replacing only one, but if you’re going to use a different tire, it may be worth it to buy a new full set.

Different brands, types, and models of tire will handle very differently. Even if a tire looks similar, the compounds within it can be very different. These differences can cause an imbalance of handling and grip that can be annoying or, at worse, dangerous.

Modern motorcycles are founded on a delicate balance between all of the components of the machine itself and the laws of physics. If you throw off this balance, the bike can become compromised.

What Is A Squared Off Motorcycle Tire?

When you ride a motorcycle, you’re not riding on 100% of the tire surface. Usually, it’s actually a very small percentage. If a tire is low on air or flat, it may be a much higher percentage, but a properly filled tire will have a relatively small contact patch.

Unlike car tires which have a large surface of contact with the road, motorcycle tires have a tiny amount that is actually being worn down when you ride. When you’re leaning through corners, you’re not riding on the bottom of the tire, but the side. However, when you’re riding straight, you’re just riding on the very bottom of the tire.

If you ride straight more than you ride in the corners, this will start to affect the shape of your tire. If you don’t lean too much, the bottom of the tire will start to wear down at a greater rate than the sides of the tire. This creates a flat surface on an otherwise curved tire.

This is sometimes referred to as a “squared off” tire. This is just something that tends to happen to a lot of motorcycle tires after a long enough time, but it will happen more quickly if you do a lot of straight-line riding on a freeway, for example.

Can You Ride With A Squared Off Tire?

When a tire becomes squared off, it becomes much worse at handling in corners. It will just be a lot less smooth and may move around in weird ways. It’s not that it won’t work at all, but it will just become less and less effective over time. Bikes with squared off tires can feel squirrely and harder to control when turning. I doubt any riders enjoy this.

Many riders will replace tires as soon as signs of squaring off start to appear. Others will not care and not replace their tires until the wear lines appear, regardless of the somewhat jeopardized handling characteristics.

There’s not much you can do to avoid this occurring. A tire with a little squaring off isn’t a big deal, but the more severe it becomes, the less safe (and less enjoyable) it will be to ride on.

Truthfully, there isn’t really a right answer here. Different riders have different tolerances for the way squared off bike tires handle. A little squaring off is very common and if it’s light enough, you may not even notice while riding. A severely squared off tire should probably be replaced.

What Kind Of Motorcycle Tires Should You Get?

This will of course depend on what sort of riding you want to do. If you’re riding a street bike with a good deal of power, having a tire that is up to the task is very important for the proper operation of a higher performance machine such as that.

If you’re riding something more off-road capable, maybe you’ll want some tires with a more aggressive tread. True street tires are almost completely incapable of riding off-road with any ease and will get stuck very easily.

Off-road tires, however, have the grippy tread patterns to deal with the rigors of rocks, gravel, dirt, and more. On the road, though, they are generally going to grip somewhat less than street tires. Not only do they have less rubber contact surface touching the road, but they also may be made of harder compounds.

Beyond the type of tire, there are also a dizzying number of brands available, especially if you have a common tire size on your bike. There are certainly better brands and worse brands, but the best way to end up with a good choice is to heavily research all the tires you’re considering and see what people who’ve actually used them have to say.

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Used Tires

The other thing to keep in mind when looking for motorcycle tires is this: If at all possible, don’t buy used tires.In general, I’m a big proponent of using things until they break. I will always prefer to fix a thing rather than replace it.

When it comes to tires, however, this is not what I recommend. A tire is designed as a limited use item with a relatively short lifespan. More often than not, a used tire will be well past the acceptable age range for use, if it doesn’t have more serious issues such as tread separation or cracking.

It’s just not worth it to buy a used tire. Get a new tire, and you have the certainty that it’s new rubber, and that it’s unlikely to have any serious issues. Tires are literally the thing that keep your bike on the road. They’re what separates you from the ground and using good ones can help avoid crashes, injury, and death. It’s worth it to not skimp.

Final Thoughts

You should change your motorcycle tires at least every 5 years. Knowing when to change the tires on your motorcycle is an important part of maintenance. Changing them consistently can help prevent accidents and injuries, and overall can lead to a much better riding experience.

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