Motorcycle Tires - What to look for and how to get the most life out of those two wheels
Tube vs Tubeless
Tubed tires generally come with a spoke wheel, which allows the bike to better absorb road/terrain impact. So when you hit that ginormous pothole while going down the road, the spoked rim disperses the impact around the rim evenly, lessening the chance of bending or cracking the rim. Tubed tires are cheaper to repair if punctured, since the whole tire doesn't need to be replaced, only the tube. On tubed tires, the valve stem is part of the inner tube. On tubeless tires, the valve stem is mounted right to the rim - but is not part of the tire or rim (fun new fact I learned). Tubeless tires are less susceptible to blowouts because they run cooler and are made of thicker material. They can be temporarily repaired on the side of the road in the case of a puncture - which I have experienced (well not me, my friend - see Niagara Falls post). All of my bikes, aside from my dual sport, have had tubeless tires - so I don't have much to compare through personal experience.
So many options - what is important to look at/for when buying motorcycle tires?
Getting the right SIZE tire for your bike. I have not modified my bike(s) so I go with whatever tire size is recommended by the manufacturer. Having a cruiser, and logging a ton of miles each year, I look for tires meant for higher mileage capability. My go to is the Dunlop Elite Series. I generally get 15k on the rear tire and 18k on the front before I should replace them. Slightly higher mileage when I NEED to replace them. I have found them to have the best mileage of other tires I have tried and the best handling capability for all terrain I ride on - from gravel roads to Tail of the Dragon style roads, to goat paths to freeways. Basically, the tire has a higher rubber compound in the middle - so that when I am ripping from MN to CO in a day, the tire can handle the speeds and heat from the pavement, but when I reach my twisty destination the tires also have stiffer sidewalls that allow them to handle the heavier weight of a cruiser/touring bike and all the gear - but still handle well, in my opinion.
Tire sizes - explained in simpler form - I will use 120/70R17 as an example -
120 is the width (in mm) of the tire from side to side
70 - the height of the tire (technical definition: an aspect ratio - for this tire, the height is equal to 70% of the tires width- but that is math, so I will stick with just 'the height of the tire')
R is for 'radial tire'
17 - Diameter of the rim in inches
Just like the beer commercials, tires also have 'born on' dates. The code is 4 numbers - the first two numbers tell you what week of the year it was made and the second two numbers tell you what year it was made. So if the code says 0120 - it was made the first week of 2020.
Tread - Street tires have grooves from the center of the tire to the sides - this is to channel water away from the center of the tire to try to prevent hydroplaning. Each type of bike has tire recommendations based on what the bike is meant for. Knobby tires work best for off road riding. Slick tires (aka minimal to no grooves) are for racing. I used to think that tread played a far bigger role in the tire than it really does - when in reality, a cruiser needs a cruiser tire. A high speed/performance bike needs those specific tires. I am sure there are more detailed differences in cruiser treads, but I haven't personally noticed any major differences between tires/brands/tread patterns.
Wear Bar - It took me years to figure out what they are talking about when they say "is your wear bar showing?".... And then I You Tubed it and ta-da! I finally get it!! See the circle in the tire, with the narrow 'channel' before the wider tread line? Well, you see that narrow channel clearer and clearer as your tread wears down - and when it becomes flat with the tire itself, you need a new tire. There are many wear bars around the tire, just keep looking!
Side note - for cruisers - NO tread is not a good thing. If you log more miles on a tire than you should, you start seeing the inside of the tires material and this is bad. Wires on tires are bad and very unsafe. Once your tires start looking 'flat and bald' - you are overdue for new tires!!
How to get the most life out of your tires
Air pressure - why does it matter so much? PSI is basically the measurement of how much the rubber on the tire is touching the roadway during rotation. The lesser air pressure in your tires, the more surface of the tire touches the road, which can cause higher wear rates over time. The PSI recommendation on the side of the tire is the 'recommended maximum air pressure'. I adjust my air pressure based on how much gear I am carrying, whether I have a passenger, and conditions I am riding in. Always check air pressure when the tires are cold. As soon as you start riding, the tire heats up and causes the tire to swell internally - so if you check your tire pressure once the tires are warm from riding, it will give a false reading (higher) than if you check them cold.
If traveling with gear, try to pack the weight evenly on the bike.
While your skin might love the sunshine, tires do not. Don't let your bike sit outside in the sunshine all summer when not in use. Sun makes the tires brittle ruins the tire composition over time.
Riding in excessive heat at excessive speeds burns the rubber off the tires quicker - literally - decreasing the life of the tire
When parking the bike for long periods of time (ie: winter), try to either roll the bike every so often. For me, rolling the bikes is not an option due to seriously limited space, so I store my bikes on the lift - lifting them just enough to take some weight off the tires so they don't get flat spots or have unnecessary stress on the tires. Where my tires do touch I put a buffer between the tire and the cement garage floor - cardboard, carpet, etc. I don't know if this is truth or myth as to preserving the tires, but it mentally makes me feel better lol.
Burnouts. Self explanatory! Whenever I hear or see someone doing a burnout, all I think is $$$$$ burning off. It's fun to watch, but you will never see me doing it. I average 2-3 new tires a summer and can't afford to waste such precious material LOL
I am a DIY'er... including taking off the front tire of one bike, strapping it on my other bike with a yoga mat underneath to prevent major scratches, and riding to the bike shop... they are used to it now