More so than any other system on your motorcycle the tires are critical to your safety. And although that statement seems to be self evident, there are many new riders and used-bike buyers that don’t give a first or second thought to the age of the tires. An older tire can still look as if it’s brand new, especially when you are accustomed to four-wheel vehicles where the physical demands on the tires are very different than the forces at play on a motorcycle.
The generally accepted safe age for motorcycle tires is five years – and I saw firsthand how quickly a tire which is exactly 5 years old can fail. I’d picked up an old bike and the rubber looked good; the tread was clean and pliable. However after only 100 miles – cracks started to develop between the tread blocks. Cracks are failures – and can split at any moment.
When you go looking for a used motorcycle, knowing the age of the tires is a great bargaining tool on price. You’ll have an idea when the bike was last maintained, and how long it has been sitting. Old tires also mean old valve stems, which can fail suddenly, too.
A motorcycle tire will not give you a lot of warning before it fails – and when it does there’s very few options for landing safely. If you lose a back tire you can generally get to the side of the road. But a front-tire blowout will be dangerous at almost any speed, and require more skill than most new riders have to recover safely. The best insurance is a new set of tires – even the cheapest tires you get will be better than old rubber.
What are the date codes? In the US and many other locations, it is a four digit code molded into the sidewall of the tire, at the end of a long series that describes the tire like a VIN number. The last two digits are the year it was manufactured and can tell you a lot about how to price the bike as you buy it. The first two digits are the week of the year, and are more helpful to the manufacturer.
So, if you haven’t verified the age of the tires on that used motorcycle you bought last year – make sure you look as part of your seasonal readiness check. At the very least, you’ll know you have good tires on the road and at worst – you’ll get new tires.