If you’ve ever bought a used motorcycle you’ll have wanted to know:
- How old are the tires?
- When was the tire manufacturing date?
- How long will the tires last?
Understanding tire dates is an important part of my motorcycle inspection checklist.
So here’s my 5-second guide to reading tire date codes to see how old your motorcycle’s tires are.
PS Is it spelled tyre or tire? Same word, different sides of the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. But we can all agree that tyres definitely tire. I’m spelling it “tire” because that’s what most people Google.
Are you obsessed with motorcycles?
Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)
How to tell Motorcycle Tyre Age in 5 Seconds
The tire date code, also known as the DOT code is four digits giving you first the week number and then the year(in two digits) of manufacture.
You don’t have to do any math. Just remember there are 52 weeks in the year. Make it 50 for simpler mental arithmetic. So (roughly):
- Weeks 1-20 are near the beginning of the year
- Weeks 21-30 are near the middle of the year
- Weeks 31-52 are near the end of the year
That’s all you need.
And in practise on the last motorcycle I bought (my Ducati Hyperstrada 821):
I got lucky in decoding this tire date code because the week number is “1”, which means the beginning of the year. Or unlucky, because basically, that’s a 2016 tire I bought in 2020!
The Problem — Why you need to check tire date codes
Tires age and get old. Exactly how long they can last unused depends on how they are stored. But regardless, you can use tire age as a negotiating point when buying a motorcycle.
Often when buying a used motorcycle, you may see text that says something like this:
- “These are the original tyres – like new.” — Isn’t this motorcycle from the 90s?
- “Front tire 80%, rear tire 70%”. Yes, but how old are they?
- “Has been in storage for five years. Tires still good” — are they, though?
For example, this otherwise great looking VFR800 I came across on Craigslist:
Negotiating down because of old tires is a GREAT and honest way to knock hundreds off a motorcycle. Many motorcycle owners have no idea that there’s something other than tread depth to consider.
(Of course, if the tread has worn — that makes your job easier.)
The trap you can fall into easily is thinking that just because there’s lots of tread on a tire and it looks fine, that it is fine. Not so. There are lots of ways in which a tire can fail, and rather than go into them, let’s just say that your tire is more likely to fail if it is old and hasn’t been maintained well.
And since a pair of tyres typically costs US$200-500 (depending on what you get), this is a pricey bit of maintenance.
One thing to note is that even if your motorcycle is deemed roadworthy by a mechanic, it might still have old tires. In most jurisdictions, a bike can be sold and ridden with old tires; tread depth is the only important regulatory concern.
About tire date codes
Tire date codes are also known as DOT codes in the US (DOT stands for Department Of Transport).
They’re common to tires from 2000 and onward in this format.
Previous to 2000, tire date codes had another format. But if you’re buying a motorcycle with tires that old, then you’re going to know they’re old… it’ll be pretty obvious!
Luckily, the tire date code format is international — it’s used worldwide.
There is lots of other information in DOT codes but the age of the tire is probably the most important.
Other good information in the tire codes is the tire dimensions — important because a tire size different to stock might be installed, which can affect the handling either adversely or positively.
Can shops sell old tires?
Yes, it’s “legal” to sell old tires — even up to five years old.
If tires are stored well (cool, dark place) then they can last for many years.
So if you buy tires that are even five years old, that’s OK! Just make sure you’re buying them from a reputable place and that they’ve been stored well. (Don’t buy them from eBay.)
How long do tires last?
So you go reading the tire DOT code and you think… OK, the tire is 3 years old. But how important is that?
As a rough guide, from lots of reading I’ve done on the internet and from speaking to “experts” (seems everyone’s a self-proclaimed expert in this field)
- If a motorcycle is stored outside in the sun — even a year old is too old. But then the motorcycle will be pretty obviously worn in other ways, like with faded paint and damaged leather/vinyl.
- If a motorcycle is stored under cover — three years is fine. Five years is tolerable as long as you use up the tires that very year. But I’d still use this as negotiating leverage.
- If the motorcycle is in a climate and humidity-controlled room… well, you’re buying a museum piece. How dare you even consider riding it! The tires, in this case, last a long time, but you’ll have a tough time convincing the next buyer (if there is one) — so use them up and then get new ones.
There are people on the internet who dispute that tires can get too old, and insist that most riders don’t push tires nearly to their limits. I think there’s validity to this — but it’s still good to know your tire age via the tire date code so you know what you’re dealing with.
Well there you have it — how to tell motorcycle tire age via the tire date code. Hopefully that was a simple guide.