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The Best, Real World Tips for
Changing Tires & Inner Tubes
On Dirt Bikes & Off-Road Motorcycles

Changing Tires on a dirt bike is definitely something that anyone who rides should know how to do, and swapping tires is something that anyone who rides should do themselves, versus carrying the wheel, or entire dirt bike to someone else or a shop for such an easy & routine service.

It doesn't matter if you've got a killer suspension or bike setup, or a motor that has vision distorting power, If you're riding on tires that are worn out with rounded knobs, you're not going to get the dirt bike to stick in the corners, you're braking performance is going to suck, and all around, you're going to have trouble getting the bike to hook up on the straights and elsewhere. Just switching out some old rubber for new tires with sharp edges on the knobs can have such a profound difference that you'll likely be changing tires on a much more regular basis after you get the feel of some fresh rubber under you.

This article should provide you with everything you need, including what you need to know regarding tire changes on a dirt bike (short of removal and installation of a wheel), although if you're running a bib-mousse, or if you're wanting to install a bib-mousse, you probably won't find what you're looking for here, as a bib-mousse requires different tools and techniques to effectively and properly install.

Picture of Dirt Bike Tires

Changing tires when going from one Motocross Track or Riding area to another only makes sense considering the differences in terrain between such places. Remember... Factories, factory mechanics, manufacturers, teams & riders are constantly swapping tires during testing to try out different tread patterns and compounds, in an effort to gain even the smallest advantage over their competition, so changing tires when the edges are shot is something you may want to give some thought to.

Just remember that when changing tires on a dirt bike, it's important to do so carefully so as to not pinch the tube during removal or installation of a tire to the rim, and if you're using the correct technique(s) as shown below, changing tires can usually be accomplished without any profanity, bloodied fingers, pinched tubes or scratched rims.

Picture of a Motorcycle Tire Changing Stand

To get started with changing tires (or a tube) you're going to need to have the wheel(s) off the bike and it's recommended that you refer to a factory service manual specific to the dirt bike you're working on for removal and installation of either front or rear wheel. Also, when working on a wheel such as when changing a tire, you'll find that using a purpose built tire changing stand will prove invaluable.

If you don't have a tire changing stand, here's a trick to get you by for now without chasing the wheel around the floor or bench: During replacement of a tire or tube, place the wheel on a 5 gallon bucket, or an 18 gallon oil drum. An oil drum is preferred as this will bring the wheel to about waist height, and these can usually be found at an auto repair shop just for the asking, but nothing beats the tire changing stand.

How to Remove the Tire From the Rim

If you're Riding Off-Road...

It's a good idea to put together a fanny pack with tools that you can carry with you to repair a flat on the trail, and the things to have that should get you rolling again are:
  • Tire Irons that Double as an Axle Wrench
  • Valve Stem Tool
  • Tire Pressure Gauge
  • Small Bar of Soap for Lubricating the Tire Bead
  • Spare Inner Tube
  • Patch Kit and a...
  • CO2 Inflator
  • Begin with placing the wheel onto the tire changing stand, a bucket or oil drum as mentioned above.
  • Remove the valve stem cap, valve stem core, and the rubber grommet around the valve stem (if used), as well as remove and discard the nut from the valve stem if this was used.
    (Here's why to not use the valve stem nut)
  • Next, loosen the rim lock with what will likely be a 12mm wrench and back the nut out almost all the way, although do not remove the nut completely.
  • Using the flat part of a tire iron, or the wrench you used to loosen the rim lock, push the rim lock inside the wheel until the rim lock nut is briefly in contact with the rim and let go.
  • Once the tire is deflated and the rim lock is broke loose from the tire, remove the wheel from the tire changing stand, bucket or oil drum you were working over, and place the wheel on the ground, being sure to place a piece of cardboard or something similar on the ground first to protect the brake rotor, brake drum or sprocket during the next step.
  • Next break the bead on the tire by kneeling on the sidewalls of the tire opposite from the rim lock while holding the other side of the rim by hand and working your way around the tire, then flip the wheel over and repeat the process until the bead is broken all the way around on both sides of the rim.

