In our relentless quest to make CityBikers the safest and swiftest bikers out there, let’s talk tire pressure. It seems like a small thing but it makes a huge difference in how your bike handles. Most people inflate their tires to the manufacturer’s recommended psi. On my bike that’s 36 psi front, 42 rear. On my scooter it’s 30 – 30. What they don’t tell you is that under high performance situations (on the racetrack and for professional stunters) NO ONE uses the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure. Because as fast as you can emergency brake right now (at standard tire pressure), your bike can probably stop quite a bit faster! You can also accelerate quite a bit faster without spinning the rear wheel. You can even corner harder with more traction and less tire squirm. But all this depends on getting the correct tire pressure. So what’s the correct tire pressure for your bike? It depends…
The lower your tire pressure, the greater the area of your tire’s contact patch. This is why professional stunters use a lower psi than would be practical for most riders, they need the larger contact patch and added traction for wheelies and stoppies. Sometimes you look at the tires and they look like they’re running a flat. Now I don’t recommend using tire pressures as low as that! The downside to lower PSI is that you have less control and faster tire wear so you have to find the right balance.
Now think back to the last time you had to emergency brake. Did you slide the front wheel? A modern sporty motorcycle on dry asphalt should lift its rear (in a stoppie) before the front ever slides..and so will many scooters… Sliding the front wheel means [a] you’re stopping too darn fast, plan ahead next time! But also, [b] your tire pressure is too high for your weight… Either gain some weight and squish that tire down a bit or adjust the air pressure!
Proper tire pressure depends on your bike, your weight, whether or not you’re going to be carrying a passenger, and on your tires. For sportbike riders of average weight on performance street tires riding without passengers, most people usually use around 5 PSI less than what’s recommended. On my bike that would be 31 front, 36 rear. That’s a good starting point for experimenting with tire pressures. On a scooter I’d be more conservative, 2 or 3 PSI less than the manufacturer’s recommendation to start, and then see how it feels. Some lighter riders can use even less. The down side to getting exactly the right tire pressure is that you’ll need to add air when you’re planning to take a passenger.
By the way, how do you add air to your bike?
Tip #1, Always set the tire pressure on cold tires before you ride far on them. Warm tires that have been ridden on can go up to 10PSI higher, the problem is it’s hard to say where the tire is in its heat cycle so there’s no point trying to read the air pressure on a warm tire.
Tip #2, Why not use a manual pump? Lots of folks have portable air pumps that you can plug into your battery or a car’s cigarette lighter. Those are fine for what we’re talking about here. But if you don’t have one of those already, invest in a good bicycle pump with a tire attachment. With just a few pumps you can increase the tire pressure on your bike or scooter with no need for electricity. Any manual air pump with a “schrader valve” attachment will do (for example this one has a pressure gauge from Planet Bike). A smaller one can be packed with your kit for emergency tire patches.
Have any other tips on tires and tire pressure? Share the wealth and shoot us a comment! Cheers!
PS – The best way to stay out of trouble is to never have-to emergency brake. Put that another way: if you’re a good rider, you should never need to emergency brake because you’re always planning ahead and reading traffic, making yourself aware of possible dangers, and planning accordingly. Nevertheless, good traction is an important part of riding so be swift, and be safe!