How and Why to Regulate Tire Pressure on Your Bike

bikerepair1Inflating your bike tires properly, and regulating tire pressure, are simple, yet critical steps to riding safely and enjoyably.

A properly inflated tire is less prone to flats. Properly inflated tires also ensure that you have the lowest possible rolling resistance, saving your energy so that you can ride farther with less effort.

There are only a couple rules you need to observe.

The first one you have no doubt heard: Never use a gas station air hose to inflate a bike tire. Even though most bike tires run at higher P.S.I. than a typical car tire, a bike tire holds a much lower total volume of air. A gas station air hose pumps a large volume of air quickly, possibly leaving you with tire and metal fragments where your wheel used to be.

The other rule to keep in mind is to check tire pressure before every ride. Not just occasionally, not just every-other-time, but every time. At the very least, a flat is going to throw a kink into your fun, or leave you stranded somewhere on that evening ride where you were trying to squeeze a quick one in before dark. At the worst, it can result in damage to your bike and your body. Take the five minutes it takes to check your tire pressure. It’s normal for a tire to lose around 10 P.S.I. per week. If you have an actual slow leak, a tire will go flat much quicker. Also, never go above or below the pressure ratings on the side of the tire.

Hopefully, you’re now convinced of the importance of properly regulated tire pressure.

Here’s how to do it.

All you need is a decent floor pump with a locking lever on the valve head that attaches to your tube stem, and includes a pressure gauge. There are a lot of good ones available. Expect to spend twenty to fifty dollars. Any less than that amount, and you’ll be buying another one soon. Most experienced riders will carry their pump in the car so they can air up right before a ride. This is a bad time to find out you have a low tire, and a cheap, busted air pump.

Most pumps available today will adapt to both Schrader and Presta valves, so I’m not going to spend much time explaining the pros and cons of these two valve types. They are both good. A Schrader valve looks like the valves on your car tires, but please, please, please, do not be tempted into using a gas station air hose. A Presta valve is much thinner, and has a threaded fixture on the top that must be unscrewed prior to inflating.

The locking lever on the pump head that attaches to the valve stem simply makes it easy to use two hands to pump air. Older Schrader valve pumps had to be threaded onto the stem. This can prove to be hard to do, even painful, on a brisk morning, and you invariably lose some air when you unscrew it from the valve stem. With Presta valves, the locking feature prevents the pump’s valve head from popping off the tube stem at higher pressures, which is particularly annoying when trying to inflate a high pressure road bike tire.

In addition, don’t go riding without an emergency pump and a tire gauge. These two are small, light weight, inexpensive, and the most valuable tools to have with you in the rare event that all your good intentions at regulating your tire pressure don’t account for glass on the road and razor sharp rocks on the trail. Flats in modern bike tires that are properly inflated are rare. I’ve been riding for thirty years, and can count the number of flats I’ve had on three fingers.

Finally, carry a patch kit, tire levers, and a spare tube on every ride, and you’ll be ready for everything the road or trail throws at you.