There’s no way to sugar coat it, changing a tire or replacing an inner tube is a nasty, dirty job, but it is one of those fundamental jobs that every motorcycle rider needs to become familiar with. Of course, once you become intimately familiar with tire changing you’ll figure either it’s cake, or you’ll have the next one done at your favorite shop.
Your shop manual will give precise instructions on removing and replacing either wheel. Follow them, for safety’s sake.
Tools required to remove the wheel(s)
A fresh tube
Valve-stem removal tool (available from any auto-parts store)
Rim guards (optional)
Tire lube or soapy water (tire lube is available commercially or you can use a 50:50 mix of liquid soap and water as a tire mounting aid)
Pail or trash can as a work stand (optional)
Once the wheel is off the bike, the real fun begins. You can either work on the ground, which is even less fun than you may imagine or try to work standing up, which is only marginally more comfortable. If you elect to work upright, you’ll need something to support the wheel. I’ve found that a 25-gallon steel drum works fine. My second choice is a steel or plastic 5-gallon pail mounted on a sturdy stool or table. You can protect the rim with an old towel or a rag.
If you must work on the floor, place a flattened cardboard box or old rug down first to give you and the rim some protection. Remove the air valve out of the tube’s stem. You can use a purpose-built tool, or if you’re cheap like me you can find an old tire valve cap that’s got the tool built right into it. I’m still using one I found when I was about 15 years old.
Once the air is out of the tube, force the tire bead down into the rim well to break the bond between the tire’s bead and the rim. This is called ’breaking the bead’ and it can be difficult. You may have to stand on the rim, use a large pair of pliers, or even clamp the tire in a vise to break the bead.
Once the first side is broken, flip the tire over and repeat for the second side. After the beads are broken, place the tire, sprocket side down, into your barrel. Changing tires is tough enough without chewing your knuckles to shreds on a greasy old sprocket. If you’re forced to work on the floor, position the wheel to protect the brake disc.
Now, slip your rim protectors over the rim. If you’re the frugal sort, these can be made by slitting a heavy piece of hose down one side and slipping it over the rim. Next, starting opposite the tire valve stem, insert your tire irons one at a time and pry the edge of the tire up and over the rim. A little tire lube or soapy water applied to the bead will make this job a little easier. Work the irons around the tube an inch or two at a time until the bead is removed from the rim.
Once the bead is free of the rim, remove the stem lock nut and remove the tube. Under the tube, you’re probably going to find a rim band.
A rim band is a thin strip of rubber used to protect the inner tube from chafing against the spokes.
Not all manufacturers use a rubber band; some bikes may have a plastic compound applied to the rim itself. Pitch the rim band, and substitute a few layers of electrical tape instead. Make sure you punch the hole for the valve stem before replacing the tire.
If you’re only replacing the tube, my guess is that’s because you’ve had a flat. If possible, remove the object that caused the flat from the outside of the tire. Then carefully inspect the inside of the tire for any damage or foreign objects. Be prudent when checking the inside of the tire, particularly if you couldn’t find anything that may have punctured your tire from the outside.
I’ve seen more than one guy cut his hand badly on a piece of shrapnel that migrated through the tire and was stuck on the inside. Unless there is no alternative, I don’t recommend patching the inner tube. If you’re touring, I’d hope you have the good sense to carry at least a rear tube.
If you are going to patch the tube, follow the instructions on the patch kit to the letter and inflate the tube to test it before reinserting it in the tire. Replace the patched tube at the first opportunity with a new one. Replace the air valve and inflate the tube slightly. You’ll need just enough pressure to give the tube some shape. Work the tube back into the tire, inserting the valve stem through the opening and loosely running down the retaining nut.
Spray the bead with tire lube or soapy water, and using hand pressure, start opposite the valve stem and force as much of the bead back over the rim as you can. Use the tire irons only when you can no longer use muscle to force the bead onto the rim. You may find that as you position the bead on the rim the leading edge will try to climb back off.
There are tools sold to prevent this from happening, but the resourceful mechanic will use his knee or another tire iron to hold the fugitive portion of the bead in place. Once the tire is back on the rim, lubricate both beads with your soap solution or tire lube and begin to inflate the tire.
At somewhere around 30 to 45 psi, the bead should seat itself on the rim. If it doesn’t seat by 60 psi, deflate the tire, and try again. When the tire is seated, the thin rib molded into the tire sidewall will be equidistant from the rim all around the tire on both sides. Check that your valve stem is straight, and if it is, secures the retaining nut. If it isn’t, you’ll have to break down the tire and start all over again.
Bummer. It’s also a good idea to partially deflate the tire and bounce it a few times to help work out “wrinkles” in the tube. Then fully reinflate. If you are changing the tire itself, once the tube has been removed, force the other bead over the rim just like the first. Once the tire has been removed from the rim, inspect the rim for any damage or rust.
Remove rust with a wire brush or heavy ScotchBrite pad. The new tire has two important markings. First is a directional arrow, perhaps along with the word DRIVE, install the tire so the arrow points in the forward direction. Second is a balance mark, a dab of paint indicating the tire’s lightest spot. The balance mark should be placed next to the valve stem.