Dirt Bike Tires & Wheels Explained - Sizes, Pressure, Treads & Tools

Most of us can't ride a factory-sponsored dirt bike like the pros do, so we're forced to pick and choose, save our money and upgrade as finances allow. But, if there is one thing you should never skimp on make it dirt bike tires.

Think about it - what keep you rolling along? Dirt bike tires can be the difference between smooth cornering, winning the holeshot, mastering the whoops and landing a jump. Uneven knobs, bad inflation and even the wrong compounds making up the tire all influence how your bike rides which affects the mechanics like working the engine harder than necessary or how the shocks respond to the terrain.

When in doubt grab a pair of the best tires available for your dirt bike and everything else will follow.

How to Know When you Need New Dirt Bike Tires

First things first - when is it time to get new dirt bike tires?

At first glance your dirt bike tires look ready to ride but after closer inspection those rubber hula hoops needed replacing a long time ago.

Check out the knobs. Once the knobs get rounded down or too short it's time for new tires. You may also notice some knobs completely chunked off leaving gaps of nothing on your tires - it's time for new tires!

Check out the tire rubber. If the rubber is dry, discolored or cracked - it's time for new tires. New tires look fresh with a deep dark black color. Old tires can also look weathered and should be replaced even if the knobs are intact and square. The shelf life of dirt bike tires is approximately four to five years after the manufacture date. (See below for information on the manufacture date.) If your tires are that old - it's time for new tires!

How to Choose the Right Dirt Bike Tires

Choosing the right dirt bike tire depends on your type of riding. Essentially, dirt bikers ride dual sport, motocross, or off-road/trail riding.

Dual Sport

Dual-sport riding is both off-road and street-legal riding as dirt bikes can be registered and licensed. Every now and then you may see someone on a dirt bike riding alongside your car. These dirt bikes have passed certain criteria to ride on regular public roads. See How to Make a Dirt Bike Street Legal.

These bikes feature street-legal equipment such as:

Some tires models are geared towards street use and others towards off-road use. The tires used depend on how much riding is done on the street versus off-road.

Dual-Sport Tire Design/Pattern

If the street is merely a path to the great outdoors, dual sport tires look more like straight-up dirt bike tires. But if a rider uses their dirt bike for commuting purposes, the tires look like regular motorcycle tires. Sportier looking tires handle the road well and manage along dirt and gravel roads but can't be used for all-out racing in dirt.

Good Dual-Sport Tires

Better Dual-Sport Tires

Best Dual-Sport Tires

Michelin AC-10 Rear Tire

Pirelli MT21 Rear Tire

Michelin T63 Rear Tire

Price: $71.99

Price: $103.99

Price: $69.99

Features:

  • Excellent traction on virtually any terrain
  • Resists tearing and chunking
  • Reversible tread pattern with mirror-image knobs
  • R speed rating for highway use

Features:

  • A flexible carcass to ensure high stability
  • Optimized tread for use on dirt tracks and gravel, cross country racing and in the desert
  • 90% off-road / 10% on-road design
  • DOT approved

Features:

  • Tread pattern derived from Michelin's Desert? tires
  • High level of grip on the road
  • Reinforced knobs resist tearing and abrasion on asphalt
  • S speed rating for highway use
 

Motocross/Supercross

Motocross is a man-made course on naturally occurring terrain and Supercross is a man-made course created from truckloads of dirt inside an arena or stadium. Both feature jumps and sharp turns but the type of soil used can vary.

Superficially, the tires used in each style of riding probably look quite similar but the soil composition determines what type of tire to use. Loamy, rocky, even sandy soil each requires a different set of tires constructed with different rubber compounds.

