How to look after your tyres

Top tips to maintaining your tyres

It’s an obvious point – but your tyres really are the most important part of your bike’s chassis. Those two rubber hoops are the only contact you have with the Tarmac – and if they’re not in top condition, handling, performance and fuel economy will all suffer.

But tyres are also a safety item – and badly worn tyres can get you a fine or even points on your licence, as well as failing the MOT, invalidating your insurance and keeping your bike off the road. The answer? Daily checks on your rubber, keeping an eye on what’s happening down there, and sorting any issues as soon as they appear.

In this quick video, our tame bike journalists – Alan Dowds and Rob Hoyles – take you through the basics of tyre maintenance. The guys look at how to check pressures, look for damage, watch for excessive wear, and how to fix a puncture by the side of the road. They also give some tips on how to make sure you have the right tyres for you and your bike.

It’s not hard to keep on top of these checks – and they fall into four main categories  – pressures, wear, damage and punctures. Let’s kick off with the most obvious – pressure. The amount of air inside the tyre defines much of how it performs – the right amount of pressure inside will help the profile keep its optimal shape, enhancing grip, reducing wear, and improving fuel economy.

Checking your tyre pressure

How do you know what pressures you should be running? Well, there are a few obvious places to start – most bikes have a sticker on the swingarm area, or under the seat, the owners’ manual will have all the details, and if you’re totally stuck, you can ask a dealer, or look for a decent source on the internet. The tyre manufacturer will also publish recommended pressures for your bike.

Once you know what pressures you should have, you’ll need a pressure gauge to check them out. Basic pencil-type designs are cheap, robust and easy to carry in a jacket, and most people go for one of these, while fancier dial-type and even digital electronic units are also available. Buy a decent quality one, and you’ve more chance of getting an accurate reading. Remove the valve cap, push or screw the gauge onto the valve, and check the reading. Job done – and it’s a job you should be looking to do regularly, ideally before every ride

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Check tyre tread depth

While you’re checking the pressure, you can cast an eye over how much your tyres are worn too. The legal limit is 1mm of tread around the full circumference of the tyre and across three-quarters of the tyre width – but tyres will lose their full performance long before that, so it’s more important to look at the profile of the tyre. Rear tyres in particular will ‘square off’ if used for high mileages on motorways with little cornering. That affects the handling – the bike will feel hesitant to turn into a bend – and can reduce stability. A worn rear tyre together with a loaded top box often causes a weave or wobble from the steering – replacing the rubber usually sorts this.

Tyres get a hard life, and can be damaged by road debris, potholes, sharp kerbs and the like. Regular checks will pick up serious damage and prevent punctures or more catastrophic failures later on. You’re looking for serious cuts, slashes, chunks missing from the tread and the like – any damage to the sidewalls of the tyre are most worrying, and if you can see any of the white cords or metal wires which support the carcass of the tyre, you’ll probably need to replace the tyre – or seek professional advice at least.

Repairing tyre punctures

Finally – punctures are a big deal on a bike, where you don’t have a spare wheel like in a car. There are various emergency repair kits you can buy – some use an aerosol with sticky foam inside, some use tough rubber plugs, and you also need small gas canisters or a little pump to inflate the tyre after the repair. If you’re going on a longer trip, it’s worth carrying some sort of puncture repair kit, and you should practice how to use it, or at least read the instructions and get a good picture of how it works.

Now, take a look at how to maintain your drive chain…