While riding, the only contact point (hopefully) between us and the ground is our tires. Easy to dismiss, our tires influence how our bike feels more than any other expensive ‘must-have’ accessory! But how do you find the perfect tire pressure for your MTB? It’s time to find out what tire pressure you should run!
What pressures do you run in your tires? When did you last check? Ask that question on the trail and most of us will reach down and give the tire a gentle squeeze. “Hmm, I run about that much.” If you want to get the best out of your bike, the first and cheapest place to start is to find the right tire pressure.
Table of contents
- Are lower pressures better?
- What tire pressure for tubeless?
- The tire pressure chart
- What tire pressure for tubed tires?
- How to find your perfect tire pressure
- Different tires, different pressures
What is the right tire pressure for mountain biking?
Unfortunately, there is no one perfect pressure that works perfectly for everyone. This is because we all ride differently, on different tires and different terrain. Also, personal preference makes a difference! Fear not, however, as this article will show you how to find your own perfect tire pressure!
Why you should probably run lower pressures in your MTB tires
Once upon a time, the advice given to mountain bikers searching for their perfect tire pressure was simply, “Pump them up as hard as they go!” Luckily, those days are over and modern tires can be run at much lower pressures than before. But why should you run lower pressures? The benefits are numerous. Lower pressures generally allow for more grip, as the tire can deform around roots and rocks rather than bouncing over them. This also makes for a more damped ride feel and improves traction and comfort on both climbs and descents! Lower pressures can also result in lower rolling resistance offroad as it takes less energy for a tire to deform around an obstacle (lower pressure) than it does lifting the bike and rider’s weight over it (higher pressure). But are there any drawbacks? We don’t think so, as reasonably low pressures don’t negatively affect the rolling resistance of an MTB tire, and on top of that most modern tires don’t need high pressures to maintain their shape and corner well. BUT, there is a line where pressures become too low, so we will tell you how to find the perfect pressure for your riding.
Finding the right tire pressure means finding yourself!
Your perfect tire pressure is something that is unique to you, the rider. However, in order to find your perfect tire pressure, you have to consider several factors:
A rider’s weight influences their tire pressure the same way it influences their suspension – a lighter rider can get away with running less pressure and a heavier rider will have to run slightly higher pressures to get the same result.
The trails you ride on
The terrain you ride will have a massive effect on your perfect tire pressure. If you mainly ride smooth hard packed flow trails then you can get away with running slightly lower pressures, provided your tires maintain their shape through the corners. If you frequently ride trails with more rocks than a pebble beach, you should run higher pressures to protect your tires and rims.
How hard you ride
Your riding style also plays a part here. If you are known for hucking to flat or taking the straightest line through every rock garden, you should run higher pressures to protect your components. If your riding style is a little more precise and ‘light’, you can benefit from the extra grip and comfort gained by running lower pressures.
What tires and rims you run
Your choice of rubber plays just as big a role as any of the above. Pay attention to your casing! Is it a tough dual-ply carcass designed for hard-hitting enduro riders (e.g. MAXXIS Double Down or Schwalbe Super Gravity) or a lightweight single-ply option that prioritises weight savings over puncture protection (e.g. MAXXIS EXO and Schwalbe Snake Skin)? Another important factor is whether your bike is set up tubeless or not. A tubeless setup can generally run lower pressures, as there is no tube to pinch between an obstacle and the rim – the cause of the dreaded ‘snakebite’ puncture. Rim width is also a factor, as wider rims give the tire more support and have a higher volume, allowing you to run lower pressures without compromise.
What tire pressure for tubeless?
As mentioned previously, tubeless tires can be run at lower pressures without the danger of ‘snakebite’ punctures. However, the perfect tire pressure for a tubeless tire also depends greatly on the factors already mentioned and as such, vary depending on riding style and terrain. To give you an idea, we asked our editors to give us an insight into their personal setups. Never heard of tubeless? In our ultimate guide to MTB tubeless, we explain everything you need to know about tubeless setup, tires and much more!
