How To Check Front and Rear Motorcycle Wheel Alignment

A simple do-it-yourself method for accurately lining up your bike’s wheels.

WHEEL ALIGNMENT HOW-TO
How To Check Front and Rear Motorcycle Wheel AlignmentBrian MacLean

Is your bike handling strangely? Tires wearing out asymmetrically? Chain making funny sounds? Believe it or not, a serious misalignment of the front and rear wheels can be the cause of all these maladies.

Now, you’re probably thinking that you’ve already checked the alignment marks on the swingarm so the wheels must be aligned. Not so fast. While these alignment marks are better than they used to be, there’s no guarantee they’re right, considering the inherent variations in manufacturing and the often prodigious amount of slop in the axle blocks.

But there is an easy way to check alignment that needs no special tools beyond a track stand—assuming your bike doesn’t have a centerstand—and a length of lightweight rope.

WHEEL ALIGNMENT HOW-TO
STEP 1 Start by putting the bike on the track stand and wrapping the center of the length of rope around the front of the tire as shown. You want it placed so the lengths of rope heading rearward are as high as they can be without hitting the brake discs or bodywork.Brian MacLean
WHEEL ALIGNMENT HOW-TO
STEP 2 Pull the loose ends of the rope toward the rear wheel, trying to keep the line taut enough that it won't slip down the front tire. A piece of duct tape will hold the string onto the front tire if you're having trouble.Brian MacLean
WHEEL ALIGNMENT HOW-TO
STEP 3 Draw the free ends of the string back until they just touch the tread at the front of the rear wheel. From this angle, look at the front wheel again. There should be a small gap between the rope and the trailing edge of the front tire; that gap should be equal on both sides. Sight down the bike from one side then the other. It will be obvious when the front tire is not pointing straight. Turn the handlebars until it is.Brian MacLean
WHEEL ALIGNMENT HOW-TO
STEP 4 With the front wheel aligned, once again bring the rope to the leading edge of the rear tire. Draw the ends inward until the rope just touches the leading edge. Be careful that you don't pull it so far that the rope bends. Again, if you look at a low angle, it's very obvious.Brian MacLean
WHEEL ALIGNMENT HOW-TO
STEP 5 Now look at the gap from the rope to the trailing-edge tread. It should be the same left and right. If the gaps are different, the rear wheel is not tracking the front. If the rope touches the rear of the tire before the front, it's way out of whack.Brian MacLean
WHEEL ALIGNMENT HOW-TO
STEP 6 If the wheel is perfectly aligned, this gap will be the same on both sides. If the gap is larger on the left and smaller on the right, the rear wheel is cocked in the swingarm with the front of the tire to the left of center. If the larger gap is on the right, the tire is "facing" slightly right.Brian MacLean
WHEEL ALIGNMENT HOW-TO
STEP 7 If you're smart, you'll mark the axle blocks when the wheel is properly aligned for quick reference later. Or you can maintain alignment by turning the adjusters the exact same amount each time you set the chain.Brian MacLean
WHEEL ALIGNMENT HOW-TO
STEP 8 Your tools for the job: lightweight rope, a track stand, and a positive attitude.Brian MacLean