My two most irrational riding fears – one, an empty fuel tank; two, a flat tire. The first one can be managed. But the second is not so easy.
So how can you tell if a motorcycle tire is flat? Flat tires are obvious. If the tire has a flattened shape at its point of contact with the ground – then the tire is flat. Other symptoms include – handlebar jerking and loss of power.
Let’s dive deeper into how to check a flat tire, how to fix, and how to handle when you get a flat tire while riding.
How to tell if a motorcycle tire is flat
Just by checking the tire, we can say whether it is flat or not. But we won’t check the tire until we have a reason to do so, won’t we?
That’s why let’s start with the symptoms. And then jump into checking the tire.
Here are the telltale signs when a bike tire is flat:
#1: Handlebar jerks to one side
This is the telltale sign. At least for me.
Whenever the motorcycle has a flat tire, the wheel jerks slightly sideways.
A flat tire makes the wheel difficult to roll straight. Forcing the wheel to jerk either to the right or left ever so slightly.
And when the wheel jerks to one side, you feel the jerk on your handlebar.
Despite holding your motorcycle handlebar straight and firm, the jerk or a tiny shake towards either side – should make you suspicious about the tires.
The handlebar jerk can also arise because of ground irregularities. But that jerk won’t be frequent.
The jerk because of a flat tire – will be constant. You will feel the handlebar jerk every few seconds.
That should give you the indication. Something is definitely wrong with the motorcycle. And most probably, the tires.
#2: Requires too much acceleration to speed up
Before going for inspecting tires, based on the handlebar jerks, there is one more symptom that you can notice:
If your motorcycle tire is flat, the bike needs more power to move. The flat tire is pulling things down.
As a result, you need to accelerate more to speed up. The motorcycle feels incredibly slow.
Heck, you might not be able to hit the 5th gear, no matter how much you speed up.
A flat tire(s) slows down a motorcycle.
You have noticed this a lot of times. You fill the air to your tires to their optimum PSI.
Both tires have different optimum PSI. Rear tires need higher air pressure than the front tire.
Also Read: Why are Front tires Narrower than Rear Tires
Take the bike for a ride.
Suddenly, the bike is moving faster. The acceleration is more responsive. The speed is good.
All because you filled air to the tires.
Flip the experience. You have a flat tire in your hand. In your bike, to be precise. But you get the point.
#3: Check the tire to confirm
Now that you suspect something is wrong with the tire(s), based on handlebar jerking and the power loss, it’s time to check the tires.
A flat tire loses its shape.
Just look at the tires. If either one of them (the rear tire or the front tire) has a flattened shape at its point of contact with the ground – then the tire is flat.
Flat tires are that obvious to see.
Heck, sometimes, the tire is so flat, the wheel rim touches the ground. It gets that painfully obvious!
In case, the tire is partially flat and is not easy to judge, it’s time for the second simple method.
Touch the tire. Squeeze it. If the tire easily squeezes – then – the tire is flat.
Ask someone to sit on the bike. Preferably someone heavy weighted.
Now, if the tire changes shape and gets flat at its point of contact with the ground, then the tire is flat.
These 3 methods – simple and stupid – should be more than enough to confirm if your bike tire is flat or not.
#4: Inspect if the tire is punctured
Once you confirm your bike tire is flat, the next immediate thing to do is – whether the tire is punctured.
Not all flat tires mean a punctured tire. The reasons are discussed in the below section.
Back to the flat tire, these are the ways you can check if the tire is punctured:
- If there was a loud bang or a hiss coming from the tire recently. Tire punctures are often accompanied by a loud hiss sound.
- Look for a puncture or blowout on the tire surface if it’s a tubeless tire, and the tube if it is a tube-tire. If the tire has the tube, you have to take it out.
- If the puncture is not obvious, fill the tube (or tire if tubeless) with air. Bring the hand or face nearby and check for a place where the air is leaking.
