What tire pressure should I run today? That’s a question you should ask yourself every time you go out on the trail. It can be a difficult question to answer, not only because no two people will have the same answer for the same reasons, but because your answer should change based on a variety of factors as well.
It’s another one of the cycling questions that has ‘no right answer’ and is ‘different for everyone.’ While that is entirely true, those types of answers can make it difficult to learn or even know where to start.
How to Start:
I always recommend that riders go to a trail and session a small loop. Try a variety of pressures and see which one feels best to you. Begin at one extreme or the other in order to really feel the difference. It might take some time to become sensitive to one or two PSI. Once you pick a general pressure that you like, you can use the following information to raise or lower the pressure accordingly. I generally start with 18 PSI in the front and 19 PSI in the rear and then adjust from there.
Here I’ve compiled all of the factors I take into consideration when determining my optimal tire pressure:
Factors to Consider when Determining Pressure
Tubes Vs. Tubeless: The first thing to consider when determining your tire pressure is if you are running tubes or a tubeless tire. A tubeless set up will allow you to run a lower tire pressure, gain more traction, and avoid flats.
Tires with tubes require high pressure because otherwise, with too low of pressure, you risk pinching the tube between the tire and the rim. With a tubeless set up not only do you eliminate the risk of pinching the tube, but you can also run sealant so that if you do puncture, the tire will seal before it becomes a flat at all. Of course…I recommend Orange Seal. 😉
Rider Weight: The weight of the rider, will also impact your tire pressure choice. A bigger, or heavier rider should run a higher pressure than a lighter or smaller rider. That is because a heavier rider will place more weight on the wheels and runs a higher risk of ripping the tire from the rim in a turn or bottoming out and hitting rim on hard hits or drops.
Terrain: Terrain will also highly impact the tire pressure that you need to run. A hardpacked and smooth course or asphalt will result in a higher tire pressure. Loose, muddy, or sandy terrain will result in a very low tire pressure. Rocky terrain will often be somewhere in between.
Rim Width: The width of your rims will also impact what tire pressure you run. A wider rim will have a higher volume and give the tire more support so you can run a lower pressure. This is a reason that wider rims are becoming increasingly popular now-a-days.
Riding Style: This is where it gets really personal. If you are an aggressive rider and place a lot of weight through the front wheel then you might need to run a higher pressure just to avoid bottoming out. If you tend to ride lighter on the bike, hopping over each little rock and root then you may be able to get away with a lower pressure.
Tire Strength: Finally, consider your tire strength when determining your tire pressure. For example, Maxxis makes EXO tires that have extra sidewall protection and may reduce the chances of slices or punctures. Running a stronger tire such as a Maxxis Ikon EXO would allow you to run a lower pressure.
How Do I Know If I Want a Higher or Lower Tire Pressure?
A higher tire pressure and a lower tire pressure will help you achieve different goals out on the trail. Here is a quick guide to help you decide which one might be right for you:
Lower Tire Pressure:
In general, it seems like most people are trying to run the lowest tire pressure possible. This is because a lower tire pressure will allow your tire to squish underneath you and therefore create more contact with the ground and more traction. More traction means a faster and more efficient ride, especially when cornering. Since speed and comfort are usually the goals, a lower tire pressure often fits the bill.
The cons of a lower tire pressure is that you increase your risk of rolling the tire off of the rim (or burping the tire) when cornering. (If that happens your tire pressure is definitely too low). You also run the risk of hitting rim or puncturing if you hit an obstacle with too much force or come off of a big drop. Finding the right in between is important for these factors.
Finally, if you are riding on smooth terrain, a tire pressure that is too low will create extra surface area and possibly drag and could outweigh the benefit of being able to gain more traction. This is why it’s important to find a happy medium.
Higher Tire Pressure:
Higher tire pressure is often used on faster and smoother terrain when you are trying to decrease drag and increase speed and you aren’t concerned about cushioning rough terrain. Higher tire pressure also provides less traction because the tire will not squish out and grip the ground. For that reason, a higher tire pressure is not usually advised on mountain bike trails, or technical terrain.
While a higher tire pressure may decrease the chance of burping the tire or hitting rim, too high of tire pressure can also cause punctures. This is because instead of the tire forming around the rock, it will resist the rock and the rock might push through it.
Find the Happy Medium:
Just like anything in life it’s important to find compromise, try all of your options for yourself, and be confident in the conclusion that you come to. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by statements like ‘there is no one size fits all approach,’ capitalize on the freedom and use it to find the perfect strategy for your own riding style.