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Rabaconda Street Tire Changer

To view a four-video series of Mark showing how to set up, use and pack away the Rabaconda Street Bike Tire Changer, visit the MOA’s YouTube channel at Alternately, all four videos are embedded on this page. Photos & video by Wes Fleming.

You may recognize the Rabaconda name because their distinctive bright green Dirt Bike Tire Changer began showing up in off-road racing behind-the-scenes videos over a decade ago. This Estonia-based, rider-owned-and-operated company has developed even more revolutionary technology for street bike wheels and tires. The new machine can still handle virtually all dirt bike/dual-sport/ADV wheels, too. I’ve been changing my own dirt and street tires for 30 years and have amassed a large assortment of tools to make this onerous job as easy as possible. Of course, “easy” is a relative term. I certainly don’t relish spending an afternoon wrestling tires on and off rims, as it remains a labor-intensive, obnoxiously messy chore, even with my armory of genuinely helpful aids. I’ve come a long way from using an old tire on the floor as my wheel stand, but the process can still provoke lots of swearing and sweating, yielding busted knuckles and scratched rims along the way. I’ve coveted an original Rabaconda since I first saw them employed with incredible speed (three-minute tire changes!) by enduro racers and their pit crews, but I couldn’t justify the expense when I’d only be able to use it for my off-road bikes, especially as I spend progressively less time in the dirt and more on the road. To be honest, dirt bike tires are a bit less arduous to change than their roadgoing counterparts. When I learned Rabaconda produced a street tire version that could still meet my diminishing knobby-swapping needs, I was all in.

Before I get into the device itself, let’s discuss why anyone would even go to all the trouble of changing their own tires. For me, saving the cost of labor and the time required to take my bike (or detached wheels) to a shop are the main reasons, but I also like being able to do the job when it’s convenient for me rather than making an appointment for the work to be done elsewhere, and then either waiting or making two trips. There have also been times when I wanted a special set of tires installed short-term for a specific outing (e.g., a track day or an off-road stint featuring very different terrain than my local venues), knowing I’d be remounting my regular rubber shortly thereafter. Having someone else do such jobs in quick succession would add dramatically to the expenses involved, and it’s often easier, cheaper and faster to get the tires I want online, rather than buying them from a dealer’s limited stock or placing an order there. Although a significant price must be paid when equipping a garage for tire changing, this expense can be recouped quickly when the above cost offsets are considered, especially if the purchaser owns multiple bikes and rides enough miles to make new tires a regular necessity.

My ol’ reliable tire changing rig is a waist-high, lightweight, portable wheel stand I bolt to my garage floor for stability during use, then store out of the way. To that I typically add a standalone automotive-style bead breaker, a wide variety of tire irons, and a (now discontinued) No Scuff tire mount/dismount bar, which incorporates the best elements of tools of the same ilk from No-Mar and Mojolever. Numerous other related tools may be brought in for special situations, and I have a collection of liquid, paste and spray lubricants to make any rim shoulder and tire bead super-slippery. After installing fresh rubber, a static balancing stand tells me where and how much weight is needed for vibration-free running. Over the years, I’ve decided against lower-effort professional-level tire changing equipment (e.g., from Cycle Hill/No-Mar) because of the much greater space requirement and expense ($400-$1,150).

Rabaconda’s new Street Bike Tire Changer eliminates the need for all my old dis/mounting setup and accessories. I still have to use the balancing stand for determining wheel weight selection and placement, but I can get rid of everything else (since I chose the package with Rabaconda’s own giant tub of solid lubricant). When broken down and stored in its beefy, dedicated carrying case, the Rabaconda takes up much less room than the equipment it replaces, plus it doesn’t need to be secured to the floor, making it handy for trackside use. Disassembled, it is compact (28” x 11” x 10”), weighs about 30 pounds, and is easy to tote or store. Setup and breakdown are quick and simple, requiring only a few minutes and zero tools.

It’s extremely versatile, capable of handling cast, forged and wire-spoked wheels with diameters from 12 to 21 inches (with hubs from 15-32 mm) and tires up to 250 mm in width. All points of contact between machine and rim are shielded with scratch-proof materials, tremendous leverage and stability are achieved with its generous dimensions and innovative design, and the human-machine interface is ergonomically excellent. The large, well-illustrated, 35-page owner’s manual seems to have been written by a non-native English speaker, but its occasional odd word choice and intermittently awkward grammar are certainly no worse than what’s commonly found in European motorcycle manuals, and the information is comprehensive and clearly understandable.

Included in the least expensive package with the galvanized steel machine are two Drop Center Tools. These conveniently clamp onto the rim during tire dismounting to keep the bead down in the rim’s center channel, opposite from where force is being applied to move the bead over the rim shoulder. This effectively reduces the stretching required by allowing the tire carcass to move a little closer to the point of strain. I found it best to use both of these tools, spread about 50 degrees apart. During mounting, one of these will keep the tire from chasing itself—undoing the mounting process across the rim from where you’re working. Rabaconda also provides an alternative hub spindle (15 mm in addition to the standard 20 mm, both of which feature adapters to accommodate additional hub sizes), a 16” tire iron with protective plastic sheath, a strap for securing wheels incompatible with the rotation-blocking post appropriate for most aluminum wheels, and the aforementioned 1000D Cordura bag. Bundle deals offer additional accessories (including lube and bike-specific adapters) at lower cost than if these were purchased separately, and Rabaconda sells a handsome, durable, anti-slip floor mat in two sizes.

The Street Tire Changer with the ratcheting mechanism in place. Mark is installing one of the Drop Tools to make using the duck head easier.

