- February 28th, 2013
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?