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A beginner's guide to bike tire pressure

By Spencer Powlison

Published

Here’s a riddle: Your bike has a component that costs nothing and weighs nothing. But it is essential if you want to go ride. What is it?

Well, this story’s headline probably gave away the answer. It is the air in your tires.

Depending on your experience level, you might be able to gauge your PSI with a quick pinch of the tire. Or, you might be a little surprised to hear that bike tires need to be checked far more regularly than those on your car. This how-to guide is geared toward the latter group of cyclists, beginners. But hopefully, riders of every ability level can learn a little more about the precious pressurized air that keeps us all rolling.

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Gravel bike tires

The basics of bike tire PSI

Pneumatic tires on any vehicle are supported by pressurized air in an airtight chamber. Higher PSI (pounds per square inch) makes the tire harder. Lower PSI makes it feel softer. Tire pressure has a huge impact on how a bike performs. Checking your tire pressure is the simplest and most important piece of regular maintenance you can perform.

So where do you begin if you’re new to cycling and just got a road, mountain, gravel, or cyclocross bike? Conveniently, every bike tire has recommended PSI stamped into the rubber on the sidewall. (Pro tip: If you’re mounting a tire, align that pressure rating next to the valve for easy reference.)

“Recommended tire pressure is about the intended use and the best range for that use,” says tire expert Johs Huseby, WTB’s Director of Global OEM Sales and Product Vision. “You need to find the sweet spot for a tire and figure out where the high pressure doesn’t have any risk of blowing off the rim and the low pressure won’t burp or rip off the rim.”

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Most mountain bike tires are rated for 25-50 PSI. Road tires are usually 80-120 PSI. Gravel tires are often 40-80 PSI. While they are a good starting point, those ranges are too broad and conservative for most riders.

Basic PSI recommendations:

Mountain bike tires: 25 PSI
Gravel bike tires: 40 PSI
Road bike tires: 90 PSI

These pressure suggestions are based on an average-sized male rider (about 160 pounds) riding moderate terrain. Heavier riders may prefer higher pressures and lighter riders may prefer lower pressures. Read on to learn about the variables that might lead you to add more PSI or take a little out.

Tire pressure gauges

Having an easy-to-read tire pressure gauge is key to setting up your tire pressure. A lot of pumps will have built-in gauges. There is a chance these gauges are a bit inaccurate. If you suspect yours is off, that is fine, as long as you know what to expect and are consistent in checking your tires before each ride. If you’re really concerned, try comparing it with a pump that you know will read true, like one at your local shop or an accurate digital tire pressure gauge.

Mountain bike tires

Key considerations for tire PSI

Ready to start tweaking your tire pressure for optimal performance? Let’s start with the basic principles of tire pressure so you can determine the right PSI for your bike. The key considerations are tire width, rider weight, terrain, and tubeless.

Generally, narrow tires, heavier rider weight, and rougher terrain require a bit more PSI. On the other hand, wider tires, lighter riders, smoother terrain, and a tubeless set-up make for lower tire pressure. Here’s why.

Tire width and what it means for PSI

All tires require a certain amount of air pressure to prevent them from bottoming out on the rim. Wider tires have more air volume. This makes it possible to ride them at lower pressures for more comfort and traction. Conversely, a narrower tire, like a 28mm road tire has comparatively much less volume so it needs more air pressure to prevent bottoming out. If you have a 2.5” enduro tire on your mountain bike, you’ll be able to ride at pressures close to 20 PSI. Rolling out on the road bike with 28mm slicks? Anything less than 80 PSI would be risky.

Rider weight and bike tire pressure

You don’t have to be a physics Ph.D. to understand how your body weight interacts with tire pressure (heck, I didn’t even take a physics class in high school). Just sit on your bike’s saddle and watch how the tire compresses and deforms as more weight is applied. The idea is to strike a balance so the pressure supports your weight but doesn’t end up rock-hard. Therefore, more rider weight requires more tire pressure. For example, I weigh about 150 pounds and ride 30 PSI on my gravel bike. A rider who is 20 pounds heavier should definitely consider another 3-5 PSI of air. 