Trev Worsey 78kg
Grip is very important to me. I have broken enough bones in my life to know that I will not be the next Brandon Semenuk. I prefer to ride really steep technical trails and keep my wheels on the ground. As such, I run big 2.5” 29er tires and keep the pressures relatively low, with 18 psi (1.24 bar) in the front and 20 psi (1.37 bar) in the rear and a 30 mm internal rim. There aren’t many sharp rocks on my home trails so I run lighter EXO + sidewall tires, with an insert in the rear to help with tire stability.
Finlay Anderson 78 kg
While I love grip and braking traction, I also enjoy railing ruts and landing a little sideways. There’s a reason why I am known as ENDURO’s resident cutty enthusiast and therefore, I have to run slightly higher pressures to keep my tires on the rim. I run 29 x 2.5″ (front) and 29 x 2.4″ (rear) MAXXIS Wide Trail tires on a 30 mm internal rim, set at 22 psi (1.52 bar) front and 25 psi (1.72 bar) rear. There aren’t many sharp rocks on my local trails, allowing me to run lightweight EXO casings with an insert in the rear tire.
Christoph Bayer 87 kg
I really enjoy a trouble-free and direct ride feel. Because of this (and because of my higher weight), I opt for a slightly higher pressure. On bikes with 29 x 2.5” tires and an EXO casing, I ride 25 psi (1.72 bar) in the front and 28 psi (1.93 bar) in the back. This offers enough grip without my rides ending in punctures all the time and works for almost all conditions. If it gets really wet and slippery, I reduce the pressure slightly. Thanks to the higher pressure I don’t have many flats and don’t have the need to install tire inserts.
Felix Stix 92 kg
I often wish I could run lower pressures or lighter tires. However, the ugly truth is that with my weight and riding style there is no real sense in running “trail-oriented” casings. I have to opt for heavy enduro-style casings like MAXXIS DoubleDown or Schwalbe Super Gravity. Then I can go as low as 24 psi (1.65 bar) at the front and 28 psi (1.93 bar) at the rear whilst still hearing the occasional “ding” from the rim in rock gardens. I don’t care about a dent or two in alloy rims but have to run higher pressures or an insert with their carbon counterparts. If a test bike is fitted with trail casings I have to run an insert or ridiculously high pressures of 28/32 psi (front/rear).
Antonia Buckenlei 63 kg
How low can you go? This isn’t just a question for the dance floor but also when it comes to tire pressure. Even though I’m quite an active rider, thanks to my low weight I’m able to lower the pressure a lot! With the classic MAXXIS EXO tire setup on my enduro bike, I run 14 psi (0.96 bar) in the front and 17 psi (1.17 bar) in the back. I never have trouble with punctures and could probably go even lower, but then the bike starts feeling a little squirmy.
There you have it! A big range of pressures from different riders riding different terrain. If you have the time to really fine-tune your setup and find the perfect pressure, then head to our in-depth test procedure further down in this article. If you don’t have time for test runs, or just want a quick-and-dirty base setting to get you started, we have put together the table below.
Tire pressure chart
|Carcass/weight||Trail (EXO, SnakeSkin)||END (DD or SG)||DH|
|Sub 60 kg||18 psi front, 20 psi rear||16 psi front, 19 psi rear||14 psi front, 17 psi rear|
|60-70 kg||19 psi front, 22 psi rear||17 psi front, 20 psi rear||16 psi front, 19 psi rear|
|70-80 kg||20 psi front, 23 psi rear||18 psi front, 21 psi rear||17 psi front, 20 psi rear|
|80-90 kg||22 psi front, 25 psi rear||21 psi front, 24 psi rear||18 psi front, 21 psi rear|
|90+ kg||24 psi front, 27 psi rear||22 psi front, 25 psi rear||20 psi front, 23 psi rear|
NOTE: These pressures are based on recommendations given by Schwalbe’s Pressure Prof for riders running a tubeless setup on 2.4–2.5” tires with a 30 mm internal rim. Some of the pressures run by our team vary greatly from the recommendations above. This is because our pressures are greatly influenced by our own riding styles, preferences and experiences. As a team, we have repaired countless punctures, destroyed many tires and now know exactly what pressures we need to run.
What tire pressure for tubes?
In order to minimise the risk of snakebites with tubes (when the tube gets caught between a sharp rock/root and the rim and punctures), you have to run higher pressures than a tubeless setup. Either follow our test procedure or start with the base settings above and add 3-5 psi front and rear.
