How to Change a Motorcycle Tire

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

Classic motorcycle tire changing is something the home mechanic can undertake with a few tools and an understanding of the intricacies of the job.

Motorcycle dealers charge as much as one hour of labor to change a tire – and quite rightly, since they are in business. Tire changing and balancing machines are not cheap. However, for the most part, tire changing is something the home mechanic can undertake with a few tools and an understanding of the intricacies of the job.

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Tools

A typical selection of tools required to change a tire. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

The tools required will include:

  • Sockets and/or wrenches to loosen the wheel spindle
  • A valve extractor
  • Two tire levers
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Compressor or foot pump

In addition, a strong bench or work-horse will be needed to secure the wheel while changing the tire.

Safety is obviously paramount when working on motorcycles in general, and tires in particular. Also, as wheel removal/replacement often requires removal of the braking system, particular care must be exercised when working on these components.

As with most workshop tasks, preparation is the key. Before removing a wheel the bike must be on its center stand and secured. The mechanic must allow for weight distribution change as a wheel is removed; that is, the bike will become front heavy when a rear wheel is removed (opposite when the front is removed). Additional stands may be required to keep the bike balanced on its center stand.

Wheel removal is, on most bikes, a simple case of loosening the wheel spindle nut. Once the nut has been removed, the spindle can be tapped out using a rubber or plastic hammer. Tap the spindle until it begins to pass through the wheel. In some cases, it may be necessary to use a drift to fully push the spindle through. The ideal material for a drift (in this case) is a piece of round aluminum bar.

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

Valve Removal Removing the Schrader valve. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

With the wheel removed, it should be placed on the work bench and the valve removed – be sure to hold the valve tightly as the exiting air can blow the valve from your fingers.

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

Freeing the Tire Freeing the tire from the rim. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

If the tire has been on the wheel rim for some time, it may be difficult to break it free from the rim. However, it is very important to fully free the tire from the rim before attempting to remove the tire. Professional tire changing machines have a separate mechanical device that compresses the side walls of the tire. A workhorse can be used as a substitute for this part of the process by clamping the side walls of the tire between the two halves of the vice to compress and collapse the tire.

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

Starting at the Valve Tire removal starts at the valve. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

The starting point (and end points) of tire replacement are critical. The rule is: start at the valve and finish at the valve. This rule ensures that the valve will not impede the tire from dropping down into the well of the rim during either removal or refitting.

The tire levers should be placed on either side of the valve to begin the removal process; however, before any pressure is applied to them, the mechanic must squeeze the opposite side of the tire to ensure it is in the rim’s well. As a general rule, if the removal or refitting of the tire becomes difficult, it is typically because the tire is not down in the rim well opposite from the point being levered.

Where a tube is fitted, the mechanic must pay special attention before applying pressure to the levers so as not to pinch the tube (if in doubt, recheck).

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

Removing the Tube. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

When one half of the tire has been removed from the rim, the inner tube can be removed and checked: any signs of scuffing or pinching will require a replacement tube.

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

Pulling the Tire Off After initial levering, the tire can be pulled off. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

Fully removing the tire from the rim should be relatively easy. After initiating removal by using the tire levers, the mechanic should be able to physically pull the tire off the rim.

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

Tube Preparation Talcum powder reduces sticking. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

The rim normally concealed by the tire must be checked for damage or rusting. On spoked rims a rubber band must be placed over the spoke nuts to protect the inner tube from any sharp edges.

Applying talcum powder to the band will help to reduce the risk of it sticking to the tube. The tube should also be liberally coated with powder to stop it sticking to the inside of the tire.

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

Tire Direction The tire's direction is molded on the side wall. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

Replacing the tire starts with checking the direction for fitment. Tires have a direction mark to ensure they rotate the correct way (during the manufacturing process the rubber is wrapped around the tire’s carcass, where the wrap finishes will determine the direction to ensure the rubber will not peel during service). The direction markings are typically an arrow on the side wall with the words “rotation, front wheel fitment” (opposite for the rear tire).

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

Fitting the Rim Inside the New Tire Fitting the new tire starts with pushing the rim into place. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

The rim should be placed inside the new tire and pressed down into the rim’s well. Generally, levers will be required to fit the final third of the tire onto the rim. Again, any resistance will be due to the tire not being at the bottom of the rim well.

The inner tube must be fitted next. Reaching inside the tire, place the inner tube’s valve through the appropriate hole in the rim and lightly secure the valve’s lock nut. Push the remainder of the tube inside the tire. It is good practice at this point to inflate the tube a little to straighten it out, releasing the air once this has been done.

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Classic Motorcycle Tire Changing

Final Fitting Using levers, the new tire fitting process finishes at the valve. John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

Starting opposite to the valve, the second half of the tire can now be located. Tire levers should be used as little as possible and with great care so as not to damage the tube. The mechanic should squeeze the tire down into the rim well (opposite to the valve) every time he levers a little more tire onto the rim.

Should the tire be very hard to fit, it may be necessary to apply some tire fitting fluid. In the absence of a proprietary fluid, a solution of dish washing liquid applied to the tire’s edge will work. However, once the tire has been fitted, the surplus fluid should be dried off.

With the new tire fitted, the wheel should be bounced and rotated a few times to centralize the tire on the rim before inflation. After the inner tube valve has been replaced, compressed air can be added to push the tire onto the rim. However, the mechanic must not exceed the tire’s maximum pressure (see the tire’s side wall for details).

After the tire is seated properly, the running pressure should be set. If the tire is not the original type/size or make, the pressure recommended by the tire manufacturer must be used.

Replacing the wheel back onto the bike is generally a reversal of the removal process, but care must be taken to ensure correct location of the brake pads and any speedometer drive flanges.

After setting the wheel spindle nut to the correct torque, the tire should be spun to ensure it is centrally located on the rim. Any wobbles can be removed by deflating the tire, adding a little soapy fluid to the side wall where it is not lifting onto the rim, then re-inflating.

The weight of valves and even the layup of the tire’s rubber will have an effect on the wheel’s total balance; it is, therefore, necessary to balance the wheel and tire at this point.

Before riding the bike the new tires should be cleaned. During manufacture the rubber is subject to a mold release agent that can be slippery. Spraying brake cleaner onto rag then whipping the tire will remove most of the release agent. However the rider should ride cautiously for the first hundred miles or so to ensure the agent has been rubbed off.

Brake rotors should also be cleaned as finger prints can reduce braking efficiency, and the lever should be operated to ensure pads are returned to their normal riding position.

This cautious approach is particularly important in wet conditions or cold climates where is grip is reduced due to ambient conditions.