Dear MOby,

Next spring I’m planning – after my 2016 FLHXSE – to buy an Indian Chief Vintage. What irritates me a little big bit is the fact that it comes, vintage committed, with wire-spoke wheels that require tubes. Can you drop me a few bullets about that? Out of your big experience, is this a security issue? Is it talked about anyway? Would you recommend to just ride and don’t think about further?

Interestingly I didn’t find any shops who offer tubeless wire-spoke wheels for heavy cruisers. Where else than in God’s own country would there be more expertise about cruisers?

Kind regards from Vienna,
Gerhard


Dear Gerhard,

How are the sausages this year? Ahhh, not to think about such things further can be a mistake. Since you asked about my experience, all I can tell you is that I did experience a spot of unpleasantness on just such a heavy Indian cruiser a few years ago when I reviewed an Indian Chief Classic in Texas. Here’s an excerpt:

“… it [the Indian] shows no mercy when dealing with potholes and bumps. And whatever its suspension can’t handle is crushed beneath its massive weight and thick, cushy seat. Just keep the gas on and steer with the wide handlebar.

The other thing its massive weight had no mercy for was its rear Dunlop American Elite tire. On my way to College Station one bright morning, I felt a wiggle that felt like a flat and pulled onto the shoulder, where I was enveloped by a cloud of rubber smoke. What the? No flat kit was going to fix the exit wound in this tire, so I was relieved I hadn’t brought one. The very nice lady at AAA informed me over the phone that since I hadn’t paid the extra $7 for motorcycle and RV coverage on my policy, I was on my own. The flatbed driver was nice as could be, but it was a $200, 20-mile ride to Mancuso H-D on the Houston outskirts. They were nice as hell at the massive Harley-Davidson dealership, but also apologetic that they had no 180/65-16 tires in stock, which is surprising since that’s a really common size on all kinds of Harleys.

They were kind enough to kick me up the road to Global Motorsports, where it at first appeared that my valve stem had somehow gone missing in action, until it became clear that it was in fact the stem and the inner tube it was attached to that were all gone. Ed and crew were not only nice as all get-out, they even fixed me up with a new blackwall Dunlop and tube for $321.33, which didn’t seem entirely unreasonable given they had to drop everything they were doing and remove a muffler to get the tire off and on. On the positive side, if you’re going to spend most of a day dealing with a blow-out, maybe it’s good to have it happen on one when you were scheduled to visit the George Bush Presidential Library.”

Later, attempting to get to the bottom of what caused this, Dunlop said this can happen in rare instances if the tire is underinflated. I must admit I did not check my pressures that morning, but in pictures of the bike I’d shot that morning, the rear tire didn’t look low. Not that that means anything.

I’ve heard horror stories from a few different tire company people who set up inflation stations at big rallies as a courtesy to check peoples’ psi and promote rubber goodwill. They all agree that underinflation is a huge problem, and are surprised there aren’t more tire failures than there are as a result. An 800-pound motorcycle with two large Americans and most of their worldly possessions bungeed atop two bald tires with 12 psi is not an uncommon sight.

Anyway, a tube inside there is only going to create more friction, friction creates heat, and heat can lead to what happened to the rear tire on my Indian. Tire manufacturers are of course loathe to admit anything can go wrong with their product. But asked, which is more liable to cause a problem – an underinflated tube tire or an underinflated tubeless tire? – one tire guy who’s been in the business a looong time wrote me: “An underinflated tube tire will overheat itself to failure of some kind.” (He also mentioned how they’d put tubes in race bikes back in the day to get the tires hot on cold days…)

The answer to your question then, is, you’ll probably be fine on those wire-spoke wheels and tubes if – and it’s a tremendous if – if you check your tire pressures religiously! Like, get down on your knees at least a couple times a week and check them.

Personally, I’m a fan of the convenience provided by being able to just shove a plug into a tubeless tire whenever fate decrees it necessary, which seems increasingly frequent in these parts.

