Most ATV owners sooner or later will have to repair or change a tire on their bike. Recently, I decided it was time to stop being dependent on a tire shop to do this job for me. I set out to find the best way to do this job myself.
I did the research and testing, and I found a method that works quite well. This guide will tell you what you need to know to change an ATV tire by hand.
You can do the job without breaking the bank on expensive specialist tools. But some basic hand tools are required to do the job safely and efficiently.
Breaking the Bead on ATV Tires
Before we jump into the guide, we’ll quickly look at what many consider the most challenging part of changing an ATV tire; breaking the bead.
What Is “Breaking The Bead,” and Why Is This Difficult on ATV Tires?
On the inside of the rim, close to the lip, there is a small bump called the “bead retainer.” This little bump goes all the way around the circumstance of the rim.
On each edge of the tire, you will find what is known as the tire bead. This component of the tire comprises a sturdy steel cable that encircles the entire tire, forming a robust steel-reinforced loop.
The tire is beaded when the tire bead has been pressed over the bead retainer and rests against the inside of the lip of the rim. When in this position, the tire is prevented from sliding sideways on the rim.
So the primary purpose of the bead retainer is to keep the tire in place. Aggressive riding would otherwise force the tire sideways, losing its seal.
However, this feature alone does not make the tire airtight. The primary factor responsible for maintaining airtightness is the air pressure contained within the tires. The air pressure ensures that the tire remains constantly pressed outward against the rim’s lip.
Off-road and trail riding frequently subject the wheel to extreme sideways forces and impacts. When traversing steep hills, encountering tree stumps, or landing jumps, the likelihood of unintentionally breaking the tire bead significantly increases.
On-road tires will not be faced with challenges like these under normal circumstances.
Furthermore, off-road tires typically operate at significantly lower tire pressures. Consequently, a much smaller force is exerted to push the tire outward against the rim’s lip.
This means the wheel on off-road vehicles has to do a better job keeping the tire beaded so that you don’t end up with a flat all the time.
The tire beads on ATV tires, UTV tires, and other off-road tires are extra heavy-duty to achieve this. Also, the bead retainer bump is usually a bit bigger.
This is great for keeping the tire seated when riding. But it’s also that much more challenging when you want to break the bead.
Tools and Methods for Breaking the Bead
There are many ways to break the bead of a tire, and most of them involve some sort of tool. Some of these are pretty expensive, while others are almost free.
At the higher end of the scale, you have the several thousand dollar tire changing machines that the tire shops use. These are very effective but usually way out of budget for the average home mechanic.
Conversely, you have some more-or-less effective, almost free, and sometimes downright dangerous DIY solutions.
Below are the most common options, ranked from bad to best.
I’ve included my top 3 recommendations, which are the ones I consider to be the most effective and least risky.
That’s “least risky,” not risk-free. You can still mess up. If you want risk-free, take the tire to a tire shop.
Bad: Run Over the Tire With a Truck or Tractor
This may sound brutal, and that’s because it is. The method is entirely free, as long as you own a truck and don’t break anything.
The idea is to lay the wheel flat on the ground and drive your truck over the tire part of the ATV wheel.
While there are several reports of people successfully performing this method, it’s not one that I recommend. This method has a great chance of bending or damaging your rim. Its effectiveness is also quite questionable.
Bad: The 2×6 Piece of Lumber and Truck Method
Lay the wheel flat on the ground with a small amount of air (about 3-5PSI) still left in the tire. Then place a piece of 2×6 lumber on top of the tire, as close to the rim as possible.
The idea is you slowly drive a truck up the piece of lumber until the truck’s weight breaks the bead. It may be necessary to reverse, reposition the tire and apply weight several times before the bead breaks.
Then back off, refill with 3-5 PSI of air to stiffen the tire, and do the other side.
This method is fast and may work fine in most cases. But it’s not something I would suggest for anyone as their go-to method for de-beading a tire.
A lot can go wrong, and no guarantee it will work. If you forget to leave some air, there is a significant chance of damaging the tire. The piece of lumber fill just slides down the tire sidewall.
