Tune Your Next Ride – Adjust Your Tire Pressure PT II

Pedal Power Road Bikes

Adjusting tire pressure is the easiest, quickest, (and cheapest) way to tune the way your bicycle handles and feels when you are out for a ride. Many mountain bikers have known about this technique for quite a while, but did you know that you can also tune the bicycle that you use on pavement this way as well? Read on for the details!

Last time, we discussed how tire pressure can positively or negatively affect your riding when you are mountain biking. (You can check out all the details on that post here). Road, cyclocross, and hybrid style bicycles have some similarities and some specific differences with their tire pressure settings compared with mountain bikes. The first is the most obvious: the terrain.

Riding on paved or packed terrain is much different than riding on mountain bike trails. Aside from the obvious hardness of the terrain, there are no big rock, roots, or other technical obstacles to negotiate on a typical road ride. This means you can run much higher pressures in a road or hybrid bike tire to get a smoother, more efficient, less-energy-sapping ride. Your bike will glide along the pavement with a less effort! So if you want the fastest ride possible, just fill the tires to their maximum pressures, right? Not quite…

Simply inflating your tires to their maximum pressures may feel fast, but in actuality, you may be preventing the tires from deforming over inconsistencies in the terrain, which causes a high-frequency vibration. This may make your bike feel like it’s travelling fast, but your tire is actually bouncing over the pave, not gliding as smoothly as it could. You may also not be getting the most confident grip when you’re cornering. When you take a corner at high speed, your bike should feel like it’s locked into the road. If it skids or slides, or you feel like it will break free from the pavement, it’s possible you have too much pressure in your tires. So how should you set the pressure in your tires?

3 different tire widths. From left to right: 23c, 25c and 28c.

3 different tire widths. From left to right: 23c, 25c and 28c.

You’re going to need a good pressure gauge for this next part. If you don’t have a gauge, the one on your pump is the next best thing. If you’re new to road riding and weigh between 150-180lbs, start with about 110psi in your tires. If you weigh more, go up to 115psi, or 100psi if you weigh less. Go for a ride and note how your bike feels rolling, climbing and cornering. Next, try reducing the pressure a bit and see what happens. Not a lot, but 5-10psi in each tire. Does the ride get smoother? Cornering feel more confident? Still feel like you’re gliding along smoothly and effortlessly? If you feel like you’re beginning to slog along and have to work harder to keep the bike rolling, add a bit more pressure. Also consider dropping the pressure in your front tire a bit more than the rear. Your weight is distributed more heavily over the rear wheel of your bike than the front. Keep track of the pressures that you try, and how your bike feels. Eventually, you’ll find what pressures work best for you & your riding.

Some other considerations to take into account that can improve your cycling:

  • Riding on unpaved, packed-dirt terrain will require tires inflated to even lower pressures than typical road tires, and will benefit from tires that are wider.
  • Wider tires can absorb a lot more inconsistencies on the road or trail. In fact, there are several recent studies that have shown that wider tires are actually faster than the skinniest ones. If you’re using 23c road tires now, and want to make your bike feel smoother and just as fast, consider upgrading to some wider tires that will fit in your bike’s frame (25c or even 28c).
  • Higher pressures do not automatically mean faster tires. Generally anything over the 115-120 range is unnecessary, and slower. Really.
  • Improvements in tubeless wheel & tire systems are making them more and more prevalent for use with road bikes. You gain all the same benefits we mentioned in our MTB article, with less pressure!
You can see (from my terrible photo) that as tires get wider, the volume also increases. 23c at the bottom to 28c at the top.

You can see (from my terrible photo) that as tires get wider, the volume also increases. 23c at the bottom to 28c at the top.

A brief query to some of the Pedal Power staff came up with these results for their preferred road pressures:

  • Bill – 90psi F/R, unless he’s leading a faster ride. Then 100psi in front & 110psi in rear. Current tire of choice – Specialized Turbo 24’s.
  • Katie – 95psi – 100psi F/R in Bontrager AW 2’s in 25c.
  • Pete – 70psi F/R in 700x45c tires.
  • Jake – 85-90psi in front, 95-100psi in the rear. Tires are 700x25c.
  • Matt L – 90psi in front, 100psi rear. Specialized Roubaix Pro 23/25 in the rear, 25/28 in front.
  • Todd H – 110psi F/R. 700x25c.
  • Gary – Bontrager tubeless – 90psi in front, 95psi in the rear. “Rolls stupid fast & confidence inspiring in the corners!”

As you can see, tire pressure is as varied as the riders themselves. Some riders prefer to simply set it the same front & rear, while others have experimented a lot and continue to adjust and tweak our pressures as our tire preferences change.

What’s your tire pressure experience been? Do you have preferred pressure settings? We’d love to hear what your ‘magic-settings’ are. Leave us a note in the comment section. Convinced that you need some new tires for your bike? Check out some new tires at Pedal Power.

Editor’s note: Pedal Power fully understands that there are some other variables that can also affect tire pressure, like rim & tire width, tire type, sidewall stiffness, terrain, what season or weather you’re riding in, etc. It’s a tall order to run down every variable out there, and we simply can’t chase every one. Consider this a primer to getting started with experimenting with your air pressure to change how your bicycle handles different terrain & go from there to find your optimal pressures.

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