Yes, I’m a heavy road bike rider and I don’t mind admitting it! Just think of those poor little thin road bike tires squeezed to within an inch of their lives between my 6′ 5” 200 pound bulk and the hard road surface – poor things!
You can look on your tires for a general guide as to the range of pressure you should have in your tires but there’s very little information around about road bike tire pressures for the heavy rider. So, how do you go about finding your optimum road bike tire pressure and is it different if you are on the heavy side?
Firstly, I think it’s very easy to become a bit obsessed with our tire pressures in life generally and for the road cyclist the temptation to pump up your tires to within an inch of their lives can be a bit overwhelming – after all surely the harder the tyres the faster, smoother and more professional you are?
Erm, well maybe, particularly if you are only cycling over glass smooth tarmac in perfect conditions and only ride for short periods of time where comfort doesn’t matter. (duhh, like I never ever do that!). Otherwise inflating your tires to the max is a bit of a mistake.
Let’s think about your car tires for moment. If you have a look on the sides of them they probably say that they should be inflated between something like 20 and 50psi. Now you wouldn’t for one moment just automatically pump the poor things up to 50psi front and back and leave them there! The ride would be rock hard, the handling and grip would suffer and it would be downright dangerous!
If you look in your car’s handbook it will probably give you two sets of pressures, one for normal load and one when the car is fully loaded and also, most likely will give different pressures for front and back due to the weight distribution of the car.
It’s the same on your bike. The pressures needed are going to be much higher as the volume of air is much lower but you are basically trying to get the optimum amount of rubber in contact with the road on each tire. Too much tire on the road and the ride will be vague and squishy, the rolling resistance will be high and there is an increased risk of punctures due to sharp objects being able to more easily enter the tire and also due to “bottoming out” when the tire/inner tube is pinched against the wheel rim when going over a bump.
Too much pressure and there will be much less grip, the ride will be hard and uncomfortable and the bike will bounce around. There will be less rolling resistance but at the cost of comfort and safety.
But, of course, the heavier the rider is the more downward pressure will be exerted on the tires anyway and the larger the area of contact will be if compared with a lighter rider. Yes, absolutely so in theory at least the heavier the rider the higher the tire pressures should be. However you can’t just keep pumping them up and pumping them up as, if you over inflate them there is a real risk of the tyres bursting out of the sides of the wheel rims – not pretty!
So, first of all get the idea out of your mind that the harder the better. Within the recommended inflation pressure the rolling resistance difference is going to be minimal. In fact, if you get them too hard and over inflated the jumpy and twitchy feeling of riding over rough surfaces and the amount of discomfort could potentially slow you down.
The best advice is to inflate the tyres, if you are a heavy rider, towards the upper maximum pressure for the rear tire and for a few psi less at the front as your weight distribution will be around 60/40 in favour of the back. If you find the ride too harsh then reduce the rear pressure by 5psi at a time until you find a pressure that is supporting you and also offers a reasonable level of comfort. Be aware that you mustn’t reduce the pressure so that there’s any risk of the tyre bottoming out over bumps.
If you are finding that, even at the maximum suggested tire pressure you are still too heavy for the bike and the tyre is looking low or risking bottoming out then you might consider fitting a wider tire. This would have the advantage of needing less maximium pressure to support you and would, in theory at least, offer a more comfortable ride.
So that’s a general overview which, for most of us will put the question of tire pressures and heavy riders to bed I’m sure. But, if you love numbers I’ve found this awesome and beautiful app that calculates your optimum tire pressure for you based on a fabulous and delicious range of variable factors. It’s worryingly satisfying and you can find it right here.
The other thing to finally say is that, for air molecules in a tire, life is pretty tough. They work under a lot of pressure and want nothing more than to be outside playing in the free fresh air with their free and easy molecule friends. Over time, especially if they are all squeezed together at around 100psi they do tend to escape and you will need to check your pressures at least on a weekly basis.
The best thing for pumping up your tires is a hand pump with a pressure gauge on the side. (Whatever you do don’t try to do it with one of those long hand pump things!) Again they are strangely satisfying to use and you can find my review of one of the very best ones here or go straight on to find the best price for it here.
Happy pumping and I hope you get a lot of joy from your cycling this week!