On the Indian Build-a-Chief website, if I was going to be cruising around at speed in Europe, I’d probably check the “10-Spoke Wheel” option, front and rear. They’re $499.98 apiece over here.


Send your moto-related questions to AskMOAnything@motorcycle.com. If we can’t answer them, we’ll at least make you feel temporarily better by thinking you’re talking to somebody who cares even if we don’t. And remember, only the Pope is infallible. But we probably know more about motorcycles.

Recent Ask MOs:

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  • HazardtoMyself

    So question on air pressures in a tubeless tire. I am one to check pressures at least once a week. I check even more as winter approaches and the temps start fluctuating.

    What do you all do though when you have some major temp swings in the course of a day? Say start out in the morning at 35F, but by the afternoon the highs are in the 80s.

    I can set it right at recommended in the morning but by afternoon I’m a few lbs over. Or I start low in the morning and am spot on in the afternoon. In both cases tires are cold.

    Is it better to be a little under recommended pressure or over? Guess I could set in the morning and let air out in the afternoon, but that would get tedious very quickly.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      I think once a week or once every couple of weeks is plenty, as long as the tires are not losing air. Then you don’t have to worry about daily temperature fluctuations. Manufacturers recommend checking the pressure when the tires are cold. As they heat up the pressure will be higher.

      • HazardtoMyself

        I see anywhere from a 2 – 5lb difference between morning and afternoon when we get big temp swings. Tires are checked with the same gauge while they are cold in both morning and afternoon.

        It’s enough where I can feel the difference, but isn’t a problem with handling.

        More curious of what is better for the tire? A little under inflated on a cold morning or a little over inflated on a warm afternoon?

        • Sayyed Bashir

          The little bit of under inflation on a cold tire will go away as soon as you start riding.

        • therr850

          Don’t forget as tires warm the pressure will go up 3 to 5psi. If you start at recommended pressure you will be a little higher naturally so don’t deflate. Always check your tires cold or after a four hour cool down.

    • Paragon Lost

      I don’t get much variance in air pressure on my tubeless tires. I also go with nitrogen in my motorcycle and car tires.

  • motorboy

    Let me just say 50+ years riding- in the day we had to ride on tube tires nothing else was out there so you took your chances-but now I will NOT ride on a tube tire bike at all-I have seen people crash and one die due to a flat on the rear at speed- tire goes down quick than tire comes off the rim you crash all in 10 seconds-and if you don’t crash and live how do you repair it on the side of the road-tubeless on all my bikes

    • Jon Jones

      Good post. Tubeless tires very rarely let go all at once. Tube-type tires frequently blow out. Happened to me on the front of my DR650 years ago, and it was all I could do to keep the bike on the road. Scary stuff.

      I still find it hard to believe that huge, modern motorcycles still have tube-type wheels. Spoked tubeless wheel have been around for years. I’m looking for a nice cruiser, maybe even a cleaned, used HD. But tubed-tires are a deal-breaker.

    • Clutchman11

      As a counterpoint: I’ve been riding for 30+ years now, and all of my bikes (bar 3) have (had) tubed tires. In fact my daily rider is tubed, running on so called ADV tires. Regular stints on the Autobahn, with “cruising” speeds in the triple digits both in normal measurements and what you guys across the pond use, as well as trail use, have as yet never resulted in injuries during a blowout. Even rear blowouts happening at 130kph/85mph (twice!) only resulted in a wobble at the rear.
      Most crashes on the street that I’ve been witness to, have resulted from people who, truthfully, were lacking in the skills department. Especially prevalent amongst the “I’ve been riding xx years!” crowd. But then those are the same people we’ve regularly have had to point out that they were riding on bald and/or underinflated tires…

      • XVS650

        I’ve caught a nail in my rear tire maybe four times in 25 years of riding. (Never in the front tire.) Two were tubed, two tubeless. In every event, the tire went from 30 PSI to zero in about 8 to 10 seconds. Each time scared the crap out of me, but I maintained control and stopped on the shoulder without a problem.