Breaking the bead as described above can also be done by placing one foot on the side of the rim opposite from the rim lock, then use your other foot to press down on the bead opposite.

  • Once the tire bead is broke free on both sides of the rim, place the wheel back onto the tire changing stand, bucket or oil drum and very carefully so as to not pinch the tube, insert a tire spoon / tire iron between the tire and rim opposite from the rim lock, with the curve of the tool facing towards the tire so as to cup the tire bead, then ensuring you don't have the tube pinched, pull back on the tire iron slightly then insert another tire iron a few inches away and again... checking to be sure you don't have the tube pinched, pull back on the second tire iron, then repeat the process while working your way around the rim until you're able to grab the tire by hand and lift it up off of one side of the rim.
Remember; When changing tires, the fewer times you insert a tire iron between the tire and rim, the less chance you'll have of a pinched tube, so try to use the tire irons as efficiently as possible.
  • Once you're able to lift the tire sidewall away from the rim, do so while using your other hand to reach inside and pull the tube out of the tire.
    (This is where a dedicated tire changing stand proves it's worth.)

    Note: If you're only replacing or patching the tube due to a flat, it is still recommended to remove the tire entirely from the rim to check the inside of the tire for any sharp spots that may puncture a tube, as well as to check the rim for any burs and / or to re-tape the rim center as discussed below.
  • Now, Take the rim and tire off the tire changing stand, bucket or oil drum and stand it up on the ground...
  • Next, Grab the tire with one hand, and the rim or spokes with the other, then forcibly push the tire downwards and towards the side that will be obvious for removal while inserting a tire iron between the rim and tire, then with you're third hand, work the tire the rest of the way off the rim using a hammer in a downward motion on the tire if necessary, although this can usually be done by hand alone.

Here's Something About Reversing Tires...

If you've heard people talk about flipping tires when they get worn, I wouldn't recommend doing it for the reason of flipping tires is pretty well ghetto, and doing so will make the performance and handling of a dirt bike suffer, as the back side of the knobs are equally as important as the front, so stay away from reversing or "flipping" tires.

If the tires are worn enough to merit changing or flipping,
only replace them with New & Fresh Rubber.

Once the Tire is off the Rim

Anytime you're working on changing tires, or working with an inner tube, it's important to be sure to remove the tire from the rim as mentioned above, then ensure the rim is clean and free of any burs, or sharp areas which could cause a flat.

How to Check the Rim for Burs or Sharp Irregularities
and How to Prep the Rim for Installation of the Tire

  • Once the tire is off of the rim, put the wheel on a table, work bench, or the floor then remove the rim lock & rim strap, replacing the rim lock with a new rim lock should the existing rim lock look bent, or otherwise damaged, then remove and discard any tape in the center of the wheel.
  • Now, carefully run your fingers around the circumference of the wheel while feeling for any sharp spots that need attention.
Should you feel any spots that may cause a puncture to the inner tube resulting in a flat, now would be the time to address this by using a file, or sand paper to smooth these irregularities.
  • Once everything feels good around the rim, use a hand held wire brush and ensure that the rim is clean of any old rubber or foreign particles, then using brake clean which is commonly available any auto parts store, and a clean rag, wipe down the inside of the rim to remove any residual glue or adhesive remaining from a prior taping.

Once everything is clean and free of any burs, you'll need to protect the inner tube from the spoke heads before reassembly and this is best done by NOT using a conventional rim strap.

Here's the trick way of protecting the tube from the spoke heads while also helping to keep water out of the inside between the rim and tire / tube while washing the dirt bike or blasting across a water crossing on wet motocross track or on the trail.

