You’re all geared up and ready to get on your motorcycle for a ride with your buddies when you notice a nail stuck in your tire. “Perfect! Now What?” You wrestle with the choice to cancel the ride or just ignore the risk and ride. If the tire has not reflated, how serious can it be?
It is not advised to ride a motorcycle with a nail in the tire. If it is a tubeless tire and it has not deflated, it may be possible to slowly ride your motorcycle for a short distance to get to the nearest garage. The risk will depend on how deep the nail penetrated your tire and whether there is internal damage to the wheel.
In short, it is a bad idea to ride your motorcycle with a nail in the tire. But what if you are close to home or to the nearest garage, and you don’t have money to call a tow truck? What will happen if you just get on and ride?
What Will Happen if I Ride My Bike With a Nail in the Tire?
This is one of those questions where the responsible answer should really always be “No!”. But practically, it depends. If you noticed the nail in your motorcycle’s tire at home in your garage, there is really no need to ride the bike, except if you need to get it to a cycle shop to get it repaired and you don’t have a car or cash for a tow truck.
If you are stranded somewhere and need to get home or to the closest garage, you may be able to make it. Constantly stop to check the tire pressure and do not go too fast. You don’t know how deep the nail is or how long it is. On tubeless tires it may seal the hole, but if you are running tubes it may be just a matter of time before the tip of the nail punctures the tube.
A slow puncture can be ridden if you are very careful, but keep in mind that an inner tube can burst and lose all its air at once if the tube moves inside the wheel (due to being underinflated by now) and snag on the nail.
While the nail could be sealing the hole, the nail head could wear off and cause the whole nail to slide into the tire. The nail may also come out at any time due to flexing and heating up from the friction with the tarmac.
A long nail left in the motorcycle tire could grind away at the rim on the inside. I’ve pulled a sharp 3-inch rock from my truck tire once. From the outside it looked like a small piece of crushed stone stuck between the tread. You will only know the extent of the damage once the tire is off the rim.
How to Fix it Yourself
Let’s assume you are in the comfort of your own garage when you notice the nail in the tire. Check the tire pressure. If it has deflated (assuming you know more or less what the pressure usually is) then I’d say get it fixed before you ride your motorcycle. If the tire pressure is still the same as always, the nail might not be all the way through the tire.
On tubeless tires, you can simply pull the nail and see how long it is. If it is just a shot stub that won’t piece the tire, you are okay. Just double-check the tire pressure again. If the nail was clearly long enough to pierce the tire, you can plug it with a tire repair kit like this. Test the repair after you’ve inflated it by pouring soapy water over the plug and looking for bubbles.
Most tire shops will tell you that a plug in a tire is not a permanent fix and that you need to replace the tire. Many riders have ridden thousands of miles on plugged tires, but it will depend on where the hole is and how well you repaired it. I also wouldn’t recommend taking a super bike on the track with a plugged tire.
If the nail went through between the tread, the plug will not protrude and be subjected to the friction with the road where it may come out or heat up. On the contact patch, the plug may wear or pull out. If the tire is still fairly new and you don’t feel like spending the money on a new tire, ride the plugged tire to a shop and have it patched from the inside. This is a more reliable solution than the plug.
A tube-type tire will more than likely deflate rather quickly if you pull a long nail out of it. To fix this puncture you will have to remove the wheel and take it to a tire shop, or replace the tube yourself. Even if the tire is still fully inflated, don’t ride with the nail in the tire. It may just be a matter of time before it punctures the inner tube or tear it to pieces.
When you replace the inner tube, mark to spot where you’ve pulled the nail and check that the hole is smooth and even on the inside of the tire. If the nail broke off as you pulled it out, the tip might still be in there waiting to bite a hole in your new tube. to be sure, the best is to patch the spot from the inside before fitting the tube.
If You Have to Ride With a Nail in Your Tire
In some cases, you may not have a choice. You may be stranded next to the road in a dodgy area or it is about to get dark you you don’t have anyone close by to phone to come and get you.
If you have a pump with you, ride slowly and constantly stop to check the tire pressure. If you don’t, stop at each gas station to make sure the tire stays inflated. You can try instant sealant in a can, like Holts Tyreweld. Even though it is meant for tubeless tires only, I’ve used it on a tube-type tire more than once in the past and it got us to the nearest town for a more permanent fix. I always carry a can with me.
NOTE: If you do decide to ride on with the nail in your motorcycle tire, just bear in mind that riding with an underinflated tire is very dangerous. The bike may wander and over-steer severely in a corner. If the tire is flat enough, it may even come off the rim in a tight bend – that is if you can still control the motorcycle. A flat wheel will also negatively affect your ability to stop.
Not only do you risk your own life, but you can easily damage the rim and tire by riding with a flat.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. If you don’t absolutely have to, don’t risk riding your motorcycle with a nail in the tire. In case you have no other choice, be mindful of the dangers and take the necessary precautions to ride as safely as possible and to avoid as much damage as you can.