A New Tire for the Sportster

I was able to get by for many years without the need to change a motorcycle tire—or do anything more than fill the tank with gas, for that matter. Nevertheless, I've come to appreciate the opportunity to get my hands dirty, try new things, and learn a little more about the machine I ride. I admit, it's not for everyone. In fact, I have a friend or two who have no interest in anything other than the ride. And, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Robert Pirsig wrote, “The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself.”

If that's the case, changing a tire is probably good for me. And, I know it's good for the bike.


With the bike on the lift, I put the scissor jack under the frame to lift the rear of the bike just enough to take a little pressure off the rear axle to make removing the wheel a little easier. You don't really need a lift to do this. It can be done on the floor with a floor jack, but you do need something to level the bike and lift the rear wheel.

Having the lift just means I don't have to sit on the floor to do this. Having two scissor jacks just gives me a little more confidence that the bike is stable—you don't need two of them either. I used them both simply because I can.


Before getting too far along, I took a couple of measurements to make sure when I put the wheel back on it tracks true and has the right belt tension. A lot of guys just bend a coat hanger for this job, but I found this Motion Pro Wheel Alignment Tool, and use it.

There's a dimple on the pivot point of your swing arm. One end of the tool fits into that dimple and the other end a fixed point on the axle nut. The Motion Pro tool allows you to set the second pointer to an easy-to-repeat adjustment. If you were going to use a coat hanger, you'd just bend the wire to the right point. I think this is one of the lowest-tech ways to do this and am surprised it's still the way Harley does it. If I remember right, it even calls out the coat hanger method in the shop manual.


There's a retention clip on the end of the axle to ensure that the axle nut doesn't back itself off while the bike is moving. That will need to removed before the nut can be removed.


I don't happen to have a socket or a wrench the right size for the axle nut, so I use an adjustable wrench on either side to get things started then remove the nut and the washer.


With the nut and washer removed, I've gotten in the habit of laying them out in the same order they came off. That allows me to keep everything straight and is probably just good shop practice. Unfortunately, they are out of order in this photograph. In other words, do as I suggest, not as I apparently do.


With the axle nut and washer removed, you'll notice an adjustment nut on both ends of the swingarm. You probably have a little rubber cover over the end to protect the end of the threads like I do on this Sporty. 

I back the nut off on both sides to give me enough slack to push the wheel and axle forward so I can slip the drive belt off the rear pulley and pull the axle.


If there's enough stress on the swingarm relieved with the jack, the axle will be pretty easy to pull out. I gave it just a little tap with a rubber mallet to get it started. After that it pulled right out.

Just like the front wheel, there are a couple of spacers on the rear wheel too. I set them aside for when I need to reinstall them. I set them on the lift on the side I removed them from.


Depending upon your rear fender, you'll probably need to lift the bike a little more so there's clearance to remove the wheel from under the bike. I do on this bike. I also needed to loosen the caliper a little so there was enough room for the tire.

I wasn't going to have enough time to swap the tires myself this time, so I took the new tire and the wheel to a nearby shop while I was doing some other running around to have them mount and balance the new tire. I picked it up the next day.


With the jack up, I slid the wheel under the rear fender, making sure the drive bet was in place and the rotor slipped into the opening on the caliper. I manually opened up the caliper before I did this to make sure it wouldn't bind.


Don't forget to slip the spacers in before you push the wheel in place and lower the rear of the bike. The clearance on both sides is tight enough that you won't be able to get them on if you don't plan ahead.


Slowly lower the bike until you can align the holes on both sides of the bike. This will make it a lot easier to slip the axle through.


After cleaning off any old grease and then applying a fresh,thin layer of anti-seize to the axle, I slipped it through the opening. If the hole is aligned properly with the jack or scissor lift, it should slip through fairly easy.


Using the measurement I took earlier, and before tightening the axle nut, I adjusted the belt tension nuts on both sides until I had the belt tension right and the wheel rolling true.


With that done it's time to tighten up the axle nut and install the retention clip.

I normally spin the wheel to double check that it is tracking true. After that I use the new tire as an excuse to take the bike out for an hour or so to confirm I did everything correctly.