        That said, a tubeless tire is usually (not always) a lot easier to patch on the roadside.

  • john phyyt

    I have never owned a heavy cruiser. I have owned and ridden lots of bikes over the years and most used to have tubes. Tires Generally are much better and less prone to problems and I would assume Tubed tires of today are better than the old three and a half inch cross plys of the seventies.
    Just because this issue has been raised. I notice those tire pressure indication caps. If it really worries you why not give them a go and tells us if the are any good ..
    Evans .Maybe time for a product evaluation.

  • Walter

    Given that under-inflation is apparently such a problem with cruisers (or more properly the pirates who ride them) — do any of the cruiser manufacturers offer TPMS on their bikes?

    And it seems ridiculous that in these times the cruiser manufacturers haven’t been able to figure out (or can’t be bothered) how to have tubeless spoked wheels.

    • Josh Heinz

      God forbid they add a few ounces to their 700+ lbs bikes…

    • Bmwclay

      BMW had tubeless spoked tires on their GS way back in 1999. They just anchored their spokes on the outside of the tires. Main reason I bought one is after seeing a Harley Heritage rider pump can after can of pressurised Slime into his front tire.

      • Rapier51

        My Stelvio has tubeless spoked tires and wheels and I thought all the big adventure bikes did. I was shocked to hear the Africa twin has tube tires. I get why dirt bikes have them and so sort of get why Honda went there, but don’t agree with it. In every other application tube tires seem insane to me except for light dirt bikes.

        • Clutchman11

          Wouldn’t want my Africa Twin (both the “classic” and the new) without tubed tires. I’ve had to “rescue” enough guys who sneered at my “old fashioned” tubes, and then needed to borrow one of my reserve tubes due to a flat in the middle of nowhere Sahara or boondocks Algeria/Morocco/Tunisia. Tubes are a godsend especially in situations where your tire gets pierced by rocks, etc. and you can still ride once you’ve patched your tube, even with it showing through the hole in the tire.
          On the other hand, if one doesn’t venture far from the “civilized world”, then a tubed tire isn’t really necessary.

          • Walter

            What tube advocates always fail to grasp is that you can put a tube into a tubeless tire/rim if needed- or if you want to uses a particular tire that only come in a tubeless version. So there’s virtually no downside to having a tubeless rim.

          • Clutchman11

            Indeed, like I said in my previous reply, the tubeless rider were stunned that you could actually use a tube in a tubeless tire. Not only that, but a tubeless tire with a gaping hole in it!

            But then, both tube and tube less have their uses and applications.

          • Rapier51

            We are on the same page. This old man isn’t taking that huge lump of Guzzi off any road more than a tiny distance, much less Asia, Africa or, sadly South America. I’d love to do the West Side.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    I check pressures before every weekend ‘sport’ ride, and every other day when I was daily commuting by bike. Weirdly, I found tire pressures more stable on my tubed-tired bikes vs tubeless. Even so, I can’t imagine why anyone would build a streetbike with wheels that require tubed tires as the only option. I would expect only true off-road use would benefit from a tubed setup, but companies like Triumph are running spoked rims requiring tubes in their sporty road-only Thruxtons, for example. Why?

  • Jon Jones

    To summarize: Inner tubes on big cruisers are a terrible idea and potentially deadly.

    • Gruf Rude

      Even if the ‘vintage’ look so favored by the cruiser set demands wire spokes, there is no reason that the manufacturers should not be supplying readily available spoked tubeless technology on their bikes. Same goes for the ‘retro’ styled scrambled-cafe’s now in vogue.

      • Jon Jones

        Perhaps a huge, ugly lawsuit will change this.

        • Gruf Rude

          Indeed. I was just thinking the exact same thought.