Motocross Tire Design/Pattern

Good Motocross Tires

Better Motocross Tires

Best Motocross Tires

Artrax MX-Pro Rear Tire

Bridgestone M404 Rear Tire

Dunlop Geomax MX51 Rear Tire

Price: $54.99

Price: $99.99

Price: $96.99

Features:

  • Made for Soft/Intermediate terrain
  • Excellent traction in ruts and flat corners
  • Offers great grip in all terrains and improves braking performance
  • Durable tire compound

Features:

  • Better slide control when exiting the corner, allowing more throttlen
  • gives corner confidence
  • Bridgestone's most versatile tire
  • Fine-tuned casing construction increases the durability

Features:

  • Provides more tread volume in the shoulders for excellent cornering grip
  • Recessed biting edges in shoulder tread blocks
  • Tie-bar design connects and reinforces the tread blocks
  • Knobs are placed in a unique "cross-stitch" shoulder-block distribution
 

Motocross tires bring the tread. These knobby type tires vary based on the type of track. Soft loamy dirt, sand and mud get a harder compound rubber tire composed of taller and wider-spaced knobs that create a paddle effect and keep mud from packing in between the knobs.

Firm terrain requires a softer rubber tire that conforms easier to the ground. Knobs are closer together and shorter to prevent flexing which creates a larger contact patch for better grip. In the middle you get intermediate tires - the most common selection. These tires tend to work well in most conditions.

See below for additional information on tire construction.

Off-road/Trail Riding

Off-road trail riding varies from tight single track trails in the mountains, down to high speed wide open desert riding and everything in between. Off-road and trails throw naturally occurring obstacles at riders like boulders, tree trunks, mud, water and a various types of soil from compact and hard to the sand of the dunes.

Off-Road/Trail Tire Design/Pattern

Good Off-Road/Trail Riding Tires

Better Off-Road/Trail Riding Tires

Best Off-Road/Trail Riding Tires

Artrax SE3 Rear Tire

Maxxis Maxxcross Desert IT Rear Tire

Dunlop Geomax AT81 Desert RC Rear Tire

Price: $52.99

Price: $84.99

Price: $111.99

Features:

  • Use on intermediate to hard terrain
  • Toughest and most competitive enduro style tire available from Artrax
  • Stiff sidewall with 4-ply construction resists punctures
  • For the budget conscious rider who does not want to sacrifice quality

Features:

  • Specially designed compound increases durability in rocky or desert conditions
  • Tall knob design for maximum traction in sandy conditions
  • Stiffer carcass design minimizes flex and less likely to pinch a tube

Features:

  • High-wear-resistant rear tire compound offers enhanced chipping, tearing and wear appearance
  • 4-ply
  • Lateral grooves on the shoulder knobs provide additional biting edges and flexibility
  • Suits hard, intermediate and soft-terrain conditions
 

Off-road tires are made for the off-roads! These tires provide a heavy duty framework for durability and vary as compared to motocross tires for knobby layout. In muddy and loamy trails a soft-terrain tire with wider and taller knobs is best. Trails exhibiting lots of rocks and a harder floor need a harder terrain tire with closely spaced and shorter knobs to improve traction.

Keep in mind that desert riding poses a challenge as terrain can vary from incredibly deep silt to a hard base and lots of rocks. Desert tires, similar to an intermediate motocross tire, address these varying terrains. Sand dune or paddle tires don't have knobs but instead features what looks like a series of paddles to push you along.

Generally, off-road tires look similar to Motocross tires and many riders pick a Motocross tire for off-road riding.

What Do All Those Numbers Mean?

Look along the rim of your tire. There's a whole mess of letters and numbers and you'd think only a CIA agent could crack the code. It's really not all that hard. Here's a diagram of a popular Bridgestone tire:

The codes vary, of course, from tire to tire but for the most part are universal across brands:

  • M403 (model #)
  • 80/100-21 (tire width/aspect ratio - rim diameter)
  • 51M (Load and Speed Rating, 51 = tire load rating, M = tire speed rating)
  • 2912 - This tire was manufactured the 29th week of 2012

Tire Construction: Does it Matter What the Tire is Made Out of?

A big wholehearted YES here. Different rubber compounds work best on one terrain over another.

A hard terrain tire is made of a softer compound to give you more grip on hard and slick surfaces, whereas a soft terrain tire is made of harder compounds so the tire can dig in more for traction. If you don't always know what terrain greets you on riding day or you typically end up riding both hard and soft terrain, grab a set of intermediate tires.

