Tire Wear and How to minimize it

Dr Jay's Tech Topic - Tires (2)

I hear it all the time, "these tires suck, they wore out in less than 8,000 miles…what other brand is available?" Or "my sportbike only got 6000 miles out of the rear tire, this brand sucks…" Some riders are actually installing non-motorcycle tires, risking life, limb and property only because they think their tires should last as long as the ones on their cars (see my other tire rant).

It goes on and on so another tire discussion was in order. In this one, I will explain in easy to understand terms why some people get terrible tire mileage and some get EXTRAORDINARY mileage out of their tires.
I'll start with a good, long term customer who continually shocks everyone with his tire mileage. This Customer bought a brand new Royal Star Tour Classic in 1997 and proceeded to get 26,000 miles out of his OEM Dunlop front tire and 23,000 miles out of the stock rear Dunlop 404 tire. Yep, you read that right, 26K F / 23K R!! Suspecting he got something "special" in that particular set of tires we watched the performance of his tires over the next several years and 2 subsequent sets of tires, the average was nearly identical, so it wasn't a special set after all. But why did his tires outlast other riders' tire life expectancy with the same bike and the same tires by over double the miles?

It comes down to how you ride your bike, particularly ACCELERATION and DECELERATION. If you constantly find yourself doing Jackrabbit starts, you're killing the rear tire. Same can be said for stopping. If you are always leaving your braking until late, you are wearing your tires out faster. Just because the brakes are powerful enough to allow you to leave stopping to the last second doesn't mean you have to ride it that way. The tires can actually be skidding without you even realizing it. Let's take for example a rider that uses too much rear brake. We all know how easy it is to lock up the rear tire with the brake, but if you use the rear brake AT ALL, you are skidding the tire and not even realizing it. Here's how.

The rear brakes on our motorcycles are way more powerful than the traction available in the rear tire at any time. Stand on the rear brake at any speed and you can lock the wheel up. This total lock up is noticeable, besides the sound of skidding tire and the smoke from said tire, the rear of the bike feels unstable, and can feel like it is going to move laterally. This is not what I'm referring to when I say the tire can skid without you even noticing. The term I use is "partial lock up" where the tire is still turning, but not at the same speed as the road beneath it, it is turning slower than the road and is actually skidding. This partial lock up you will probably never notice as a skid and can happen every time you decelerate to a stop. This problem can be worse for riders that use the front and rear brakes "equally" on their bikes because transferring the weight to the front makes the rear lighter and you have even less traction so even light pressure on the rear brake pedal will lock the wheel. As a note, Anti-Lock brakes do not solve the "Partial Lock" problem as the wheel actually needs to stop turning before the controller releases the wheel and then the process is repeated many times a second, ABS is actually a perfect example of the Partial Lock. This is one of the main reasons most riders will wear out 2 rear tires for every front tire. Riders that use front and rear brakes "equally" are killing the rear tire and can easily cure this by becoming a better rider and STOP using the rear brake altogether. I personally NEVER touch a rear brake pedal unless in one of three conditions, either to stand a bike up in a corner (I may use a light rear pedal pressure -see gyroscopic effect discussion) or in slow moving, balancing situations or at a stop when I need my right hand to itch my nose. During normal riding I do not use rear brakes at all.

Another contributing factor to why the rear tires wear twice as fast as front tires is the acceleration spin. Let's admit it, it's fun to haul ass on your motorcycle and performance is a lot of the reason we ride. Acceleration on a new Vmax is undeniably breath taking and certainly an adrenalin rush. But at what cost? Every time you accelerate from a stop, or even just accelerate from any speed, the tire is looking for grip and the opposite of the "Partial Lock" occurs. You get a slight amount (or a lot!) of wheel spin and the tire turns FASTER than the Road below it. You could be doing "burnouts" and not even know it! Since it is the tires job to accelerate you from zero to whatever speed, it is taking all the load and power and trying to put it onto the road. Every tire will break loose at some point, but under hard acceleration a tire can be turning faster than the road below it most of the time, even under modestly hard acceleration.

So one of the obvious solutions to the problem is to slow down! Actually, you need to make a conscious effort to be "easy" on your equipment, less abrupt on the brakes and the throttle. Every time you want to set a new world record to the next stoplight, think of burning hundred dollar bills. That should help. Also keep the tires properly inflated, and stop doing front wheel wheelies. If you want to put tires on your bike in less than 8,000 miles, ride it like you stole it, otherwise treat it like it is expensive to fix and you too can see a LOT more miles out of your tires (and brakes, driveline parts, clutches etc, etc…)

I can look at your tires and know exactly the type of rider you are. ;)


Ride Safe- and SMART,
Dr. Jay