          • Jon Jones

            I sure hope not as the motorcycle industry has taken a nasty beating the last ten years or so. Still…

  • John A. Smith

    Loath, not loathe.

    • Paragon Lost
      • John A. Smith

        Right back at ya, buddy.

        Loath is an adjective; loathe is a verb. Two different words. Learn the difference.

        You can say: “Tire manufacturers loathe admitting anything can go wrong with their product.”

        Or you can say “Tire manufacturers are of course loath to admit anything can go wrong with their product.”

        But you cannot say: “Tire manufacturers are of course loathe to admit anything can go wrong with their product.”

        • Paragon Lost

          Pardon me on that, my error, 🙂

          • John A. Smith

            No worries 🙂

          • john burns

            you are both loatheful.

  • Paragon Lost

    I can’t stand wire spoke rims, I had them on my Softail Deluxe. Damn tubes are no fun nor are cleaning the white wall tires and the wire spokes. If I were to buy say the HD Heritage, I’d have to have those wire spoke rims replaced.

    Also, John stop being so cheap. I’m surprised that someone who writes for motorcycles and rides a ton of them doesn’t pay that extra seven dollars! Please tell me you learned that 84 bucks for a year aka 7 bucks a month is worth the insurance?

  • Mark Vizcarra

    buy some RTV and seal those spokes and put a rubber band around it. presto, tubeless wire wheels

  • Craig Hoffman

    I have a TuBliss system in my dirt bike that turns my knobbies into tubless tires. It rocks – the bike is rideable even with a flat tire, as the high pressure bladder holds the bead in place, and trailside plugging/fixing is a breeze.

    Perhaps there is a new market for the TuBliss kit with these silly cruisers and their wire wheels. Using tubes on any street bike, but especially an 800 pound bike, is an awful idea.

    • john burns

      o damn there’s next week’s ask mo, thanks Craig.

  • Gary

    Product designers who spec spoke wheels for the sake of nostalgia should be forced to repair a flat on the side of the road with nothing but a standard tool kit and a six-inch flat-blade screw driver. In the rain. At night. That’ll fix ’em.

  • bdc1989@sbcglobal.net

    Big cruisers in general are a bad idea.

  • I own an Indian Chief Vintage with Spoke Wheels and Whitewalls. I would not want it any other way. The Rim Profiles are tubeless and it wears Tubeless Tires, but is fitted with Tubes nevertheless – due to the (vintage) manner the Rims are laced, I guess.

    So, I fitted an Outex® Tubeless Conversion Kit for Spoke Wheels (the closest being the FR-HD16305 Front 16×3.00 + Rear 17×6.00 set for FLSTSB Crossbones) purchased direct from http://www.ronin-cycles.com (Japan). Outex® Kits are very popular on older Ducatis wearing Laced Wheels and are well Track-day-proven to boot. Ronin Cycles stock several sizes for the more popular Spoke-wheel Harleys, amongst others. The Front Wheel is now truly tubeless. The Rear still runs a Tube though given the oversized Valve Opening in the Rim for the (equally oversized) Valve Reinforcement on the Vintage’s Rear Tube. Around 18-19 mm diameter if I remember correctly – nobody makes a Tubeless Valve that can fit a hole that size, they are generally 5/8” maximum. Anyway, the rapid-blowdown leak paths are all dealt with now. I have been running like that for close to a year now, around 8 000 km, and it keeps pressure very well. I also fitted TireGard® (13-315U) Wireless TPMS.

    It took me a full day to fit the Outex® Kit to the two Wheels. Add one more day to
    remove and refit both Wheels on a Chief! Watch the Outex® YouTubes, read and reread the Instructions. Oh, and be sure to follow them too! It was my first time doing it – and if I can do it, anybody can. Most other Bikes will probably not share the Vintage’s Rear Valve issue, meaning both Wheels can be truly tubeless after the Outex® Conversion.