November 5, 2015
By Bob Gregor
Riding a motorcycle can be very hazardous to your health. We all accept the risks, but do what we can to stack the odds in our favor. Keeping your bike's tires and wheels in tip top shape is the number one mechanical task you need to perform to ensure safe riding.
You will need to be able to support both your wheels off the ground to perform some of the inspections. Just refer to our article on chains for some good techniques on supporting your bike. When you have the rear wheel off the ground for wheel inspection, this is also a good time to do your chain service and inspection.
With either your front or rear wheel off the ground and rotating freely give it a good spin. Listen for any unusual rubbing or grinding noises that might be an indicator of other mechanical problems. Watch both the wheel and the tire while they're spinning. Make sure both of them are running true with a minimum of wobble or hop. While a dial indicator set up is best for measuring wheel problems, you can slide by with a cheap Harbor Freight digital caliper.
Check the specs in your service manual, but these are generally around .080” for both axial and radial runout. If you are out of specs, cast wheels can sometimes be straightened at a specialty shop. The wire spoke type wheels can usually be adjusted by a competent mechanic to get them back close to original specs
If your tire is wobbling, but your wheel seems to be running true. It may not be seated properly on the rim. Most tires have a reference line close to the bead. Just make sure that it is an even distance from the rim over the entire circumference of the wheel.
While the wheel is still supported off the ground, grab it at the top and bottom and try to rock it back and forth in the direction of the axle.
If you can detect any play you have defective wheel bearings.
Take a look at your tires starting with the tread depth. Many tires have safety wear bars
Once that bar is flush with the tread it's time to buy a new one. You can also check your wear using a penny. Just position it so the edge next to Lincoln's head is in the tread groove. If you can see any space between the edge of the coin and the top of Lincoln's head your tire is ready for retirement.
While you are inspecting your tires you may notice some cracks in the sidewall. This alone won't cause any problems unless the cracks are starting to get deep. However, this is an indicator that the rubber is aging and starting to dry out. This causes a reduction in tire traction, so take into consideration the type of riding you do. A good rule of thumb is to change the tires every four to five years regardless of how much tread is left.
Don't forget to check you tire pressure. You should do this every week or before a long ride. Be sure to do this before your ride, when the tires are still cold.
Even the cheap pen type air gauges work fairly well, but it certainly doesn't hurt to spend a few more bucks if you are after more accuracy. Be sure to start with the manufacturer's recommendation. Do not use the pressure specs listed on the side wall of the tire.
DISCLAIMER: The methods in this article are guidelines, provided and performed by a trained mechanic. If you are not comfortable performing routine maintenance on your bike, it is recommended you get a trained mechanic to complete these and more difficult tasks on your bike.
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Chains and Sprockets: R & R
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Checking your controls PT 2
Tires and Wheels
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