Getting the correct air pressure in your tires is a fast and free way to maximize the performance of your bike and give you a smoother and more enjoyable ride.
Many people tend to look at the recommended pressure range for their specific tires and pick a number in the middle. While finding the proper range is the best starting point, there are a few more steps involved in figuring out how much to pump bike tires if you want to find the sweet spot for you and your bike.
The Proper Pressure for Bike Tires
The recommended pounds per square inch (PSI) of air in a tire will change depending on the terrain it’s designed for. In general, a lower PSI will result in a softer tire that offers better traction and grip over rough surfaces coupled with more shock absorption. A higher PSI will give you a harder tire with less rolling resistance that allows you to achieve faster speeds.
Bike tire pressure ranges can be anywhere between around 25-50 PSI on the low end, which is typically the range for wide mountain bike tires you’ll be using over rough terrain. On the other hand, 80-120 PSI on the high end, which is best for narrow road biking tires that will be on a fairly level, hard surface. Tires designed for gravel usually fall in the middle, somewhere between 40-80 PSI.
Start with the Pressure Range for Your Tires
Always check the sidewall of your tire or the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure of the range recommended for your specific tires. Some brands might have a smaller range than most other types because of the way they were manufactured or the materials used. You never want to underinflate or overinflate your tires beyond that recommended range.
Underinflation raises the risk of a flat tire, known as a pinch flat, when the inner tube gets pinched between the tire’s rim and the road.
At the other end, overinflation can burst the inner tube. The top PSI number is usually too much when you factor in things like terrain, rider weight, and weather, so until you’ve really gotten to know your tires and have a feel for how they perform, it’s best to steer clear of the highest PSI range, let alone go over it.
Consider the Terrain
Regardless of the type of tire you’re using; its lower recommended PSI range will create more rolling resistance and better traction. You’ll roll over rough spots more smoothly rather than bouncing over them as you would with firmer tires.
If you’re using road tires with a range of 80-120 PSI, you may get a comfortable ride out of the higher numbers on smooth pavement. But if you bike on a road that’s older and rougher, lowering the PSI can offer a better grip and overall experience.
Higher numbers in the tire’s PSI range let you reach faster speeds, so if you’re switching from bumpier terrain to a smooth surface, pump more air into your tires for the duration of that ride.
Consider Your Weight
Your weight will help determine how much to pump bike tires. People who weigh more need more pressure in their tires to achieve the same performance as people who weigh less. Adjusting the PSI up or down based on your weight gets you closer to the perfect tire pressure.
There’s no set number that’s best for every weight, so you might have to experiment with changing the PSI 3-5 pounds at a time and noting the differences it makes in your comfort level.
Consider the Weather
How much to pump bike tires changes depending on the weather in the same way it does for the terrain. If you’re going to be zooming over a flat, smooth road, for instance, but it’s raining or slick, lowering the PSI can improve the tire’s grip on the surface and make your ride safer.
When determining how much to pump bike tires, remember that the temperature changes the PSI in your tires by about 1 PSI per 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The PSI will increase at that rate when the weather is hotter, and it’ll decrease by that same rate when the weather is cooler.
Check Your Tires Before Every Ride
You may already check your tire pressure regularly with a gauge or a quick pinch, but if not, you should. Tires lose air over time, and it’s better to check before you go than to get caught out without proper inflation.
There’s nothing wrong with picking a PSI that generally works for you and sticking to it. But if you want to get the best performance from your bike, you should think about the weather and where you’ll be riding, and then adjust your tire pressure accordingly.
Check out our guide to Best Bike Pumps for some great options.