Bicycle Tire Pressure Guidelines
A critical aspect of bicycling fun and performance is using the proper tire pressure. Too much pressure leads to an unsafe and uncomfortable ride, while too little pressure leads to an unsafe and uncomfortable ride, plus a great risk of damage to the wheels.
Along with comfort and safety, proper tire pressure also plays a role in races, on both road and mountain bikes.
So let’s figure out the correct tire pressure…
Start with the pressure listed on the sidewall.
The easiest way to get started is to look at the tire’s sidewall. The sidewall almost always lists either a recommended pressure range or a maximum pressure. When in doubt, follow those guidelines.
For road bike tires, you will probably use 90-120 psi. For mountain bike tires, 35-55 psi. For tubeless mountain bike tires, 20-40 psi.
[Note: Road bikes are those with 700c or 27″ wheels and narrow tires, while mountain bikes have 26″ or 29″ wheels and wider tires.]
But you also have to take other factors into account…
Heavier riders will require higher air pressure, while lighter riders can get by with less pressure.
Let’s use a few road bikers as an example: A 130 lb climber could use 95 psi, a 165 lb sprinter could use 105 psi, and a 210 lb clydesdale could use 120 psi. Despite the pressure difference, each of these riders could be considered as using the “correct” pressure.
Road, Trail, and Weather Conditions
The biggest factor in altering your tire pressure is riding conditions. Wet and dry roads require different pressures, as do different types of mountain bike trails.
On a dry road, you can use a high tire pressure and not have any problems. But on a wet road, when traction is very important, you’ll want to reduce your pressure by 5-10 psi to allow the tire to grip the road better.
Dirt roads and trails are similar. On hardpack dirt roads and smooth singletrack, you can run a relatively high tire pressure so you can roll faster. But on loose terrain, slick rocks and roots, and mud, you will want to lower your pressure for better grip.
Flat Tire Risks
One final consideration is the risk of a flat tire. If you run your tire pressure too low, it’s possible that you’ll get a pinch flat if you hit an obstacle, like a curb or rock (whether on your road or mountain bike.)
This can be tricky when mountain biking, because you want a low enough pressure for good traction and comfort, but you want a high enough pressure to lower your risk of pinch flats!