How terrain influences bike tire PSI

Tire volume and rider weight are nice and predictable, but the terrain you’ll ride is not. This takes some trial and error to learn and mostly applies to mountain biking, gravel, or cyclocross. Eventually, you’ll be able to look at your local trails and tell which might require a little more air pressure (think: chunky rocks that might pinch your tire and smash your rim), and which are smooth enough to be ridden with softer tires for better grip in corners.

When you’re out riding, try to monitor the way your bike feels on bumpy terrain. Can you feel a harsh clunk when your wheel strikes a sharp rock? Your pressure might be too low. Does your bike seem skittish in loose corners and bouncy on rough stretches? Perhaps try dropping your PSI a bit.

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For road riding, tire pressure won’t vary as much. However, the conventional wisdom of pumping up tires to a rock-hard 120-130 PSI has been debunked. Unless your pavement is glass-smooth, pressures in the 90-100 PSI range will be faster. The tire will absorb slight bumps and vibrations, which is faster than an unyielding, hard tire. You’ll also get more grip in the corners. If you ride in wet weather, slightly less pressure would also be prudent to improve traction.

“Over the last few years, we’ve dropped our PSI ratings even on the narrower tires by 10-15 PSI,” Huseby says. “WTB, coming from the dirt side of the spectrum, we’ve always erred on the lower side.”

Tubeless bike tires

Tubeless technology is now widespread in the cycling world, with the exception of some road wheels and tires. This can also affect your tire pressure. Because tubeless systems don't rely on an inner tube, you will be able to run a little less pressure and not worry about pinch-flatting your tire. You’ll get better traction and comfort with less pressure which is beneficial for mountain bike trails and gravel roads. To learn more about tubeless systems, see our Beginner’s Guide to Tubeless. 

How to find the right bike tire pressure

Tire pressure and your bike's performance

The final consideration when it comes to tire pressure is worth its own section in this article, and even that won’t be enough space to truly explore every nuance of how tire pressure influences a bike’s performance. The primary factors are traction, rolling speed, and comfort. Ride with the correct tire pressure and you’ll be able to maximize all three variables. Too much or too little pressure can compromise tire performance.

As hinted at earlier in this article, lower tire pressure usually improves traction. This is because it increases the tire’s contact patch on the ground. A tire at lower PSI better conforms more to the ground it is rolling on, also improving grip.

Traction is essential in many situations, from cornering to climbing to braking. In each case, better traction lets you overcome your bike’s inherent tendencies. Forward momentum makes cornering more difficult, but if your tire grips well on a loose dirt corner, you’ll be able to change direction with the right technique and rider input. Momentum also works in opposition to braking forces. With the right tire pressure to achieve grip on loose surfaces or wet pavement, you’ll be able to stop or slow down quickly and more safely.

Your bike will feel more comfortable with the correct tire pressure. Like traction, this performance quality improves with lower pressure. The comfort afforded by lower pressure can be noticed on all of your bike’s touchpoints, from your feet to your saddle to your hands and shoulders.

There is a limit to how soft we’d want our tires to be, though. We love the increased traction that comes with low PSI, but eventually, a tire gets so soft that it has too much rolling resistance, making our bike feel slow. This will be most noticeable on hard, smooth surfaces like pavement. Too-low tire pressure can also hamper bike handling by making the front end resistant to steering input or causing the tire to roll excessively on the rim during cornering.

Mountain biker shredding around a corner

Advanced tire-pressure nerdery

The first step you can take toward totally geeking out on tire pressure is to adjust your PSI mid-ride to tinker with how your bike feels. This is something that’s most applicable to mountain, gravel, or cyclocross riding, but there’s always a chance you might encounter a surprise rain shower on a road ride that will necessitate a little less pressure.

It’s always easier to take air out of your tires during a ride than to add air back. When in doubt, start a ride on the high end of the PSI scale and let out air little by little, going off of feel. See if you can notice an improvement in traction. Be careful not to take too much out if you’re riding rough trails.

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Mountain bikers often like to run slightly less pressure in their front tires, and that’s something you can experiment with too. The idea is that, due to body position, you have less weight on the front tire, so you can get away with lower PSI, thereby enjoying more traction for cornering. With more air volume in a 2.2-2.5” mountain bike tire, pressure can be fine-tuned with great effect.

“On a drop-bar bike, I tend to run pretty similar pressure, maybe in the front, I have two to three PSI less if I can even control that,” says Huseby. “On a mountain bike, I definitely run less in the front than in the rear, up to five PSI.”

