Few things are as reliable as bad luck. Put enough miles on your motorcycle, and no matter how careful you are, no matter how diligent you are about maintenance, eventually you are going to get a flat tire. If your bad luck is good, your tire will go flat while your bike is parked. If your bad luck is not so good, you’ll get a flat while you’re riding.
It’s actually a little bit tricky to tell if your tire has gone flat while you’re in motion. Usually, you’ll notice a bit of a wobble at first, and you may hear a humming sound at speed. If your rear tire is the one affected, it might feel like your bike is losing power. If you notice any of these conditions, it’s time to slow your bike down and get it to the side of the road safely.
If you know which tire is flat right away, you’re in luck. Avoid sudden inputs or changes in direction. Roll off the throttle smoothly, gently apply the brake on the wheel that is not flat, and stay centered over the chassis. Slowly, gradually, bring your bike to a stop.
If you can’t tell which tire is flat, the rules are very similar. Roll off the throttle smoothly, and try and stay off the brakes entirely as the bike slows down through engine braking. Apply both brakes gently once the bike has slowed significantly, and stay centered and balanced over the bike’s chassis. Slowly, gradually, bring your bike to a safe stop.
Don’t try to ride a bike with a flat tire, not even for a short distance. You won’t have control of your speed or direction, and you’ll not only tear up a tire that might be repairable, you’ll ruin your rim — a very expensive consequence.
Now that you’ve successfully stopped and parked your bike, you’ve got a few choices. Are you tires tubed or tubeless? Did you pack a tire repair kit on your ride? A tubeless tire can sometimes be plugged during a roadside repair. A tubed tire, like what you’ll find on most spoke rims, will need to be removed from the bike in order to replace the tube. Don’t use those one of those automotive cans of tire repair goo, like “Fix a Flat,” on your motorcycle tire. You will create an unsafe riding condition, and will make it much more difficult to replace the tire later.
I have a confession to make. I never carry a tire repair kit, and I don’t know how to replace the tube on a tubeless tire. What I do carry is a cellphone, and I have several redundant towing plans available every time I ride. My Harley Owners Group (HOG) membership includes Roadside Assistance. I’ve also signed up for roadside assistance with the American Motorcyclist Association in addition to my regular membership. Just to add another belt to my belt-and-suspenders setup, I also get roadside assistance with my motorcycle insurance program. So, when I get my inevitable flat tire, no matter where I am, one of the three programs will be available to help get me back on the road again.
Are you ready for the inevitable? A flat tire doesn’t have to be a disaster, if you’re riding aware and prepared.