Bike Tire Pressure Explained: All You Need To Know

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One of the most underrated ways of improving how your bike rides is the bike tire pressure. By tweaking how much air you have in your tires, you can improve handling, ride quality, speed, and puncture resistance.

Adjusting your bike tire pressure is pretty straightforward. When you are more experienced, you will be able to see if your tires are pumped up enough with a simple pinch.

You should check bike tire PSI more often than you may think. Therefore, we have created this guide to bike tire pressure.

In this article, we will cover:

  • Bike Tire Pressure Basics
  • How To Check Your Bike Tire Pressure
  • How Tire Pressure Is Affected By Tire Width
  • How Your Weight Makes A Difference To Bicycle Tire Pressure
  • How To Set Bike Tire Pressure For The Terrain
  • What Are Tubeless Tires?
  • How Bike Tire Pressure Affects Your Performance
  • Tweaking Tire Pressures During A Mountain Bike Ride
  • Tire Inserts

Are you ready to geek out on tires?

Bike Tire Pressure Explained All You Need To Know

Bike Tire Pressure Basics

Any vehicle that has air-filled tires is supported by the pressure inside them. Tire pressure is measured in PSI, which stands for pounds per square inch.

The higher the PSI, the harder the tire, while low PSI gives the tire more squidge. Therefore, how much PSI in a bike tire significantly affects how the bike performs and behaves.

It is super easy to check your bike tire pressure and is an extremely important task to do before each ride.

With this in mind, you may be wondering where to start, especially as there are many different bikes for different uses. Luckily, all modern bike tires have their recommended pressures indicated on their sidewalls.

The recommended bike tire pressure tells you the best pressure range for its intended use. It is important that you stay within the given range.

Generally, you will find that most mountain bike tires work best between 25 and 50 PSI. Road tires are usually pumped up between 80 and 120 PSI. Gravel tires are often between 40 and 80 PSI

These tire pressure ranges should be used as a starting point. You need to do a little bit of homework to find the sweet spot for you.

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How To Check Your Bike Tire Pressure

Many bike pumps have built-in pressure gauges, but these are often inaccurate. Therefore, you may want to buy a digital tire pressure gauge. These are cheap and easy enough to use to check your pressures before each ride.

All you need to do is push the gauge onto the tire valve and read the digital display.

How Tire Pressure Is Affected By Tire Width

You need to put enough air into your tires to prevent them from collapsing under your weight and bottoming out on the rim. Wider tires have higher volumes than narrower ones; therefore, you can run them at lower pressures.

Lower bike tire pressure gives you a more comfortable ride and more traction. But narrower tires require higher air pressure to stop them from bottoming out.

How Your Weight Makes A Difference To Bicycle Tire Pressure

It is probably no surprise that your weight will affect the optimum bike tire pressure for you. Your tire will compress as soon as you sit on the saddle, so you need to get the pressure high enough to support your weight while being soft enough to provide optimum grip.

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How To Set Bike Tire Pressure For The Terrain

The terrain you ride on is variable and unpredictable. Therefore, dialing in your bike tire pressure takes some trial and error.

This is more for mountain biking rather than road bikes, but it is worth spending the time to get it right. When you have some experience, you will be able to figure out how much air you need in your tires to suit the trail.

For example, if you ride somewhere with lots of pointy rocks and roots, you may want to increase your bike tire pressure. This will protect your rims from the rough terrain.

However, when you ride in wet weather, you may benefit from reducing the bike tire PSI. This increases the tire’s contact patch with the ground, giving you more traction.

When trying to determine the best tire pressure for mountain biking, you need to pay attention to how your bike feels. If you hear and feel a harsh bang when you ride over a sharp rock, you need to increase your bike tire pressure.

On the other hand, if your bike feels like it hasn’t got enough grip in the corners, you may need to lower the PSI.

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If you want to optimize your road bike tire pressure, you won’t have to do so much trial and error as a mountain biker. Most of the time, 90 to 100 PSI will give you a faster ride than a tire pressure above 110 PSI.