The last thing mountain bikers can consider when playing with pressure is a new technology generally called a tire insert. The category’s “Kleenex” brand is CushCore, so you might hear fellow riders refer to inserts that way. No matter the brand, the general idea is to put a foam ring inside a tubeless tire, which will reduce air volume and protect your rim from damage. Inserts allow you to run lower pressure with fewer drawbacks. If that rabbit hole looks enticing, check out our recent article on tire inserts.

It’s all about balance

You might be the type to tinker with your PSI, or you might prefer the set-it-and-forget-it approach. Either is fine if you have a grasp of the fundamental balancing act that goes into deciding on how much to pump up your tires. You find that balance point by going low enough to maximize traction and comfort without risking flat tires or sacrificing rolling resistance and handling.

Compared to most vehicles, a rider on a bike is very lightweight and slow-moving, making the correct tire pressure far more important from a performance standpoint. Remember, air is free, so make sure to use it to your advantage whenever you’re headed out for a ride!

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37 comments


  • Curious if this How this is handled for very lightweight riders. 115lbs. Riding 2.2 on one bike, 2.8 on the other.

    Mary Cook on

  • While the lower pressure idea has now been around for a few years the low level recommended by most doesn’t work for me. I am running less now than I was back in 2015 when I was still on 700X23 tires on a couple of my bikes and started experimenting with lower pressure. A very small break in some pavement hidden in a shadow caused a pinch flat on my front tire at ~18 mph. I woke up with an EMT flashlight in my eyes in the middle of the road way a few minutes later. Compromising safety with low pressure could result in serious injury. I had a mild concussion and probably should have gone to the hospital. I’m now running 700X25 tires and use 95psi front and 105psi rear. I’m a 190 lb rider with a 20lb bike (including gear/accessories). While the days of running max pressures in tires have passed it is better to error on the side of safety than to end up in a crash.

    Rob Schlumpberger on

  • Big guy here. 6’6" and about 245 lbs. Ride a gravel bike (Salsa Cutthroat) with 29×2.2 tires at about 30 psi. On my MTB’s, I run 27.5 × 2.5′s and 29 × 2.5′s at about 29 in the back and 27 in the front. If I get below about 27 in the back, I can feel the sidewall roll over when I go around tight turns at speed.

    Brooks Booher on

  • Rim size and tire size play such a big impact . Another factor is tire casing . A thicker casing can support lower pressures . I run a maxis dhr and dhf 2.3 29er on 23mm tubeless rims . I run 18 I’m the front and 19 in the back . I do ride some chunky stuff but my bike is a hardtail so I can’t bomb through everything . I will do an xc race this weekend and I will keep those slower tires and lower pressures for the race as I prioritize grip over speed as it all balances out .

    Steve on

  • A long time ago I used to ride 700×23s like everyone else did and pumped them up to 115-120PSI, 100 if it was wet out. Now I ride 700×25s and put 100 in the front and 105 in the rear, I am 168 lbs. One the MTB, I put about 21-23 in the front, 23-25 in the rear for 29×2.2 tubeless tires. Not a lot of rocks here, but lots of sand and gravel so I need the traction, never come close to bottoming out.

    cycledan on

  • I love the idea of lower pressure in a tubeless MTB set up but after running too low and destroying a wheel set I installed Cushcore and run 29 in the rear and 27 up front. I weigh 150 and apparently beat on my wheels. If I could suggest any advice to anyone it would be to start high and take air out. I started to low and learned the hard way that sometimes the traction you gain isn’t worth it in the long run. I’m used to the higher pressure and feel like I ride faster now then I did with less pressure

    Ben on

  • Great article, I’ve been running at 120 psi so I’m going to try 90 psi. My tires need to be replaced only after riding this summer. Thanks!

    Craig on

  • I am a 155 lb rider. For years I ran 23s at 110 to 120. On recommendation, I changed to 25s and 85 to 90 psi. Little change in handling and speed, much more comfort.

    Ron V McCain on

  • For years I ran 23s at 110 to 120. On recommendation I switched to 25s and run 85 to 90 psi. The change made little difference in handling and speed. The increase in comfort is quite noticeable.

