How to Fix a Flat

Encountering a flat tire while riding a motorcycle can be a very dangerous situation. 

How to Fix a Flat Tire on a Motorcycle

Encountering a flat tire while riding a motorcycle can be a very dangerous situation. If a front or rear tire suddenly goes flat while at speed, the motorcycle can lose control and the rider can find themself in a very bad position or even possibly ejected from the motorcycle. If a flat happens while riding a motorcycle, remember to try to remain calm. Always keep two hands on the handlebars and try to decelerate as fast as possible while maintaining control.  Jamming the brakes may not be an option, but bring the speed down and pull over to a safe part of the road. Mechanical downshifting may help the process of slowing the motorcycle. 

In a pickle and the tire is repairable, there are companies that make emergency roadside flat tire repair kits. These kits either consist of a spray gel or a plug and C02 cartridge. The gel will temporarily seal the hole from the inside, but this option may make it difficult to remove the tire to do the repair correctly. The plug is shoved in the hole, while the C02 inflates the tire.  Both options are meant to be temporary to get the motorcycle to a shop or off the road and to a place the repair can be done. If the tire is shredded or the rim is damaged these will probably not work at all and a tow will be needed. Always call for a flatbed truck, a motorcycle can not be dragged. A good roadside assistance plan is always a good option to have.

Repair a Flat, or Replace the Tire?

Once the motorcycle is in a safe place for the repair, the tire damage has to be assessed. If the tire is damaged on the side wall or completely torn, it will have to be replaced. If an object has punctured the tire, but the tire is in overall good shape it can be repaired. Motorcycle tires come in tubed and tubeless styles. A tubed tire is like a bicycle tire where the tire is inflated via a tube that is inside of it. A tubeless tire is like a modern car tire, where there is no tube inside and itself is inflated. 

If a tubed tire is punctured, the tube can be repaired or replaced and the tire can be repaired. Since the tire is just a protective outer shell that takes the road wear, a hole in it will not really affect its performance.  The hole in a tube will however not allow it to inflate. To repair the hole, the wheel will need to be removed from the motorcycle.  The tire and tube will have to be taken off of the motorcycle wheel rim. On a tubeless motorcycle tire, if it is punctured it should be repaired with a patch on the inside of the tire, but some people may opt to plug the hole without removing the wheel and tire from the motorcycle.  Tire plug kits use a special tool to thread a rope like object covered in rubber cement through the hole to plug it.  Some tire manufacturers will not approve of this repair and the tire must come off the rim in order to patch the tire correctly. 

Tire Removal & Tools Needed

To remove a motorcycle wheel from the motorcycle, it is different per manufacturer.  A front wheel is generally easier to remove than the rear, as the rear is part of the driveline and usually is attached with a belt, chain or driveshaft. As with any tire removal, the front or the back of the motorcycle will need to be lifted into the air.  This needs to be done safely so that the motorcycle does not fall over, especially on to the person repairing it. The motorcycle should be secure. In most cases, an axle will need to be removed for the front or rear tire. A locking system is usually used to ensure that the axle will not come loose. For rear tires, the axle may need to be adjusted forward to give slack in the belt or chain. The belt or chain can then be slipped off of the sprocket. For motorcycles with driveshafts, the driveshaft may need to be disconnected from the rear wheel in order to remove it.  For either the front or rear wheel, brake systems will need to be removed to get access to the wheel.  Some are as easy as removing the brake caliper, but others might require the brake stay to be removed. 

The wheel should be placed on cardboard or carpet so as not to scratch the finish, and rim protectors can be used if tire irons are removing the tire from the rim. A tire machine will do the job the fastest, but not everyone has access to one. In order to repair or replace a tire/tire tube, it first has to be removed. Tools needed are:

  • Bead Breaker/ Vice
  • Rim Protectors
  • Tire Machine/ Tire Irons
  • Tire Patch Kit
  • Soap
  • Air Compressor
  • Air Pressure Gauge
  • Wrenches
  • Torque Wrench
  • Allen Keys
  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers

The tire bead, which is the seal to the rim, will have to be broken. A tire bead breaker or a vice can usually do the job fairly easily. This will have to be done on both sides of the tire. One side of the tire will need to be worked over the tire rim. This is done using a tire machine or tire irons, but taking  small bites at a time.  Once the one side of the tire is off the rim, this will make the tire much looser to the rim. If the tire has one, the tire tube can be pulled out at this point. The tube can be patched or replaced. The patch is usually rubber with rubber cement.  Tire tubes are fairly cheap, so it is usually easier to replace them.  The valve stem is either a push through style or screw on to the rim. When putting the tube back in, make sure to line up the valve stem. The tire itself can have a patch glued at this point as well and the tube inserted back into the rim. Work the side of the tire back onto the rim, but be careful not to pinch the tube. If the tire is tubeless, it would be easier to remove the tire completely, but working the second side over the tire rim using the same technique as the first. The hole can be patch from the inside using rubber and rubber cement. Allow the patch to dry before putting the tire back on. To get the tire back on the rim, a little dish soap works well as lubricant. The technique of removing the tire would be reversed to put the tire back on. Once both sides of the tire are back on the rim, it will need to be filled with air. Fill to recommended tire manufacturer tire pressure. The rim and tire at this point will need to get balanced. This is best done by a professional. The general theory of balancing is to place a weight opposite of where a tire and rim fall when it is spun on an axle. A perfectly balanced tire will never fall in the same place.

Install the rim/tire back on to the motorcycle in the reverse process used to remove it. Adjust belts/chains and brakes. At this time, you should also replace the brake pads if they are worn. Lubricate bearings and axles if needed. Torque the axle nuts to the proper torque specifications and add locking mechanisms. Give the rim a spin to make sure it is still in true. Go for a test ride at a slow speed and be on the lookout for balance issues or if the tire is acting differently. If there are, correct the issues and test again. 

Never attempt to repair a flat tire on a motorcycle, or repair or replace parts, if you are not comfortable or have the proper way of doing the job. Take your motorcycle to a licensed repair shop if the task cannot be completely safely.

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