Tire Sense - Avoiding the Flat

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Cbarn


In a previous tire sense column, we discussed having the proper tire repair tools when you're on the road. But let's take a minute and backtrack to the point before the blow out and how we arrived there. And then what?

Tire selection – Moving beyond the manufacturer's recommended tire can cause trouble. For instance, consider Dualsport Dave's tire selection that ruined his dualsport weekend with his brother and friends. Dave was going on a dualsport ride that started Saturday. On the Wednesday before he realized he didn't have enough tread to get through the ride. He contacted the dealer and was informed they didn't have the right tire in stock, but could substitute a trials tire in the same size. Dave took the offer and had the trials tire mounted up. When he arrived at the dualsport event it was exactly that – a dualsport event that utilized about a 50/50 mix of both pavement and gravel roads. The first 60 miles of the Saturday portion of the ride involved pavement at highway speeds which took it's toll on the soft compound of the trials tire. When Dave arrived at the first gravel road he'd gnawed off half the knobbies on the tire and traction at the center line was essentially nil. By noon Dave decided it would be unsafe to ride the bike farther, hitched a ride back to his truck, retrieved the bike and drove home. So much for a great weekend with his other riding pals.

Photo: With the top of George's head exposed it's plain to see that hydroplaning is in the cards as well as little traction flex - it's time to change this tire.

Many adventure riders who started out on dirt bikes are convinced they need a far more aggressive tread on their adventure bikes. And Pirelli will be happy to sell you an aggressive 40/60 DOT highway approved knobby to replace a standard 90/10 or 80/20 blend design. But it doesn't take too many miles on the pavement before that knobby becomes deformed and traction dives to a minimum. The fact is if you're planning to ride both pavement and gravel roads 90/10 or 80/20 design tires like Avon's Gripster and Distanzia models will get you there just as well. And the wear patterns last much longer.

Selecting the wrong tread for the job can result in hours of time wasted looking around for replacement treads during a trip when you're supposed to be out riding, not hanging out at the motorcycle shop. Before you ride be sure your bike has the right tread for the ride.

Tread Depth – One of the most overlooked situations when planning for a trip is riders not paying attention to their tread depth beforehand and considering how much tire is available for the trip. Tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch. Anything less than 4/32s is grounds for tire replacement because at this point the tire won't shed water as it should and will provide less traction and stopping power due to a reduction in flexibility of the compound.

And just how do you know if you have 4/32s or more? Do you have a tread depth gauge to know? If you have a quarter in your pocket you do. Simply place the quarter upside down into a groove near the center. If the tire does not cover over any of the top of Mr. Washington's head then you have less than 4/32's of tread left and it's time to replace that tire.

Because road surfaces vary and everyone rides a little differently, it's a good idea to start and maintain a log to determine how many miles you typically ride per 1/32 of tread depth. This way you can determine before the start of a long trip if you need to toss your existing treads and start the trip off with a fresh set.

For a more exact reading you can purchase a tread depth gauge at better auto parts stores.

Before the ride – before each ride - ask yourself how you're going to get out of a blowout situation. There are various ways people do this.

Most riders take off without any tire repair provisions and when the blow out comes, they end up doing any number of things. Hunting and pecking around for a can of inflato glue (which rarely works in tube tires), stashing the bike while they ride two up into town with a friend to hunt and peck for a new tire, tube or repair kit. This results in hours of wasted time stalling the trip for as long as it takes. The worst yet is riding back to civilization on a flat tire at 10 miles per hour which can trash the wall of the tire and cause damage to the rim. Any way you do it, it's not what you had hoped for.

Some riders leave home with a patch kit. Not a bad start. When they get a flat they can repair the tire on the spot but what about re-inflating it? While some carry Co2 cartridges they typically give you less than the needed air pressure to ride away safely.

The most ready riders will ride with an all purpose tire repair kit (one that can handle tube and tubeless situations) and a small quality pump which in most scenarios is all you'll need to get back on track, turning a several hour debacle into a 15 minute to 1 hour repair stop, depending on if you're fixing a tubeless or tube tire.

There are several other items to have along that can reduce time spent dealing with a repair. On tube tires, nails have a way of pock marking the opposite area of the tube from the original nail puncture. As you ride the nail continues damaging the rubber with each rotation until you realize you have a flat and stop. This could be 25 rotations later and the tube may be annihilated beyond repair. Wouldn't it be nice at this moment to have a spare tube onboard? You bet it would. They don't take up much space and can be slipped in under seats, over fenders or into your luggage.

Replacing a tube in the middle of nowhere is not always convenient. Especially if your bike does not have a center stand. Having a tube of Slime tire sealant (motorcycle formula please) can get you out in a jiffy until you have a more accommodating environment to repair the tire. The sealant works for small tubeless repairs as well but remember that it can eat up anodized and powder coated rims so as soon as you can get the tire off to make a proper repair and clean up the rim the better.

Repairing a flat as soon as possible can save you plenty of money by not having to ride your bike on a flat out of wherever you are. Riding a few miles on a flat tire will surely ruin the sidewall of the tire making it unstable when you re-inflate it which can lead to yet another blowout and possibly a low side crash.

Reducing your chance of a flat begins before the ride and being ready for one will make the whole situation a lot easier to deal with than not being ready at all.

Patrick Thomas/Summer 2008

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