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Under Pressure

I have it on reasonably good authority (industry pro) that for mountain bikes, getting your tire pressure right is the single largest thing you can change on your bike in terms of how it impacts how your bike handles.

Prior to tubeless tires, I ran pretty high pressure to stave off snake-bite pinch flats. When I got tubeless tires, I ran lower pressure, but was decidedly unscientific about it – give it a “palm check” and if it felt too squishy, add some air. My only pump (A “Joe Blow Sport”) has a gauge that goes to 160psi in pretty narrow 5 psi increments, so even if it is accurate it is pretty hard to hit a specific pressure.

Trusty (if filthy) pump.

So, recently I decided to pay more attention. I bought a Specialized “Air Tool” pump that has a more precise gauge for lower pressures, and also got a digital gauge. I’m kind of disappointed by the Air Tool – the pump head which is supposed to work for both presta and schrader struggles with the former. Also the non-linear gauge seems to read at least 5psi high once you get out of the “low range.” So, I’m forced to rely on the digital gauge I bought.

The “improved” pump

Tool struggles aside, I’ve been trying to ride with more consistent pressure, and am experimenting with lower pressure. For a long time I rode something like 30 psi on my mountain bikes, but recently I’ve dropped to 25 to see how it affects my bike handling. I think my general goal is to run the lowest pressure I can without risking destroying my rims if I hit a rock too hard.

I discussed this with some co-workers who ride – none of them use gauges – they all rely on the “palm test.” Several of them seem to ride VERY low pressure (palm test for them means you can almost-but-not-quite make the outside of the tire touch the rim!?). I don’t feel like I can afford to try that (I weigh 50+ lbs. more than most of these individuals) but they all agreed with the low pressure principle.

FWIW, I run between 40-60psi on my gravel bike, depending on how much of the ride is expected to be off road or singletrack. I gave up my road bike but used to run 110psi. My (low end) track bike doesn’t have sew ups, so I run 120 on it.

What pressure do you ride? Do you even check?

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