Why would anyone want to change their own tires? Isn’t it hard work that usually involves at least one bleeding knuckle? Don’t the tools cost a small fortune when you consider that shops only charge about 25 bucks for the service? Well, some riders don’t live within a few miles of a bike shop. And some folks, well, they’ve always got to do things themselves.

The good news is that, overworked sweat glands aside, changing tires is relatively easy – once you have the right tools. All you really need is a bead breaker, a set of tire irons, some dish soap, and a tire balancing stand.

Remove the valve core from the valve stem and let the tire deflate.

Remove the valve core from the valve stem and let the tire deflate.

Begin with your bike on front and rear stands. Once you’ve removed a wheel, unscrew the valve core with a valve stem tool. After the tire has finished its lengthy sigh, place your wheel on an old tire or other work surface. Whatever support you use, you want to make sure the wheel is not resting on a brake disc while you’re working on the bead. Discs bend all too easily and are quite expensive.

Two different styles of bead breakers. We’re currently testing the Motion Pro BeadPro FS (right) and will have a full review up soon.

Two different styles of bead breakers. We’re currently testing the Motion Pro BeadPro FS (right) and will have a full review up soon.

No matter what tool you have, breaking the bead requires some force. Expect to exert some effort to break the “interference fit” – engineering-speak meaning “hell-for-tight” – between the bead and the rim. Complicating matters is the stiffness designed into the bead. Strap on your biggest muscles and press down on the bead breaker until the bead slides to the center of the rim. You’ll know the bead has let go when it stops resisting. The rim center has a depression to allow the rest of the bead to loosen.

Starting at the section of tire bead already in the wheel center, work the bead loose by pressing your way around the tire with your hands. Once the entire bead is in the depression, flip the wheel and break the bead on the other side.

Working your way around the tire, press the bead into the center depression in the wheel. Flip the wheel and repeat.

Working your way around the tire, press the bead into the center depression in the wheel. Flip the wheel and repeat.

Your next chore will be lifting the bead over the lip of the rim. Lubrication makes this job infinitely easier, but don’t use anything that you can’t wipe away or air-dry. A spray bottle of Windex or diluted dish detergent works just fine. Spray the outer edge of the bead and the rim with enough fluid to cover the surface.

Before you attempt to lift the bead over the rim, spray down the bead with a diluted dish detergent solution.

Before you attempt to lift the bead over the rim, spray down the bead with a diluted dish detergent solution.

Next, you’re going to wedge a tire iron between your shiny rim and the rubber. If you’re worried about marring your rim’s finish, using rim protectors will help – but nothing can prevent rim damage if you pull an Incredible Hulk routine while operating the irons. Slip the edge of the tire iron under the bead, and using the rim as the fulcrum, carefully lever the bead over the lip. With your second – and possibly third – hand, make sure the rest of the bead (on both sides of the wheel) is still in the center rim depression. (Kneeling on the tire can also hold it in place.)

Taking your second tire iron, lift the bead over the rim a couple of inches from the first iron. Moving an inch or two at a time, work your way around the rim until the bead pops off the wheel. Turn the wheel over, and you should be able to push the second bead off the rim by hand. If you have trouble, give the bead an assist with one of the tire irons. Wipe off the excess lube from the wheel before mounting the new tire.

Work deliberately with the tire irons. Your discs, knuckles, and rim paint will be much happier.

Work deliberately with the tire irons. Your discs, knuckles, and rim paint will be much happier.

Check to make sure you place the tire on the wheel in the correct orientation for rotation. The tire will have an arrow indicating the correct direction. If your front discs are directional, they should have arrows, too. Spray the first bead you’ll slip onto the rim and line up the painted spot (the lightest point on the tire) with the valve stem.

Make sure the rotational direction of the tire is correct. Otherwise, Bad Things could happen.

Make sure the rotational direction of the tire is correct. Otherwise, Bad Things could happen.

Although you should be able to get the first bead over the rim most of the way by hand, the tire iron will get the last bit over. Now, lube the other bead, and while keeping the first bead in the rim’s center depression, work the second bead over the lip. Finish off with the tire irons, keeping the beads opposite the iron in the wheel’s center depression.

When mounting the new tire, you should be able to press most of the bead over the lip by hand. On the second bead, keeping the first one in the rim’s center depression will help.

When mounting the new tire, you should be able to press most of the bead over the lip by hand. On the second bead, keeping the first one in the rim’s center depression will help.

Screw the valve stem valve core back into place. If you have control over the maximum air pressure for the air supply, set it to no more than 40 psi to keep from accidentally over-inflating the tire while trying to seat the beads. You should hear each bead pop into place as you inflate the tire. Using an accurate air gauge, set the tire pressure.

