Sidewalk Motorcycle Tire Repair

Reader Contribution by Bo Miller
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A stifled belch. My oldest daughter, Heidi Rose, and I leave the Sassy Onion. We are more than full of breakfast. Its time for some Sunday back-to-college clothes shopping. We walk down the street to Bonnie, my trusty T100 Triumph Bonneville. Life is good. But something isn’t right. The bike is standing a bit more vertical than usual. It is almost to the point of tipping off of the sidestand. What’s this? A flat rear tire! Looks like it’s time for a little motorcycle tire repair.

I consider my options. One is to take the tire off and bring it to the dealer for a fix. This won’t work. The bike shops are closed. Another is to push the bike eight blocks back to the house. No way. Pushing a bike with a flat is awful work. I could leave the bike here, take the wheel home, fix it, and come back. This will take hours. It seems best to repair the tire here and now. We have a centerstand, tools, and a tire repair kit.

The bike is rolled onto the sidewalk, pulled up onto the centerstand, and spun around so the wheel is hanging over the gutter. Supplies and tools are laid out on the walk to make sure everything is there. Minor surgery is done to remove the right muffler and the brake caliper. The axle is pulled and the wheel is dropped. This task is an olfactory nightmare. Never change a flat in a gutter near a tavern.

The wheel is carefully examined to find the reason for the flat. Ah ha! It’s a pop rivet stem. Strangely, it resembles the hundreds of stems that littered my driveway after I built a racing fairing last summer. I make a mental note to be neater in the future. I pull the stem out with pliers and mark the puncture site with chalk. I also make a chalk line on the tire adjacent to the valve stem hole. This mark will help me make sure the tire is replaced on the rim in exactly the position it was before removal. This assures the tire will remain in balance.

It is time to pull the bead off of the rim and to take the tube out of the tire. I do not want to scratch the alloy rim on the walk. Reluctantly I take off my cherished and ratty army sweater and place it on the concrete. Then I put a shop rag in the middle, and finally I lay the wheel down on this soft nest. The bead on the brake disk side is removed for safety reasons. My hands might slip and there is no chance of cutting my hand on the sprocket teeth.

I rummage around on the walk and locate the tire lube. Many years of using soap and other slippery goop taught me a lesson. Lots of these substances corrode metal or prematurely age rubber. Now I use rubber lube developed for tire removal. A gallon from the auto parts store cost very little and it will last me for several lifetimes. I dribble lube all around the tire bead. This is an essential step. Now it is time for the dance.

Using my heel, I press down on the tire alongside the rim. I work all of the way around the rim. Then I put more lube in the space between the rim and tire. I dance the full circle again. This is a fairly new steel belted radial tire on a flanged safety rim and it is very difficult to remove. It seems that I cannot break the bead loose but I know better. This method always works and sometimes it takes a bit of time. Finally, after about five minutes, I push the bead off of the flange and down into the well at the rim center.

The tire must be removed without scratching the rim. No problem. I use two aluminum tire irons and three pieces of leather. Years of tire changing have taught me to use the proper tools – no screwdrivers, wrenches or other hokey stuff. I undo the valve stem nut, push the stem up into the tire, and start to pry the tire off. I begin near the valve stem using pieces of leather between the irons and the rim. The tire removal takes reasonable effort but it is not difficult. I make sure the tire bead opposite the prying is down in the well. This is essential and it is often overlooked.

This is a stiff tire! I cannot get my hands into the tire to remove the tube. I turn the wheel over and break the other bead loose using tire lube and the dance. The tube is pulled out and it I note which side faces the brake and sprocket. I look at the inside of the tire and see that the carcass has a minor puncture. It would be discarded if there is a large puncture, tear, or slash.

I inflate the tube and find the leak. A bit of spittle helps. It bubbles where it is over the hole. Then I place the tube alongside the tire to verify that the hole in the tube is where the pop rivet stem was removed. It is. I would look for additional objects in the tire if the tube puncture was in a different location.

The appropriate spare tube is selected. I prefer an unused high quality tube of the proper size. Tube repairs are not reliable. The tube is inflated until it is barely round. This will assure that it is not twisted during installation. It is thoroughly coated with talcum. I use baby powder. The powder assures that the tube will shift and move as needed to properly seat inside the tire.

The tire position on the rim is checked to verify that it is in the same location as it was before removal. The tire is shifted around until the chalk line is adjacent to the valve stem hole. The tube is inserted into the tire and the valve stem is pulled through its hole. A valve stem nut is threaded onto the end of the stem. The nut is not threaded down beyond the stem end. The tube is carefully examined to verify that it is not twisted inside of the tire.

The bead is lubed and the tire is pushed onto the rim with my knees. The installation starts opposite of the valve stem and it finishes at the stem. I check to see that the bead opposite the stem is down in the wheel well. This makes mounting easier.

Tire irons with leather are used to pry on the remainder of the bead. I make sure the thick tube rubber near the valve stem is not trapped between the tire beads and the rim. Now it is time to inflate the tire. First, I fully inflate the tube inside of the tire, then I remove the valve stem core and the tube deflates. This initial inflation is to seat the tube in the tire and to remove any kinks. Next, I screw in the valve stem core and I fully inflate the tire. I use a carbon dioxide inflator. Three of the little gas cartridges inflate the tire and seat both beads on the rim. The beads are seated when the bead lines are concentric with the rim edges.

I check the inflation pressure. It is about 25 pounds per square inch. I use my little hand pump to bring the tire up to full pressure. Next time I will carry more cartridges. It would be dangerous for me to ride fast or far with low tire pressure. As a final check I put some spittle on the valve stem end to verify that the core is airtight. Bubbling spit would indicate an air leak. Finally, I tighten down the valve stem nut and install the cap.

The wheel is reinstalled, the chain tension checked, the brake caliper is bolted on, and the muffler is replaced. Everything is double checked to make sure it is tight. I wipe dirt onto the tire tread to absorb any lube. The bike is taken off of the stand and everything is picked up and put away. The sun burns the fog away and it is a bright and beautiful day. Off we go.

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