Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Changing a Motorcycle Tire - For the First Time

The popular idea is that doing your own wrench work is cheaper than if you hired someone else to do it for you.

I found that to be true in the long run, though not necessarily in the immediate.

Last Monday, I attempted to take the rear wheel off of my Electra Glide, so that I could take it into Cycle Gear, and have them mount a new tire on it.

Cycle Gear charges $25 per tire, for removing the old tire, mounting a new one, balancing, and disposing of the old tire. But you have to bring the wheel to them; they won't remove it from your bike. So since I'm getting low on funds these days, I can't afford to take the bike into a shop and have everything done for me.

My friend Brian, who also has an Electra Glide, gave me some pointers on removing the rear wheel, and then I sought about to get 'er done.

1st Trip to the Hardware Store

I didn't have a wrench that would fit the axle bolt and nut, so I went to the hardware store to get a 12 inch Crescent Wrench.

I got back home, put the bike on my motorcycle jack, lifted it up, and began removing the slipon exhaust pipes, because I found that they got in the way of removing the axle. The clip that holds the tail pipe to the head pipe was really stubborn. I had a wrench and socket that would fit it, but it was too small to provide enough leverage.

2nd Trip to the Hardware Store

So I went back to the hardware store to get a socket of the same size, but with a larger drive (a 1/2" drive). I have a 1/2" socket handle at home.

I got back home and tried to fit this 1/2 drive socket to my 1/2 drive handle, only to discover that the handle is actually a 3/8 drive handle. "God Damnit" I said to myself.

3rd Trip to the Hardware Store

So I went back to the hardware store to get an adapter that would fit a 1/2 socket to a 3/8 drive handle.

Good, now I'm back at home removing the slipon exhaust pipes.

However, I soon learned that the slipon exhaust on the other side of my bike has a clip with a slightly larger nut, and a metric one at that, 14mm.

"You gotta be fucking kidding me", I said out loud. Then I remembered, several months ago the stock clip wore out on that side, and I had a shop install a newer, and better clip.

4th Trip to the Hardware Store

So I went back to the hardware store to get a 14mm socket with a 3/8 inch drive.

I get back home, and was able to get the other slipon exhaust off.

So now I started on that axle nut. I took out the 12" Crescent wrench, opened it all the way wide to fit on the axle nut. I gave it a good pull, but it wouldn't budge. I tugged on it, and laid down on my back, put both hands on it, and tugged it as hard as I could. It just wouldn't budge.

5th Trip to the Hardware Store

So I went back to the hardware store and bought a longer, 15" Crescent wrench, to get me more torque.

I put it on there, and grabbed the handle at the end and gave it good tug. It wouldn't budge.

I walked across the street to my neighbor's house, to ask the guy there if he could get it off. He's a body builder. If he couldn't do it, I don't know who can. Except, his wife said he was sleeping, because he works nights. Ok, so I waited until later in the day, when he should be up and about. I go back there, knocked on the door, and his wife said that I just missed him, he had taken the kids to soccer practice, and that he'd have to go work right after he came back.

So I waited until the next day to resume working on the bike.

The next day I gave that 15" Crescent wrench another try, just in case I might have woken up that morning with extra strength. But no, it turned out I didn't have any more muscle than I had the previous day.

6th Trip to the Hardware Store

So I went back to the hardware store and bought a 1 7/16 inch socket, with a 3/4" drive, to fit around the axle nut. I also picked up 3/4" breaker bar to fit the socket. This bar is about 3ft long I'd guess. I didn't really know to get a 1 7/16 socket, rather what I did was buy a set of huge sockets and figured one of them was big enough to fit.

I brought that back home and put the socket over the axle nut, fit the breaker bar to it, and gave it a good tug.

I heard a "pop" sound, and the nut moved. I gave it another tug, and it moved some more. I pulled the socket off, and put the 12" Crescent wrench on it, and was able to get that axle off.

Getting the wheel off can be a little tricky if you've never done it before. You have to lower the jack, raise the jack, lower the jack, raise it back, just to give you some clearance and slack to get the belt off and the brake caliper off.

I checked the brake pads, and they didn't look too bad. They were about half-way worn, so I figured I'd leave them alone for now.

I took the wheel to Cycle Gear, and bought a new tire, and they mounted it on, and balanced it.

I brought the wheel home, and to my surprise, everything went back on so easily, that I got worried; I probably forgot something. But after riding it around, it seemed just fine. Removing and reinstalling the wheel on an Electra Glide is probably easier than it is on my Yamaha Road Star. When I did the same on the Road Star, I had my friend Brian help me out.

But this time on the Harley, I managed to get it done on my own. And without a service manual too.

It's actually pretty easy, as long as you have the tools, and you have the determination to get it done.

All in all, I paid $125.00 for the tire, and $25.00 to mount it. I probably paid $150.00 in tools, but at least now I have the tools. So, $300 to get a new tire on the bike? That's probably no cheaper than it is to have a shop do it for you. But the next time I need a tire, I won't have to pay that much.


  1. LOL! Funny brother, just funny...only because I have been there. You will save a bunch in the long run. My 10,000 mile service was suppose to be around 550 bucks. pffttt..f'that. I did it for $40 and found out in the process that the steering head was never packed with grease when the bike was prepped. grrrr...

    Great post and I think many of us can really relate to what you just posted. Trips to the auto/bike shops greatly get reduced the more you do your own work. I like doing it just because it's an awesome way to get to know the bike and gives you the confidence to fix stuff on your own out on the road. I feel more confindent with my machine because I know it was done right...well, according to the manual anyway!

  2. LOL. Good story. Moral of which is - stick to what you know :)
    Can totally relate though.

  3. I don't know how many projects Jay has done that sent him back & forth to the hardware store a zillion times in a day! LOL

    Now you are a better man for your efforts. And you could do it again. If I could get my students to have that kind of determination, we'd have a lot more math-wizzes in this world!

  4. I was gonna comment on this sounding like everytime I attempt a similar undertaking, but my wife beat me to it.

  5. A good tool to have to pull that wheel off is this wrench

    36mm Rear Axle Nut Wrench Designed for 02-Pres FLH Models from

    Real handy and saves me from pulling the muffler off on my RK


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)