- Last check. Inflate the tube (or tire if tubeless) and dip it in a tub full of water. Watch out for the area where bubbles are coming, that’s where the puncture is.
If all the above methods fail to find the puncture, then the tire is not punctured. It’s just flat because the air has leaked out.
Fill the air to the tire to its optimum PSI. And look for air leakage areas in the valve and the rim.
Can you ride a motorcycle with a slightly flat tire?
You should NOT ride a motorcycle with a flat tire. Even if the tire is slightly flat.
And if you do, you sure can for quite some distance, there will be negative consequences on your bike.
Here’s what happens if you ride a motorcycle with a flat tire:
- The rim gets damaged: The flat tire makes the wheel rim come in contact with the ground. And with repeated contact and at a speed, the rim starts damaging.
- The tire itself becomes unusable: With the motorcycle running at speed with a flat tire, the tire itself might get ruined. Flat tires, in most cases, are fixed easily. But riding with a flat tire can render them useless.
- Bike suspension can get affected: With a flat tire, there will be constant jerks toward the bike’s one side or the other. These constant jerks coupled with uneven weight distribution along the wheel might affect the suspension.
What to do if you get a flat tire while riding
If you get a flat tire while riding your motorcycle, here is what you need to do:
- Park your motorcycle roadside or at the nearest safe spot you can park.
- Walk to the nearest town or where a service shop is. Bring a mechanic to where you have parked your bike. Let him handle the flat tire. And then ride off.
- If you can’t park anywhere nearby, don’t ride with a flat tire. Get off the bike. Switch the motorcycle to neutral gear. Push the motorcycle with your hands and walk forward.
- If pushing the motorcycle by yourself is too draining, you can try starting the motorcycle. Keep it on 1st gear, and walk forward.
At any rate, avoid riding your motorcycle on a flat tire.
In case you want to DIY, here’s how to fix a flat motorcycle tire
If you want to fix a flat tire by yourself, here’s how to do it:
- Check if the flat tire is punctured
Look for a puncture or blowout on the tire surface. If the puncture is not obvious, fill the tube (or tire if tubeless) with air. Dip it in a tub full of water. Watch where bubbles are coming, that’s where the puncture is.
- If there is no puncture, fill the air in the tire
No puncture means the tire has only lost air. Fill the tube (or tire if tubeless) with air to the recommended PSI. Also, check for the valve and rim for possible air leakage.
- If the tire is punctured, you have to patch (plug) it
The next step is plugging or patching the puncture.
Patches are used for the inner tubes of the tires. For tubeless tires, you don’t patch but use plugs on the tubeless tire.
- If the puncture is large, the tire is dead
If the puncture is on the sidewall, or the hole is large than 7mm, you just cannot repair it.
- Buff the inner lining
Buff the inner lining of the tire around the holed area. Use a file or sandpaper to accomplish this.
- Patching and plugging
Insert the patch or plug and remove the covering of the patch from the tire. You can apply rubber cement and allow it to dry down for several minutes before removing the covering.
- Check for leakage even after patching
Inspect the Tire now for any leakages. Fill the tire with air and check for air tightness with soapy water.
- Place the tires back
Now, reinstall the tire on the motorcycle and inflate the pressure to the recommended PSI.
For the next 1 or 2 days limit the maximum speed to 50 mph. Patched tires are a risk. Never exceed 75 mph speed over the lifetime of the patched tire. You don’t want to risk a blowout.
Can a tire get flat without a puncture?
Of course, a tire can get flat without puncture.
A flat tire is caused by the air inside the tire leaking out.
The most obvious cause is a puncture for sure. The air escapes through the punctured hole in the tire.
But puncture is not the only cause of a flat tire.
Other causes include:
- Valve leak: The air escapes from the valve. The very same valve which we use to inflate the tire.
- Air leakage in the rim: The tire is not tightly fit on the wheel rim. In such a case, the air can leak out through the gap between the tire and the wheel rim.
So, if the air has leaked out because of the valve or the rim, then there you have it. A flat tire without a puncture.