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Motorcycle Inner Tubes Guide

Everything you need to know (and some things you probably don’t) when it comes to motorcycle inner tubes.

First things first
What thickness do you need?
Butyl Rubber vs Natural Rubber
How to determine your inner tube size
Metric vs Imperial Sizing
Motorcycle inner tube conversion chart
Which valve do you need?
Motorcycle inner tube valves
Motorcycle inner tube brands we stock
Mousse – the puncture-proof inner tube
Economy motorcycle inner tubes
Harley-Davidson inner tubes
Motorcycle inner tube tips
Motorcycle inner tube FAQs

Motorcycle inner tubes come in a huge variety of different sizes, thicknesses, materials and with different valves.

If you don’t have much experience with inner tubes, it can be baffling, even a bit daunting but the world of inner tubes really isn’t that complicated and this guide is written to help you quickly find the best motorcycle inner tube for your needs.

First things first

The first question is: how are you going to use your inner tube? If you’re riding off-road then pretty much any inner tube will do the business but if you’re riding on the road, you’ll need to use road-legal inner tubes. If your tubes are marked NHS this means they’re (Not Highway Suitable) and therefore it’s not a good idea to run these on a road-going bike.

What thickness do you need?

Motorcycle inner tubes come in a variety of thicknesses but the common sizes are: 1.5mm, 2mm, 3mm and 4mm. These are – annoyingly – almost never listed on the inner tube’s packaging but some might just say ‘Heavy Duty’ or ‘Ultra Heavy Duty’.

Thickness is about puncture resistance but don’t just go for the thickest inner tube you can find. If you are riding on the road, you want the inverse of what you’d need off-road. You shouldn’t run a heavy duty or ultra-heavy-duty inner tube on a road bike or if you’re riding an off-road bike at high speeds. A thick inner tube will overheat on a road bike due to the temperature of the tyre’s carcass and the inner tube’s rubber being overworked and not being able to shed this kinetic energy.

Unlike with off-road riding, road riders won’t pick up a pinch-flat on the road, so it doesn’t make sense to use a thicker inner tube. You want as little heat build up as possible. An inner tube will deteriorate and ultimately fail if subjected to too much heat which will happen pretty quickly if you run a heavy-duty one on the road.

On the flip side, if you’re riding off-road, it makes sense to use a thicker inner tube, which will be more resistant to snake bites and pinch flats. Off-road riders will know to run their tyres at lower pressures and this can sometimes cause punctures but a thicker inner tube will reduce the chances of picking up a self-inflicted puncture. However, if you’re consistently riding at over 40mph, go for a thinner tube.

Butyl Rubber vs Natural Rubber

There are two types of rubber used to create inner tubes. There’s Butyl rubber and Natural rubber. Our honest opinion is that they’re both very similar but some riders will only go for one type, so we thought it best to explain to you their different properties.

Butyl rubber is a synthetic rubber. Generally speak these inner tubes us a mix of natural and synthetic rubber. They are more flexible than natural rubber and they tend to age better (with less perishing due to their age) and they are also slightly more puncture resistant.

There’s also Natural rubber which tends to have a good wear resistance, more elasticity and a higher tensile strength. However natural rubber will perish quicker than synthetic rubber and it’s not as good as synthetic at coping with high temperatures.

So which one is best? It really is a preference thing. Some riders swear by natural rubber and reckon they form to your tyre’s profile better than synthetic and get fewer punctures. However other riders will go for synthetic because they think they last longer and work better at wider temperature ranges. The truth is they’re both very similar ways of keeping your tubeless tyres doing what they’re designed to do. Unless you’re an expert, you probably couldn’t tell what tube you are running.

How to determine your inner tube size

The correctly sized inner tube will be the size stated on your motorcycle’s tyre. So check out the sidewall of your tyre, note the size (120/70/19 for example) and then find an inner tube of that size. It’s that simple.

However if you can’t get an exact size (for example you’re stuck with a flat tyre and your local bike shop only has a few sizes) then use the conversion chart below and see if there are any similar sizes that’ll work for your rim.

Metric vs Imperial sizing

How do you know what size inner tube you need and can you run an Imperial (where things are measured in inches and the number of horses required to open a jam jar) sized inner tube to a metric sized rim? The answer is yes, no and maybe.

An imperial-sized is in inches and a metric size is in millimetres. Every imperial-sized inner tube will have a metric-sized equivalent.

Classic motorcycles tend to run tyres which still come in metric sizes and therefore the inner tubes primarily use the same imperial sizing. And a majority of inner tubes will show both the imperial and metric size.

However with the chart below you can easily convert from Imperial to Metric.

Motorcycle Inner Tube Conversion Chart

This inner tube cross reference chart will help you figure out whether a tube will fit your tyre or not.

