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Drowning in denial


I think I’m in deep denial …as reader Mark Bour managed to hint at when he questioned why I didn’t add a tire kit to my list of motorcycle “priority” items.

(Thanks Bour, for highlighting yet another one of my failings.)

Tire problems were probably #2 on the list of things that went wrong back in the day. This required that you carry tire irons, tubes, valve cores, a patch kit, and a pump. While this stuff took up space, the actual repair was relatively easy as getting to the wheel was a cinch, and tubeless tires with drop-center rims had yet to be fitted to motorcycles.

Today? Well, on the upside we have much improved rubber circling our rims. It offers high-mileage, great wear, and is much more puncture-resistant. Where flat tires were once the rule, they are now the exception. Additionally, if you do get that rare flat, the improvements in tire bead and rim design offer a great margin of safety in that it is unlikely the tire will come off the rim.

My last puncture was four years ago aboard a Buell Ulysses. I was transitioning from one freeway to another on a big sweeping ramp. Mid-turn the Big U stepped out a foot or so, and fed that distinct butt squirm up through the chassis. No drama, and I pulled off at the next off-ramp. …and pulled out my cell phone. In the past I’d be picking gravel out of my butt, at least.

The larger majority of today’s bikes run tubeless, with what remains being, well, tubed. Generally, pure street motorcycles run tubeless, while tubes are mostly used with off-road, dual sport, and adventure motorcycles. Tubeless tires are superior in most every application. They offer less unsprung weight as they don’t carry around a tube, run cooler as there’s no inner friction between tire and tube, and are significantly easier to repair. Another important point is that a punctured tubeless tire will usually lose air more slowly than will a punctured tube, thus giving you more warning.

So, why don’t all motorcycles use tubeless tires? With one notable exception tubeless tires must be used with cast, rather than wire wheels because the spoke holes on the wire wheels leak air. The exception is certain models of BMW’s GS line-up. They use a unique wire wheel design than can use tubeless tires. This is a very expensive wheel that –I’m told—is frustratingly difficult to true once it’s out of whack (and all wire wheels eventually get there). And, yes, you can seal standard wire wheels, but it’s tricky and you’d better know what you’re doing.

OK, easy solution, fit cast wheels to all motorcycles and be done with the silly tubes. Right? This won’t work for two reasons. First, a cast wheel cannot take the banging about that the wheels on an off-road, dual sport or adventure bike are subjected to. Cast wheels are very strong, but far less malleable than a steel or aluminum rim. Yes, you can bend a cast wheel, but they will fracture, and then break. Don’t worry about your street rims, they are more than strong enough to handle the rigors of the pavement. However, banging into things on the trail, jumping logs, and throwing your bike about in the dirt (a.k.a. falling down) can push cast wheels beyond their design limits.

The second reason for not using cast wheels off-road is less well-known; wire wheels actually provide a bit of flex. This flexing aids the motorcycle’s suspension, and gives you a smoother ride. Back in the 70’s Rokon had a fair amount of success with a 340cc Sachs-motored enduro motorcycle with cast wheels, but that was a dead end for both cast wheels and Rokon.

All right, enough digression, let’s get back to the tool kit. If you ride with tubeless tires, what you need carry is fairly simple as you only have two tasks; 1) Plug the leak, 2) Refill the tire. Probably the most popular of the plug kits is the "Stop and Go". I’ve used this kit and the plug part of it works well. It also includes four CO2 cartridges that are to be used to refill the tire. More correctly, to partially refill the tire. If you want to bring the tire up to full pressure you need eight to ten of the cartridges, at least. The four, however, will generally inflate the tire enough for you to limp home, or to some place that can properly repair your tire. What that means is replacing the tire. Do not ride an extended period, or at higher speeds, on a plugged tire. Also, I think patching the inside of a tubeless tire falls into the Bad Idea category.

My Triumph Tiger 800XC has tube tires. I’m not happy about that, but if I wanted the advantages that the larger front wheel offers, that was my only option. And what do I carry as a tire kit? Nothing. Like I said, I'm in denial …or was. Now that I’ve been exposed, I need to go back to carrying a kit.

As much as motorcycles have advanced, a proper tire kit isn’t much different from what was carried years ago; tire irons, tubes, valve cores, a patch kit, and a pump. What is different is the quality and functionality of the tools. In particular, the tire irons and the pump. At one time the irons could pull duty as boat anchors. The were indeed made from iron and were heavy. Now we have, for example, the very trick Bead Pro tire tool, weighing all of nine ounces. At $80 they aren’t cheap, but they work as advertised. For a pump, I’ve happily used the Mini Compressor from Aerostich.

