The Basics: Motorcycle Safety Tire Wear Bars

The tire below is worn out, it looks like there is still good tread, but, with over 12,000 miles on it, it’s done, and unsafe.  A clear indication of this is that the tread is worn down to the wear bars.

dunlop motorcycle tire showing wear
Worn Out

This is my own bike, and I should have never let the tire get to this point, but I did, no excuses, I wasn’t paying attention.  I was half expecting a lecture when I brought my front wheel to my local tire dealer, Ken’s Tires, I guess I was spared because it was May, and Ken was so busy.  Even if I had got the lecture about riding on such a worn tire, it would have not been as embarrassing as our first “talk.”  I had brought my rear tire in because I knew it was worn and needed replacement, the center tread was gone completely, so it was time.  When Ken brought my wheel out with the new tire mounted, he said, “You know you had some tire carcass showing right?”  “You’re kidding,”  I said.  He went back in to the shop and brought out my old tire, sure enough, you could see the beginnings of carcass threads.  I knew my tire was marginal, but, I didn’t know it was THAT bad!   Apparently it was, and if I had just rode another fifty, or sixty miles, I could have had a blowout!  He asked me if I had not noticed my wear bars were gone, and I said, “wear bars?”  I have been riding for well over forty years and didn’t know there were wear bars on motorcycle tires!  Thus began my education about wear bars, and how to find them.

On a new tire wear bars are almost invisible, only after the tire has some miles on it can you see them more clearly.  If you look closely at the example below, you can just make out a bar in the long tread that starts on right hand side of the bike (your left) near the axle, follow the tread up, and you can just make it out a little way past the mid-point.  If you still can’t make it out, click the image to zoom in.

new dunlop motorcycle tire showing wear bars
New Dunlop Tire

So, these things are hard to spot, but, the tire manufacturers make it a little easier for you by providing guides on the side walls.  Most tire makers  have some type of arrow on the side of the tire that points to the wear bars, I’ll show you on a worn tire so you can see the relation of the arrow to the bar.

I have circled the marker and wear bar in red so you can see the relationship of the two, having the arrow makes the bars easy to find.  The bars and arrows are all the way around the tire spaced evenly.  I would suggest you chalk mark a point on the tire and roll the bike forward to inspect all your bars, this way you can tell if you are getting uneven tire wear caused by an out of balance condition.  While you are checking, be sure to look for other problems, cuts, suspicious bulges, nails, etc.

side view of worn dunlop motorcycle tire showing wear bar location
Side View

Here is a similar view with my new tire, again, I have circled the wear bars and arrow in red.

side view of new dunlop elite three motorcycle tire showing wear bar location
My New Tire

While I had my bike up on the lift, I did a quick inspection of my rear tire which has about 7,200 miles on it, sure enough, it will be due for replacement very soon, rear tires, since they are drive wheel, wear at about twice the rate as the front.  The mileage and wear rate can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and, the type of tire can be a factor, “touring” tires trade-off a little less grip for durability, where a “sport” tire will sacrifice longevity high performance traction.  Riding style is also a factor, the more you abuse them, the less mileage you get, for me, and the way I ride, 7,000 miles or so out of my rear Dunlop E3 is about average.

Your safety depends on your motorcycle’s tires being in good condition, make sure you check them regularly for proper pressure and tread wear, your life could depend on it.

Words By: Terry Cavender

Images By: Terry Cavender


29 thoughts on “The Basics: Motorcycle Safety Tire Wear Bars

  1. Thanks for the pics of the wear bar indicators on the sidewall I willl check mine out, I have the e3’s on my harley FLHT only have about 9000 kms on the rear, but I ride hard and fast, my last d402 only got 6000kms

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    1. You are welcome Kane, it is not unusual for the original manufacturer’s tire to wear out quickly. I think some tires like the Harley-Davidson branded D402, while they are cheaper to buy, are also made to a lesser standard, and are just there to hold up the bike in the showroom. My Victory came with a Dunlop D417 on the rear, and it was gone in 5,000 miles, my Dunlop E3 lasts to about 7,500, which, over this past weekend I found out is typical for this tire. The tire I use on the rear is the same as the rear tire on a Honda Goldwing, I just happened to have a conversation with two Goldwing riders who confirmed that they were getting about the same milage on their bikes. You should get reasonably good milage from the E3, just keep an eye on your tire pressure and wear bars, I’m glad you found my post helpful.

