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MC How-To

Step by step: From general maintenance to complete restorations, we share tips and tricks for working on classic bikes.


Change a Motorcycle Tire

1974 Yamaha DT125 Enduro

Changing tires isn’t a particularly fun or rewarding job, but like many chores, it’s a good one to know how to do when the occasion arises. Frankly, this issue’s How-To reminded us of how rusty we are at the job, rarely changing our own tires because A) it’s usually rolled into the cost of a new tire and B) you still need to get the wheel and tire balanced once you’re done, also usually rolled into the cost of a new tire.

If you want to change your own tires, there are a few tools we suggest having on hand. You won’t use them all at one time, but they’re worth having and they’re relatively inexpensive, to boot. Our lineup consists of a valve core tool for removing and installing valve cores ($4.95), a valve repair tool for cleaning threads on damaged valve stems ($5.95), a puller for fishing the valve stem on a tube through the rim hole ($11.95), a valve stem mounting tool for tubeless rims ($17.95), a set of tire irons ($25.95 each for heavy duty irons — extra leverage and strength is always nice — or $13.95 each for standard 11-inch irons — great for smaller tires and they’ll fit in a tank bag), and a set of rim protectors ($7.95 for the pair and especially appreciated with aluminum or cast rims). We picked up everything you see here from BikeMaster, including the new tube ($12.95).

BikeMasterThe biggest challenge can be getting an old tire off. Tires get stiffer with age, and tire beads have a tendency to weld themselves to the rim over time, making it hard to break the bead and pull the tire over the rim. It’s not unusual to have to cut off stuck and stiff decades-old tires to avoid damaging the wheel rim.

The front tire on our 1974 Yamaha DT125 Enduro didn’t put up much of a fight. With the valve core removed and the tire deflated, the bead broke with simple downward hand pressure. When that doesn’t work, push a tire iron between the bead and rim in one spot, then pry the iron down to push the bead down and off the rim, working around until it falls loose. Rim protectors are great if you’re worried about marring your rim. We used them for the dismount, but we didn’t bother with them during remount as our new tire went on easily. If there’s a colored balance dot on your new tire, line it up with the valve stem hole. And finally, give the bead a light coating of soapy water or tire mounting paste to help the new tire slip over the rim.

Tools needed for changing a motorcycle tire

1. Tools of the trade: You won’t need them all at once, but it’s nice to have a good selection of tire tools ready at hand. The tool below the inner tube is for installing valves in tubeless rims.

Changing a motorcycle tire

2. The first step is breaking the bead. With smaller tires you can usually do this by hand, pushing down on the deflated tire’s sidewall until it lets loose from the rim. If it won’t, break it loose with a tire iron placed between the rim and the bead, prying down on the iron.

Changing a motorcycle tire

3. If you use rim protectors, put them on the rim first. Next, slip the tire irons behind the tire bead, then pry back and pull the bead up over the rim. Pry the bead up with one iron, then hold the iron down, following with the second to pull the bead up over the rim.

Changing a motorcycle tire

4. Old tires can be a bear to stretch over the rim, but ours pulled over fairly easily. Once started, reposition the rim protectors as needed and work around the rim until the tire is free.

Changing a motorcycle tire

5. With one side off you can often push the other bead over the rim without using the tire irons. With the bead in the rim recess and the tire at its loosest, push it off as shown. It will usually roll off.

Changing a motorcycle tire

6. With the tire off, remove the rim strip (ours had completely deteriorated) and clean the inside of the rim. Our steel rim had a quite a bit of rust. If this was a daily rider we’d consider replacing it, but since this bike only sees occasional field use we felt comfortable just cleaning off the loose scale.

Changing a motorcycle tire

7. Although we didn’t bother, you can coat the inside of the rim with a rust treatment or use rust-resistant paint to help stave off future rust. Once the rim is cleaned stretch a new rim strip into place, making sure to center the hole for the valve stem.

Changing a motorcycle tire

8. Lubricate the bead, position the new tire and push the inner bead over the rim in one spot. Work around the rim evenly left to right, pushing the bead down by hand. Use a tire iron to stretch the last bit of the tire over the wheel rim.

Changing a motorcycle tire

9. With one bead over the rim, put the tube inside the tire, with the valve centered on the valve hole in the rim. Feed the tire valve through the rim and secure it loosely with its retaining nut. Make sure the tube is inside the tire and rim so it won’t get pinched when the bead is pushed down in the next step.

Changing a motorcycle tire

10. Starting at the valve, push the bead down into place by hand. Work around the tire evenly left to right, pushing down and finishing with a tire iron to stretch the last bit over the rim.

Changing a motorcycle tire

11. Tighten the valve stem retaining nut and install the valve core. Air up the tire, then remove the core and deflate it. Check that the bead is evenly seated on both sides. Reinstall the core, air the tire up to the appropriate pressure and install the valve cap.