Proper bike tire inflation is more important than most people realize. It can change your comfort and performance and may save you a flat tire or damaged rim.
Most people have probably inflated a bike tire at some point, but many probably haven’t done it right. There is more to it than you might think, and we want to teach you the correct way to inflate your tires, the FAB way.
In my younger days I remember pumping tires with the crappy foot pump or later the air compressor and just filling them until they felt reasonably firm and going with it. I was young and foolish back then. While this will work ok for some types of bikes and tires, there is a better way. Prepare to learn the way of the great inflation!
How to determine the correct tire pressure
If you have ever inflated your car tires you are probably aware that they always give just a single number for the rate, sometimes the front will be different than the rear tires, but it’s only one number. Cars can be this specific because they can assume you are driving on roads and they know the weight of the car. Bike tires on the other hand always have a pretty broad range. For instance, I have a mountain bike tire in front of me that is 40-65 psi, and a road bike tire that just says 120 psi max. The low for road tires is usually about 80 psi. These numbers are always on the sidewall of the tire, which is often really hard to see unless you have just the right light. The psi is higher for thin tires and lower for wider tires. So why such a broad range for bike tires? One reason is because it changes based on the weight of the rider. The pressure needed for a 100 lb rider is different than that used for a 200 lb rider. You can also use a different pressure based on the terrain you are riding, and what type of performance you want.
Common tire pressure ranges by bike type
Road bike – 80-130 psi
Hybrid bike – 50-70
Mountain bike – 40-65
These are just common examples, be sure to use the pressure stated on the side wall of your specific tire.
Using the range from your tires, consider these factors to determine a good psi to start with.
Why use higher pressure?
On a nice smooth surface higher pressure will have a lower rolling resistance and hence be faster. For thin road tires a higher pressure is also often needed to avoid pinch flats, especially for heavier riders.
What if the pressure is too high?
You risk possibly blowing a tire and will likely have an uncomfortable ride.
Why use lower pressure?
When using lower pressure, you will get a smoother ride over rougher terrain as the tire will absorb more of the bumps. Traction is also better as more of the rubber is flattened against the surface of the terrain.
What if the pressure is too low?
If the pressure is too low you risk a pinch flat or maybe even damaging your rim.
Now think about your weight and terrain. If you are a heavy rider with thin road tires you will likely want to inflate to the higher end of the range. If you are lighter and want a more comfortable ride you would inflate to the lower end of the range. If you are an average weight rider you might just try something in the middle of the range and see how you like it. Also, you will usually ride with about 5lbs more pressure in the back tire as that is where most of your weight is.
Now that you have a psi determined it’s time to get your pump. We strongly recommend the Vibrelli bike floor pump that we reviewed here. But you can use any pump as long as it is for the correct valve type, and you also need a gauge to measure the psi. The Vibrelli pump has a gauge attached and works with both valve types. Bikes use either Schrader or Presta valves.
Here is a nice video from the good people at GCN showing how to pump a tire. I would make the video myself, but why bother when there is already a great one out there. And he even has an English accent which should make you pay attention better.