Gravel bikes are fairly new to cycling compared to other disciplines. It’s like they came out of nowhere about five years ago, only to be everywhere now.
We get some excellent questions about gravel bikes, but one that always comes up is: “What’s the best gravel bike tire pressure?”
With gravel bike tires typically being much wider than road bike tires but narrower than mountain bike tires, it can be confusing to know how much pressure to put into them to get the best experience when riding on gravel and on mixed terrain adventures.
In this article, we’ll be covering:
- Why Is Gravel Bike Tire Pressure Important?
- 5 Factors That Affect The Optimum Gravel Bike Tire Pressure
- How To Calculate The Right Gravel Bike Tire Pressure For You
- Top Gravel Bike Tire Pressure Tips
Let’s jump into it!
Why Is Gravel Bike Tire Pressure Important?
In the past decade, cyclists have really woken up to the importance of fine-tuning the right tire pressure.
Years ago, the answer was simple: it was 90 to 110 psi in your road bike tires, and 20-40 psi in your mountain bike tires.
(Quick note: “psi” stands for “pounds per square inch”. It’s the standard unit that we use when discussing tire pressures.)
With modern testing, we have found advantages in wider tires running much lower pressures, as well as tailoring tire pressures to the terrain, bike, and rider. No longer are we just using a one-size-fits-all approach while hoping for the best.
We are now fine-tuning it for ourselves in modern times because it heavily affects our performance. It could be the difference between a win and a loss in a race or a comfortable or unbearable long social ride with your friends.
Having the correct pressure in your gravel bike tires is very important and can add much to the experience of multi-terrain riding. The correct tire pressure will keep you fast on the road and give you control when hitting off-road sections.
5 Factors that Affect The Optimum Gravel Bike Tire Pressure
Several factors will affect the tire pressure you should have in your gravel bike tires. Before we go into how to calculate pressure, it’s important to understand the main factors, so we know what we’re targeting.
Here’s what you need to know:
#1. Tire Size
The first thing to speak about is tire size.
Typically, gravel bike tires range in width from 32 mm all the way to 52 mm. With larger volumes, less pressure is required. Wider tires are designed with less pressure in mind to give them more flexibility, providing better grip and control.
The difference in tire size will be a big governing factor regarding what psi you need to put in. For example, if you run a 32 mm gravel tire at 50 psi, you would probably run a 52 mm gravel tire at around 25 psi to achieve a similar feel.
It’s also worth mentioning the rim width too. If you are using very wide rims on your gravel bike, then this will increase the tire volume, which might make you want to consider a lower tire pressure.
Next, we have the terrain, which is the surface you will be riding on.
If you are on a silky smooth tarmac road, then you will want to lean towards higher gravel bike tire pressures. This will reduce rolling resistance and tire lag.
If you’re on a dusty gravel road, you’ll want to have a lower tire pressure. This lower pressure will soak up the bumps much better, while the extra flex will put more of the tire on the road and give you more control over the bike.
When preparing for a gravel ride, I personally find myself changing the pressure in my tires depending on the weather forecast.
If the weather is going to be great and the trails nice and solid, then you will generally opt for a higher tire pressure.
If the weather is awful and you’re expecting slippy trails and lots of wet mud, then a lower tire pressure will give you much better traction, which could help you from losing the front or the back wheel on a sketchy descent or under acceleration.
#4. Rider Weight And Style
The rider’s weight also should be taken into consideration. Generally, if you weigh more, tire companies recommend a higher tire pressure. This compensates for the extra weight, which can make the tire decompress more on bumps.
It’s also important to speak about rider style. If you are a cyclist looking for a comfortable ride and are going out for long days, taking it easy on the rough terrain, a lower pressure might suit you more.
If you’re planning to push your gravel riding to the limits and are looking for top speed and hitting the rocks hard, you might opt for a higher pressure to help you avoid pinch flats and reduce rolling resistance.
#5. Tubes, Tubeless, And Inserts
In modern times, many bikes don’t use clincher tires and inner tubes as used to be standard. Instead, they use tubeless systems.
These tubeless systems can be run at much lower pressures without the risk of pinch flats – and can even self-mend punctures with high-tech sealants.
Another great new piece of technology that we have seen in the last couple of years is gravel bike tire “inserts”. The insert helps pad the inside of your tire and allows you to run even lower pressures better while protecting your tire and rim.
How To Calculate The Right Gravel Bike Tire Pressure For You
When it comes to finding the right gravel tire pressure for you, we can appreciate it can be challenging.
One cyclist will tell you one thing, and the local bike shop mechanic will tell you another. Here are our tried and tested methods, as approved by the BikeTips team!
#1. Manufacturers Guidelines
The manufacturer will know the tires you’re using better than anyone else.
Most tire manufacturers will recommend what tire pressure you should use. The manufacturer’s guidelines are the first place we recommend starting.
#2. Online Tire Pressure Calculators
For a more tailored approach to find out the correct tire pressure for you, a great option is to use a tire pressure calculator.
You will need to enter details such as weight, tire type, wheel diameter, what kind of road you are riding on, and more. With all this information, it will recommend front and back tire pressures, which are normally excellent.
Whichever of the above routes you choose, the essential final step is to experiment.
Gravel bike tire pressure is a personal choice. Using a tire pressure calculator in combination with the manufacturer’s guidelines will give you a sensible window to operate within, but you should then use all the factors discussed above to tailor the pressure specifically to your riding.
Provided you are not below the minimum PSI or above the maximum PSI of the tire, then you are safe to experiment and see how it feels.
If the wrong pressure is in the bike tires, you will soon know about it just by how the bike rides. If it’s feeling incredibly harsh on bumps, then you know there’s too much pressure. Too bouncy, then not enough pressure.
After a while, you begin to identify the kind of gravel bike tire pressure setups you prefer through experimenting, and knowing what pressure to choose for a particular ride becomes second nature.
As a very experienced cyclist who has been lucky enough to ride a wide variety of different gravel bikes with countless tire combinations, I recommend doing all three methods above.
Start by checking the manufacturer’s guidelines to know the minimum and maximum psi. Then, head to an online calculator, where you can get it tailored to you personally.
Finally, get out and ride some miles and experiment with the pressure you are on. Change it to where you want it to be for your riding if required.
Top Gravel Bike Tire Pressure Tips
After years of riding gravel, here are our top tips for gravel tire pressure!
Don’t Overthink It
It’s really easy to overthink gravel tire pressure when, in our opinion, you’re never going to get it perfect.
There are so many factors that can constantly change while you’re riding, such as terrain, conditions, and even the amount of weight you are carrying can change.
Essentially, the “perfect” tire pressure is always a vague concept that differs from rider to rider – and even moment to moment – rather than one specific number.
Try not to fuss and fiddle, nudging your pressures up or down one psi at a time. By all means, experiment, but once you find a balance you’re happy with and that feels about right, get out and ride!
Invest in A Decent Bike Pump
Gravel bike tires have much more volume than road bike tires. They also require higher pressure than mountain bike tires.
You will want to invest in a good pump that makes the work easy for you and can get the pressure you need quickly and easily.
A track pump is essential so you can see how much pressure you’re putting in to start your rides, but a decent hand pump will make it much easier to make adjustments on the fly if needed.
Tire Brand Makes A Difference
Tires come made of all different mixtures of compounds. Some will have a lot of flexibility, while others might be rigid.
The tire’s compound makes a difference to the amount of pressure you need to put in, so be flexible when it comes to pressure and different brands.