Road bike tyre pressure – the Canyon guide
Tyre pressure is a major factor in determining how fast, comfortable, safe, and stable you feel on your road bike. Find the right pressure for you with this complete guide.
When you’re riding, the tyres are the only contact point between your bike and the ground. By pumping your road bike tyres to the right pressure, you can get the ride feel, grip, and speed you want.
What factors affect the correct road bike tyre pressure?
There’s no one-size-fits-all correct tyre pressure for all riders and situations. In general, the narrower a bicycle tyre is, the higher the pressure should be. However, pumping the pressure too high can have detrimental effects to performance and comfort, by reducing grip and increasing vibrations. Besides that, the optimal air pressure depends on various factors:
On a brand-new super-smooth road surface, a road bike with higher tyre pressure will generally roll faster. However on rough roads, that changes. If the tyre pressure is too high, the tyre can’t absorb the jolts and vibrations from the uneven surface, affecting the bike’s ride quality, your comfort, and how fast you can go. When planning your route, always take into account the surfaces you will be riding on – this will let you adjust the tyre pressure accordingly.
The rider contributes the majority of the overall system weight. That means that you should base your tyre pressure on your weight, while also taking the weight of your setup into account. This is especially important in bikepacking, for example, where your extra luggage can increase the total system weight by several kilograms. Without tweaking air pressure, the handling, comfort, and puncture resistance of your bike will suffer. Heavy riders should pump more air into their tyres than lighter ones. It’s a good idea to inflate the front wheel less than the rear wheel, because the rear wheel carries more weight.
Rather than just going ahead and adjusting your tyre pressure based on guesswork, it helps to take a look at the sidewall of the tyre beforehand. The sidewall displays the standardised ETRTO tyre size as well as information on the recommended maximum and minimum tyre pressure. Too high a pressure makes riding uncomfortable, whereas too little pressure causes increased wear. Compared to a touring bike with tyres between 37-52 mm, road bike tyres are narrower and generate less drag. For decades, pro cyclists used tyres that were around 20 mm wide. However in recent years, the advantages of extremely narrow tyres have been disproven. Nowadays, the trend is going towards wider tyres, with the most prevalent widths being 25 or 28 mm. When you accelerate on a road bike, you can really feel the lightness of the tyres – their low rotating mass – compared to heavier MTB or touring bike tyres.
The material and construction of a road bike tyre all have an effect on its optimal pressure. Racing tyres have delicate, finely constructed carcasses with a large number of thin cotton or nylon threads. These casings deform more easily at high pressures and have a smoother, faster ride feel. Other types of tyres, like winter tyres, have stiff, tough carcasses with a smaller number of thick nylon threads. In general, these types of tyre need less pressure.
Temperature and weather
In wet conditions you should lower your road bike’s tyre pressure by about 0.5 bar to maintain grip. At high temperatures, your tyre pressure increases all by itself – especially if you’re riding carbon rims. To avoid the pressure building up to dangerously high levels, you should drop your pressures on hot days with long descents.
How do I find the right road bike tyre pressure?
You can use a few different rough calculations to figure out your ideal tyre pressure setup. Once you have a baseline figure, you can play around with it to adapt it to the conditions on your local routes and cycling trips. This is how to find the right pressure on your road bike:
Rule of thumb: 10% of body weight
Your ideal tyre pressure always depends on your body weight. A helpful baseline figure is – calculate 10% of your body weight in kilograms, and pump your tyres to that number in bar. In other words, if you weigh 75 kg, you should inflate the tyre to 7.5 bar.
Rider weight and tyre width
You can get an even more accurate picture if you also take the width of the tyre into account as well as your weight. You should bear in mind that values can vary depending on the manufacturer and tyre model. If you weigh 70 kg, you should choose 7.6 bar for a 23 mm wide tyre, 6.7 bar for a 25 mm tyre, and 5.7 bar for 28 mm. For every 10 kg of body weight, adjust the tyre pressure up or down by 1%.
Figures in bar and PSI
Tyre pressure on road bikes is usually given in bar or PSI. PSI is the unit of measurement used in America, which is why you will find PSI values on products from manufacturers based there. 1 bar is equivalent to 14.5 PSI.
