Desperate Times: Tire-Changing Solutions

Saving the day and making it to the Bonneville starting line

repairing a Yamaha YZF-R1 motorcycle
What could go wrong? A brand-new stock Yamaha YZF-R1 at the Bonneville Salt Flats SCTA meeting to renew my licenses up to 175 mph, should be fine right? No, it’s “unsafe” and called for quick and inventive fixes.Nick Ienatsch

A terrific forum thread would be: "ingenious motorcycle-fixing solutions in desperate times." I've ridden for 40 years and have created and experienced a few desperate times…and listened to many stories about desperate times. Crazy uses of tinfoil and JB Weld, zip-ties, duct tape, stolen barbed wire, and rocks against boot leather to unbend Ducati rims. All good stories for another time.

But one of the stories that stuck with me over the years regarded breaking the bead on a tubeless tire using a car. That story came into my consciousness a few summers ago when the Bonneville Salt Flats tech inspectors told me the stock rubber valve stems on my R1 needed to be replaced with metal valve stems. We scoured the pits for a tire machine with no luck. A neighboring racer, Al Lyons, offered me some safe metal valve stems and my mind somehow remembered this desperate-times idea.

But first I had to get the wheels off. The above picture illustrates a Jed-Clampett-like approach: A two-by-four block of wood under the sidestand with a floor jack levering the bike up and a pair of jack stands helping to keep things balanced. Sure, it might have been easier to just do one wheel at a time, but where’s the challenge in that? Besides, the salt was waiting! It’s ugly, but desperate times often call for ugly measures. Don’t be afraid to get ugly…only the results matter.

With the wheels off and tires deflated, breaking the bead was the next step. I placed another two-by-four under the edge of the wheel and then had a friend sssllllloooowwwwllllly drive her van forward over the opposite edge of the tire until the bead popped. It took a few tries but ultimately worked. A large flat-blade screwdriver crudely levered off one bead and I jimmy-jacked the safe valve stems into place. I was able to make my passes and survive because the unsafe rubber valve stems had been replaced. (Sarcasm alert: previous sentence.)

motorcycle tire laying on the salt flats
Yes, it works, even on salt.Nick Ienatsch

I hope this desperate solution sticks in your head and comes into your consciousness when it’s needed. I could have repacked my bike and driven home, or jumped through a bunch of hoops trying to find a nearby shop, or laughed at the silly tech rules (Oh wait, I did that!!), or sat around to watch everyone else have fun. But someone’s story about breaking the bead on a tubeless tire popped into my mind and I just had to try it, and now pass it on to you.

Nick and Scott standing on the salt flats
I jumped through all the tech-imposed hoops with the new, stock R1 because Scott Guthrie (above) had offered me a ride on his turbocharged Hayabusa. SCTA requires that you take progressively-faster runs to get licensed at higher and higher speeds before jumping on the type of beasts Guthrie builds and rides. Unfortunately, the Busa expired in some trial runs with John Levie on it, but anytime Bonneville legend Guthrie offers a ride, you accept. His red hat? 200 MPH Club (on a TZ750). He's the only person in the world to set records above 250 mph on two and four wheels. This guy is the real deal.Nick Ienatsch

Final thought during desperate times: Never quit brainstorming, never give up.

More Next Week!