Motorcycle tire pressure: What to check before hitting the road

Close up image of a motorcycle tire
January 24, 2024

How often do you think about your motorcycle tires? How about the correct level of tire inflation? If the answer is "not often," you'll want to reconsider.

While motorcycle tires are designed to handle all kinds of road and weather elements, sufficient air pressure could make the difference between a smooth, safe ride and poor traction. However, tire pressure isn't a set-it-and-forget-it process.

Whether traveling down the road to the grocery store or heading out to enjoy a mini road trip, here's what to consider. 

What to know about tire pressure

When braking, cornering, or accelerating, your safety relies on two small contact patches—the area where your motorcycle tires meet the road. 

Motorcycle tires remain the most crucial safety design element. While manufacturers constantly research and test tires, ensuring optimal performance, they still require your attention. If you don't check your motorcycle tire pressure often, you could significantly reduce the safety of each ride. 

The performance of your tires correlates to their pressure and depends almost entirely on your tire maintenance habits. Ideally, you should check the tires' inflation levels before every ride.

Air always escapes

While tires are designed to hold air under pressure, a process known as osmosis can cause gas molecules to pass through the rubber. Since pressure is greater inside the tires than the external atmospheric pressure, small gas molecules get forced through the membrane. 

On average, a tire can lose one to three percent of inflation monthly. Remain mindful of this, as prolonged riding will lead to underinflated tires. You can also explore replacing the air with nitrogen. 

Nitrogen has become a popular option when inflating tires because the chemical element's molecules are larger than oxygen's, so they don't seep out of tires as quickly. This option can help boost fuel economy and improve safety. Data from Consumer Reports also show that nitrogen can reduce tire degradation by limiting oxidation.

Temperature changes impact tire inflation

Temperature is another consideration. The recommended PSI for motorcycle tires is based on cold tire inflation pressure. You need to check your tire pressure before the sun's heat has had an opportunity to increase pressure or before you drive more than a few miles. 

As temperatures rise, tire pressure increases. In contrast, lower temperatures will cause pressure to fall. Every 10-degree change in air temperature causes a two percent change in inflation pressure, leading to a potentially dangerous situation if you're not proactive. 

When to take tire pressure readings

So, when is the best time to check your motorcycle tire pressure to ensure the greatest accuracy?

While several variables come into play, the best time to check tires is when they're cold—meaning your motorcycle hasn't been ridden for at least three hours. When you refer to manufacture inflation specifications, know that they are based on cold readings. 

Even riding your motorcycle a short distance will cause tires to warm, increasing tire pressure. If you were to ride to a gas station and check your pressure, it would not be completely accurate. 

By following this best practice, you can ensure your tires have the right pressure, regardless of the season.

Is it worth it to have an air compressor?

You should invest in a home air compressor to fill your tires before you ride. Not only does this ensure a safe ride, but it also helps protect the longevity of your tires. The lifespan of your tires is largely determined by the type of riding and overall tire maintenance—specifically, how vigilant you are about checking and adjusting motorcycle tire pressure. 

Adding this tool to your motorcycle maintenance kit can help protect you and your motorcycle. If the sole purpose of this compressor is to fill your motorcycle tires, you can opt for a small compressor that produces more pressure than the highest recommended tire pressure. 

Depending on what other skills or interests you have, you could also invest in anything from an airbrush or dust blow gun to a spark plug cleaner or impact driver. 

The tools you choose will determine the size of the compressor. Within your tool kit, the item that uses the highest pounds per square inch (PSI) will determine your PSI needs. Your local home improvement or tool vendor can give you expert advice.

Related links:

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The general information in this blog is for informational or entertainment purposes only. View our blog disclaimer.

*Data accuracy is subject to this article's publication date.

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