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 Dealing with Flat Tires.

The flat tire, if you ride enough miles, one will eventually find you.  Early in my career I rode a charmed life, I managed to avoid one for many, many miles and tours.  But in the last few years, I appear to be snake bit, having more tire issues then I care to remember.

Here, the RT lies crippled in the Florida Panhandle by a
5 inch bolt.

Tires cause numerous problems for Long Riders because they are the most vulnerable area of the bike, and a puncture is not the only bad thing that can happen to a tire. It can also wear away in the middle of a long tour, leaving you in a unsafe condition.

First let me say, tires are one of your most important safety issues.  Before a cross country ride, or long tour, I take stock of my tire situation.  Below are the guidelines I follow.

I start every cross country ride on new tires.  If I'm not 100% sure the tire can go the distance, I replace it.  This is where being familiar with your bike is important.  Many riders switch tire brands at every change, always looking for something different on a try and see basis.  Find a tire that works for you, and stick with it.  I've been on the Metzller RoadTechs, for 65k miles on the Honda, and 35k miles on the RT.  This has allowed me to become intimately familiar with the tire, and how it performs.  Heck, I can tell when the tires are a bit low, or when they are cupping.  I know how they grip in the wet, what to expect in truck turbulence, or when a wheel is out of balance. When something is not right, I can sense it.  You don't get to that point by switching brands at every change.  Each brand has certain characteristics and it takes miles to learn all their nuances.

If you use your bike for mostly local riding, and a couple of weekend tours, bouncing from brand to brand is not a big deal.  But far from home, its good to be as familiar as possible with your tires, like how long they last, and what they can do. 
I can look at a Roadtech on my 1300 and know how much life is remaining, because I know the tire so well.  I'm not going on a 5,000 mile ride with a 3k tire.  Why?  Hassle.  The ST 1300 employs a odd size tire.  You are not going to walk in a dealer and find one on the rack.  So if you have to replace a tire mid tour, you have to get on the phone.  I've had to do it a couple of times, and it's not fun.

On my first cross country ride on the 13, (2004) I started the tour on new Dunlop 205's, which delivered over 12k miles on the 1100.  Well, the 1300 roasted the rear 205 in 8,000 miles.  Just so happened I was in a small Midwest town that had a Honda shop.  But as expected the dealer did not have any brand tire that size on the rack.  It took several phone calls, to find a tire 100 miles away at a Yamaha dealer.  I had to divert and spend half a day the next day getting sorted out, before getting back on the on the road.

That goes back to knowing your bike and equipment.  The 1300 was still new to me, and I didn't know what worked really well on the 1100 might not on the 13.  I checked the tire before heading back east, and knew it was wearing, but using the 1100 as the default bike I figured I could make it home, but only made it as far as Kansas.

The next tire on the 13, was the Metzllers, and has been ever since. 

Some riders prefer Avons, Excedras or whatever, I have my reasons for being partial to the Metzllers, that I won't get into here.
My experience on the RT, almost any BMW dealer will have the tire needed on the rack.

If you ride the ST, and plan to ride cross country with half worn tires, you will have to plan ahead.  For me that's too much trouble, but years of doing this has allowed me to develop a network.  I have Freestyle Cortez at my turnaround point in California, and he has a tire machine.  If I'm so inclined, I could order a tire to his house, and do the switch in about a hour.

 ​​              Riding a plugged tire

There is a school of thought; "a plugged tire is not reliable and only good to get you to the next dealer," where you get out your Visa and buy a new tire.

I use to adhere to that philosophy, but not any longer.  I'll plug a tire and ride on till the tire needs replacing.  You are much more likely to run over a nail then a properly plugged tire failing.  But if it makes you feel better to buy a new tire, then put your mind at ease.

I've ridden plugged tires many thousands of miles with no problems.  An old friend once asked me, "What's the worst gonna happen on a plug tire?"  "I dunno Dennis, it goes flat again?"  "Right, and you run the risk of a flat anytime you get on a bike." 

I've never experienced a plugged tire failure, on a bike or a car.  I'm sure some have, I've just not seen it.