Operation of the Street Bike Tire Changer is brilliantly straightforward. The wheel slips onto the machine’s central spindle, using the appropriate adapter to create a snug, secure fit. Magnetic bumpers are easily relocated between the rim and machine base to distribute pressure evenly and guard against scratching; these also make it unnecessary to remove sprockets or brake rotors to maintain a flat interface between wheel and machine. The green lever arm inserts into a pivot at the machine’s top (adjustable for tire/wheel width and diameter), and then is pushed downward with the bead-breaker blade positioned at the bead/rim junction, quickly and easily separating the two. Repeat this at several points around the wheel’s circumference to fully unseat the tire, then repeat again on the wheel’s flip side. For someone who can remember performing this task by standing on a tire and jumping up and down, the Rabaconda bestows a feeling of god-like power. Once the bead-breaking process is complete, the wheel is prevented from spinning by the plastic-coated rotation-blocking post, inserted at the appropriate location for the wheel’s diameter, or—if the wheel design precludes this (e.g., wire-spoke wheels may be vulnerable to damage from the concentration of rotational force at the contact point)—the included strap can serve the same purpose by tethering the wheel to the machine base from a location at the rim’s surface.

Now the unique ratcheting mechanism goes onto the spindle atop the wheel hub. This has an adjustable-length armature capped by what Rabaconda calls the “duck head,” the shape of which matches the name, and there’s a socket for the same lever arm used to break the bead. The duck head has a channel in its underside that mates to the rim shoulder; once properly positioned, the adjustable-length armature secures with a set-screw knob. After lubricating the entire bead, rim shoulder and duck head, use the included tire iron to pry the first bead up and over the duck head; this is made easier by those strategically positioned Drop Center Tools. A handy hook secures the tire iron under the ratchet’s base plate. Move the lever arm from the bead breaker pivot to the ratchet and “pump” it to rotate the duck head around the rim’s shoulder until the whole bead is free. (The tire iron falls out once the duck head starts moving and takes over the levering process.) The ratchet allows this to be done from a stationary position standing next to the machine; no need to follow the arm around the wheel’s circumference. The spindle essentially serves as a force multiplying fulcrum, affording uncanny leverage at the handle with easy, one-handed operation. Repeat this sequence with the second bead to completely remove the tire. After removing the lever arm, duck head and ratchet, the wheel can be taken away for cleaning, examination, truing or just left in place for mounting the new tire.

Using plenty of bead lubricant, the mounting process typically begins with simply pushing the first bead over the outer rim shoulder by hand. (A particularly stubborn tire may require persuasion of the first bead with the duck head as described next for the second bead.) The second should be positioned diagonally on the duck head below its “head” and above its “tail.” Push as much of the bead as possible into place by hand and temporarily use one of the Drop Center Tools inserted part-way around the tire to prevent the bead across the rim from climbing back up over the shoulder (after a certain point, it will be unnecessary and obstruct the duck head). If the tire is so stiff you can’t push a Drop Center Tool into place by hand, briefly use the lever arm (back into its bead-breaking configuration) to facilitate this. Ratchet the duck head around the circumference of the wheel as before to lever the second bead onto the rim. If the duck head ends up pinched tightly between the mounted bead and rim shoulder, the bead-breaker can again be employed to ease its release, but in most cases the duck head will be easy to loosen by hand. Voila! With a little practice, the entire dismounting and mounting process can be accomplished with shocking ease in as little as ten to fifteen minutes, sans injury to hands or wheel. If this all sounds confusing, watch the videos from the link at the top of the article.

Note that the Street Bike Tire Changer will not work with bib mousse setups. Rabaconda’s Dirt Bike Tire Changer is the appropriate choice if you use this type of insert and may be better for some tube-type and TuBliss-equipped wheels because rim locks can interfere with the Street Bike version’s duck head’s movement around the rim. (Traditional tube-type arrangements without rim locks are no problem and the duck head poses no threat to tubes). I found it possible to simply avoid the rim locks of my TuBliss system with the Street Bike Tire Changer. It just requires thoroughly loosening the rim locks and starting the dismount process at a point where the tire will be free before the duck head rotates around the wheel to where the rim lock is located (dismounting never requires a full 360-degree sweep with the tool). Also, as TuBliss users will already know, the dismount process involves removing the second bead from its own side of the rim, rather than pulling it across the rim’s center channel. When mounting, the mechanism won’t be able to complete a full rotation because of the TuBliss rim lock, but the last few inches can be levered into place with a tire iron in the conventional manner. It’s important to keep in mind that much of the Rabaconda’s utility is the stable, nicely angled workstation it creates. Even without the use of its ratcheting mechanism, this makes using tire irons or a dis/mounting bar easier and more effective than when doing the same on a typical home mechanic’s more awkward and relatively flimsy wheel stand.

Rabaconda provides a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects and an unheard of six-month, no questions asked, money back satisfaction guarantee. Given the premium construction, robust materials and brilliant engineering of the EU-built Street Bike Tire Changer, the company’s confidence that these policies won’t damage their bottom line seems completely justified. Buyers will feel more confident, too, which is critically important for a big purchase. Starting at $649 (including three-day shipping within the continental U.S.), it will take 13 $50 tire changes to pay for itself, if you don’t count all the time and schedule disruptions involved in having someone else do the work. If your stable necessitates the additional cost of various options, you may end up spending a bit more. For example, GS owners will need to add a $45 adapter for a BMW shaft-drive hub and a $25 wider duck head if they have cross-spoked wheels. You’ll have to determine if the savings over time are worth the expense, but for riders who go through tires frequently, this is definitely an investment well worth considering. Perhaps your group of riding buddies would be willing to split the cost, making it extremely cost-effective for all involved.