Intermediate tires represent the most popular choice among riders as it provides versatility to switch from one type of terrain to another. Keep in mind it is best to run the same rubber compounds on the front tire as you do the rear tire.

All tire manufacturers disclose what type of tire it is and we prominently feature what the tire is built for under the product description on our website. The tire itself doesn't say what it's best used for so if all else fails - just ask.

Proper Inflation

Proper tire inflation is the MOST important aspect to tire maintenance.

Tire pressure depends on riding conditions, terrain type and of course the type of tire you're riding. The best way to determine the proper tire inflation is to check the tire's service specs.

Generally, dirt bike tires run between 10 to 20 PSI. Again, check the service specs for proper running as each manufacturer's tire is different and requires different PSI depending on the terrain.

Improper tire pressure affects the following:

  • Over/under inflation can lead to tube or tire failure
  • Over/under inflation can cause irregular thread wear on the tires
  • Over inflation lessens the tire contact area with the riding surface
  • Over-inflation can cause the tire to wash out or slide around on top of the riding surface
  • Under inflation may result in the tire not staying beaded on the wheel
  • Under inflation affects the contact area and causes the tire to bow up in the middle leaving only the outer thread contacting the ground
  • Under inflation can cause the tires to grab into the riding surface

As you can see, tire pressure can greatly affects handling characteristics so it is a good idea to always check your tire pressure every time you ride for proper PSI.

Good Tire Pressure Gauge

Better Tire Pressure Gauge

Best Tire Pressure Gauge

Slime Tire Pressure Gauge

BikeMaster Dial Type Air Pressure Tire Gauge With Hose

Motion Pro Digital Tire Pressure Gauge

Price: $2.99 - $5.99

Price: $15.99

Price: $89.99

Features:

  • Low-pressure tire gauge
  • Bonus 4 standard black valve caps
  • Easy to use

Features:

  • Swivel angle chuck
  • Extension bar angle chuck
  • Air release valve
  • Braided hose

Features:

  • Precise digital readout to 0.1 PSI
  • Four selectable scales (PSI, BAR, KG-CM2, kPa)
  • Battery powered (1000 tests) with battery strength indicator
  • High flow push button bleeder valve for precise pressure adjustment
 

How to Store Your Dirt Bike Tires

The best environment for your tires when not in use is a cool, dark and dry area. High temperatures, varying temperatures, humidity and direct sunlight affect the rubber compounds and age the tire faster. Of course, tires should not be exposed to gas, oil or other corrosive chemicals that may be in your garage or shed.

Ideally, your bike should rest on a stand when not in use. This keeps excess weight off of one section of your tire and you don't have to worry about spills on the garage floor.

Good Bike Stand

Better Bike Stand

Best Bike Stand

MotoSport Steel Dirt Bike Stand

Matrix Concepts Two Two Motorsports M2 Worx Stand

Matrix Concepts M64 Elite Stand

Price: $44.99

Price: $129.99

Price: $109.99

Features:

  • Constructed out of steel, powdercoated black
  • Support up to 350 pounds
  • Injection-molded rubber top
  • Weights 7.95 pounds

Features:

  • Replaceable PVC rubber traction top
  • Rectangular access slot for easy oil draining
  • 100% "I-Beam" ABS glass-filled plastic construction
  • Support up to 500 pounds

Features:

  • Injection molded from high-strength, lightweight polycarbonate plastic
  • Extra-wide feet prevents rocking
  • Removable, replaceable top pad
  • Bolted together with stainless steel fasteners
 

Break-in Period for New Dirt Bike Tires

There is not a break-in period per say, however you don't want to hit the throttle on a brand new set before you get the feel of the tires for your bike and the lay of the land. It's always a good idea to take it easy until you know how the tire responds to the terrain.