  • Holding a roll of duct tape in one hand, and a new razor blade in the other, Very Carefully use the razor blade to cut into the duct tape working around the center of the circumference of the roll of tape, effectively creating two halves of tape.
  • After you've cut the roll of tape, and the rim is clean, begin with standing the rim on its edge and sticking the end of one side of the roll to the rim anywhere between the valve stem and rim lock holes, then slowly turn the wheel while applying several layers of tape around the circumference of the wheel, all the while using the thumb of your other hand to press down and secure the tape as it's applied.
  • Once you have several wraps of tape around the rim, use an awl, or a Phillips screwdriver and make a hole in the tape for the rim lock and valve stem, then inspect the rim lock for any damage, or replace the rim lock if necessary, then insert either the existing, or replacement rim lock back through the hole in the rim and thread the nut on a couple turns so the rim lock doesn't fall out.

How to Put a Tire on the Rim

  • Once everything looks good, you've got the rim prepped and the rim lock is in place, take the wheel and place it back onto the tire changing stand, or lay it on it's side on the bucket or oil drum you've been using with the sprocket facing down if it's the rear wheel
  • Stand the tire on top of the wheel and place a generous amount of baby powder inside the tire as this will help prevent any chaffing between the tire and tube, then slowly spin the tire around by hand so as to spread the baby powder around, then try to shake any heavy excess of baby powder out of the tire.
  • Now, being sure to pay attention to any markings for direction of rotation, take the tire and apply a generous amount of detergent to a wet rag (dish detergent works well), then wipe the soap around the bead of the tire that is to go on first.
  • Next, with your thumb of one hand, push inward on the rim lock while placing the lubricated side of the tire bead over the rim lock first, then working the remainder of that side of the tire onto the wheel as far as you can before using a tire iron to get the tire the rest of the way on.
  • Once one side of the tire is on the rim, lay the inner tube on top of the tire, remove the valve stem core if working with a new inner tube and temporarily inflate the tube using something such as an air blow nozzle, as this will straighten out any folds or wrinkles, then allow the tube to deflate, then begin working the tube inside the the tire by lifting on the sidewall and inserting the stem first and getting the stem through the hole in the rim before continuing.
    (This is where a dedicated tire changing stand will prove it's worth again.)
  • Once the valve stem is through the wheel, thread the cap onto the stem so as to prevent the stem from coming back through, then while being careful to not pinch the tube, or to cause the tube to become twisted, work the tube the rest of the way into the tire.
  • Once the inner tube is inside the tire, use the detergent that you used earlier and apply a liberal amount to a wet rag, then lubricate the tire bead that is sticking up now.
  • Once the tire bead is lubricated, use a tire iron and carefully begin working the tire back onto the rim starting opposite of the rim lock and working your way around both directions, while always keeping the tire pushed down in the area opposite of where you're working with the tire irons.
  • Once the tire is on the rim, check the valve stem to be sure it's straight, if the valve stem is cocked, be sure to turn the tire on the rim by holding the spokes with one hand and turning the tire with the other until the valve stem is straight.
  • Once everything looks good & straight, inflate the inner tube once again with the blow nozzle that you used earlier, then allow the air to escape, then reinstall the valve stem core and inflate the tire to it's proper pressure ensuring the tire expands evenly all the way around the rim on both sides as can be evidenced by a visual inspection.

How to Add the Factory Touches To A Tire or Tube Replacement

Once the tire is inflated and looking good, tighten the rim lock securely but do NOT install the nut that comes with a new tube onto the valve stem. Not installing this nut on the valve stem allows the valve stem to shift and not be ripped out of the tube if the tire should slip, as is common on bikes with a lot of power, or with riders that keep the bike hooked up. What's even better than this nut is to get an OEM Honda Valve Stem Grommet that comes stock on a new Honda dirt bike's tire valve stem, and install these on both front and rear valve stems, then install the cap.

After changing tires or replacing an inner tube, be sure to reinstall the wheel(s) as outlined in a factory service manual specific to the bike, but be sure to pay particularly close attention to ensuring the front wheel is installed properly so as to not create any binding of the forks, as well as making sure the chain is adjusted properly when working with the rear wheel.



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