By October 21, 2009

Random Motorcycling Tip #05: Check your tire pressure … frequently

Tires are pretty important on an automobile. They help you do everything from speed up and slow down, maintain traction, and helps to keep your car at its optimal fuel efficiency. The nice thing about a car tires is that, generally, there are four of them. Motorcycles are immediately handicapped by only having two tires. To top it off, motorcycle tires are much more narrow than a car’s tire. This results in a smaller contact patch with the road, which affects braking and handling.

Worse yet, if you have a blow out or catastrophic flat on a motorcycle you are pretty much hosed, especially if it’s your front tire.

It is critical to make sure your motorcycle tires are inflated properly, and boy was I surprised to learn how rapidly and frequently my tires lost pressure.

Frequency

I check my bike’s tires regularly every two to three weeks. I also check them if I am doing a dedicated day of recreational riding, or before I undertake a longer trip. I have checked my tires three times in two weeks when I had a regular checkup followed by a 1200 mile round trip over a six day period.

When I had Cylon, my Yamaha FZ6, it was easy to budget time to check my tire pressure: I did it every other week when I sprayed lube on the chain. My Yamaha FJR1300A doesn’t have a chain, so I just check Apollo’s tire pressure when I perform routine maintenance, clean him, or do “farkle” work like add lights or heated grips. I should put myself on a more regular schedule, but I feel like I am checking him frequently enough to catch a 2PSI variance in tire pressure.

Checking your tire pressure

Unscrew the tire stem cap, check pressure, done! Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, there are a few things to consider when checking a motorcycle’s tire.

  1. A regular air gauge may not be easy enough to use accurately. Brake position, wheel configuration, and stem orientation can make checking pressure a real pain in the ass. It’s crowded in there, trust me — although some bikes are worse than others. Checking the pressure on Raptor, my BMW K1200LTE, was a major major bitch. Frustration is your foe here; if you hurry an air check or perform it haphazardly you may get an incorrect reading. Do yourself a favor and buy yourself a short-stem gauge, like this one:
    http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/7778-2/round_tire_pressure_gauge.jpg
    I’ve purchased a few of these and they run about $5 or $6 at Wal-Mart or equivalent stores. They make great gifts to fellow motorcyclists.
  2. Gas station gauges are typically not accurate. The local WaWa is great for gas, coffee, and pit stops, but the gauge on their air line is about 5PSI high. This may not be a big deal on a car, but on my FJR that represents a 14% variance in the front tire’s suggested pressure and 12% variance in the rear. That little gauge I mentioned is easily stashed on a motorcycle, even in the typical underseat storage area. Don’t rely on a facility’s gauge to be accurate.
  3. Check the pressure before you ride, not at a stop. I recommend this for two reasons: recommended tire pressures are for “cold” tires that have not warmed up from friction, and it also helps you to spot tire trouble before you hit the road.
  4. Put your motorcycle on a center stand if you have one. This will allow you to rotate the front and rear tires in order to get the stem in a more accessible spot. The forks and brakes of my FJR’s front tire make it impossible to reach the stem if it is anywhere near the 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock position.

When do you worry?

I drag out my air compressor and fill my tires if they are more than 2PSI under specifications. Keep in mind that bikes often have two recommendations. One is for lighter loads and single rider use, the other is for heavier loads or when you carry a passenger.

Good luck out there, and stay safe.

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Posted in: motorcycling

4 Comments on "Random Motorcycling Tip #05: Check your tire pressure … frequently"

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  1. Gremlin says:

    I don’t recommend dial gauges for motorcycle use. Dial gauges use a bourdon tube, an incredibly hard device to make vibration insensitive. For the same money you can get a digital gauge at Walmart that is accurate to 2psi and seems to be remarkably stable. It measures against may office’s NIST traceable instruments to within 1PSI. I keep one clipped off in a pocket of my riding jacket and another in the top case.

  2. drfaulken says:

    Hi Gremlin,

    Thanks for the info on dial gauges. I will check out the digital gauge the next time I am at WalMart. 🙂

  3. Jim Evans says:

    I keep saying that next tire change I’m going to switch to a set of right angle valve stems, but I haven’t done it yet.

    Something like this:
    http://www.motowheels.com/italian/mySearchResult.cfm?parentcategoryid=&productID=6395&showDetail=1&categoryID=628

    I would be really nice to be able to check tire pressure and add air from the side.

  4. Gremlin says:

    I run right angle stems on one of bikes, it’s nice. The DL1000 has quite of bit of room in the rim and I haven’t had any problems with it.