Running your bicycle tires at the proper pressure optimizes your speed, comfort, and safety. As a beginner, you need to understand how your tire pressure affects your ride and how you can pick the right pressure for your riding style.
You should choose your tire pressure depending on the type of bicycle you ride, the width of your tire, the terrain you ride it on, and your weight.
Tire pressure is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch) in the US and in bar in Europe. 1 bar is the equivalent of 14.5 PSI.
The optimal bike tire pressure
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Professional cyclists monitor their tire pressure constantly because even small adjustments make a difference, which can help them gain or lose seconds or even minutes. Their number one priority is speed and not comfort.
Casual riders, such as commuters, need to find the best pressure for comfort, speed, and safety, and therefore need to adjust their tire pressure accordingly.
Think of dialing in your pressure as a balancing act.
Low tire pressure feels more comfortable because it absorbs some road imperfections. It also gives you more contact with the ground, but it slows you down. If the pressure is too low, you risk getting a pinch flat.
High tire pressure feels faster because less of the rubber is in contact with the ground, but it results in a harsher ride. Too high tire pressure makes the riding inefficient because the bike starts to bounce on road imperfections.
What PSI should your tires be inflated to?
Each type of tire is made for a specific type of bike and a riding style. The tire manufacturer displays the recommended pressure range on the tire sidewall. The rider must consider factors to decide what pressure to inflate the tire.
As long as you keep within the recommended range, your bike is safe to ride.
If your tire pressure is below or above the recommended minimum and maximum pressure, your tire will wear out faster, you increase the chances of getting a pinch flat or exploding your tire.
Wide tires need less pressure than narrow ones because the air volume protects the wheel from getting damaged and offers good riding comfort. These tires act as shock absorbers and can easily roll over road imperfections. These tires lack speed and agility because of their mass.
Narrow tires have little air volume, and they protect the rim and the wheel from being damaged by the road by being inflated to higher PSI.
This table illustrates the average pressure range of different tire types:
|Avg min PSI
|Avg max PSI
|19 – 28 mm
|28 – 40 mm
|40 – 60 mm
|3.7” – 5”
Inflate your bike to the middle of the range recommended by the tire manufacturer, and see how it feels to ride your bicycle. Most average-size riders find inflating 80% to the recommended PSI optimal.
Light riders need less pressure in the tire than heavy ones. When considering your weight, consider the weight you’ll carry on your bike as well. A pannier or a backpack can add significant weight.
The terrain and the weather conditions also play an essential role. The smoother the surface and the drier the weather, the higher you can raise the pressure to give you less rolling resistance and a faster ride.
Best practices and tips for tire pressure
Get a decent pump
A good floor pump with a gauge is a must-have for any cyclist. It’s a purchase you make for life. Don’t get the cheapest one available because it won’t be as accurate as a reliable pump that costs twice or three times as much.
Ride at different pressures
Try riding your bike with the highest recommended pressure for a few miles, and ride it at the lowest pressure. You’re going to feel a noticeable difference.
Understanding how your pressure affects your ride helps you identify whether you need to pump up your tire after a ride, even without checking the pressure with a gauge.
Learn to eyeball
Sit on your bike and look at your tire for the side bulging out. If you see a bulge, add some air to the tire.
You can also gauge the tire pressure with your thumb and index finger. Inflate to the minimum and maximum pressures, and feel how hard the tire should be with your fingers. This isn’t a scientific measurement, but you can use it if nothing else is available.
Avoid pinch flats
Pinch flats (a.k.a. snakebites) happen when the inner tube gets pinched between the rim and a sharp object on the road, such as a curb or a pothole. This typically happens when your tire pressure is too low.
It’s normal for bicycle tires to lose air over time. You should check your tire’s PSI regularly. Make it a habit to check and inflate your tires every week or every other week to avoid an unpleasant surprise.
Get a mini pump
A mini pump is an inexpensive item you should add to your bicycle kit. It shouldn’t be your main pump to inflate your tire regularly. You need something small that you can keep on your bike, backpack, or pannier. It can get you out of trouble if you feel you’ve lost pressure.
Tire PSI in rain and winter
Increase your safety and grip on the road by lowering your tire pressure slightly in wet and winter conditions. As you lower your tire pressure, you increase the tire’s contact surface area with the ground and lower the risk of slipping.