5 Things You Need To Know About Motorcycle Tire Pressure

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Motorcycle Tire Pressure

Tire pressure is the most easily adjusted variable on your motorcycle and also one of the most crucial. But the vast majority of us are guilty of neglecting it and, even if we do check it regularly, failing to take full advantage of the benefits adjusting it brings. Here’s 5 things you need to know about motorcycle tire pressure.

1. Check Pressures Regularly
Opinions vary on how often, with many manufacturers suggesting once a week and some safety experts stating every day. Just factor in how you’re using your motorcycle. Commuting every day in fairly stable weather conditions? Once a week will serve you just fine. In the middle of a big Adventure trip with variable loads on your bike, conditions ranging from highway to single track and hitting a bunch of sharp rocks? Once or, if conditions are particularly severe, even twice a day may be best.

2. Check Them While Cold
The suggested pressures in your owner’s manual are for cold tire pressures. That means after your bike’s been sitting for 20 minutes or more, don’t wait until winter. Heating tires up by riding on them can increase pressures by over 10 percent. The MSF actually recommends waiting three hours from your last ride before attempting to ascertain a correct cold pressure. That sounds like overkill to us, use your judgement.

3. Use Your Own, High Quality Gauge
I’ve seen the gauges at gas station forecourts read-off by up to 30 psi over my own gauge that I carry with me everywhere. Even a variation of just a few psi can alter your motorcycle’s handling and braking abilities, so it’s important to use an accurate gauge. They’re cheap, so no excuses.

4. The Extremes
What’s the worst that can happen if your tires are massively under inflated? Ultimately the tire could come off the rim if there’s not enough pressure to force the bead into the wheel. More likely, you’ll simply experience sluggish, unstable handling, slow steering and you could damage the tire or wheel, particularly if you’re riding off-road. Over inflated? The size of the contact patch is reduced and the ride worsened. Too much pressure can cause your tires to quickly overheat, reducing traction.

5. Going Up And Going Down
On-Road: Stick to your manufacturer recommended pressures. Even if you’re spending all day Sunday on The Snake trying to get that ultimate elbow down shot, dropping pressures will just slow your steering. Modern performance tires are designed to work at stock pressures unless you’re on a track.

Off-Track: If you’re on road rubber, start at 30 psi front and rear and monitor your tire wear through the sessions. Your tires should look scrubbed, but not marbled. If the sides of the tread do begin to marble, reduce pressures a few psi until they’re happier. If you’re on race rubber, you likely know what you’re doing already.

Off-Road: Lower pressures equal more traction off-road, but the compromise is potential damage to your rims or pinch flats caused by the tube getting “pinched” between tire and rim. I like to take the big ADV bikes down to around 17 psi front and rear, which seems to be a good compromise between traction and puncture-proofness. Experiment to see what works for you. I’ve taken dual-sports as low as 8 psi in particularly challenging terrain, but doing so put me at undue risk of punctures. Make sure you pump them back up before you get back on the road!

Don’t go up or down in other circumstances. Stock pressures work.

  • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

    Good tips. Thanks!

  • Gurupurkha Khalsa

    Running a 17 PSI on a large Adventure class bike seems to be pushing the envelope. While I wouldn’t call it crazy, it is probably two standard deviations from what the majority of people would ride with off-road. A PSI of 8 is indeed crazy.

    • Piglet2010

      16 psi is what I use for sand riding on a TW200, which of course is not large and has very fat tires.

      • James

        I also ride a TW, and I’m down to 8. Its a bit wobbly at highway speed(yeah I’m too lazy to pump it back up), but much more manageable in the rocks. At 20 it was still a bit like a pogo stick, but not as bad as 35. At 35 it could buck me off like a mad bull when I got onto a trail with rocks.

        • Piglet2010

          I have never run my tires (Trail Wings TW 31/34) at more that about 22 psi. Weight make a difference – with full gear and courier bag, I am pushing 19 stone, so at 8 psi I would be risking pinch flats.

    • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

      8 isn’t crazy for a trail ride. I typically run 12 +- a few on motocross tracks and I’ve gone much lower on tight single track. Running 8 on a 250 dual sport is the lower end of the range, but by no means crazy.

  • Piglet2010

    On a bike with old, age hardened tires, dropping pressures from 30 to 20 psi changed traction from nearly un-rideable (I crashed at a moderate pace) in the rain to decent traction.

    Oh yeah, do not attend a track day on a used bike you bought a couple of days before, and ride it in the rain for the first time.

  • David Yeski

    The statement of running “manufacturers recommended Tire pressures” refers to the Tire manufacture, not the bike manufacturer. These pressures can be found on the tire manufacturer’s web sites

    • runnermatt

      I don’t disagree, but have a few questions. What if you are not running the oem tires, especially if you have switched from Bias-ply to radial? What if a bike manufacturer recommends different pressures for front or rear tires? What about pressures recommended when loaded? My Honda CBR250R recommends 29 PSI front and rear, but it recommends up to 33 psi for the rear when loaded. Do you just play around with the tire pressures until it feels right?

      Thanks,
      Matt

      • David Yeski

        not running OEM tires is one main rain fir not following the motorcycle manufacturer’s recommendation first. But common sense has to prevail, as in it’s assumed that you are not trying to run race slicks on your Gold Wing and your loaded up to tour the country.

        • runnermatt

          Thanks. I understand the common sense needed part, but it will be valuable to others. Once it is determined that the bike OEM pressures are not right for the new tires one should used the recommended pressures on the tire sidewall. Then is it mostly adjust for feel?

          • Piglet2010

            Sidewall pressure rating is usually around half the pressure that the tire will take before unseating itself from a normal rim. Start with the pressures recommended in the owner’s manual or on the sticker on the bike, and adjust from there.

    • jeffm915

      Uh, no. I’d be very surprised to see a tire manufacturer recommending an inflation pressure for a tire without respect to the bike. Bike weight and desired spring rate are two factors the tire manufacturer cannot possibly know–so how would they recommend a pressure?

  • ticticticboom

    My tires don’t have “suggested” pressures, only max pressures for max load. 42 rear/37 front.

    • David Yeski

      check the website. those pressures for Max load will not be optimum for max traction or durability

    • ticticticboom

      I just spent an hour crawling all over Conti’s site and elsewhere on the internet and can find no number published anywhere (inc BMW) other than mentioned above. I agree that those numbers are too high, but there simply is no other number published for Conti Roadattack 2 GT mounted on a BMW F800 GT.

    • James Jamerson
      • ticticticboom

        Thanks, I did see that but it makes no sense. A&S opinion is to leave the rear at 42 but drop the front by 5lbs. I’d like to see what the manufacturers “suggested” pressures are but as far as I can tell they don’t exist.

  • Kin Ta

    What is the difference between scrubbed and marbled?

    • David Yeski

      scrubbed will have a little bit of grain on the surface of the tire. marbled will show signs of layers of rubber being peeled off, also sometimes called cold tearing

      • Tyler McCool

        A tire is getting worked too hard if it starts to “gum ball” as in little nubs or balls of rubber are showing up on the surface.. more than just a texture to the tire, or “grain.” It is obvious.. Cold tearing on the other hand, is typically an issue with the suspension or bike setup, where there are “grooves” showing in the tire, or stripes.. this means the surface is getting too hot, while the carcass of the tire is not up to temperature.. This can also happen if you go out without tire warmers on the track, and blister the surface of the tires before the entire rubber is warm..

        • Tyler McCool

          And when I say worked too hard I mean getting too hot.. in the case of “gum balls.”

        • Piglet2010

          If the binder used to attach the tread starts seeping to the surface (looks like oil), the tire is overheated and needs more pressure (or a tire with a higher load rating is needed).

  • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

    Ride your bike a few pounds low and a few pounds high just to get a feel for it. You should notice that low psi helps straight line stability but sacrifices fall in response (that moment you first tip into a turn) while high psi makes the bike feel a little too twitchy.