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  2. Thank you for the advice. I am still a little confused as to what I am looking for, but I will be checking my ’06 Road King Custom when I pull it out of Storage later this month. Thanks again for taking the time to write this and give pictures for reference.

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    1. Hey Rob, you are welcome.

      You should be able to see the wear bars if you take your time. If you still have the Harley Dunlop tires on your Road King, they should have indicators on the sidewalls similar to what is shown in the article images.

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  3. I recently noticed what appears to be a separation in my tread. However, it appears to be factory it’s not cut or worn and it’s just in the center of the tire I’m one spot like a retread but I bought this bike new from HD. Anyone have any info on what I might be seeing.

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    1. Hey Travis, if you bought it new, take it back. What you are describing sounds like a dangerous condition. Any type flaw in a motorcycle should be taken seriously. This is not like a car, where if one tire fails, you still have three good ones.

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  4. Great information. my fat boy lo has the Harley logo on the middle of the tire and it is almost gone. I will change the tire this weekend for a commander from Michelin. I think that is a good tire. Do you know if we need to re balance the wheel? or we just put it on? Thanks for the great information. My original Dunlop is 5000miles (8000km). I drive somethimes fast but usually I make good driving practices.

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      1. You are welcome Francisco. With your new tire make sure you keep the tire pressure at the factory recommended level. An over inflated, or under inflated tire will wear out sooner. 5,000 miles is not many miles for a tire to wear out unless you are abusing it by doing burnouts, or something similar. I check my tire pressure at least once a week.

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  5. Great info and pics! I have a 2000 Nighthawk 750, and was able to find the wear bars immediately.
    Question: if there is minor hairline cracks in the inside tread of the front tire, but nowhere else, and the tire still hasn’t hit the tread indicator (tire date coded early 2009), is the tire still good ?

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    1. Hello Ian,

      That is tire damage due to the tire compounds drying out, did this bike sit a long time before you got it? I would not take my chances on them, your life literally depends on your tires.

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    1. Hey Kurt,

      Have you been doing a lot of burnouts?? Just kidding, that sounds like some rapid wear to me. But, I have some questions in regard to your comment. Is this the first worn tire on your bike? Front or rear tire? What type of motorcycle is this? Some bikes wear tires faster, say for instance, a sport bike will chew through a tire faster than a cruiser, or touring bike. One of the best things you can do to extend the longevity of a tire is to keep the air pressure at the recommended level in your owner’s manual. This is the number one cause of premature tire wear. I check my tire pressure every week, or at the max, every two weeks. Sometimes I’ll have to add a pound or two, but that’s it. My current Victory Crossroads has over 9,000 miles on it and I still have plenty of tread left on both ends.

      Keep up with your tire pressure, it will save you money in the long run, and since they are kinda important to the stability of the motorcycle, help keep you safe.

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  6. I purchased a new-to-me ’05 Suzuki C90 ( a smaller touring bike) last year and by the end of the season I replaced the Bridgestone tires. They had ~ 6000 km. at time of purchase and I added another 24,000 by November when I put the bike away. This year I took two trips from Peterborough, Ontario – one to Leeds, Al (Barber Museum) ; the other to Yellowknife / Banff. Part way through that trip my partner saw that my wear bars were showing. The bike shop in Moose Jaw made it clear to me that I had waited too long. (They had ~ 26,000 at the time.)
    I now have Metzler – a better tire I was told.
    What is your opinion of Metzler ?