The perfect pressure is the perfect balance
Tire pressure is all about balance, too much and you will lose traction, too little and you increase your chance of a pinch puncture!
Too high: Higher tire pressures help support the sidewall of the tire offering increased stability and resistance to side loads (like corners), as well as increased protection for the rim. Go too far and traction will be drastically reduced as the contact patch shrinks and the ride will feel harsh.
Too low: Low pressures increase grip with a larger contact patch and improve cornering traction as the softer tire can conform to the terrain. However, run the tires too low and you drastically increase the risk of rim damage from square-edged hits. The lower air pressure can also reduce the natural spring of the tire which can create a wallowy and unstable ride at speed. Through hard turns, the tire tends to lack stability in the sidewall and can feel vague leading to burping, ghost steering and more…
To find your optimum tire pressure it’s important to find a balance that provides enough protection for the rim while giving good cornering traction and stability.
All gauges are not created equal
Let’s just get one thing clear – not all tire pressure gauges are created equal and you are likely to see some variation with different gauges. The best thing to do is to always use the same gauge for your own tires. Invest in a good gauge and look after it. Most pro riders have their own gauge that they guard fiercely.
How to find your perfect tire pressure – field testing
It’s time to hit the trails! Arm yourself with a pump and gauge and find a short one- to two-minute test loop. Make sure it has some nice flat corners, berms, compressions and roots, representative of the terrain you ride without being too gnarly – you want to be able to concentrate on the ride feel, not trying to stay out of the bushes! To begin with, start with a high pressure in your tires so you can feel what that feels like. Try 28 psi in the front and 30 psi in the rear.
Ride the trail (take it easy as the bike will feel different) and concentrate on:
- How much grip do you have through corners?
- How does the bike feel over roots and hits?
- How harsh is the ride?
- Is the rim being hit?
Did you get all that? OK now head back to the start and drop the tire pressure 2 psi front and back and repeat the trail, once again observing how the tires feel and how much grip you have. Repeat, again and again, dropping the pressure each time and try and get a feel for what’s going on.
As the tire pressures drop you will start to find increased grip and traction, before, as the pressure becomes too low, the tires start to feel vague and wallowy in turns and unstable at high speeds. If you start to feel bumps impacting the rim, you’ve gone too far so don’t go any lower.
If you start to feel bumps impacting the rim, you have gone too far so don’t go any lower.
Try to find that point where any further pressure drops no longer result in an increase in performance. You want to feel good grip but also stability from the tires. You’re getting near to your optimum setting. Now try experimenting with the balance between the front and rear. You can normally run a little less pressure in the front, as the typical weight distribution on a bike sees 40% on the front and 60% on the rear (depending on gradient). Try 3 psi (0.2 bar) less in the front and see how that affects grip. Play around a little and get a feel for how it changes the ride.
You now have a good base setting to work from, write it down somewhere – this is your base setting and is your personal magic number.
How to lower your tire pressure with inserts
There are a vast number of different tire insert brands and designs out there, but fundamentally, they all do the same job, albeit some better than others. Tire inserts are designed to do two things. Firstly, they are a cushioning layer of protection for the rim, designed to absorb any impacts from rocks or roots that ‘bottom out’ the tire. Secondly, inserts are claimed to increase tire stability, as they push the sidewalls of the tire into the bead of the rim. The best inserts allow you to run lower pressures in your tubeless tires without compromising rim protection and tire stability.
Do I have to change the pressure with different tires?
Not all tires are created equal. Depending on your tire’s casing, tread and sidewall strength, you may be able to run lower pressures without compromising on protection for your tire and rim. Heavy-duty casings such as MAXXIS DoubleDown and Schwalbe Super Gravity allow you to run lower pressures than the EXO and SnakeSkin casings offered by the same brand. To find out everything you need to know about your tire’s casing and puncture protection, you should check out our massive tire group test.
Whether you want to perfect your setup or just use our recommended pressures, you will quickly learn that tire pressure is the easiest and cheapest tune-up for your bike. Once you understand how different tire pressures influence performance, you’re well on your way to enjoying more grip, control and fun from your bike.
Words: Finlay Anderson, Trev Worsey Photos: Diverse