And if you leave too much air, the tire can blow. Or if you use a car without enough clearance, you will rip the bumper right off on the way down.
Good: Simple Wooden DIY Bead Breaker
I wanted to find the best, almost free DIY method for breaking the bead on an ATV tire. Not all ATV owners have access to welding machines, so I decided it had to be made from wood.
I built three different models before I found a design that performed ok. I had good faith in this first design. The idea, sourced from a motorcycle forum, is really clever. It should work fine with motorcycle tires and such.
But the ATV bead was too strong. The hardware or wood kept breaking on all three versions I built.
I ended up with a straightforward design. You only need a few feet of two-by-four and a couple of relatively strong hinges. The tool must be mounted securely to a wall or a post.
This is the most effective and reliable solution I have yet found. That is, for those that do not want to spend a lot of money on tools or don’t want to spend a lot of time on complex fabrication.
Better: Portable Tire Changer Tool
You’ve probably seen this tool or a variation of it at some point. You can get it at almost any auto supply or hardware store. They are relatively cheap and work well on many small to medium-sized tires.
The tool must be bolted to the floor or some other heavy object to operate effectively. And it does require some getting used to.
However, numerous users encounter difficulties when attempting to break the bead of ATV tires using these methods. The bead may be seated so firmly that instead of breaking the bead, the tool slips and slides down the sidewall of the tire.
This not only poses a risk of tire damage but also leads to mounting frustration with each unsuccessful attempt.
Despite its flaws, I still recommend it. Why? Well, first off, they are relatively cheap. And when they do work, they are pretty effective.
More importantly, there is a little trick you can use to make them work a lot more effectively on ATV tires.
To prevent the tool from sliding down the tire’s sidewall, leave just a little air in the tire. Do not use more than 3-5 PSI. This will allow you to apply more pressure on the tire bead before the tool begins sliding.
Often, this makes the difference between a successful and a failed attempt.
It’s also a good idea to spray the bead with some soapy water before you try breaking the bead.
But even when applying these tricks, you may find that this tool will struggle to break the bead on the most stubborn ATV tires. If you want to change tires on your 10-year-old OEM 400EX wheels, you may have to upgrade to the best tool on the list.
Best: Bead Buster
BeadBuster sells a tool that clamps onto the rim and forces a wedge between the rim and the tire. You push the bead down and over the retainer by rotating a bolt.
This tool has one main advantage over the tools we have looked at. It does not press down on the thin sidewall of the tire but directly onto the tire bead.
This reduces any chance of damaging the wheel and tire. The pushing force created by turning the tightening bolt should be powerful enough to break the bead on almost any ATV tire.
They are the most expensive among the tools I recommend. But if you accept the cost, they are the best option, next to getting a professional tire changing machine.
Another tool that seems to be as effective as the portable tire changer is the so-called “Tire Plyers.” These also work by jamming a wedge between the rim and the tire but using a long handle to lever the wedge down.
It will work on most ATV tires, but some users report breaking the tool because of how tight their ATV tire was beaded. This is why I cannot give them a recommended badge of approval.
I have not, however, tested these myself. As soon as I get my hands on a pair, I will give them a test and consider adding them to the recommended list.
Mounting ATV Tires by Hand
The second most tricky part of changing an ATV tire by hand is mounting it back on the rim and having it bead properly.
With a couple of tire irons and some soapy water, you should be able to get the tire onto the rim without any significant issues. Just take your time and work systematically.
As for beading the tire, this can be a bit tricky on tubeless tires. But in the guide, I’ll show you a simple trick I have learned that should help you succeed.
How to Change ATV Tires: A Step-By-Step Guide
This guide is for tubeless ATV tires. The procedure for tubed tires is very similar. But then you also need to release the tire valve and ensure you don’t damage the tube when removing the tire.
1. Jack up the ATV and Remove the Wheel
- Park the ATV on a hard, level surface like a garage floor or a paved driveway.