    Also, run em a little low if you plan on picking that front wheelup a lot.

  • Robert

    Need to look at the bike info for the correct tire pressure for your bike tires, not the tire manufacturer. The bike will either have a sticker on it telling you the correct cold tire pressure or it will be in the manual. Its the same as a car the tire pressure info comes from the car not the tire manufacturer.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Correct, the bike manufacturer provides correct pressures for each model, not the tire maker.

      • runnermatt

        What if I switch to a non-OEM tire. For example, my CBR250R came with the bias-ply IRC Road Winners. I have 8000 miles on them now and will probably replace them next spring (not much winter riding). I may replace them with the only radial tires available in both front and rear sizes, the Pirelli Diablo Rosso II. Since these are going to be vastly different tires will the Honda recommended tire pressures still be the correct pressures?

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Same pressures apply.

      • Jeffrey Adams

        Correct! The pressure listed on the tyre sidewall is the max safe pressure at max load (also listed). It has nothing to do with your bike. The tyre maker has no idea what bike the tyre will be mounted to. Check your MOM with such questions (motorcycle owner’s manual).

  • Reid

    Guys, I have a seriously nubby question here, but it’s a concern that has almost kept me awake at night on several occasions. I use my bike primarily for commuting to work four or so days per week and then a little bit of riding on the weekends. However, being that I live in the Florida panhandle, where we don’t know what a sharp corner in the road is, I’m afraid that I’m getting a flat spot down the middle of my tires but especially on the rear. My question is this: is this a legitimate concern? Will I one day find a mystically curvy road, lean into a corner and then die in a horrific explosion because I am basically riding on a pair of car tires?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Everyone flat spots the center of their tires, they’re designed to wear that way.

      • Reid

        whew! thanks so much for the quick reply. Now I can go back to not worrying about my imminent death lol

        • HoldenL

          One day, if you haven’t done this already, you’ll get a new set of tires and, soon afterward, ride about seven hours north to the hills of northern Georgia and mountains of western North Carolina, and those still-round tires are going to give you such joy.

  • Caleb

    I saw a guy filling his tires at the local petrol station. He seemed confused as after multiple filling attempts his tire was still looking very flat. Assuming he had a flat, I began to walk over to assist him. Before I got there he shrugged and left with a tire that looked almost completely empty. Intrigued, I looked over at the meter and noticed that it was set to 30kPa rather than 30psi. Check the meter is reading the right units people! Haha

  • Nathan Haley

    Incorrect tire pressures can cause a billion other things to go wrong (e.g. excess wheel hop, road noise or poor fuel mileage) and you can waste a lot of time troubleshooting them if you aren’t somewhat pedantic about it.

  • David Yeski

    I deleted all of my comments because you guys do what you want. I don’t feel like arguing about it.

    I still leave you with one tid bit of info though.

    I roadraced R6s for years and although the sticker on the bike said to run 36 psi in the front and 42 psi in the rear, my tire sponsor, Pirelli, told me to run 31 psi front and 29 psi rear. why is that? it’s because pressures are not just about payload, they are also about temperature. this is why we would adjust the pressures based in the tire temperature when wr came off of the track. Did the weight of the bike change? No, of course not, it was purely about optimum tire temperature for the rubber compound.

    so to turn these questions around, how can a motorcycle manufacturer know which tire you will be running as to put the recommended tire pressures on the bike?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Racing is a very different environment to road riding.

      • David Yeski

        yes, but the tires are made the same, just to different specs. The rubber compound are designed to work at a certain temperature for every application.

        the amount of air in the tire, measured in psi, determines the carcass temperature of the tire, all other things being equal

  • Ben Mcghie

    Over pressurized tires cause overheating of the tires?

    I thought running too low pressures allowed too much flex, which in turn overheated the tires. Too high pressures would reduce contact patch, but surely that doesn’t reduce the heat transfer to the ground much compared to the reduction in heat generated via flex, no?