Ok there’s your tire kit. Happy now Bour?



# Mark Bour 2013-02-28 12:07
Very happy! Any bike I've taken any distance has had cast wheels, so my kit is very minimal. I have plugs, a plug installer, a tire ream and vulcanizing glue to repair the puncture. For a pump, I carry a Slime brand electric pump which will easily fill the tire to full pressure.

You are correct, tire issues are rare (I've had one the entire time I've been riding), but it's nice to be able to be up and going in 20 minutes or so as opposed to waiting for help, especially when you're out west in the middle of nowhere.

Luckily, all of this plus a roll of duct tape, the factory tool kit, a bungee net and my GPS case all fit snuggly under the seat of my Sprint GT, so I always have it with me even if I leave the bags at home.
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# Tom Collier 2013-03-04 19:04
Interesting that you mention the 'give' of laced wheels. Many Harley's come with them, my 2007 Nightster did. I ride mountain roads very, very aggressively, and found that the flex of the laced wheels, particularly the front one, affected handling. I switched to cast wheels because of it. I also appreciated the side benefit of not having the extra weight of the tube. Because I'm seldom more than 50 miles from home, a tire kit isn't a big priority for me, but I wonder about using the canned flat fix products. Anyone tried that on their bike?
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# Reg Kittrelle 2013-03-05 10:16
Yes...and don't. I've tried to you aerosols, but have never found them to be effective. Plus, the crap they use is very difficult to clean up.
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# Don Henderson 2013-03-05 10:23
Fix-a-Flat material will also render your balanced tire, unbalanced.
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# Don Henderson 2013-03-04 20:45
I would have to consider myself in the minority, as I don't feel safe with a patched or plugged tire on my cruiser. Just last year, a close friend, and his passenger, were involved in a major crash. The cause of the crash, was a plugged rear tubeless tire. The end result was a "high side" crash and face plant at 35 mph, leaving my friend in a coma, and with partial brain damage after his recovery. That being said, tire maintenance is a daily requirement for my riding.
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# Reg Kittrelle 2013-03-05 10:17
Running a plugged tire for longer than absolutely necessary is ...let me choose my word carefully here... stupid.
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# Phil Ammendolia 2013-03-05 09:10
Like Don Henderson, I don't feel safe on a patched tire. It's just not worth the risk. I carry a rear tube when I'm adventure riding on my KLR or deep in the woods in my trail bike. In a pinch, I can stretch it over the front rim and limp home. If I stretch it, I waste the tube, but it's still cheap insurance to get me back to the truck. I carry a cheap repair kit and CO2 cartridges with filler on my Road Glide. I try to remember to replace the patch material every two years. This is arbitrary, but it makes me feel like the material won't be dried out and useless when and if I need it. It's not uncommon for my wife and I to be 30 or 40 miles of the beaten path, so it feels better knowing there's some hope of repair.

Tom Collier, DON'T use the aerosol flat fix. First, it seldom works, and second, it's corrosive and will ruin the finish on rims, and make spoke nipples impossible to adjust. The material is also heavy and you don't want to add to un-sprung weight.
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# Rob Campbell 2013-03-10 23:25
I have a few tire episodes that I think are amusing now that years have passed.

One got me stuck at Sunset State Beach in Watsonville. Close to home now, but several hours from home a the time, in 1990, I think. I hitched a ride to town and came back with a crate, which I wrestled my rigid shovelhead onto by myself. Good times. I think I still don't carry any tire repair stuff on the bike, though it's now a swingarm and has tubeless tires. I'm not even sure I'd know what to do, but like Tom, I'm rarely far from home at this point.
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# Reg Kittrelle 2013-03-11 09:11
ah yes, the crate. I conveniently sidestepped the problem of getting it up. Tools are one thing, but if you can't get the wheel off the ground you're faced with the inelegant solution of laying the bike n it's side.

I always carry a length of rope. By placing the motorcycle close to a tree, pole, or other standing object, I can get the offending wheel off the ground by balancing on the good wheel and the side stand, then tying it off to the tree. The heavier the motorcycle, the harder it is to do. I've never tried it with a Gold Wing ...and don't want to.
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