Whether you’re road biking, hitting single-track trails on a mountain bike, or going for a casual stroll on a hybrid or cruiser, tire pressure is one of the most important aspects to pay attention to, regardless of when or where you’re riding.
Your tires are the only thing between you and the ground, so it's always best to be sure that they are inflated properly for your current riding situation and preferences.
If you ride on even a somewhat frequent basis, you need to be checking your tire pressure on a consistent basis. This almost always includes the use of an actual tire pressure gauge so you can be precise with things.
However, it’s safe to say that you may not always have a tire pressure gauge on you during certain riding situations, so you need to be able to at least provide an estimate without using any kind of tools.
Below, we’ll go over how to check your tire pressure, both with and without a tire pressure gauge.
CHECKING TIRE PRESSURE WITH A GAUGE
Regardless of what type of bike you’re riding, the tires will always have a specific range on the side of them for you to reference. First, find this range before using a gauge or inflating.
Once you know the psi range, use your tire gauge by placing it on the valve and pressing down, causing the needle on the gauge to move and display the pressure. Alternate between the air pump and gauge until you reach the desired pressure.
To make things easier, get a pump with a built-in gauge.
CHECKING TIRE PRESSURE WITHOUT A GAUGE
While you may not be able to get a precise readout of tire pressure without a gauge, there are still some ways you can improvise.
If you are on a road bike, you can simply squeeze the tire on each side. If there is a lot of giving, inflate until you can barely squeeze it.
For a mountain bike, get on the bike and look down. If you see the tires protruding out on each side more than a millimetre or two, you’ll need to add air. If they feel rock hard and offer no give, you need to relieve some of the air out.
HELPFUL THINGS TO KNOW
Different types of bike tires require different pressures. As a general rule of thumb, road tires usually need 80 to 130 psi, mountain bike tires require about 25 to 35 psi, and hybrid tires, 50 to 70 psi.
Weather can play a factor in your tire pressure as well. For instance, each 10-degree-Fahrenheit drop in outside temperature correlates to a 2 percent drop in tire pressure. An example of this would be the outside temperature dropping from 90 degrees to 60 degrees, which means your road tire pressure would drop from 100 psi to 94 psi.
Also, the surface you’re riding on plays a factor too. If you’re on a road bike, and you are riding on a very smooth road, you can keep the psi up to a maximum level. Rougher roads will require a slight drop in pressure to offer a smoother ride.
If you’re on a mountain bike and you are going to be tackling some adventurous single-track that has uneven surfaces and plenty of sand and dirt, dropping your psi a bit can give the bike better traction and grip.
Bodyweight is another factor. Let’s say that a 165-pound rider uses 100 psi on his road bike. With that point of reference, a 200-pound rider inflates to around 120 psi, while a 130-pound rider could probably ride as low as 80 psi.
In any situation, never go above or below the manufacturer's recommended tire pressures.
Types of bike with tire pressure
Road bikes and tires are designed to go fast on flat ground. Higher air pressure allows them to roll more easily and quickly. These typically have a pressure range of 80 to 130 psi, while racers might go as high as 160 psi. If you're stuck inflating a road tire without a gauge and need to guess, a tire can barely be compressed with your thumb at 100 psi.
Mountain bikes, unlike road bikes, fly over rough, uneven terrain. Too much air in the tires causes too much bounce, resulting in a jarring ride. Lower tire pressure improves shock absorption while also increasing traction by allowing more of the tire to make contact with the ground. Most MTB manufacturers recommend a tire pressure of 30 to 50 psi because it is a good compromise between on-road (closer to 50) and off-road (near to 30) riding.
Hybrid bicycle tires must be inflated to a pressure that is halfway between that of a road bike and that of a mountain bike. This is normally between 50 and 70 psi. The lowest suggested inflation for children's bikes is 20 to 40 psi. But keep in mind that these are referred to as "recommendations" for a reason. Beyond your bike's style, a number of elements play a role in the inflation process.
Factors to consider bike inflation
Temperature impacts air pressure, as we know from physics. Aside from the weather, persistent deceleration with rim brakes causes friction, which can considerably raise temperatures inside the tube. Fortunately, they cool off rapidly as well, but it's something to be aware of on long descents. It's also something to say to your budding roadster when he or she learns the fundamentals of hand braking.
As a rule of thumb, more weight equals more pressure. To see the same performance in their tires, heavier riders should utilize a greater psi than lighter riders, whether they're competing in the Tour de Whatever or tearing up the backwoods. To put things in context, someone who weighs 200 pounds will probably want to pump in roughly 20 psi more than someone who weighs 160 pounds. There isn't a certain sliding rule for this, so experiment with the pressure to determine what works best for you. Keep in mind that rear tires tend to carry more weight than front tires, so make any required adjustments.
A popular question among casual bikers is "How often should I inflate my tires?" The answer is contingent on how frequently and how hard your bike is. Some people use the pump every few days, while others use it once a week, and yet others use it even less frequently. Even if you or your kids have been leaving your wheels in the garage for months, air will eventually seep out. As a result, just like a car, it's always a good idea to inspect your tires before each trip as a bike safety best practice. It's especially important if it's been a while.
Underinflation vs Over inflation
In a nutshell, don't do both. You run the risk of blowing the tube if you overinflate it, either during pumping or while riding, due to sudden or constant contact. Pinch flats can occur if the tire is underinflated. When you hit a bump with an underinflated wheel, the tube gets compressed between the rim and the tire casing. This not only harms the tire, but it can also harm the rim. Flat tires also slow you down and force you to pedal harder, which is not fun.
Types of Bike Pumps
There are two types of bike pumps
- Hand Pump
- Floor Pump
Hand pumps are necessary for each avid cyclist, but they are more difficult to use and take longer to fill the tire. However, because they're portable, you'll always have your pump with you. Any long-distance bike trip would be silly if you didn't have your trusty hand pump and puncture repair kit.
Floor pumps are the professional's pick since they work so well. They're easier to use and connect, and they'll fill your tires up considerably faster than a manual pump. Some come with gauges, which eliminate
1) The need to switch between a pump and a standalone gauge, or
2) Sheer guesswork if you're really lazy.
Expert bikers, on the other hand, are wary of floor pumps with gauges because the gauge's accuracy varies and can be off by as much as 10 PSI. On the bright side, if the gauge is constant, you can compute the difference and compensate by adjusting your goal PSI.
It’s worth saying again: Tire pressure is crucial. While we strongly recommend that you purchase a tire gauge, learning how to estimate tire pressure by look and feel can come in handy for the times you may be without. Either way, always be vigilant with your tire pressure.