I’m an engineer and I deal with temperatures and pressures all day at work. When a manufacturer recommends a specific temperature and pressure for an engineered product you need to follow it, we don’t just make up numbers for fun. We do it for the public’s safety.
Your motorcycle tires are the only point of contact between you and the road and they need to be filled up properly. Checking your tire pressure on a regular basis is key to your safety.
So how often should you check your motorcycle tire pressure? Motorcycle tire pressure should be checked every two weeks if you ride regularly and should be within 1 psi (0.07 bars) of manufacturer’s specifications. Checking the pressure in each tire takes less than a minute and could save your life.
Dangers Of Running Incorrect Tire Pressure
Tires are engineered to be filled with a specific psi so that a certain tread pattern is hitting the pavement for maximum traction. If your tire is too low then the incorrect tread pattern will be hitting the pavement and traction will be decreased.
Another danger of running too low of a pressure in your tires is cutting. The edges of motorcycle wheels are very pointed and if the tire is too low then the wheel can cut a groove in the rubber and cause a blowout.
For those of you who don’t know what death wobble is, we have a whole article about it linked here. Death wobble is when the motorcycle starts swerving back and forth rhythmically and becomes uncontrollable, but it usually only happens at higher speeds. Having too low of pressure can cause death wobble at lower speeds and can be extremely dangerous.
Death wobble can also be caused by too high of pressure. Tires that are too inflated become rock hard, and every little bump or imperfection in the road can cause a wobble. Having the correct tire pressure is so important and I cannot stress it enough.
Tire roll or tire slip is caused by too low of pressure. It’s when your tire is not perfectly centered on the rim and is pushed a little to the left and then slumps to the right quickly, or vice versa. This rolling or slipping action is dangerous because it can yank your handlebars to the right or left and cause an accident.
Having your tires inflated too much can be just as dangerous as having them too low. Tire bounce is when your tires are filled up way too much and even small rocks or bumps in the road can lift your tire completely off the ground and bounce it back down like a basketball.
If you notice that your motorcycle is handling a bit more rough lately than it has been in the past then check your tire pressure and make sure the tires are properly inflated. A very common cause of this is during the spring when outside temperatures increase quickly. As the ambient air temperature increases, the air inside your tire expands.
The opposite is also true with cold weather. If you wake up on a cold morning and find your tires to be low, it’s because the air inside your tire has contracted and isn’t taking up as much space, so your tire deflates.
The last danger is one that I’ve seen firsthand. I was on a ride with a few friends one day and the person in front hit a small bump in the road and the bead seal on the side of the tire came open momentarily and all the air in the tire burst out of the bead. His back tire instantly went flat and his motorcycle started fishtailing side to side. Luckily he was able to bring the motorcycle to a complete stop without crashing.
Where To Find Your Motorcycle’s Correct Tire Pressure
There are several places to check the correct pressure for your specific motorcycle. The most trusted source for tire pressure would be in your motorcycle owner’s manual. If you don’t have a copy of the manual then search online for a PDF copy. The manufacturer should always be the most trusted source for tire pressure as long as your tires are the original size listed in the owner’s manual.
Another place to check for the recommended tire pressure is on the sidewall of the tire. The pressure will always be listed in both psi and bar on the sidewall. The reason this is the second place I’d look and not the first is because the tire manufacturer doesn’t know how much your specific motorcycle weighs, but the motorcycle manufacturer does.
If for some odd reason your tire does not list the specific pressure on the sidewall and you don’t have access to an owner’s manual then do some searching through online forums. This is the least practical way and is not recommended. Information on forums is generally unchecked and if someone tells you the wrong pressure there is no recourse.
I have never seen a motorcycle tire that didn’t have the recommended pressure listed on the sidewall, so you shouldn’t have a hard time with this.
How To Check Tire Pressure
Checking tire pressure is one of the simplest forms of maintenance you can perform on your motorcycle and is easy enough that everyone should be able to do it. The steps for checking tire pressure are as follows:
- Unscrew the valve stem cap. This is the small black cap on top of the small stem poking out of the center of the tire.
- Put the mouth of your pressure gauge over the top of the valve stem and push down quickly and hold it for a second.
- If you push it down on the valve stem slowly it will give you false pressure readings.
- When the numbered stick shoots out of the bottom of the pressure gauge and doesn’t move any further, take the pressure gauge off the valve stem and look at the number indicated on the pressure gauge.
- Repeat this process 2 or 3 times to make sure you get the same reading. If you’re getting a different number every time then your gauge is broken.
- If your pressure is too low then put in some more air with a pump or compressor until you read the correct pressure.
- If your pressure is too high then push down on the small nipple inside the valve stem to let out some air.
- The process for digital gauges is the same, but instead of a numbered stick coming out of the bottom of the gauge, there’s just a digital number on the screen that tells you what the tire pressure is.
- Screw the valve stem cap back on to keep out road debris.
A word of advice before checking your tire pressure: Do not buy the cheap $1.00 tire pressure gauges that are on the counter at auto parts stores. They are incredibly unreliable and cheap. Pay $5.00 for a decent pressure gauge that will last you a long time.
When checking your pressure, make sure you do it before a long ride when the tires aren’t hot. When the rubber warms up, it heats up the air inside the tire and can give you a false sense of tire pressure. The air inside the tire will cool back down after a long ride and the tire pressure will drop slightly.
Regular Tire Inspection
The subject of tire inspection goes hand in hand with tire pressure so I want to give you some basic tips of how to check some things on your tires.
Below are some of the main things you should check on your tires every few weeks, each of which will take less than a minute.
- Cracked sidewalls
- This is caused by old age and the tires should be changed immediately.
- Excessively worn tread
- When a tire is getting close to bald it’s time to invest some money into new tires. Your life is worth more than $150. So please just go get new tires when you need them.
- Nails or sharp object protruding into tire
- It’s very common for a nail or screw to puncture through a tire and to not immediately get a flat tire. The tire pressure forces the rubber to squeeze tightly against the sharp object and won’t let air escape. If you see a nail in your tire take it to a local tire shop. Most shops will patch a small hole for free because they know you’ll come back in the future to buy new tires.
- Large chunks out of sidewall
- This occasionally happens just from regular use or by bumping into the side of a sharp rock. Any big gouges in the sidewall of a tire should be taken seriously and should be replaced. Once that sidewall is thinned in a specific area it’s only a matter of time before it starts bulging and pops.
- Uneven wear
- If you notice that one side of your tire is wearing out faster than the rest then that means your tires are not inflated enough or your tire is mounted crooked.
We want all motorcycle riders to make it home to their families every day. Please take a couple minutes every few weeks to check your tires, it can save your life.