Motorcycle wheel and tire safety questions (Answered!)

Motorcycles only have 2 wheels unlike automobiles with 4 wheels, making tire safety of the utmost importance. Knowing what to look out for will not only increase safety but will boost confidence knowing your tires will keep you on the road.

In this article, I will answer and explain these questions.

Should a motorcycle front wheel spin freely?

Most definitely yes! A motorcycle front wheel should spin freely. In fact, it should spin so freely that nothing stops it when lifted off the ground and spun by hand.

In reality, most motorcycle front wheels do not spin as freely as they should.

What would cause a motorcycle front wheel to not spin freely?

Several things would cause the front tire of a motorcycle to not spin freely including but not limited to brakes, rotors, drums, bearings, and improper installation.

The most common is either a problem with the rotors and drums or dirty brake piston seals commonly referred to as brake drag.

What is brake drag on a motorcycle?

Brake drag is the most common issue stoping a motorcycle’s front wheel from spinning freely. It is when the brake pads or shoes are not disengaged properly causing them to drag or rub along the rotor or drum.

What causes brake drag on a motorcycle?

What causes brake drag on a motorcycle you ask? The main issue comes from dirty and worn brake piston seals. A motorcycle brake piston is held in place with a square-shaped rubber ring that sits in between the wall of the brake cylinder and piston.

If this ring becomes dirty or worn out it will not allow the brake pads or shoes to fully disengage from the rotor or drum causing brake drag.

Improper installation

Improper installation of parts is probably the next most common issue causing a motorcycle front tire to not spin freely. The position of spacers and washers on the front axle is crucial to most motorcycle front tire installations, with very few exceptions.

Always double-check the location of all spacers and washers as many of them look very similar in size and shape.

Bearing issues

A damaged or dirty bearing can cause a motorcycle tire to not spin freely and one actually may cause the other because dirt inside a bearing can cause damage.

There are other reasons a bearing can get worn out for example if the side-load is too much or held for a prolonged period or even loss of lubrication, not to mention normal wear.

Should motorcycle tires match?

Every motorcycle tire manufacturer will tell you both your tires should match. However, for the average rider, it does not matter if your tires match. I am not saying you can put a dirt bike-style nobby tire with a drag-style slick tire but if you can find 2 tires that are similar they will work just fine.

What are the advantages of having matching motorcycle tires?

One of the biggest advantages of having a matching set of tires on a motorcycle is that the manufacturers develop tires in sets. Motorcycle tires that are designed to work together will give a better feel and more stability than ones that are not.

What are the advantages of having non-matching motorcycle tires?

The only reasons I can see for having non-matching motorcycle tires are cost and availability. Cost can be an advantage because having a non-worn-out tire is better than a worn-out one.

There can be all sorts of reasons for a tire to not be available such as manufacturer demands, shipping, and discontinuation of the tire completely.

Admittedly things like road condition, weather, and so-called acts of god will affect how your motorcycle handles more than if your tires match.

Do motorcycle tires need to be balanced?

It is highly recommended to have your motorcycle tires balanced. It may not be necessary if the motorcycle speed is limited but for the time and effort, it is well worth it.

The good news is if your wheel has been balanced before chances are you won’t need to balance it again when you get a new tire even if it is different from the previous one.

The reason for this is that most motorcycle tires have a low profile making them less likely to offset the balance of the rim. In my experience, if you have a balanced rim, the tire will have little effect. When I change tires, more often than not, I don’t have to balance them.

In fact, when I worked in a shop we were always told to strip off the old weights before we remove the tire. Because of this, when I went out on my own I bought a ton of wheel weights, only to discover how little I would actually need them.

What is balancing a motorcycle tire?

Balancing a motorcycle is adding weights to the rim to balance out any heavy spots when it is left alone to move freely. The weight is then added to the opposite the heavy side so the wheel does not spin when left alone to move freely on its axle.

This is done either by a machine that spins the wheel to find the heavy spot or a stationary wheel stand using gravity.

Both of these methods work well however the stationary method is essentially how you calibrate a spinning tire balancer and is a lot cheaper.

Why would you need to balance a motorcycle tire?

When things spin it is beneficial to evenly distribute the weight around the circumference to avoid vibration. Motorcycle tires are no different and should be balanced.

Many things can contribute to an unbalanced tire for example manufacturing imperfections, valve stems, valve caps, rotors, drums, sprockets, and even tires can cause an uneven weight distribution.

How to tell if a motorcycle tire needs balancing?

A symptom of improperly balanced tires is a “hop” or “bump” feeling that increases with speed. The only other methods to determine if a tire needs balancing involve removing the wheel and visually inspecting the tire or checking them with a tire stand using gravity.

Do I need a machine to balance a motorcycle tire?

No, you do not need a machine to balance a motorcycle tire. Because of the smaller width of a motorcycle tire, they can be balanced statically using a level tire stand.

What is the dot on a motorcycle tire?

The dot on a motorcycle tire indicates where the valve stem should align when mounting. This is to assist in balancing because the valve stem has substantial weight and tire manufacturers try and compensate for this.

This can be especially helpful because it keeps the number of weights needed to a minimum.

Can motorcycle tires get flat spots?

Although not nearly as common as it is in automobile tires, motorcycle tires can get flat spots if left in one spot for too long with low tire pressure, from burnouts or skid stops.

Will a motorcycle tire get flat spots?

Under normal circumstances no, a motorcycle tire will not get flat spots. However, under certain circumstances, a motorcycle can develop flat spots but in my experience, this is virtually a non-issue.

What are the causes of flat spots on a motorcycle tire?

Skid stops

Braking too hard can cause a motorcycle tire to develop a flat spot. This is probably the next leading cause of flat spots on a motorcycle tire. Intentional or not a flat spot from a skid-stop is almost certainly a death sentence for a tire.

Prolonged storage

Motorcycle tires can get flat spots if left in one spot for too long with low tire pressure. How long this takes depends on many factors such as model, tire condition, temperature, and tire pressure. A flat spot will cause damage to the structure of the tire.


Burnouts can cause motorcycle tire flat spots. These flat spots from burnouts are very different from flat spots caused by prolonged storage and even skid stops because the flat spot encompasses the entire circumference of the tire. Although they may pose a safety risk, a flat spot caused by burnout may not be the end of the tire.

Will flat spots hurt a motorcycle tire?

A flat spot may not hurt a motorcycle tire depending upon factors such as where it is located on the tire or the actual size of the flat spot but considering you only have 2 tires it is recommended to change a motorcycle tire if it has or had a flat spot.

How to prevent flat spots on a motorcycle?

Other than avoiding burnouts and skid stops, you can protect your tires during storage by simply keeping the air pressure up and rotating them regularly. If this is not possible the use of a motorcycle stand that keeps the tire off the ground would be your best option.

Final thoughts

On motorcycles, wheels and tires are the only connection between you and the road and should be treated as one of the most essential components.

In an automobile, if a wheel or tire has an issue chances are you can simply pull over and deal with the situation. On a motorcycle chances are a wheel or tire issue will result in the motorcycle falling over.

This could be dangerous no matter how fast you are going.

Simply knowing the difference between a safe and unsafe tire can be the difference between a fun ride and a disastrous ride.