For more comfort, you can reduce the pressure in your road tyres. If the pressure is too low, you will stress the carcass and wear down the tread more. Doing this also increases the risk of getting a puncture when you ride over small obstacles. Kerbs, potholes, or small stones may damage the inner tube and possibly the rim too.
Why is the right tyre pressure so important?
A tyre’s rolling resistance is an even more important factor than its weight, rolling resistance, or aerodynamics. And a tyre’s rolling resistance varies depending on its air pressure. With wider bicycle tyres, the tyre’s contact area is short and wide. Narrow tyres have a long, narrow contact patch. The width of the tyre does not affect the rolling resistance. You can use wider road bike tyres without increasing the rolling resistance.
What exactly is rolling resistance?
As it rolls over the ground, the tyre deforms slightly, generating friction against the asphalt. This results in an energy loss that the rider must make up for by pushing more power through the pedals. The faster you ride, the more rolling resistance is created, and the harder you have to pedal to overcome it.
High tyre pressure reduces rolling resistance, but it also reduces comfort. Since asphalt is not totally smooth, unlike in a velodrome, extremely high tyre pressures can make for a bumpy ride. The tyre can bounce and jump around easily, and cause vibrations through the rest of the bike. If comfort is important to you or if you ride on routes with rough asphalt, you should drop your pressure 0.5 bar less than the recommended amount.
What role does the tyre type play in determining the right pressure?
Different tyre tyres demand different air pressures. These are the three types:
Clinchers are traditionally the most widely used tyre type in road cycling. They are available in rigid or folding variants and are more susceptible to flats than tubeless and tubular designs. However, if you do get a puncture, clinchers are easier to fix. To continue riding, you just have to swap in a new inner tube.
Tubular (tubular tyre)
In tubular tyres, the inner tube is sewn into the casing, creating a one-piece tube-shaped tyre – hence the name. It is glued to the rim of the wheel. These tyres are stronger and lighter, which is why they are popular in pro riding. In addition, they also provide more control in case of a sudden deflation, which is not always the case with clinchers and tubeless tyres. However mounting the tyres is more complicated because of the gluing.
Tubeless tyres were initially mainly used in mountain biking. But for a number of years now, they have been gaining popularity in road cycling culture too. By using a combination of a special rim tape and a sealing milk made of latex, the tyre itself holds the air with no inner tubes required. If the tyre is punctured, the milk also fills up any gaps in the tubber within fractions of a second. With tubeless tyres, you can drop the pressure by 0.5 to 1 bar without an additional puncture risk. The lower air pressure creates noticeable improvements in comfort and grip – plus, rolling resistance is reduced. If you do get a flat tyre against the odds, you can just fit a replacement tube like on a clincher.
Tools and spare parts for keeping your tyres pumped up
To maintain your bike’s tyre pressure, you need these tools and spare parts:
To set the air pressure on your road bike as precisely as possible, you should choose a floor pump. The pressure display lets you inflate your tyres with absolute precision. Hand pumps are slower and take more physical effort to use – but they’re still an absolute essential when you’re out on the road.
Digital pressure gauge
If you want to determine the exact tyre pressure on your road bike, you need a pump with a digital pressure gauge. Alternatively, you can use a digital air pressure gauge.
Valves and valve adapters
When buying a pump, make sure it is compatible with your valves, or use a valve adapter if needed. Most road bike inner tubes have Presta valves (also known as French or Sclaverand valves). This type of valve can tolerate higher pressures than traditional Dunlop valves or Schrader valves. The narrow design is ideal for narrow road bike rims. Presta (Sclaverand/French) valves are more susceptible to bending than other types of valves due to their delicate construction, so when you’re pumping them up make sure you put the pump head on straight and remove it carefully.
Discover more about tyre valves here!.
Patching a flat
To get back riding again fast when you get a flat, it’s a good idea to have patches, inner tubes and spare tyres at hand. The older the tyre, the more susceptible it is to punctures. You can use a puncture repair kit to patch small holes in the tube and reuse them.
Adjust your road bike’s tyre pressure to your needs
Road surface, weather, tyre type, body weight – a wide range of factors influence how much pressure you need in your road bike’s tyres. By experimenting and trying out different pressures, you can quickly find out what works for you. To find a good baseline, you can use the manufacturer's specifications and the general rules of thumb described above. Plus with the right tools and spare parts, you can fix punctures and replace worn or broken parts.
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