The Tire And The Machine

Tools That Make Changing Tread Less Of A Dread

By now we all thought we would have flying cars, robot butlers, laser guns, and buddies from other planets. But as dirt bike riders, we’d skip all of that if there were only a machine that truly, start to finish, changed tires for us. While such a device is still a pipe dream, here is a look at the tools and contraptions that are currently on the market that can help you get new shoes on your steed.

Photo by Sean Klinger

Bead Buddy

Just like a real buddy, a Bead Buddy is like an extra hand. It locks on to the rim to keep the bead from creeping out of the rim’s center trough when you are spooning a tire back onto the rim. There are a few different brands available, but they are all variants on the Motion Pro device, and they all do pretty much the same thing. As you get toward the end of putting the tire back on to the rim, slide a Bead Buddy between the rim and the bead and then secure it to the closest spoke. It works better than just leaving a lever in that spot because it is held in place by the hook around the spoke.

Rim Protectors

This tool exists mainly for cosmetic reasons. When changing a tire with levers and/or spoons, there is a possibility of scratching the rim. If from an off-road bike, the rims probably already have scratches from rocks and such, making rim protection a moot point. That being said, bright and shiny MX rims anodized with jewel-tone finishes are pretty cool, and we understand if you want to keep them looking as nice as possible. After you break the bead, slide these in wherever you’ll be using your lever or spoon. They won’t make the job noticeably more difficult (just a tad slower), but they will keep your rims looking new.

Valve Core Remover

It is easiest to get a tire off a rim when there is zero air in the tube. Normally, if you are changing a tube, the one already in the tire is flat so you don’t have to worry about it. But if there is any air in the tube, removing the valve stem’s core will let all of the air out. Some plastic valve caps have a valve core remover on the top, but if your brand doesn’t, they are relatively cheap. If reusing the tube, just remember to put the core back in or you will feel like a crazy person trying to refill the tube with air.

Valve Puller

Putting a fresh tube back in a tire isn’t all that hard, but getting the valve through the hole in the rim can be a little tricky. A valve puller is a threaded piece that screws into the valve stem and is attached to a wire with either a loop or T-handle at the other end. To use, just thread the wire and end piece through the rim’s valve hole from the hub side, then screw the end piece into the valve stem of the tube and work the stem through. Although this isn’t a vital piece of the tire-changing puzzle, it can save some time and frustration, particularly if you’re doing a solo change and don’t have an extra set of hands.

Baby Powder

If working out on the trail, most riders skip this step. But if working in the comfort of your own garage, make sure you have some corn-based (not talc) baby powder in your tire-changing toolbox. Just like it does for a newborn’s bottom, baby powder in a tire reduces friction (in this case between the tire and the tube, not a baby’s bottom and diaper). As you ride, the tire is constantly flexing and changing shape, and the tube doesn’t match this movement perfectly so there is typically friction and heat in the tire. The baby powder is a little barrier that allows the tube to move with less rubber-on-rubber friction.

Soapy Water/Windex

When putting a tire back on a rim after a tube or tire change, squirt some of this stuff on the bead of the tire to help it slide back over the lip of the rim. Once the tire is on, this also helps the bead set when filling the tube up with air. Do not use any kind of lube or polish that doesn’t dry. If you use an oil, the tire will slide on easily but then continue to slide while you ride, which is ! In a trailside emergency, you can often muscle the tire back on dry, but the bead will set much more easily if you have some kind of liquid on there to help lubricate it.

Rim Tape

This is a product that most people overlook, but if you change tires often, then you are moving stuff around often, and rim tape only works if it is still sticky and in the proper place. It is cheap and easy to replace, so it is better to have the peace of mind that the tape is doing its job rather than having any issues with the irregular pieces of metal where the spokes secure to the rim. If you don’t want to buy specific rim tape, duct tape and electrical tape also work, but be aware that duct tape usually leaves a mess if it is removed after being in the rim for a long time, and electrical tape doesn’t have as strong of an adhesive, so you’re better off going with something purpose built.