Dirt Bike Wheels

What good does a great pair of tires do if you don't have an equally great set of wheels? In many respects the tire and wheel act as one - go inferior on one but high-end on the other and you'll just drag yourself down. To get the most out of your tires you need to get some great wheels and vice versa as both affect how well the bike handles and the smoothness of the ride.

The wheels on a dirt bike differ in size from front and back but other than that have the same features. The front wheel typically runs bigger than the rear wheel which offers a more comfortable ride over rough terrain. You can get front dirt bike wheels between 18- and 21-inches. The rear wheel ranges between 17- and 19-inches. The small rear wheel maximizes the acceleration efforts of the dirt bike.

A dirt bike wheel consists of:

  • Axle
  • Wheel hub
  • Wheel rim
  • Spokes
  • Nipples
  • Bearings

Wheel construction typically consists of an aluminum or steel outer rim with steel spokes and nipples that connect to a center hub. The spokes give the wheel flexibility to handle bumps, ruts and those big jumps and hard landings. Therefore spoke maintenance is a high priority and something many riders tend to overlook.

Check spokes often and adjust when necessary. Loose spokes prevent the wheel from spinning straight and can damage the wheel and cause handling issues. Loose spokes also break or bend more easily, can puncture tubes and cause bent or broken wheels and hubs. Overly tight spokes can snap, damage the wheel, or strip out at the nipple and break the hub.

Good Dirt Bike Wheels

Better Dirt Bike Wheels

Best Dirt Bike Wheels

DNA X Racing Front & Rear Wheel Combo

Warp 9 Complete Rear Wheel 2.15X19 - Red/Black

Excel Rim & Spoke Combo - Front & Rear

Price: $699.99

Price: $403.99

Price: $398.99 - $586.99

Features:

  • Ready to go right out of the box
  • Bearings and seals pre-installed in hub
  • Rim material: 7000 series aluminum
  • Hub material: 6000-T6 aluminum

Features:

  • Anodized 7000 series aluminum rim
  • Stainless steel spokes and nipples
  • Aluminum hub
  • Zinc-plated nyloc hardware

Features:

  • Use with stock hub
  • 7000 series aluminum alloy rim
  • 302 stainless spokes
  • Spokes are constructed with 6-point Spline-drive nipples
 

Spoke Wrench,Tubes, Rim Locks and Rim Strips

Did you think you were all set with just tires and wheels? A few additional items are necessary to ensure optimum operation of the tires and wheels.

Spoke Wrench

Remember all that talk about adjusting your spokes? Adjusting spoke tension is like checking the air pressure - you'll do it every time you ride. Using your fingers won't work. Get a spoke wrench to do the job right.

Good Spoke Wrench

Better Spoke Wrench

Best Spoke Wrench

BikeMaster Spoke Wrench

Excel Spoke Torque Wrench Set

Fasst Company Torque Spoke Wrench Kit

Price: $5.99

Price: $134.99

Price: $255.99

Features:

  • Made of strong and durable steel
  • Fits six different spoke sizes: 1 mm, 2 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm and 6 mm

Features:

  • Constructed of high quality lightweight aluminum
  • heat treated high carbon steel heads
  • Range of 15 - 60 lbs
  • Includes five standard drive nipple heads

Features:

  • Tune your wheels like a factory mechanic
  • Modeled after the unobtainable works tool race teams use
  • Eliminates guesswork
  • American made wrench comes with a Lifetime Warranty
 

Tubes

Just like a BMX or mountain bike you probably ride, your tires need tubes. Several options exist so we've narrowed it down to some of the better and more popular choices riding on today's dirt bikes.