This is because the tire will absorb slight bumps and vibrations better than a harder tire. You’ll also get better cornering performance, especially in wet weather.

Where you ride will make a difference to your bike tire pressure too. Altitude changes your tire pressures, so if you ride in mountainous areas, your tires will be softer at the bottom of the mountain and harder at the top.

So if you use ski lifts or are fit enough to ride up the mountains, you will notice a difference in your bike’s handling at significantly different altitudes.

What Are Tubeless Tires?

Tubeless tires are the best way to improve traction and reduce the likelihood of punctures.

Tubeless tires do away with inner tubes and fit snuggly on your rims. They are filled with liquid tire sealant, which is usually latex-based. The sealant fills holes you get in your tires and solidifies while you ride. You don’t even know that you have got a puncture most of the time.

The other advantage of running tubeless tires is that you can lower your bike tire pressures. This increases the amount of traction you have while improving comfort.

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3 Ways Tire pressure Affects Your Performance

The main performance factors affected by bike tire pressure are traction, rolling speed, and comfort. If you can find the optimum bike tire pressure, you can strike the perfect balance between all three.

#1. Traction

If your bike tire PSI is too low or too high, your bike’s performance will be compromised. A lower bike tire pressure gives you more traction. In comparison, a higher pressure reduces rolling resistance, allowing you to ride faster.

Having enough traction is essential for all aspects of your riding, including cornering to climbing to braking.

#2. Comfort

The correct tire pressures will make your bike more comfortable to ride. Lower bike tire pressure gives your tires more squidge, creating a more plush ride you can feel through your pedals, handlebars, and saddle.

If you go too soft with your bicycle tire pressure, your rolling resistance will increase, slowing you down. It can also compromise your bike’s handling, affecting your steering or causing the tire to roll on the rim when cornering.

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#3. Speed

The harder your tires, the easier they will roll due to reduced rolling resistance. However, if your tires are too hard, they won’t cope with bumps in the road particularly well. This will slow you down but will also make the ride quality incredibly uncomfortable

Tweaking Tire Pressures During A Mountain Bike Ride

You can adjust your bike tire pressure during a ride to see how it affects its handling and performance. If you can, session a mountain bike trail and change your bike tire PSI, taking note of it each time.

Start with a higher PSI and reduce it each time you ride the trail. You will notice an improvement in traction, but don’t take too much air out, or you may damage a wheel.

It is common to run a lower pressure in the front tire. This is because when you mountain bike, you tend to put less weight on the front wheel. Therefore, you can run a lower PSI, increasing traction for cornering.

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What Are Tire Inserts?

You may hear some mountain bikers talking about tire inserts. There are a few different versions from various manufacturers, but they all use the same principle.

Tire inserts are usually made from some kind of foam and sit inside the tire. This material protects your rim, allowing you to drop your bike tire pressure further.

Tire inserts are not for everyone. Some mountain bikers don’t like how they make their tires feel. However, it doesn’t take long to get used to them.

Also, some tire inserts work better than others. So make sure you do your homework on the ones available before buying and fitting tire inserts.

Now You Know All About Bike Tire Pressure

Some riders like to tweak their bicycle tire pressure, while others just pump and go. It doesn’t matter which approach you take, as long as you understand the balancing act between comfort, traction, and speed.

When determining how much psi in a bike tire you need, you can use Schwalbe’s Pressure Prof as a starting point. Fill in the details in the online table to get the optimum pressure, according to Schwalbe.

If you have found this blog helpful, you may benefit from our other articles on bike maintenance and setup. For more expert help, check out the blogs below:

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Tom is an experienced freelance cycling journalist and mountain biking expert who competed nationally in the junior ranks. Now based in the world-famous mountain biking destination of Morzine in the French Alps, Tom spends his summers shredding off-road trails by bike and his winters on the same mountains on a snowboard.

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