Rim Locks

Most people don’t think about changing out their stock rim locks, and in most situations that would be fine. However, Motion Pro does make rim locks that are designed to be lighter and stronger than stock if you are super cautious about weight or simply need a replacement. There are also aftermarket curved washer-like pieces that you can place between your rim lock bolt and the rim to have a much more solid contact with the rim. Quick tip: It’s not unheard of to run two rim locks in a tire, especially if you are running lower air pressures or continually tearing the valve stem off of tubes due to slipping. Just know that this adds weight and will affect the balance of your wheel.

Gloves

Changing tires is about technique, but some brute strength can really help, and you’d be surprised how much harder you can press on a tire lever when you wrap up your dainty fingers. Also, a sprocket with its many sharp teeth is just waiting for a knuckle to bite into. So when on the trail keep those gloves on, and when at home leave an old pair of moto gloves by the tire changing station.

Tire Irons/Levers/Spoons

In the days of our fathers and the days of their fathers, the mighty tire iron was the only tool in the land to change a tire, and since those days there still isn’t a tool as versatile or widely used to get rubber off and on a wheel. Although they seem fairly simple, tire irons (or levers or spoons) come in a myriad of sizes, lengths, shapes, and styles, and all of that variety is designed to allow you to custom-tune your tire-changing technique. The smallest of the bunch are typically designed for your trail pack and don’t offer the best leverage, but they also don’t weigh 12 pounds. The largest, forearm-length spoons offer the best leverage, but they can easily pinch a tube, and the type with burly, round handles are mostly designed for changing bib mousses (foam inserts). To quote a wise man, there isn’t one right way to change a tire, but there are a million wrong ways. Plenty of you old-school riders are happy with your tire irons, but if you still have the same spoons you used on your Bultaco, it might be worth a look to see what new tire levers are out there. Some have a smooth, curved end great for not pinching tubes but are a little wide for really tight tires. Some are very thin and have an aggressive hook that make it easy to get a bite with a super-stiff tire and also easy to grab a bit of tube and ruin your day. Zip-Ty offers a spoon that has a very ergonomic grip that makes it really easy to get a firm, controllable pull. Also, you can’t really have too many tire irons, so the more the merrier!

Clown Hammer

Changing tires isn’t rocket science, and it’s common for a good bit of muscle to make the process even easier. This is when a hammer comes in to play. Preferably a large, heavy, plastic one (also known as a “clown hammer”) so that a rogue swing doesn’t ding up the rim. A hammer can be used to break the bead. Also, if you take the tire off the rim on one side, stand the tire vertically on the ground and use a spoon to start the other side of the tire off the same side of the rim that the first side went off of, you can (sometimes with the right tire and a proper string of curse words) use the large hammer to beat the rubber from the rim. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t polite, but it can get the job done.

Bead Breaker

With standard-size off-road and moto tires, breaking the bead is normally as easy as pressing down with your hand, knee, or boot, but thick adventure tires can be much less cooperative. Also, with smaller wheels, the smaller tire’s bead can be much harder to break. There are a few different tools out there to help get this job done (the aforementioned hammer being one) as well as what we have here: the Motion Pro Bead Breaker. To use this tool, you wedge one lever under the rim and slot the other lever into it to press down on the bead, working your way around until the bead is properly broken. It’s a much easier process than using your Super Duty truck (don’t laugh; we’ve seen people try this before)!

Tire Stand

Even in the shop with access to a tire stand, some riders still prefer to change tires on the ground. Whatever works for you is what you should do. However, a majority of riders and all professional tire changers use a stand to help them in this tedious job. Here is a standard shop stand, but there are some out there that hook up to a truck’s tow hitch to facilitate a trackside tire change. A stand puts the wheel at good height for optimal tire-lever pulling action. For a more DIY approach, a 55-gallon drum or a large round trash bin can also work, as does the tried-and-true tailgate of your buddy’s truck.