- Use a tire jack to jack up the ATV so the wheel can be removed from the bike. Tire jacks tend to “set” over time, so it’s recommended that you always secure the bike with jack stands for safety.
- Remove the wheel from the ATV. Use a 4-way lug wrench or another hand tool. Resist from using an impact driver on your ATV. They are too powerful for this application, and I’ve seen more than once how quickly they can snap a bolt.
2. Deflate the Tire
I recommend getting a “valve stem core removal tool” for this part. They are cheap and save you a lot of time.
While deflating the tire just by pushing the tire valve pin is possible, it will take forever. With a valve stem tool, you can remove the valve stem, which will deflate the tire in seconds.
Lefty-loosey, righty-tightly. You know the drill.
Keep two fingers on the valve when unscrewing it so you don’t lose it when the air starts flowing.
Put the valve stem core back in as soon as the air is out so you don’t lose it. Do not over-tighten, as the threads on these are pretty fragile.
3. Break the Bead on Both Sides of the Tire
Choose between one of the recommended procedures for breaking the tire bead;
The DIY de-beading tool.
- Add about 3-5 PSI of air to the tire.
- Spray some soapy water onto the bead. This helps the rubber tire slide against the metal rim.
- Place the short piece of wood as close to the rim as possible. It should be about vertical for the best effect.
- Apply pressure to the long piece of wood until the bead breaks free. When one part of the bead is free, the rest will follow by stepping on the tire.
- Flip the wheel and do the other side. You may need to refill 3-5 PSI of air in between.
Portable tire changing tool
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Remember to bolt down the tool and leave about 3-5 PSI of air in the tire for a better chance of succeeding.
- Again, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
If none of these methods breaks the bead, it’s time to take the wheel to a tire shop.
4. Remove the ATV Tire From the Rim Using Tire Irons
You need two tire irons or a couple of big screwdrivers to perform this step. It’s also recommended that you get some plastic wheel protectors or use tire irons with protective plastic so you won’t damage your rims.
- Start by placing one of the tire irons between the rim and the tire. Lift the tire over the lip of the rim by using the leverage from the tire iron.
- Use the other tire iron to continue this process on either side of the first.
- While still holding the second iron in place, use the first iron to continue lifting the tire over the edge of the rim. If you struggle with the tire slipping back onto the rim, attach a clamp to the lip of the rim before you move the tire iron.
- Continue until the tire bead is completely shifted to the outer side of the rim.
- Proceed to remove the tire altogether from the rim.
- At this point, you should be able to step firmly with your foot between the tire irons and remove the rim entirely by hand.
5. Clean the Lip of the Rim on Both Sides
Before you can begin installing the new tire, you need to ensure the bead of the rim is smooth and clean.
Wash off any dirt, sand, or other debris. You may need to use a wire brush to get a good result.
If there is any rust, this has to be removed before you install a new tire. Tools you can use to remove the rust:
- Flathead screwdriver to scrape off the rough stuff
- Wire brush
- Angle grinder with a wire wheel
- Best: Sandblasting the whole rim and repainting.
Ideally, you want to remove all rust. The surface must be smooth to get a proper airtight seal between the tire and the rim.
6. Paint Any Exposed Metal (Optional, Steel Rims Only)
After removing the rust, you will be left with exposed metal that will rust immediately if left untreated. I recommend you paint it with quality rust-inhibiting paint before installing the tire.
By doing so, you will likely be able to maintain an airtight seal for much longer, and the bike will look a bit healthier.
7. Apply Bead Sealer (Optional)
If your rim and tire are entirely free of any damage or nicks by the bead, you may skip this step.
But, as you may know, ATV tires are prone to having tire leak issues by the bead. This happens because of the way they are used.
When you ride off-road, sand, dirt, and other debris will be caught in the little gap between the rim and tire. This will wear down the paint, creating corrosion issues over time.
There’s also a good chance that you will damage the rim at some point by hitting a rock.
Therefore, I recommend that you always apply a coat of bead sealer on the tire bead before installing the tire. Consider it a cheap insurance against problems down the road.