Butyl Rubber Inner tubes
Tyre Size ImperialTyre Sizes Metric
2.75-1080/90-10
3.00-1090/90-10
3.00-1090/90-10
3.50-10100/90-10
5.00-16MT90-16
5.10-16130/90-16
140/90-16
150/80-16*
160/80-16
4.50-17120/90-17
5.10-17130/70-17
130/80-17
140/70-17
150/60-17
5.00-17130/90-17
5.10-17140/80-17
150/70-17
160/60-17
160/70-17
2.50-1770/90-17
2.75-1780/90-17
2.75-1780/90-17
3.00-1790/90-17
2.75-1880/90-18
3.00-1890/90-18
3.25-18100/90-18
3.50-18110/80-18
90/90-18
2.75-1980/90-19
3.00-1990/90-19
3.25-19100/90-19
3.50-19110/80-19
90/90-19
2.75-2180/90-21
3.00-2190/90-21
MH90-21
Natural Rubber inner tubes
Tyre Size ImperialTyre Sizes Metric
3.50-18110/90-18
4.00-18120/80-18
120/90-18
130/70-18
130/80-18
100/90-18
4.00-18100/100-18
4.50-18110/100-18
120/90-18
130/80-18
140/80-18
110/90-18
4.00-19100/90-19
4.50-19110/90-19
2.75-2180/90-21
3.00-2190/90-21
MH90-21

Which valve do you need?

The next area you need to consider is the valve stem. Valves come in various different sizes and some are rubber while others are metal. They’re one of the weaker parts of the inner tube as the valve (obviously) has to be vulcanized to the tube which creates a potential weak spot. However the valve is also the only part of the inner tube that’s ‘connected’ to the rim and therefore it can be torn off if the tyre spins.

This is why rim lock is used to prevent this from happening or at least minimise the chance of it happening. Another common error some riders (and tyre fitters) make is to tighten the valve stem’s bottom nut right down onto the rim. Leaving it slightly loose will allow the inner tube to move around as the tyre builds heat and it’ll mean that if the tyre spins on the rim, it won’t always tear the valve.

The image above shows the common motorcycle inner tube tyre valve types. They are: TR4, TR6, TR13, TR15, TR87 Short, TR87C Tall and PV78 Tall.

The TR4 and TR6 are probably the most common.

Take a look at your rim to see what type of valve you have and also factor in whether your valve is centred or off-set. Bikes like Harley-Davidsons tend to run off-set valves, which locates the valve away from the centre of the rim. If you buy a straight-valved inner tube it won’t work with an offset valve (if you can get the valve to poke through the rim, then it’ll be severely stretched and will fail). You’ll see an inner tube marked up as TR-15 OC or Offset if it’s an offset type.

You can also get valves that has a 90-degree angle in the valve stem. The TR-87 for example is an inner tube with a 90-degree valve. Some riders prefer these as it makes it easier to adjust pressures.

Inner tube valve stem styles

TR4 – Metal valve stem, which comes with locking nuts (these are supplied in centre or offset valve)

TR87C – Centre-mounted with a 90-degree metal stem

TR6 – A metal valve stem with locking nuts (these are supplied in centre or offset valve)

TR15 – Rubber valve with no locking nuts and a tapered base (these are supplied in centre or side valve)

TR13 – A centrally mounted rubber stem which isn’t tapered and doesn’t come with lock nuts

JS244/A – Centre-mounted 90-degree metal stem

Mousse – the puncture-proof inner tube

Tyre mousses, very very interesting stuff. Don’t use them on the road or they will overheat and fall apart. They all have a shelf life (like eggs do), except for Risemousse, who claim their tubes don’t have a shelf life.

They predominantly run at a low pressure. Michelin rate theirs at 13psi. Risemousse make a tube called a climber where you can use inserts with it, which varies the pressure and stuffness of the tube so you can run it at lower than 13psi or higher if you want to.

You need to use gel which normally comes with them, to help with fitting. Without gel they are unbelievably difficult to fit (unless you’re name is Jeff Capes). You have to use rim lock with them as you don’t want them spinning.

You don’t want to use them on the road for any prolonged period or at any speed or they will get so hot they will fall apart. If you are doing an Enduro with little sections between the trail, you’ll be fine.

Our top tyre technician, Deano, uses a lot of Effs and Jeffs (not Capes, unfortunately) when we asked him about tyre mousses. Why? Because they are difficult to fit and a fitter doesn’t want to be doing 10 of these a day. But if you only have one Enduro bike you’ll only need to fit two – and even Deano doesn’t mind that.

Risemousse do a minicross mousse for the kiddy’s bikes (12″-19″ MX bikes) and we thought it might be worth mentioning that.

Motorcycle inner tube brands

There are a lot of companies producing motorcycle inner tubes (we stopped counting at 20!).