Baja No Pinch

As a newer product in the tire-changing story, the Baja No Pinch earned our Product Of The Year award in 2014. The simple fact is that nobody likes changing tires, and this basic tool makes the job easier. The No Pinch will not help you get a tire off, and it is a little heavy/bulky to put in a normal enduro trail pack, but the fact that it helps put a tire on a rim without the possibility of pinching a tube is pretty cool. The tool slips into the axle hole, and the pull lever and push arm just pushes the bead of the tire over the rim, onto the wheel. You still have to keep the side of the tire opposite of where you are working dropped in the rim channel, but if you keep that in mind (and use generous amounts of soapy water), the No Pinch works great.

Rabaconda Tire Tool

There is a big gap from just using tire levers to using this purpose-made tire-changing machine. The Rabaconda has made a name for itself through the International Six Days Enduro where riders have only 10 minutes at the end of the day to do all of their own maintenance, including changing both tires. To add one more layer of difficulty, ISDE riders pretty much exclusively run bib mousses, which are notoriously a royal pain to change. The Rabaconda (and Zip-Ty’s DGTT below) was designed specifically to change tires that are running mousses, but it can also aid in normal tire changes. It really speeds up the removal process more than the installation but is still helpful with the latter.

The first way the Rabaconda helps the rider is by using the actuating arm to press down on the edge of the tire, both breaking the bead and creating a gap for the first tire iron. Then the tire is rotated and two more irons are inserted. Once all three are in it is time for your mighty muscles to crank on the levers, prying up about 1/10 of the bead. Once the rubber is over the rim, you flip the wheel over and use the actuating arm and wedge to push the side of the tire that you started off all the way. By rotating the wheel and pushing down with the wedge, the underside of the tire comes all the way off. Then you just keep going and push the top edge of the tire with the wedge in small bites until the tire falls completely free of the wheel.

The process for mounting a new tire is not unlike the conventional method, since the actuator arm and wedge don’t come into play. But there are a couple of tire iron holders that help keep the first iron in place while you work on a different section of the tire. Also, Rabaconda supplies five tire irons that are shaped specifically for putting on a tire with a mousse.

Zip-Ty Racing DGTT (Damn Good Tire Tool)

The DGTT is similar to the Rabaconda but stands out in a few ways. First, it is made of much fewer parts and is pretty simple to put together, where the Rabaconda takes a bit of time to set up the first time, though it does break down to a smaller package. Also, instead of three spoke supports, the DGTT just has a center peg for your wheel’s axle hole (with different inserts for different-diameter axles) and a round platform for support. This actually made the wheel very easy to spin while working. Additionally, it has a special rim lock pusher-inner depresser tool (a tire iron with a flat shaft surface) that helps with getting the rim lock properly positioned in the tire.

The process with the DGTT is pretty much exactly the same as with the Rabaconda. You use the press to get in some spoons, pull a small section of the tire over the rim, flip the tire, and press it all the way off. But there are some other differences that set the DGTT apart. For one, it comes with a hitch mount, allowing the tool to be used higher off the ground if you prefer. Also, the wedge or press is much wider than the Rabaconda’s and seems to work a little quicker since you don’t need to make as many presses to get the tire off. One of the downsides to the DGTT is that it doesn’t come with any tire irons, though many staffers prefer Zip-Ty’s Mighty Tire Irons over the Rabaconda’s supplied irons. Overall, both are great machines, but given the choice we’d pick the Zip-Ty setup purely because it does everything the Rabaconda does, plus a tad more.

The Rubber Meets The Road

We know, you hate changing tires. That might never change, but hopefully we have made you think twice about spending your hard-earned cash taking your wheels to the shop for tire changes. And even if you really dislike the process, learning how to change a tire is a good skill to have; hopefully you never have to use it, but if you ever find yourself stranded miles from your truck, you'd be glad you know the procedure. And by using some of these tools, you can make your life that much easier.