Good Tire Tubes

Better Tire Tubes

Best Tire Tubes

STI Heavy Duty Tube - 80/100-21

STI Extreme Duty Tube - 80/100-21

Michelin Bib Mousse

Price: $7.99 - $13.99

Price: $11.99 - $19.99

Price: $134.99

Features:

  • 50 percent thicker than most standard tubes
  • Made from high-quality butyl rubber with a 2 mm thickness
  • Valve: TR-4
  • Priced less than comparable rivals

Features:

  • Uses a 3 mm spec
  • 30 percent thicker than most heavy duty tubes
  • Valve type: TR-6
  • Specifically designed for the most severe applications

Features:

  • Replaces conventional tubes
  • Made from a multi-cellular butyl material providing a pressure equivalent of approximately 13 PSI
  • Specifically designed for off-road competition use, at speeds up to 80 MPH
  • Use only with Michelin off-road tires
 

Rim Locks

Rim locks keep the tire secure and prevent it from spinning on the rim when the bike is accelerating or braking. Most dirt bikes use one rim lock per wheel but some require two on the rear wheel. Size your rim locks according to the width of the rim.

Good Rim Locks

Better Rim Locks

Best Rim Locks

BikeMaster Aluminum T6 Rim Locking Nuts

Sunline Rim Lock Tower Nut Kit

Motion Pro Liteloc Rim Lock

Price: $11.99

Price: $17.00

Price: $18.99

Features:

  • Machined from super strong 6061-T6 aircraft-grade billet aluminum
  • Includes beveled washers
  • Fits standard rim lock, 8 mm x 1.25 mm bolt

Features:

  • Machined from aircraft-grade 6061 T-6 aluminum
  • Closed nut design seals out mud and water, preventing corrosion
  • evel washer design seats on the rim for a positive secure fitment
  • Brilliant anodized finish

Features:

  • Super light and impact resistant
  • Unique contoured shape protects inner tube from abrasion and reduces heat
  • Unique angled and tapered ribs lock tire securely to rim
  • Made from proprietary high-strength nylon composite
 

Rim Strips

Rim strips keep the spoke nipples from puncturing the tube. Rim strips run on the inside of the tire along the tube to separate the tube from the nipples on the inside of the wheel. Yes, duct tape works as a cheap and dirty method but don't be surprised if your competition using real rim strips rides past as you tend to a flat tire.

Good Rim Strip

Best Rim Strip

WPS Rim Strip

Motion Pro Armor Rim Strip Tape

Price: $1.99

Price: $6.99

Features:

  • Basic rim strip
  • Keeps spoke nipples from puncturing your inner tubes

Features:

  • Ultra-tough and durable
  • Won't shift or move
  • Self-adhesive backed for easy no mess installation
  • Pre-cut hole for valve tube
 

Dirt Bike Tire Installation Tools

You didn't think we'd discuss dirt bike tires and wheels without mentioning the required installation tools, did you? Unless you have more than two arms and fingers made of steel the following tools should be in your tool box.

Tire Irons

Tire irons give you leverage (or that versatile third arm) so you can work the tire around the wheel and get it on without pinching your fingers and damaging the tire plus a whole lot less frustration. Tire irons come in the standard size and in a BIG size which some mechanics and do-it-yourselfers prefer.

Good Tire Iron

Better Tire Iron

Best Tire Iron

Motion Pro Tire Iron Set

BikeMaster 3-Piece Tire Iron Set

Motion Pro Spoon Tire Iron Set

Price: $9.99

Price: $21.99

Price: $29.99

Features:

  • 11-inch size provides excellent leverage
  • One end is flat and other end is curved
  • Cold-forged steel
  • Heat treated for strength and durability

Features:

  • 3 lengths for the perfect fit for the application
  • Ergonomically rounded edges
  • Set includes 9-1/2", 11" and 15" tire irons
  • Shot peened surface for strength relief

Features:

  • Curved end fits securely in the hand
  • Hard nickel-pewter finish
  • Width at spoon is 25 mm
  • Each lever is 10 inches long
 

Good Big Tire Iron

Better Big Tire Iron

Best Big Tire Iron

Zip Ty Racing Ultimate Tire Iron

BikeMaster Heavy Duty Tire Iron

Zip Ty Racing Mighty Tire Iron

Price: $15.99

Price: $25.99

Price: $29.99

Features:

  • Features a flared tip with a large and rounded head
  • Prevents tube pinching
  • Provides maximum grip and leverage
  • Strong and durable

Features:

  • CNC tuned billet aluminum
  • Designed for heavy-duty use
  • Long shaft length gives you more leverage on stubborn tires
  • Rounded forged spoon end for high strength and avoids pinching

Features:

  • 17? length
  • Gives substantial leverage
  • Perfected 1 3/8-inch spoon on the end
  • Reduces pinching
 

Rim Protectors

Rim protectors help prevent the tire iron from damaging the wheel rim during tire changes.