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    1. Hey Steve,

      I love it when I see riders putting miles on their bikes! The Barber is fantastic isn’t it? I have used Metzler tires in the past on my BMW R80 twin. A back tire on it lasted about 7,000 to 8,000 miles, I don’t know what that is in Km. Unless it’s some cheap, off brand tire, most tires perform well if cared for. In my opinion, the Metzler is a good tire, kept properly inflated it should last as long, or longer than your Bridgestone tires.

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      1. Just a follow up – 5000 mi = 8000 km so when my tires had 26,000 km that is ~ = to 16,250 mi. There seems to be quite a difference in your tire wear and mine. What would be the reason for that ?
        [ Many of our less used roads use a “chip surface” (a rougher coat) due to climatic conditions ( and lower cost). Maybe you carry a heavier load. I very seldom carry a passenger.]

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      2. Steve, I could not hazard to guess, there are so many factors, the design of the bike, design and compound of the tire, riding style, etc. Just be happy you got what you did out of your tires. One thing to keep in mind, the rear tire will wear out quicker than the front because it drives the bike, the mileage figures I mentioned were for my rear tires.

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  7. Old dog… new tricks.. I was unaware that the manufactures had “wear bars” on tires. This is great information for me and my riding buddies. We’re always asking each other “do you think I can get another 1,000 miles out of these”? Seems like we were all flying by the seat of our pants in determining the answer to this old question.. Thanks. I like this web site.. and will be looking forward to checking in periodically

    Jerry

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    1. There is always something to learn Jerry, I’m glad the article was of use to you and your friends, ride safe! By the way, if you subscribe, you will be notified every time new material is added, and we have lots of new stuff on the way!

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  8. Great article! Are you aware of a site with original (new) tread depth of Metzeler tires? I didn’t measure mine (ME880 & ME888) when I replaced the Dunlops on a couple bikes. Thanks

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    1. Thanks Ron,

      I wish I knew of such a site but I don’t. Does the Metzler web site make any mention of tread depth? I ran Metzler tires on my BMW R80 for years, they are an excellent tire. Just keep an eye on your tire pressure and they should serve you well.

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  9. Thanks for the great pics and help. I was just looking over my front tire on my FLHTK because it has 11K and I am getting ready to go on a 1500+ mile trip in a couple weeks. My first front tire got 15K, so I was checking this tire for wear. I know the back tire is solid, it only has 1K on it.

    I’m glad I looked here because now I feel good that I checked the tire. These pictures speak volumes and as they say are worth a thousand words! Thanks

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  10. Thanks for the excellent explanation and photos. I was thinking I needed a new rear tire, and this confirmed it. I’m a new rider and I really appreciated this write up.

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  11. Thanks for the info. I just called the dealer yesterday and asked “how do I know if I need to replace my tires?” He said bring it in and we will check them for you.😦. Wish he would have told me about wear bars. The dealer is 45 minutes away and I told him due to work schedule I can’t being it in until 1st week of June. Going in my first long distance trip July 5th so I will check my tires and be prepared for a safe ride. Thanks for the info and pics!

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    1. You are welcome Lea. At this point I could give my opinion about motorcycle dealerships, but I won’t. I’ll just say this, you were wise to not just accept their word on things, and you searched for your own answers. So now you know, good for you! Just make sure your tires are properly inflated, and, if you don’t replace your tires before the trip, give them a quick check every day just to be safe.

      One of the reasons I started The Biker’s Garage was to provide riders with the information they need to understand their machines, do their own maintenance and safety checks. When it comes down to it, the only person looking out for you is you, so knowing how to do the basic checks is critical to your well being. Too many riders I have seen recently treat their motorcycles like cars, they don’t check anything, not even their tire pressure, the dealership does it all, and honestly, I think that’s kinda sad. (and dangerous)

      If you want, get back to me and let me know how your trip went, I love a good road story!

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