A good alternative for using purpose-made bead sealer is using some silicone.
Be aware that both of these products have the disadvantage of making it a bit harder to break the bead the next time you need to change the tire.
8. Lube the New Tire and Rim Bead
Spray some soapy water on the bead retainer. Again, this is so the rubber will slide more easily against the metal rim.
An even better alternative is using a light coat of baby powder on the lip of the rim and tire bead. Give it a try if you struggle to get the new tire back on the rim.
Do not use WD-40 as lube, which may deteriorate rubber over time.
9. Mount the Tire to the Rim Using Tire Irons
Now it’s time to reinstall the tire.
- Make sure the tire is oriented in the correct direction. There should be an arrow on the outside of the tire.
- Lay the rim flat on the ground.
- Lay the tire on top of the rim at an angle. The tire bead should be placed in the drop well, or you will struggle to get it over the lip of the rim.
- Push straight down by hand, one on each side, at 3 and 9 o clock. The first bead should slip over the lip of the rim without using any tools. Use the tire irons if you have to.
- For the second bead, you should start near the tire valve. Step on the tire with your foot to get it going.
- Then continue as far as you get by using your hands and body weight.
- Finish by using the tire irons.
10. Prepare to Inflate the Tire
Now you’ve got the tire onto the rim, but it’s still not completely mounted. You need to re-bead the tire to the rim using air pressure.
But if you try putting air into the tire as it sits right now, you will likely get no result. This is because you have a gap between the tire and the rim that is too big.
The air compressor alone is insufficient to provide an adequate airflow that would enable the tire to seal; the air simply escapes.
If you have a specialist tool like a “shock-filler” or similar standing in the corner of your garage, now would be an excellent time to get it.
But most of us don’t have tools like this. And for the occasional tire job, there is neither a need for one. There is a simple trick you can use to get the job done.
No, it’s not the one where you put starter fluid inside the rim and light it on fire. While this may work, a different approach is safer and just as fast.
All you need is a ratchet strap. If you don’t have one, now’s the time to get one. Use the most robust strap you can find. If the strap breaks, it does so with great force!
- Fit the strap around the entire circumstance of the tire. The strap should sit in the center of the tire.
- Put the tire in a standing position with the ratchet mechanism on top of the tire. Make sure the rim is centered in the tire.
- Start tightening the strap. The tire’s sidewalls will start moving outwards against the lip of the rim.
- Stop tightening as soon as the tire touches the lip of the rim. You should not have to pull the strap more than 5-10 clicks at most.
- The gap is now closed, and the tire should hold air.
11. Inflate the Tire Until It’s Beaded on Both Sides
All that is left now is to put air back into the tire until it beads. I recommend using a tire inflator that has a gauge for this part.
- Connect the inflator to the tire valve.
- Start inflating, but stop occasionally to ensure you are not putting too much air into the tire. Never exceed 7-8 PSI with the strap attached.
- When you hear a “popping” sound, the tire has re-beaded. It will happen first on one side, then on the other soon after. Stop when the tire has beaded or if it has not beaded at about 7-8 PSI.
- If the tire has not yet beaded: Deflate the tire and try without the strap.
- If the tire has beaded: Deflate the tire to release the force on the strap. Remove the strap.
- Reinstall the valve stem core and start inflating the tire. Continue putting air into the tire until you reach the desired tire pressure.
- The maximum pressure your tire can safely handle should be written on the side of the tire. Never, ever exceed this number!
- For best performance, you want to use significantly less air than the rated maximum. I run 30 PSI for trail riding and 15 PSI in deep snow or mud.
- Now you are done and can reinstall the wheel on the ATV.
Can you change ATV tires at home?
With a few tools and some basic mechanical skills, changing ATV tires at home is very doable. But be aware that air under pressure is potentially hazardous, so necessary precautions must be taken.
How hard is it to change ATV tires?
ATV and other off-road tires have tighter beads than on-road tires, making them harder to change. But when you know the steps, changing tires is about as complicated as replacing brake pads or installing a new exhaust system.