What Is a Tire Bead?
Motorcycles, cars, and even bicycle tires all attach themselves to the wheel in the same way. The tire locks into place on the rim by a tire bead. So, what exactly is a tire bead?
The tire bead is a section of the tire that is reinforced and is used to keep the tire on the wheel once inflated. When you look at the construction of a tire off the wheel, you’ll see the bead as a kind of lip.
The bead locks into a channel on the inside edge of the wheel and keeps the tire securely in place, and ensures that no air escapes, keeping the tire inflated. The bead is an essential part of the tire’s construction and needs to be inspected before tire installation. A tire with a damaged bead should not be used.
What Does It Mean To Break the Bead?
When your tire is properly inflated, the bead is securely locked into the groove on the wheel. You want this interface between tire and wheel to be as strong and secure as possible because this is the only force keeping your tire on your wheel.
The good news is that tires are extremely reliable, and unless damaged or severely underinflated, your tire’s bead will do its job and keep that tire on the rim.
The bad news is that because tire beads are so good at what they do when it comes time to change your tire, getting the wheel off can be a real chore.
Breaking the bead refers to separating the tire from the wheel. You are literally breaking the seal that the tire has with the wheel. Doing so requires a lot of force and a bit of prep work. With the right tools, however, this task is rendered much easier.
What Do You Need To Break the Bead?
The first steps to changing the tire on your motorcycle are getting the wheel off the bike and then getting the tire off the wheel. I’m going to assume at this stage that you’ve already got the wheel off the bike, and you’re ready to tackle getting the tire off the rim.
Searching the internet, you will find all kinds of do-it-yourself instructions on breaking the bead on your tires. Many involve two-by-fours and jumping on them to apply enough force to break the tire bead. I’ve seen enough videos online to know this can end in wrecked shins and lots of frustration.
We, as humans, have evolved to use tools, and for this job, there are a couple of tools you’ll need that will make breaking the bead on your motorcycle tires super easy and save you the trouble of fabricating a two-by-four contraption.
Tools Needed To Break the Bead on a Motorcycle Tire
All you need to break the bead on your tires is two tools, and one could hardly be defined as a tool. The first is a set of tire spoons that double as a dedicated bead-breaker. The second is a bottle of Windex or a soapy water mixture; this is the lubricant to help break the bead and dismount the tire.
Also called tire spoons. If you’ve ever changed a bicycle tire, you’re probably already familiar with its construction. Unlike bicycle tire levers, these are much larger and constructed of very strong metal.
The tire levers I have are made by Motion Pro and can be purchased here. The reason I like these so much is that they are actually two tools in one. They have one end that is a dedicated bead breaker, and the other end is like any other tire spoon.
A single set is all you need to break the bead on your tire, take the tire off the rim, and put the new tire on. I keep a set in my toolbox, ready to go.
Breaking the Bead
With your wheel off your bike, you will want to place it on a soft surface that will not scratch the metal. You can use an old piece of carpet, a kitchen mat, or a piece of cardboard. You’ll set your tire down on this with the rotor side up.
You want the rotor up because you’re going to be applying a lot of downward pressure on this first part, and you don’t want to inadvertently be pressing down on your rotor, potentially damaging it.
Remove the valve core from the valve stem and depressurize the tire. Now is when you want to lubricate the tire using your Windex or soapy mixture. What this does is allow the tool to get under the rim easier and will ultimately allow you to make more purchases with the tool.
Using the bead breaker side of your tire levers, you will insert the forked end between the tire and the rim with the curved end pointed down. The other side of the tool will slot in place with the single hooked end pointing up.
When you squeeze the tools together, visualize the tools leveraging against one another to push the tire away from the rim. If you’ve done it correctly, the forked end should push the bead away from the rim and out of the groove.
Breaking the first section of the bead is the hardest part; once one section is free, the rest becomes much easier. With the first section of the bead broken, I work around the tire's diameter, pressing down with my hands or knees to break the rest of the bead free.
With the bead free, you can move on to removing the tire from the wheel and putting your new one on.