A Quick Way To Ensure Your Bike Tires Are Properly Inflated

June 28, 2023 0 Comments

Close-up of a well-inflated bicycle tire on pavement

Cyclists have a lot of pet topics. From electronic shifters to comfortable saddles to training for a century, there’s plenty to talk about. But one particular subject has been a matter of debate in recent years: tires. 

Whether it’s arguing over proper tire size and thickness or sharing techniques for the fastest flat repair, you’re bound to overhear or partake in many discussions involving your bike tires. And right there in the mix is bound to be a conversation about tire pressure. How do you determine the right pressure — and how do you quickly make sure it’s set when you do?

The answers to both questions are simpler than you may think. Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie walked us through it.

The Importance of a Properly Inflated Set of Tires 

The answers may be simple, but that doesn’t mean the topic is trivial. The right choice of tire size and pressure is crucial, and it can have a big impact on your riding success. 

If tires aren’t inflated enough, they’ll slow you down and make you vulnerable to “pinch flats” when you hit a bump in the road. If they’re inflated too much, it can lead to an uncomfortable, stiff road feel and even tire blowouts.

Getting it right is one of the most important ways to ensure a successful ride, so this isn’t something to ignore or neglect in your ride prep.

Tire Trends Change With Time

That said, despite what some may argue, there are no firm answers for determining the right tire size and pressure. A lot of research has been done over the years, and preferences have changed over time.

In the past, most road cyclists veered toward the thinnest possible tires inflated to extremely high pressures. Pressures of 110 pounds per square inch (psi) were common. Nowadays, however, many road cyclists prefer thicker, wider tires with more road traction and lower inflation pressures. 

The latest research does seem to support this change. Darryl notes that, on flat roads in particular, there are some distinct benefits to larger tires. 

“When tires that are bigger and heavier and have supple casings, they are a little faster than narrower tires with more air,” he says. “They’re also less stiff than narrower high-pressure tires; this is considered more desirable for some cyclists, but others find it too spongy.”

We’ve covered the key things to consider when deciding on the right tire and size for your riding style, and you can read that post for more details on that debate. No matter what, though, the amount of air in the tires is important and, to a degree, a matter of preference. On one of Darryl’s recent rides, tire pressure for riders varied from 40–50 psi (2.75–3.5 bar) to 105–110 psi (7.25–7.6 bar). Some of it comes down to rider weight, and some to what you want in terms of speed and road feel.

Ultimately, the important thing is to find the right pressure for your choice of tire and riding style. Never inflate your tires beyond the manufacturer’s recommended psi. But, below that, there’s a lot of wiggle room.

A Quick Test To Make Sure Your Tires Are Road Ready

Whatever pressure level you decide on, you need to make sure you’re right in that range before every ride. But it’s a hassle to get out your pump and check your pressure every single time — and it’s really not necessary.  

Not if you know how to do the thumb test, that is. 

“Knowing the thumb test allows you to be quicker getting out the door,” explains Coach Darryl. That’s because it’s extremely simple and, once you know how to do it, incredibly easy.

Here’s how it works. Fill up one of your tires to your desired pressure. Then, fill the other to a pressure above or below that (it’s a good idea to try this with both extremes). Now, alternate between squeezing each tire between your thumb and forefinger. As you go back and forth, note the difference in feel. If you do this enough and get used to it, you’ll immediately be able to tell if your tires are inflated to the right pressure with a quick pinch before you head out for a ride.

The best part: If you do it before you leave the house, you don’t need to bring a bulky bike pump in the car “just in case.” You should, of course, keep your hand pump, CO2 cartridges and other flat-repair supplies in your cycling bag. But you don’t need to plan on a pre-ride pump if you know how to check it quickly before you set out. 

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Find more of Coach Darryl’s tips and insights at his website.

Photo by Ricardo Soria on Unsplash