We stock a wide range of motorcycle and scooter inner tubes from the most popular manufacturers. We have direct accounts and we can get hold of any product in any size:

Avon

Avon Heavy Duty Inner Tubes (Natural Rubber)

Avon Inner Tubes (Butyl Rubber)

 

Bridgestone

Bridgestone Road + Trail Inner Tubes

Bridgestone Medium Heavy Duty Motocross + Enduro Inner Tubes

Bridgestone Junior MX Reinforced Inner Tubes

 

Continental

Continental Road and Trail Inner Tubes

Continental Scooter Inner Tubes

Continental Moped Inner Tubes

Continental Medium Heavy Duty Motocross + Enduro Inner Tubes

Kenda

Kenda Standard Motocross + Enduro Inner Tubes

Kenda Super Tuff Tube Motocross + Enduro

Kenda Tuff Tube Motocross + Enduro

Kings

Kings Inner Tubes

Heidenau

Heidenau Road + Trail Inner Tubes

Heidenau Heavy Duty Inner Tube

Michelin

Michelin Road + Trail Motorcycle Inner Tubes

Michelin Reinforced Motocross, Enduro + SuperMoto Inner Tubes

Michelin Ultra Heavy Duty Motocross + Enduro Inner Tubes

Michelin Trials Inner Tube

Metzeler

Metzeler Road Inner Tubes

 

Economy Motorcycle Inner Tubes

If you’re looking to save money, you might be after cheap motorcycle inner tubes. There are loads of options available on sites like eBay but just one word of caution. Motorcycle inner tubes aren’t that expensive; you’re talking between £15 and £30 for a branded inner tube. Let’s remember the role of that tube is to keep air in your tyre and if your tube fails (especially the front) you’re at a risk of losing control of the bike. So is it really worth saving a tenner and running around on lower-quality cheap inner tubes? That’s up to you to decide.

If you’re looking for a budget tube – but one that’s still decent – then check out Kings motorcycle inner tubes or failing that, Continental motorbike and scooter inner tubes, which are high quality but cost less than some of the other brands.

 

Harley-Davidson Inner Tubes

Which Harleys run inner tubes? The answer is: quite a few of them. If your Harley has spoked wheels, the chances are it runs an inner tube.

Michelin make a 16M12 tube that has an off centre valve, this tube is a very very common fitment for HD spoked wheel with an offset valve hole.

Metzeler make their enormous ME-K18 also with and off centre valve.

The offset or off-centre valve is used so access to inflate – particularly at the rear – is considerably easier. Do not use a ‘normal’ straight valve on an offset rim, if you do the valve and tube will be twisted and could fail which would cause the tyre to deflate incredibly quickly!

 

 

Motorcycle inner tube tips

Beware OEM tubes

Manufacturers like to save money where they can and supplying your bike with thin inner tubes not only saves money but they also save weight. There’s up to 1kg between the thinnest and thickest tubes and it’s unsprung weight so it counts for a lot. So swap out your OEM tubes if you are going off-road, as they are likely to give you more grief than they are worth.

Baby powder

If you’re fitting your own inner tubes, sprinkle a bit of baby powder on the inside of the tyre before fitting the tube. This will reduce friction between the inner tube and the tyre, to help it last longer.

Thickness and weight

It goes without saying that the thicker inner tubes weight more than the thinner ones and this unsprung weight adds to the weight of the wheel. The less weight, the easier a bike is to turn.

Taking a 110/90/19 as an example, a regular inner tube that’s 1.5mm thick weighs around 1.2kg, while a heavy duty (3mm thick) tube weighs around 1.7kg and an ultra-heavy-duty tube (5mm thick) weighs around 2.0kg.

Prevent repeat punctures

Your puncture is most likely going to be self-inflicted, either a snake-bite or pinch flat, which are generally caused when you’re running the inner tube at low pressures. However an object can also pierce through the tyre and the inner tube causing a puncture. If you have to change it out on the road, it can be a stressful experience but don’t forget to check the inside of the tyre by running your fingers around it and visually inspecting it from both the inside and out to remove any object that might have caused the flat in the first place. The last thing you want to do is fix the issue, get going and then get another puncture. It happens!

Heat and flats

Running your inner tubes at lower pressures when off-road will increase tyre traction. However, low pressures lead to increased chances of a pinch flat. You might have found that your tyre pressure increases as you get heat into the tyre and therefore you start off with even lower pressures to compensate; which again leads to flats. So if you want to avoid this, use nitrogen in your tyres as it doesn’t have the water content of air and therefore won’t expand as much when hot.

