Search Suggestions
Common Tread

How to Choose Tires for Your Motorcycle

Jan 08, 2020

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the tire wear of your motorcycle. In reality, you should be checking tire pressures when you fill up the gas tank, which will give you a good look at the wear and tear on your tires, too. It’s never a great idea to try and squeeze a few extra miles out of a tire. When the time for replacement comes, sooner is better than later.

Choosing new shoes for your beloved motorcycle can seem a bit daunting, but in reality it’s not a tough task. Here’s a few simple steps to help guide you through the process.

Tire size and range are possibly the most crucial steps in getting the right tires for your bike. If you don’t know what size tire goes on your machine there are a few ways to find out. First, take a look in the owner's manual. If you don’t have that a lot of times the sizes will be listed on the frame somewhere or under a side panel. Lastly, you can always look on the sides of the tires themselves. The size will always be listed there. The only potential issue with looking on the side of the tire is that you could inadvertently be getting bad advice. If you purchased the bike used and the wrong size of tire is on the machine, you would be following bad intel, so to speak. But never fear, you can go to the “garage” on the J&P Cycles home page, enter the year/make/model of your bike and we will give you the proper info for your machine.

What you are actually looking for on the side of the tire or in your manual is a series of numbers and letters that can look a bit like a code. It could look like MH90-21 or 150/80B16. The front and rear tire will each have their own specific set of identifying numbers. Along with those numbers will be another larger number and a letter used to indicate speed and load rating. It can seem a bit like we’re decoding a message from a Bond villain, but let's break it down so it’s not so daunting. 

All the information about your tire is written right on the sidewall. You just have to know how to decipher it.

1. This number refers to how wide the tire is and could be written three different ways. Metric (i.e. 100),  inches (i.e. 3.5), Alpha (i.e. MM) All of these examples are referring to the same width of a tire, just in a different way. It can seem a bit confusing  so I added a chart for easy reference below

2. Ratio between tire section height and nominal section width. This ratio is not indicated when section width is expressed in inches (i.e. 3.50-18).


3. Code for tire construction (- = Bias, R = Radial, B = Bias Belted).

* There are conflicting opinions on this but generally speaking stick to the type of tire that came on the bike. If there was a radial on it, replace it with a radial, if it was a bias, replace it with a bias.

4. Nominal rim diameter size in inches.

5. "Motorcycle" in abbreviated form. Differentiates motorcycle tires and rims from those designed for other vehicles. Not shown on all models.

6. Expresses the tire's maximum load capacity (pounds) at the pressure indicated (psi).

* This is a very important and often overlooked rating. Tires with lower load ratings tend to be cheaper. That doesn’t mean you should use them to save a few bucks. Using a tire with a lower load rating than what you need can not only be dangerous but will significantly reduce the mileage you get from the tire.See load index chart below.


7. Speed symbol. Indicates the tire's speed.See speed rating chart below.


8. Tubeless (TL) or tube-type (TT), as applicable.

9. The arrows indicate the direction of rotation of the tire according to the fitting position (front-rear); applicable for directional tires only.

10. Number of plies and material.

11. Abbreviation of "US Department of Transportation." Serves to indicate that the tire conforms to the regulations issued by the US Department of Transportation. Includes the serial # for the tire, and the last three or four numbers represent the date. For example, 3805 means the tire was produced in the 38th week of 2005.

12. Tread Wear Indicator, as applicable

13. Brand name and registered trademark.

14. Type of tread pattern and/or product line.

15. Indicates where the tire was produced.

So now that you have determined the size of tires you need, you can determine the type or style of tire you want to run. Generally speaking that comes down to two factors, mileage and grip. If you want a high-mileage tire you typically will be giving up some grip, and if you are looking for a sticky, better handling tire, you generally will be forsaking some mileage. This has been mitigated a bit by dual-compound tires that use a harder compound in the center for mileage and a “lateral grip” compound on the sides for better handling. But if you're looking for hardcore performance in a corner you will probably be sacrificing mileage, and if you are looking for high mileage tire you are going to be sacrificing corner grip.

Once you know your tire sizes there is an easy way to sort through the options of hard and sticky tires for your whip. You can simply plug the size and rating into our handy Tire Finder and it will magically sort out all the tires that relate to your specific machine.

The J&P Cycles Tire Finder will show you all the options that fit your ride.

One more tip: Don’t try to fit a wider tire on the back of your bike than what comes from the manufacturer. Even if you can manage to squeeze it in there with a paper width of clearance on either side, it's not a good idea. Chances are the tire is going to expand under load and rub, causing some real safety issues.

A lot of folks dread buying motorcycle tires and look at it as a necessary evil, when in reality not only is it an extremely important decision in you and your motorcycle's life, but it will greatly affect the experience you have on your bike. I always look forward to putting new skins on my bike, and usually think of it as an opportunity to check out the latest tire technology. So the next time you need a new set of tires don’t view it as a dreaded task but as an opportunity for an upgrade. Happy motoring!