By Don Peddie

“Don, how much air should I put into my tires?” is the most frequently asked question I get asked all summer.

The correct tire pressure is a very controversial subject and one of the most misunderstood elements of road riding. The following recommendations are based on my years of experience and from following advice in magazine articles by so-called experts.

Tire manufacturers stamp a maximum tire pressure value on the sidewall of all tires. This number denotes the highest pressure a tire can sustain for long without damage. It is not the recommended pressure for recreational cycling. Two key considerations in deciding on the correct tire pressure are: preventing pinch-flats and providing rider comfort.

Under-inflation leads to pinch-flats.

The tire is compressed completely against the rim in a spot where the tire goes over an object, trapping the tube against the rim and puncturing it. To be certain your flat is of this type, look at the tube; if it has two slits in it a rim-width apart—very much like a snake-bite—you’ve got a pinch-flat. The evidence is unmistakable.

Over-inflated tires produce a harsh, bumpy ride.

Tires inflated 90–95 pounds will demonstrate to the rider the suppleness the manufacturer has built into the tire. Higher pressure will result in a much harsher, more jarring ride. When this is combined with the super-stiff wheels that are currently so common, the result is usually some serious pain to the parts of the anatomy that contact the saddle.

Most cyclists believe that unless the tire is inflated to a very high pressure there will be more rolling resistance, thereby reducing speed for a given effort. This effect is extremely minimal and only needs to be considered when racing.

The key to selecting the correct tire pressure is to match the tire size to your weight. Most cyclists simply select 700 x 23C no matter what our weight is. For those weighing less than 180 lbs (82 kilos), this is a good tire size. However, if you’re over 180 lbs, 700 x 25C is a smarter choice. For those of us who weigh over 200 lbs (92 kilos) 28C is the best choice. Another consideration is that, given these weight guidelines, touring riders should lean toward wider tires, racers toward narrower.

With the correct tire size, inflating to 90 lbs for the front and 95 lbs for the rear will be the optimum pressure for comfortable riding without the risk of pinch flats. For mountain bike (26”) tires, it’s much less.

Cornering and descending are smoother and easier, the ride is more pleasant, and at the end of a long ride you feel fresher and less fatigued. An added bonus is that your tires will last as much as five times longer.

So if you’re a “max-pressure” type of person, try reducing the pressure bit by bit until you’re down to 90 lbs front and 95 lbs rear. Try it. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Read other Cycling 101 Articles

  1. Cycling 101 Introduction
  2. Heart Rate and Building Fitness
  3. Looking Ahead
  4. Hill Climbing
  5. Quick Release: A Potpourri of Cycling Tips
  6. Tires: Keep the Pressure Up, But Don’t Blow It!
  7. Shopping for a Bike?
  8. Bicycle Gear Ratios
  9. Cycling Made Easy Part 1