Changing Your Motorcycle Tires

So you think you’re a shade tree mechanic, and have the ability to change your motorcycle’s tires? You’re right; with the proper tools and equipment almost anyone can complete this task. The tools and equipment will be a small investment, but your return on investment should be considerable, saving you hundreds of dollars in tire changing fees and an added benefit of avoiding down time when your bike is at the shop waiting its turn for maintenance. A systematic, step by step tire changing instruction with recommended supplies and equipment follows.

  • First, make sure you have adequate space to complete the task.  A covered carport is better than outside in the elements, and a garage is better than a covered carport.
  • You’ll need a motorcycle stand and a standard automotive manual tire changer.
  • Gather your hand tools:  two tire irons, a spray bottle with soapy dish water, a brush, duct tape, a valve tool, rubber mallet, wrenches and/or sockets to fit your motorcycle, an air compressor, and and air pressure gauge.
  • Don your safety glasses.
  • Raise your motorcycle by supporting it on the stand with the wheels raised off the ground.  Be certain to follow manufacturer’s instructions for the particular stand you are using.
  • Once the bike is secured, you are ready to change the rear tire.  You should make note of the arrangement of parts on the bikes; the bushings, washers, alignment collars and nuts on the rear axle and swing arm.  I like to use a digital camera for this step, so I can refer to the photos on my computer when I’m ready to replace the tire.
  • Remove the retaining pin from the axle nut and remove the nut.  Note:  Some motorcycles don’t have retaining pins, so don’t worry.   This should be a simple task, and should not take a lot of muscle to remove.
  • Use the rubber mallet against the threaded side of the axle when you remove it.  Be gentle when tapping it and be prepared for the rear brake caliper to come off as you tap out the axle.  Take a picture of, or note the position of the washers and bushings during this process.  This is when a helper can come in handy; so if you have a buddy, promise him some beer and BB-Q or return the favor later. Clean the axle and give it a light coat of waterproof grease.
  • A magnetic pan can be the perfect tool for keeping all your small parts together.
  • Next, remove the rear wheel from the swing arm.  If the bike is equipped with a rubber “cush drive” the sprocket will separate from the hub easily.  Place the cush drive bushings aside after notating their positioning in the slots.  Place the sprocket aside, and prepare to remove the tire.
  • Remove the valve cap and valve stem from the rim.  Use the pointed part of the valve tool to remove the air from the tire, and use the slotted end to unscrew the valve stem.   It’s time to get your camera or note pad out again.  Annotate the direction of tire rotation with regard to the rim. You can use the tape to mark it on the rim.
  • Next, you will break the tire’s bead.  Some stands have an attached bead breakers, but a press or lever can also be used for this purpose.  Be certain not to allow the brake rotor to touch anything.  This could cause warping, and will cost you more than you saved by changing your own tires.
  • Once you have initially popped the bead, rotate the tire and do it again to free the entire upper bead.  Flip the tire over and do the same thing on the other side.
  • Next, you will mount the rim on the stand.  Tighten the provided clamps to hold the rim firmly in place.
  • Use a short motorcycle tire iron (never use a long automotive tire iron).  Many motorcycle shops sell rubber coated tire irons or rim protectors, which I highly encourage the use of.  Do not bend the brake rotors by pressing against them.  Curved tire irons can help you avoid a catastrophic error.  Use soapy water and the tire iron to get the tire off the rim.  This can be tricky, but you can do it.  Make sure the tire bead isn’t touching the rim seat or the edge of the rim.  First force the sides of the tire to the center of the rim in the area opposite from where you are going to begin with the tire irons.
  • Once you’ve got the iron inserted between tire and rim lift up and over the outside of the rim. Hold this iron in place while you insert the second iron about three inches down the tire and use the lever to lift up.  Repeat this process until you get the tire completely off.
  • Once the first side is completed, it should take very little effort to get the opposite side off and completely remove the tire.
  • Now that the tire is off, you’re half way done. Inspect the rim and clean it thoroughly before mounting the new tire.
  • To replace the new tire, reverse the process, taking care to observe the direction of the rotation arrow on the tire to place it in the proper orientation.
  • Once the lower bead is over the top edge of the rim, line up the harmonic balancing mark with the valve stem.  Find the lightest part of the tire identified by a paint mark on the sidewall.  The valve stem is the heaviest part of the rim, so the idea is to line up the lightest part of the tire with the heaviest part of the rim and achieve a rough balance.
  • Again, you’ll use the tire arms and a small amount of soapy water to reset the upper bead, being careful not to touch your brake rotors with the iron.
  • With the tire on the rim, you can seat the beads.  This is where the air compressor will come in handy.  Set the regulator for a maximum of 50 psi to avoid high pressure accidents.  Inflate the tire until you hear a loud pop as the beads seat.  Listen for air leaks around the edge of the rim before you remove the pneumatic fitting from the valve.  If you don’t hear any leaks, disconnect the fitting from the valve and deflate the tire.  Once all the air is removed screw the valve stem in and inflate the tire to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.
  • The only difference in changing the front tire is the level of complexity.  Loosen the pinch bolts binding the front axle to the fork legs.  If necessary, remove both front brake calipers to get rim clearance that will allow you to remove the wheel.  Once this is accomplished, the process of changing the front tire is exactly the same as changing the rear.
  • Your final task is balancing.
  • You’ll need a stand that will accept a metal dowel over which you can slide the axle for your wheels and a pair of pliers to trim the wheel weights.  Make sure everything is level and the wheels can turn freely on the stand.  You’ll next determine where the wheel is the heaviest.  To do this, rotate it freely and the stand and check to see if the same spot settles at the bottom.  If so, you will need to add wheel weights to the opposite side of the rim until the wheel is balanced.
  • Now that the wheels are balanced, you can replace them on the bike.  I like to check the brakes and replace them as needed when I change my tires.  It’s also a good time to check belts or chains and sprockets for needed replacement.
  • Be certain to tighten all bots, line up your rear wheel with the indicator marks near the axle and set the drive chain tension using your owner’s manual.
  • Congratulations, you have successfully changed your tires!

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