    Ron V McCain on

  • I pump my tires up to 120 PSI on every ride. It sounds as if many of you occasionally pump up your tires. I was told by my bike shop to do this.

    Kerry Gobert on

  • Tire pressure is subjective and based on individual riding preference. I am a 200lbs rider and have found through experimenting the right pressure for my mountain bike which is around 30 rear and 25 for my front 2.50 enduro tires. I run my 700C 23’s at 90 on my road bike which is 20Lb less than when I raced many years ago at 175Lbs. It is about personal preference so experiment with your ride pressure and find your sweet spot.

    Chip Isbell on

  • Hey Tom, it’d be helpful to know how wide your tires are. But since you say it’s a 27.5 commuter I’m guessing it has wider, hybrid/mtb style tires. If that’s the case I would start around 30-35psi for paved commuting then increase or decrease from there to find a nice balance of comfort and rolling efficiency. Hope that helps!

    Bruce Lin on

  • Never answered my simple question. PSI for a pavement commuter bicycle that has tubel type 27.5” tires and a 190 lb. rider. Mainly leisurely riding.

    Tom Kelley on

  • Not the Frank Berto article, but a Tire Pressure Calculator. Very nice. https://roubert.name/joakim/pressure/

    Mike F on

  • I run my road tires 5 psi over max. (125 psi) never had an issue. 26” tubed mtn bike 30 psi. 29er tubeless 20 psi. I am 6-2 and 225 lbs.

    GH on

  • Great article and replies thanks. To be clear the harder the tyre the less rolling resistance so on road=better. However handling suffers and it will feel like teeth shaking loose as it chatters over matchsticks and braking will be seriously affected especially in the wet on a fast road and heavy braking in emergency=DANGEROUS – Ignore the ratings on the sidewalls they are the extremes usually and higher performance at maximums. Most of us meet halfway and so halfway pressures for mtb road/offroad plodders should be around 30/40psi. The skinny road tyres need much more just to fit properly so I avoid them on principle in my style of biking. A road tyre at 85psi is awful off road even with suspension.

    pete on

  • Jason, reduce the damn pressure. You don’t inflate a mountain bike tire anywhere near the max pressure that is stated on the sidewall, just like you don’t inflate your car tires to the max printed on the sidewall. Try 30 psi max and let air out a little bit at a time until they don’t feel like they bouncing off everything. With tubes you’ll probably end up between 20-22 front and 22-25 rear.

    Ed on

  • My tire blew, like the actual tire blew / split , right down the center. My psi said 40-65. My psi was 67. I live in Florida (HOT). Do you think my tire blew from being over inflated with the heat, or another reason?

    Jason on

  • I fitted my new tires yesterday and pressures feel good. However the sides of the rear wheel only just rubs against the frame. The wheel is properly aligned and there is no wobble. any suggestions on how to fix this? It only rubs by about 1mm. Thanks in advance!

    Bryan Meijer on

  • Yes I have a question I have a road bike that has 700 × 28c tires and I weigh a hundred 90 lb and I’m 5-11 what’s the tire pressure that I would need to put them at

    Brandyn on

  • As a Clydesdale rider I found nothing informative in this article and no answers to any questions in the comments.

    James Langford on

  • After reading many sites for information on tire inflation, I seem only thin people ride expensive road bikes . Surely there must be a starting formula for tire volume X psi = weight limit for one tire . A chart would be nice . Folding adult bike 20 × 1.75 tire X 45 psi = Weight limit ? You PHD boys have forgotten the common rider.

    DON - Canada on

  • Can you tell me are flat tires faster than aired up tires?

    bikeandmore on

  • I’m an avid recumbent cyclist, so the psi situation can become even more of benefit during a ride. And, a bigger challenge. But, as a response to the individuals that were mentioning that they couldn’t get it to the max psi. That’s when I would have a bicycle shop check what you’re seeing, to what they get at the shop. So, you can feel more confident about what you’re next choice will be. And, then follow the advice provided above. And, then start to adjust your tires psi according to your riding preference.

    Zachariah West on

  • If you have a hard time getting tires up to pressure, get a skinnier pump. The pressure equals the force on the pump divided by the cross-section area of the pump (the area of the piston face inside). Make the piston area smaller and it takes less force . It will take more time, but we’re talking seconds to pump up a road tire.

    Dennis Mullen on


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