Cheap tubes affect feel

Your inner tube gives you consistent feel when it sits flush to your tyre’s sidewall. The issue with the cheapest motorcycle inner tubes is that the thickness of the rubber varies and therefore the tube doesn’t inflate uniformly, causing some parts of the tyre to not be in full contact with the tube. This will give you an inconsistent feeling, with the part of the tyre feeling spongy if the tube isn’t pressed against it.


Motorcycle Inner Tube FAQ

What’s the thickest motorcycle inner tube?
Ultra heavy-duty motorcycle inner tubes are 3mm thick and upwards, depending on the manufacturer. The thickest motorcycle inner tube we stock is the Michelin ultra-heavy duty which is 4mm thick.

Do you need rim tape?
You need to use rim tape on all spoked rims where an inner tube is being used. The rim tape covers the spoke head on the inside on the rim this is to protect the inner tube from rubbing on the possibly sharp spoke head and puncturing it.

If I only carry one tube as a spare, what should I carry?
If you only have room for one spare, then take a larger diameter tube (i.e. one for the front wheel) as this will also work for the front wheel. When a larger diameter tube is used in a smaller diameter rim, it will bunch up but ultimately still inflate properly – just be careful not to pinch the excess rubber with the tyre levers. However if you try and stretch a smaller diameter inner tube (say an 18″ rear to a 21″ front) then you’re far more likely to damage the inner tube resulting in a failure.

Can I tell if my tyre has spun on the rim?
There are two common ways you’ll be able to tell if your tyre has spun on the rim. The first is that you’ll have a flat tyre and the inner tube will have a hole in it where the valve joins it. The second way you’ll be able to tell is that the tyre valve is sitting at a different angle on the rim to which it was installed. If your valve is more than 30-degrees off upright, the chances are that your inner tube has spun on the rim and you’ll need to sort this out or it’ll puncture.

Can you convert a tubed rim to tubeless?
Yes you can but it’s not advisable and it requires a lot of work and craftsmanship. If you want to run tubeless tyres on your spoked, rim, it can be done but you should know that if you run your tyres at pressures under 20psi (for off-roading), a tubeless sidewall will flex to the point that the tyre may break its seal with the rim causing instant deflation. It really isn’t worth it but if you’ve got the time and the inclination then check out this video.

What are the cheapest motorcycle inner tubes?
The cheapest brand we stock is Kings.

Where can you buy motorcycle inner tubes?
If you’re in a rush, you can check out your local Halfords as they usually carry a few of the common fitments in stock. Here at Two Tyres we have a large range of motorcycle inner tubes in stock and can ship any inner tube to you on a next day delivery.

How long do motorcycle inner tubes last?
Dunlop recommend you change your inner tubes every 6 months and while that’ll reduce the chances of you getting a flat, due to the inner tube perishing, we think that’s a bit overboard. There is always a risk that you’ll puncture your own tube when changing it (it happens!) so changing it this frequently seems counter-productive. To know when to replace your inner tube, look for signs of aging, any areas that have rubbed and worn, any signs of the rubber perishing or becoming tacky.

When customers replace their tyres, we always recommend they replace the inner tube. You can keep your old one as a spare but for the sake of £10, is it worth trying to eke out every last mile from the tube? Probably not.

Can you patch a motorcycle inner tube?
You can but it’s more hassle to get a tube out and repair it than it is to replace it with a new tube. Also when repairing a tube, you have another weak spot that could fail. We always recommend to change the tube if you get a puncture and when you change your tyres, again it’s worth fitting a new tube as a tube that perishes will cause you more grief than the £10-15 additional cost of a new inner tube.

Why are there two nuts on inner tubes?
The second nut is a lock nut. I do not tighten No1 nut very tight just hand tight, you then lock it with No2 nut. This is the official Michelin line: The inner tube is installed with the conical washer sitting between the inner tube and wheel rim. On a road bike the first lock nut should then be run down to lightly touch the rim, and then backed off by half a turn. The second lock nut is run down until it meets the first one, then the two nuts should be locked together by using spanners to rotate them in opposite directions.

What is rim lock?
A rim lock is installed on MX, Trials and Enduro bikes. It is used to lock the tyre to the rim (which is normally run at very low pressure off road) and stop tyre slip. You should use a rim lock with Inner Tubes and Mousses on these sort of bikes. It’s is also helps keep the tyre on the rim if you get a puncture.

Can you use slime in an inner tube?
You can but I can only remember on one occasion in over 20 years of fitting tyres that it kept the tube inflated.

Can you run an inner tube in a tubeless tyre?
I’d only do it on sub 125cc bikes. Yes you can but it’s not a great idea for a few reasons. Fitting an inner tube on a quick bike will get so hot so quickly it may not cope/tear and deflate really quickly. A tubeless tyre’s inner surface is normally quite rough, this will rub on the tube creating excessive heat build up. Tube Type tyres need tubes, Tubeless tyres are good to run with out tubes. All tyres are marked with either.

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