Good Rim Protector

Best Rim Protector

BikeMaster 2-Piece Tire Mounting Rim Protector

Motion Pro Rim Shield II

Price: $7.99

Price: $14.99

Features:

  • Slips in between wheel and tire
  • Prevents rim damage

Features:

  • Made with DuPont Zytel Super Tough nylon resin
  • Prevents rim damage
  • Dual raised beads facilitate inserting tire lever under tire bead and prevents tire lever from slipping
  • Won't mar wheels
 

Bead Tool

The bead tool helps keep the bead (the edge of the tire that sits on the wheel) down and in place while you use other tire changing tools. Essentially, this handy little tool keeps your tire from popping off the rim as you try and work it around the wheel to get it in place.

Good Bead Tool

Better Bead Tool

Best Bead Tool

Motion Pro T6 Trail Bead Buddy

Motion Pro Bead Buddy II

Motion Pro T6 Supermoto Bead Buddy

Price: $11.99

Price: $14.99

Price: $32.99

Features:

  • Holds the tire bead down in the center of the rim
  • Machined from tough 6000 series aluminum
  • Delrin securing thumb screw keeps rims scar free
  • Lightweight and compact

Features:

  • New and improved design of the original Bead Buddy
  • Durable 6061 aluminum
  • A must for installing Bib Mousse tubes
  • Patented design

Features:

  • For use on 3-1/2 to 5 inch wheel widths
  • Used to push the tire bead down into the drop center of the rim
  • Hooks over spoke and pushes bead down on opposite side of tire from tire levers
 

Tire Changing Stands

Get off the floor! There's an easier way. Tire changing stands take the aggravation out of changing those tires. Change tires standing up at a level that is most comfortable for you. Save your knees and your back with a tire changing stand.

Good Tire Changing Stand

Better Tire Changing Stand

Best Tire Changing Stand

MotoSport Tire Changing Stand

Moose Tall Portable Tire Changing Stand

Motion Pro Tire Changing Station

Price: $89.99

Price: $99.95

Price: $112.99

Features:

  • Fully adjustable height - from 20" to 32"
  • Holds wheel firmly in place
  • Rubber covered tire ring to protect wheel rim and spokes from damage
  • Compatible with wheels 16" and larger

Features:

  • Holds wheel in place
  • Comes with a Reducer Mini Ring
  • Compatible with wheels from 10" and up
  • Change tires at a comfortable work height

Features:

  • Works with 5 to 10 gallon air tanks
  • Durable steel construction
  • Can be used with or without air tank installed
 

Tire/Air Pump

So now you're all set. You've successfully put together a new set of tires and wheels for your dirt bike and it's time to ride. Except there's one last thing needed before you head to the track. You need air in those tires! Skip the trip to the gas station and fill those tires with air in your garage. You likely already have some type of air pump if you have mountain bikes or kids with bikes but if you don't or looking to upgrade we've got several options to consider.

Good Tire/Air Pump

Better Tire/Air Pump

Best Tire/Air Pump

Slime Single Cylinder Foot Pump

Oxford Track Pump

Slime Mini Air Compressor

Price: $10.99

Price: $44.95

Price: $49.99

Features:

  • Built-in gauge
  • Ridged foot petal for grip
  • Easy-glide pump action
  • Fits Presta and Schrader valves

Features:

  • Super-tough alloy construction
  • Ergonomic handle and foot plate
  • Twin head to fit Schrader and Presta valves
  • Long air pipe for greater reach

Features:

  • 12 volt 300 PSI Compressor
  • Adapts to any 12 volt power
  • Valve Core Removal Tool
  • Let electricity do all the work
 

Written By: AndrewT

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