By Jeff Westcott, Maverick Sports Promotions
Wanna play a game? Read the four scenarios below and try to guess the common theme…try not to cheat and skip to the answer!
Note: this blog pertains to Mountain Biking.
1. Pebbles were flying off my friend’s rear tire like BB’s shot from a gun. I felt like a duck in one of those carnival shooting ranges. Not long after he had a broken collar bone.
2. Some riders get through sand like it’s nothing; others grind to a halt.
3. And then there’s the dirt road with gravel. Ever notice how some people look terrified?
4. On my 40th birthday a group of us were climbing French Pass on our way around Mt. Guyot. All of us were fit enough to clean it. Half the group cleaned it, the other half didn’t.
Any takers out there?
The answer is the easiest variable to control and affects ride quality more than anything else!
Yup…tire pressure. Sound like this is geared to the beginner rider? Well, maybe. But I am always blown away at how riders of all abilities seem to give so little-importance to tire pressure. Generally speaking, people ride with their tires too hard, or overinflated. In the 4 scenarios above overinflation was the culprit. The dude who broke his collar bone was riding a 26” tire, with tube, at 50lbs…and he weighed about 155lbs. Does the sand in Moab get you down (literally)? Knock some air out of your tire and you’ll cruise through that stuff no problem. What about the dirt road scenario? A friend on French Gulch Road wanted to go for a quick evening “easy ride”. That ride turned into a scary movie watching her come down, white knuckling the brakes and kinda “surfing” the gravel. Gripped! You get the point right? The interaction of your tire and whatever you’re riding on…I mean literally where the rubber meets the road, or dirt, or rock, or sand, is THE MOST fundamental consideration in cycling. Ignore this and you overlook the “thing” that provides you with sensations from the ground up!
Why is it important? For the Fun Factor that’s why! Proper tire pressure, for your body weight, allows you to grip the riding surface like Big Horn Sheep on the rocks near Georgetown, or the goats on Baldy! Proper tire inflation means MORE grip not less. Yes silly, too soft is not good either; neither here nor in the BR! But when was the last time you saw someone riding a tire that is too soft? Most people are so wary of getting a flat they make their tires too hard! (Insert your own Freudian reference)
Here’s a likely scenario:
You haven’t ridden for a few days. You get a call from a buddy and you only have a few minutes to get ready. You think “I better put some air in my tires”, pretty much assuming that your tires lost pressure from the previous ride…which they may NOT have. So you hook up your pump and look at your gauge if it has one. It reads…well…whatever it reads. And you think “Johnny is pretty fast and I want to keep up with him so I better put more air in my tires”. So you pump them up a bit harder than normal and on the first part of your ride, usually pavement or hard dirt road, you’re hanging. Then you hit the trail and on the first section you’re off the back. You think, “I’m not fit” or “I’m a terrible bike handler” or “I’m having a bad day”…all of which may be true :)! But before you beat yourself up mentally consider the basics. And basic question number one is “How’s your tire pressure?” Kinda right up there with “How’s your carbon footprint?” or “What’s your credit score?”
We all need to know our number, our preferred tire pressure for MOST conditions. It’s as important as knowing the size pants we wear and the brand of toothpaste we like. I’m an 18. Yup…18lbs per square inch in a 29” Tubeless tire (tubed tires would require a tad more to prevent pinch flatting). I can deal with 20lbs but 22 feels like I’m riding on tires made by Fred Flinstone…friggin’ hard as a rock! I weigh 175lbs. Why do I reference weight? Because the lighter you are the softer the tire you can ride…generally speaking! I start every ride with 20lbs in my tires both front and rear. Why a bit harder than 18? Because I don’t want to get dropped by “Johnny” either! So I overinflate and then bump out a couple pounds when I get on the trail. How do I know how much to take out, how much is a couple of pounds? By developing a feel for what I like and then checking my pressure when I get home. Sure you could whip out a gauge right there on the trail but that would be Uber Geeky! I bump out a little air, and ride a section. Not quite right? Take out a bit more…and so on. It’s a “feel” thing and very personal. I like my tires right on the edge of “flatting”…but not so soft that I actually end up with a flat. Be experimental! You will know when you hit the right pressure because your bike will grip like never before and put a Cheshire Cat smile on your face. Descending will be more fun as you won’t be bouncing off every rock and ledge. Instead, you tires will conform to the irregularities in the trail surface and smooth out your ride, giving you more control!