Plugged tires can leak when the tire begins to wear down, I have first hand experience with that.  So if you're on a plug, take caution when the tire starts evaporating.  I'd replace it a couple thousands miles earlier then usual.

            In  Southern California, the ST 1300 is aired up after
             receiving plug.

​​   What you need to fix a flat tire in the field.

I've been called on to fix several flats in the field.  I suggest the following equipment to remedy the situation.

There are 2 ways to approach this.  The CO2 cartridge and plugs vs, the Compressor and gummy worm.  In my book, the gummy and compressor are the way to go, they are more reliable.  One, I'm not sure how many cartridges are needed to get a tire up on a ST, and second I don't know about plugs, they seem to have less room for error.  When you are stranded in the Mojave, you better have the correct number of cartridges, and everyone of them better work as advertised.

On the plus side the plugs and Co2's are easier to pack.  Those of you with positive experience with pocket pluggers, all I can say the jury is still out for me.

Compressors give you a unlimited supply of air, so if your first attempt fails, you can try again, not so with CO2.

Mine has a plug you can stick in any 12v source.  If your bike has such a outlet you're in business, and if it doesn't just flag someone down.  My bikes have the BMW plugs so I had to buy the adapter, but if I have my "druthers" I'd rather power it off a car socket.

​I currently use a small air compressor about the size of a paperback book.  It will air a tire up in about 5 minutes.  I've used it once and it works well.  I bought it at Wal Mart, and I don't know have the name (lazy, not going out to garage to get it)  It is nothing fancy, but gets the job done.  Not had it long enough to give it a durability rating.  So far so good.  I carry it in case with T handle, worms, glue, and pliers.  Everything I need to fix a flat in one place.

Why worms in lieu of plugs?  Because the one time I tried the plugs, I failed miserably.  I had a problem getting them in.  But luckily, I was in front of old fashioned service station, and the kid broke out one of his worms and tools and got me back on the road.  I replaced the CO2 and plugs with compressor and worms on my return.

Go to your local Auto Zone and buy the worm kit.  It will have everything you need.  T handle, 6 worms, glue, and instructions. Cost about 5 dollars.

Other things to know

Ok, so you have all the stuff to fix a flat, good.  Now check it before striking out on a long tour.  Get out your compressor and make sure it fires up.  If it spends alot of time in your pannier, you need to make sure nothing has bounced loose.  Inspect and confirm you have at least 5 worms.  See if your T handle is where it is suppose to be, and your tube of glue is not frozen up.  You will also need pliers to pull the offending nail out, make sure you have a set.

As I mentioned earlier I carry all that stuff in the Air Max case.  I ride with it in the right saddlebag along with my tent and poles.  The case does use more room then I would like, but the price of doing business.  If you go the bigger Wal Mart route, I don't know know how much room will be left over in your bag.  And speaking of which, I'd be reluctant to rely on a China made compressor from Wal Mart, but that's just me.  
If you have never fixed a flat, it would be a good idea to do so when no money is on the line.  You don't want your first time to be on the side of the road on a dark night.  Most competent riders with even a little ability can do it, but I was glad I knew what to do before the time came for real.  My old fire dept training I guess.

Trying to read instructions at 2 in the morning in your headlight would not be fun.

You can do this the next time you change tires out, and if you don't have that coming up before your next trip, go find a old tire from the dealer.   I'm not going to get into the nuts and bolts of that operation, the instructions that come with the worm will suffice.

On a long tour I check my tire PSI at least every other day, so invest in a good gauge.  Check your PSI before leaving out in the morning.  This is also a good time to visually inspect the tire for wear, and nails.  Loaded, and riding cross country, I go 5 over the recommended PSI of the Metzllers.

Locally, I check the PSI about every 2 weeks, more when the weather turns cold.  I guess I could do better.
I think tire pressure monitors are a good thing.  I'm looking to install a unit on both of my bikes.  They are standard issue on the BMW K 1300 GT, and the Conours 1400.   Given the importance of tires, it should be standard issue on all touring bikes.

That about covers it, ride safe.