Bike tyres: All you need to know



Close up of a motorcycle tyre.

Few of us are passionate about tyres, but cleverly engineered rubber is the only thing keeping you upright as you go round a bend, in the wet, on varying road surfaces.

So it pays to know which tyres to choose and how to look after them. Knowing the basics will help you choose the right tyres; it will also make them work better for you, and they’ll last longer if looked after properly.

A good tyre needs a strong, light structure and must have good compound to offer durability and grip. Track slicks excluded, they need a good tread pattern to move surface water away from contact spots and avoid aquaplaning. The tricky bit is deciding exactly which tyre combines these qualities in an optimum way for your riding style and the terrain you’ll cover.

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If you’re happy with your current tyres, a safe choice is to replace them with the same make and model. However, as tyre manufacturers improve products, there may be more advanced options available, often offering improved performance, grip, wear and handling properties.

Just make sure that the new tyres still have the same dimensions and other qualities as the old tyre (a small difference may have a massive impact on how the bike handles).

Choosing tyres

Tyres are designed for a specific riding style and environment (if you do most of your riding in the city you don’t need knobbly adventure tyres, for instance).

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Tyre types

What tyres do you want? Roughly speaking, you can divide them into three categories: road, off-road and track. There’s plenty of choice.

For road use, for example, you can choose tyres that are good for faster speeds and a sportier riding style; others are designed for varied conditions (i.e. wet); or a set that fits your bike’s retro style. Remember, not all tyres are road-legal, so if you use your bike on track and road, check that you’re ok to ride on both.

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Tyre markings

Numbers and letters on the tyre wall tell you what it’s been designed to do. Follow the bike manufacturer’s advice on which size tyres to choose, as even a small difference can cause problems.

Some tyres have numbers and letters following the wheel size. These relate to the speed and weight that the tyre is capable of handling. Another marking that you may see is ‘R/F’ (indicating a rear or front tyre). Some tyres also have rotational direction indicators to help you make sure your tyres aren’t mounted backwards.

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A close up of a tyre pressure checker.

Fitting tyres

You can purchase and fit tyres yourself or get your local garage to source and/or fit the tyres for you.

Getting the professionals in

Tyres can be fitted at most bike shops and garages that service bikes. In most cases this is a straightforward operation that doesn’t take too much time or money. Some bike manufacturers make removing tyres more difficult, so it’s worth checking if your local garage can fit them for you.

There are also ‘mobile’ tyre fitters that can come to your house. They should also balance the tyres as part of the service, but it’s always best to check that everything you need is included.

Fit them yourself

Fitting tyres isn’t complicated, but you need specialist tools, so it’s a good idea to work out how much they cost and how many sets of tyres you can get fitted at the local garage for the same money.

The exact tools needed depends on the bike, but at the very least you’ll need a torque wrench, a set of tyre levers, a tyre valve key and a balancing kit. The owner’s handbook or a relevant workshop manual should give you details of the tools and processes you need, and YouTube has many tutorial videos available.

A person working on a motorcycle tyre.

Looking after tyres

Keep your eye on tyre pressures, wear and any signs of damage. If all stays fine, you can usually get a long, loyal service from a modern pair of motorcycle tyres.

Tyre wear

Minimum road-legal tyre tread depth on bikes is 1mm (it’s worth checking tyres regularly, otherwise you might end up being fined if stopped). Also check for cracks or bulges (it only takes a couple of minutes before setting off) – it might just save your bacon if you spot a problem.

Wet weather tyres have more grooves and sipes, which help break the film of surface water and give better grip. If tyres are worn below the 1mm threshold, the chance of skidding (especially on wet surfaces) increases.

Repairing punctures

It may be possible to repair a tyre rather than replace it – handy if you get a puncture on a new tyre that’s otherwise perfectly fine. Punctures in the middle of a tyre are generally easier to repair, whilst punctures on the sides tend to be more problematic. It also depends on how neat the puncture is.

Because the repair method is basically to plug the hole, a plain round puncture from, say, a nail in the middle of the tyre isn’t too bad, but a longer slit is more difficult to fix. Tyre repair kits are readily available, or you can visit your local garage who’ll also be able to advise whether a repair or a new tyre is a better option.

Tyre pressure

Bike tyres don’t generally hold pressure as well as car tyres, so check tyre pressure regularly. Bikes are also more affected by wrong tyre pressure than cars. If pressure is too high or too low, the bike’s handling will be affected and your tyres may wear out quicker.

Buying a cheap pressure gauge is worth the investment (more expensive digital options are available). Correct tyre pressures are usually shown on a sticker on a bike’s swing-arm;. If it’s been removed, consult the manufacturer or your local garage.


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