How to Buy the Right Tyres and Tubes for Your Motorbike

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How to Buy the Right Tyres and Tubes for Your Motorbike

Tyres are a vital part of your motorbike, providing contact with the road. Acceleration, braking, handling, all depend on the tyres. No matter what a rider wants to do, all the forces involved are transmitted from the bike to the road by way of the tyres. It is impossible to underestimate how important a good set of tyres is to any rider. The other thing you have to remember is that because of all the forces involved, tyres wear out from normal use. While driving conditions can have an effect, and riders who push their motorbike to the limit may find themselves replacing tyres more often than others, every tyre eventually wears out and has to be replaced. There is no way to ride so that you never need to replace your tyres or tubes. However, those who buy the right tyres for their motorbike and riding conditions, not only benefit from better overall performance, but also have to replace their tyres less often.

Motorbike History

As would likely surprise very few people, the origins of the motorbike can be traced directly back to the bicycle. Specifically, the motorbike was developed from the so-called "Safety" bicycle, which introduced the basic design that is seen in the majority of bicycles to this day. The wheels are the same size, the rear wheel is driven by a chain, and the front offers direct steering. Dating back to 1885, this design set the pattern for both bicycles and motorbikes to come. Interestingly, the petrol-engined motorbike can also be dated back to 1885, when Gottlieb Daimler first put such an engine on a bicycle. Ten years later, the De Dion-Bouton engine was introduced and the rest was history. By 1914, the motorbike was thoroughly entrenched on the roads and even in warfare.

History of Motorbike Tyres

The first motorbike with pneumatic tyres was introduced in 1892, and the vast majority produced since then have followed suit. Pneumatic tyres themselves date back to the 1840s, with the first pneumatic bicycle tyres being patented by Dunlop in 1888. While the original bicycle tyre was tubeless, the seal being maintained by varnishing the tyre to the rim, it was soon found that the rigours of riding caused the seal to break down quickly. The solution was to use a double tyre, with an outer casing providing protection for an inner tyre, called a tube, that was shaped like a cylinder joined at the ends. These early tyre casings were made from cotton impregnated with rubber, which was then vulcanised for strength.

The Tubeless Tyre Revolution

In the early days, there were a number of issues with tubes; not least of which being that they were hard to use on rear tyres as the rear wheel was often difficult, if not almost impossible to remove easily. This led to the development of joined tubes, which used a collar to connect the two ends of an open cylinder. It was easier to change, but created its own problems with added wear and leaking. The wheel removal problem was solved by the end of the First World War, making tubes more practical. Even so, the tube remained an inelegant solution. It was not until 1972 that Dunlop patented the tubeless tyre, which rapidly began to take over the industry. Not only were they less expensive, but they were also lighter, which helped improve performance.

Identify Your Tyre and Tube Needs

The first step to buying the right tyres or tubes for your motorbike lies in knowing which ones are right for your needs. Some factors, such as size, are easy enough to determine; other factors are less so. The question is compounded by the fact that there is no one tyre that is best suited for every rider of a given make and model of motorbike. Everything from your riding habits to the road conditions you normally face can play a part in determining the kind of tyre that best fits your requirements.

Tube or Tubeless Tyres

One of the first questions you should address is whether you should get a tube-type or tubeless tyre. There are three options: a tube tyre, a tubeless tyre, or a normally tubeless tyre with a tube. Under normal cases, the answer is clear: whichever the motorbike was designed for. However, in some situations, it may be necessary to use a tube with a tubeless tyre because the motorbike requires tubes. If this is the case, you should be aware that the addition of a tube makes the tyre run hotter than normal, and that the effective maximum speed rating should be reduced because of it. There is also the issue of chafing if the tyre has a ribbed interior. Whenever possible, tubes should be used with tyres that have smooth interiors to help them last longer.

The following table shows some of the benefits of both tube-type and tubeless tyres:

Benefit

Tyre Type

Running temperature

Tubeless

Maximum speed

Tubeless

Mileage between changes

Tubeless

Sidewall stiffness

Tubeless

Compatibility with older motorbikes

Tube

As can be seen from the table, tubeless tyres are generally a better choice for most riders unless they have a motorbike that requires the use of tubes. Not only are they more readily available, but they offer improved performance in almost all situations.

Tyre Types by Use

There are several different types of tyres aimed at different driving scenarios ranging from racing slicks to long-distance touring tyres. In the majority of cases, this involves making a tradeoff between tyre life and performance. Softer tyres generally provide more grip but tend to wear out more quickly than firmer ones. Thus if you are looking for the absolute best possible performance from your motorbike, you should be prepared to change your tyres more often.

Performance tyres, which include racing tyres, generally perform best at higher temperatures, as this softens the rubber and provides more grip. Some performance tyres, called slicks, do not have any tread, relying on heat and softness to provide grip. They are not recommended for most street use because they may not warm up enough for maximum grip at normal street speeds. Sport street tyres are designed for cornering, and provide additional grip at the cost of tyre life. Sport touring tyres are more durable than sport street tyres, and are designed for longer trips. They provide better handling on straight roads, but less grip on corners. Off-road tyres are a category unto themselves, they provide excellent traction on soft surfaces, but lack stability on roads.

Conclusion

Buying the right tyres and tubes for your motorbike is a simple matter of obtaining and applying the appropriate knowledge. While most motorbikes no longer use tubes, for those that do use them they are a requirement, not a luxury. Pneumatic tyres require an airtight seal to maintain pressure, and if the wheel rim is not designed to work with a tubeless tyre to create that seal, a tube is needed. However, if a tube is not needed, there is very little reason to use one, as they not only add another level of complexity, they also increase the running temperature of a tyre and decrease the maximum allowable speed. Riders should also keep in mind the fact that higher performance tyres generally have a shorter lifetime and thus have to be replaced more often. They also may need to reach a certain temperature for maximum performance, and this is not always possible to achieve in some road conditions. Still, if you know what you want in a tyre or tube, and why you want it, buying the right ones for your motorbike is quick and easy.

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