Ask a Gear Guru: What Bike Tire Pressure Should I Use?
In the last 15 years, the school of thought for bike tire pressure has basically been flipped on its head.
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If you’ve done tris for any amount of time, you’ve heard that horrible sound in transition during the early hours before the start of a race. Or sometimes it comes later in the morning of an iron-distance race, as the sun starts to heat everything up. That BANG. It’s the sound of a blown race, the sound of a cool, calm, relaxed start to someone’s big day being slammed suddenly into a panicked morning in hell, trying to find a tube, a pump, and the right bike tire psi. If the question is, “What bike tire pressure should I run?” The answer is not that pressure. Not at all. (Side note: if you’re not sure how to change a flat tire, check out our how-to article here.)
Sure, those pre-ride blowouts used to happen much more than they do now, but that’s mostly because today we know a lot more about tires and rolling resistance and aerodynamics. The old school way of thinking was, get the thinnest tire you can (remember 19c tires??), blast it up to max (220psi anyone??), and double check your dental insurance deductible because you’ll probably lose some teeth bouncing around on that rough road. Tubular tires were considered great because you could go super thin, super high-pressure, and best yet, if you got a flat you were completely screwed and could throw your bike into a lava field. Tubular tires were also great for hurting your hands, making a huge mess, and forcing you into buying a special set of race wheels, but that’s neither here nor there.
The idea in the past was that because an under-inflated tire was slow and mushy, the more air the better. The other thinking was that a thinner tire was faster because it presented a smaller profile to the wind and ground. Both theories assumed that you want only a tiny bit of something (rubber on the ground, rubber facing the air) and that less is always more no matter what.
Today, we know better. Without getting too deep into the science (read here for more), a wider tire presents a wider, but shorter contact patch with the ground—this is a good thing. Also, a tire with lower pressure deflects less on bumpy roads, meaning it doesn’t bounce around as much on a micro-scale. Not only does this give you a more comfortable ride (important for triathletes who have to run off the bike), but it also loses less speed due to the up-and-down forces you find on everyday roads. Yes, a super high-pressure tire is awesome on the smooth surface of the velodrome, but how often are you at the track?
Also, with a wider tire, you can run less pressure because you have less chance of a pinch flat—due to more distance between the tire that touches the ground and the rim itself. The good news is that wider is better (within limits), lower pressure is better (within limits), and they both play really well together for triathletes!
Tubeless tires are also having a moment because despite being a pain in the butt to install, they allow you to run even lower pressure without the risk of a pinch flat and are less likely to get small punctures due to the sealant required. Triathletes should love tubeless tires especially if they’re using a disc wheel, because the super low pressure allowed really helps with a disc wheel’s comfort issues.
So what bike tire pressure is best? It’s probably much less than you think, but it’s not so cut and dry, either. Below we’ve compiled the tire pressures for a range of popular tires alongside some wheel brands’ two cents. If you’re looking to buy a new set of tires, you can check out our tire guide with a few of our favorites and more info on what to get. TL;DR? Go 25c or 28c (check first to see if your frame/fork can handle it), and get something with more flat protection than you think you’ll need. Stay on top of your tire pressure, checking it with every ride with the valve stem at 12 o’clock, and thank the New Bike Tire Pressure Gods that you likely have to pump less than you used to.
RELATED: Ask A Gear Guru: What Are Tubeless Tires Good For?Section divider
What Bike Tire PSI Should I Run For Vittoria Tires?
Check out Vittoria’s handy online tire pressure calculator, but bear in mind it doesn’t account for tire width. We’d recommend using these pressures for a 23c tire and subtracting between 5-10psi for 25c and 28c tires, depending on use. To find your tire’s TPI (treads per inch), you can either look on your tire’s sidewall or consult Vittoria’s website.Section divider
What Bike Tire PSI Should I Run For Continental Tires?
This one’s a little trickier. Continental likes to give pretty big ranges for their recommended pressure. In experience, we’ve found riders under 190lbs. can stick closer to the minimum recommended, while riders between 190-220lbs. should head to the midrange; 220lbs. and above should be near max recommended.
|Continental GrandPrix 5000|
|700 X 32C||85-100psi|
|700 X 28C||95-115psi|
|700 X 25C||95-120psi|
|700 X 23C||110-120psi|
|Continental GrandPrix 5000 Tubeless|
|700 X 32C||65-87psi|
|700 X 28C||65-94psi|
|700 X 25C||80-109psi|
|Continental GrandPrix 4-Season|
|700 X 32C||85-102psi|
|700 X 28C||95-115psi|
|700 X 25C||95-120psi|
|700 x 23C||110-120psi|
What Bike Tire PSI Should I Run For Michelin Tires?
This one’s super vague. Michelin doesn’t give too much info on their tire pressures, so follow a similar rule of thumb as with Vittoria—take away between 5-10psi for anything wider than 23c.
What Bike Tire PSI Should I Run For Hutchinson Tires?
Again, not taking into account tire width, subtract between 5-10psi for anything above 23c, and expect to run your tires on the lower end of these weight scales.
What Bike Tire PSI Should I Run For Schwalbe Tires?
Schwalbe does one of the best jobs of providing bike tire pressure ranges based on both weights and widths—though the weight ranges are pretty wide. Also, while Schwalbe does make tubeless tires, they don’t post a recommended inflation, but knock about 15-20psi off the range for tubeless.
What Bike Tire Pressure Do Wheel Brands Recommend?
Oddly enough, wheel manufacturers often recommend bike tire pressures well below the minimum psi that tire brands do. It’s possible that tire brands want to avoid liability if you flat, while a wheel brand isn’t necessarily held responsible for blowouts. Regardless, we’ve collected a few bike tire pressure charts to help provide another point of reference to help you make an informed decision.Section divider