Remember, you’ll need to balance your wheels before remounting them to your motorcycle.

MO Wrenching: How To Balance Wheels

  • Dootin

    2 large screwdrivers and at least a couple busted knuckles always worked for me.

    • therr850

      Many years ago two large screw drivers cost me a busted bead on a brand new tire. Strictly tire irons since. Be careful out there.

      • Gruf Rude

        What really cost you the bead was not getting the opposite beads down into the center “well’ of the wheel. Not sure who said it first, but “If you are working that hard, you are doing it wrong.”

        • therr850

          Uh, no. Had my knee on the opposite side holding the bead in the rim well. What broke the bead was an extremely stiff sidewall and pressure applied on too small an area. A tire iron will and did spread the pressure across a slightly wider area expanding the pressure point width. Using small and medium tire irons on many, many tire changes since, I have not damaged or broken a bead since. Sorry.

  • Starmag

    I must be getting ripped off. Tire mounting in my area is more like $50, not $25.

  • john phyyt

    Rotational, dynamic, balancing is worth paying for especially on the front. .
    I don’t know about others but the brilliant smoothness and responsiveness of new tires is one of the pleasures of ownership.
    In a past life I had a bike stolen .Erion 954. about 1 week after 1 had new tires fitted. Before I could truly have fun. I missed that feeling a lot.

    • Juan Frank

      25 bucks?? I wish… If I take the bike they charge 85-110 … If I take wheels they charge 45-65 per tire… Those prices are around Eastern TN…

  • AZgman

    Try mounting a 50 series two ply sidewall tire with irons. Good luck!

  • Darren Steven

    Did Google just read my Facebook post about the crappy job my local just did changing my tyres, scratching the rim and smashing the ABS sensor. This article showed up in my feed minutes later

  • Gruf Rude

    I’ve been changing motorcycle tires for 52 years using three 8 – 10 inch tire irons, mostly on tube-type wheels. I learned in an old school multi-line shop. My tire changing stand was (and is) a 14 gal oil drum with an old worn-out minibike tire carcass folded over and bolted to the rim of the oil drum for protection.
    Few tips: get the new tire warm, keep the beads in the center ‘well’ of the wheel during mounting and use plenty of lube. For home use, Murphy’s Oil Soap (cleaning supplies aisle of your grocery store) is the same flax seed oil soap found in commercial tire lube and won’t corrode your rims as dish soap might. ALWAYS clean the black ‘goo’ left by the old tire from the wheel rim seating area (Scotchbrite ‘green’ pads and diluted Murphy’s works good).
    For breaking subborn beads, I’ve tried a number of solutions over the years, but have to say the new (but pricy) MotionPro Bead Pro irons mentioned in the article work good (either size).

  • Goose

    I must be a wimp, I love my No-Mar tire changer more every time I use it. I can’t imagine changing an ME880 MU90-16 tire with tire irons.

  • bookmark the article. this is useful info. ask friends to enrich your knowledge and start the change 🙂

  • Vrooom

    The most important piece of advice included here is… The last 1/6th of the top bead will be a bear to get over the tire when mounting. Push down on the opposite side of the tire so that the bead falls into the depression in the center of the rim opposite where you are trying to mount.

  • Steve C

    Nothing like a tire iron flying across the garage and just missing the wife’s car! I use a Harbor Fright tire changer with a No Mar or sometimes
    the zip tie method which works really well, depends on the tire and rim.

  • SRMark

    Looks like your real step 1 was seriously cleaning the wheel. Or you got a new bike to work on. When my tires need to be changed that wheel looks nothing like the one you show. But it certainly is worth taking the time to make the wheel look like new before starting.

  • TC

    If my time was worth about 5 cents an hour, changing tires is a great way to spend the afternoon. I take my wheel to the motorcycle shop and they mount and balance a new tire for twenty bucks. I have changed them at home, mostly off road tube types, and break the bead with a big C clamp. Also, if you are having trouble seating the new tire, wrap a ratcheting type strap around the circumference of the tire and tighten it up, it will push the beads out for a better seal.

  • scout

    omg

  • jeff the chef

    I usually set the bead by giving it a few squirts of soapy water and rapidly inflating the tube to 60 psi. It’s pretty satisfying hearing the beads pop into place. Also the Ride-On tire balancing/sealing stuff works great.

  • Daniel Ouellette

    I guess I’m lucky.
    All I do is bring my two wheels to the corner garage where I get my cars fixed.
    The mechanic mounts both tires and balances the rear which fits on regular car balancing machine for $20.
    I balance the front myself when I get home and put them back on the bike.

    At that price it’s not worth sweating over a tire change for me.