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Home » Cycling » Road Cycling and A Tire Air Pressure Conundrum: I Forgot to Air Up My Tires and Accidentally Found Out What I Was Missing!

Road Cycling and A Tire Air Pressure Conundrum: I Forgot to Air Up My Tires and Accidentally Found Out What I Was Missing!

October 2021
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I’ve been pumping my tires to 90 psi for quite a while, now. Before you scroll immediately to the comments section, I’m no lightweight. Running 26 mm tires at 70 psi would be a fantastic idea if I want a pinch flat every time I roll over a railroad track.

I had a lot on my angst Tuesday night. My Venge has been acting up a little bit, lately. The problem is a combination of worn chainrings and a rear derailleur that appears to be on its last leg (more on that in the coming weeks – I’ve got a few things I’m going to try to bring it back), so as I was prepping the bike for the fastest ride of the week, I forgot to air up my tires before I left.

I didn’t even think about it till after the warm-up, which was ridiculously fast. We were sitting on better than a 21-mph average after eight miles. Every one of those eight miles is on excellent asphalt, though, so it never occurred to me that anything was amiss. In fact, when I rolled into the parking lot after 10-1/2 miles, I was just trying to remember if I’d aired them up.

I thought about asking one of the others to use their pump, but convinced myself I must have aired them up and decided that’d be a waste of time.

The Main Event started off calm and collected, and again, on excellent asphalt for the first six miles so everything appeared normal. The road is fine for miles seven and eight, but stress cracks every twelve feet (four meters) make the next three miles… erm, a pain in the ass. I hate that section of road. It bums me out every time we hit the first crack (you would expect nothing less of my choice of words, :D)…

This Tuesday was different, though. We were well into the bad section when I realized I wasn’t as angry as I normally am on that section of road. In fact, I was gliding over cracks I used to have to clench for. Not only that, the above average speed over that section wasn’t near as taxing as it should have been. Then, one of the guys who likes to take stints off the front launched one of his attacks… it was way too much for me, but the group surged and started to reel him in. I decided to give the tires a go to see if they’d squish. The group was at 26-ish already and I went off the front at 30+, out of the saddle for a few pedal strokes… and the tires didn’t squish for the effort. I blew by the guy and stayed out there for a minute.

I’d be willing to bet the others thought I had ulterior motives, and that was a part, but I wanted to see how squishy the tires would be with a real effort. As the group caught me, I knew I was onto something. But there was one more test before I could give it the stamp of approval: The tracks in Vernon.

We drop down off of a fast climb into the City of Vernon and, just as we’re cooling down from the City Limits sign sprint, we hit one of the gnarliest railroad track crossings in lower Michigan. That bastard has ended many a Tuesday night rides with a group for a pinch flat. The tandems dropped the hammer at the crest of the hill leading to the descent and we had an excellent lead-out train. None of us opted to sprint for the sign, I’d like to think one of the tandems earned it so we let them have it without contest.

Up over the railroad tracks and off the other side without so much as a hiccup and we were clear. And I knew for sure, whatever the magic number was when I got home, that was my new air pressure. 80 psi.

Now, the obvious issue here is the pinch flat. I don’t exactly want to find out the hard way that, yes indeed, 80 psi is too low because I just blew out my tire and crunched my rim on a train track. Instead, I started at 100 psi and let pressure out till the ride got comfortable (but not squishy) and went a few pounds higher. That had me at 85 to 87 psi. 80 is a lot better, though…

And there you have it, an avid enthusiast’s account of how to accidentally stumble on a more comfortable (and faster because of it) ride.


6 Comments

  1. Brent says:

    Yeah, lowering tire pressure can really make a surprising difference. Low ain’t necessarily slow.

    I ride 700 x 37c tires on my road bike at 60 psi, which really gives a nice ride. Lots less vibration than my old road bike. I’m not that fast, so I didn’t care if the bigger tires made me slower… I like the comfort.

    When we got my girlfriend’s road bike (700 x 23c) the shop said they’d recommend running 110 psi, which we did for the first year. She constantly had trouble with numbness due to the vibration. I looked up the specs on the tire and they were rated at 90 to 130 psi, so down to 90 we went. Not only has she never had a flat, but the wheels are still true.

    Of course, if you had a fat bike you could learn about real low pressures. I normally ride 8 psi on well packed snow but for fresh powder, I’ll dial it down to about 3 psi. Some people who are smaller than me will go even lower, down below 2 psi in some comditions. How long until your daughter gets out of college and you have disposable income once again?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Eight years betwixt the two. The issue is more about being able to actually get a bike at this point! Things are bad in my neck of the woods. I appreciate you, brother.

  2. I still struggle to go low. It’s always been drummed into us roadies that high pressure in skinny tyres equals fast! Slowly I’m letting some air out though. 🙂

  3. kirkmtb says:

    I’ve had so many punctures this year but I’m still resisting tubeless tyres. Maybe they could be the answer for you, though. You’d have no real chance of pinch flats and they hold pressure much better. If you get a thorn in they self heal. The weight reduction can do no harm. We all know these things and I’m almost convincing myself.

    • bgddyjim says:

      All excellent points, but I’ve only had one flat this year… I just don’t get them much. The main thing I’m worried about in that regard is what happens between puncture and sealing… with low pressure/high surface area mountain bike tires, not much. With high-pressure road tires, liquid latex gets all over EVERYTHING. I’m not that much of a bike cleaning fan. 😉

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