Guest Column, Susan Conners, Owner Sunnyside Sports
At Sunnyside we spend a lot of time talking to people about comfort on road bikes. Trek and other manufacturers have made huge strides in frame compliance and comfort, but your first line of suspension was, is, and will remain, your bike’s tires. Here’s the skinny:
Lower pressures/wider tires= faster and more comfortable
The days of maxing-out your pressure on 700x23c tires are over. It’s not as comfortable, and it’s not faster, either. Because our paved surfaces aren’t perfectly smooth, a rock-hard tire doesn’t stay engaged with the surface—Rather, it micro-bounces, and those bounces absorb energy and speed. A wider tire at lower pressure will roll faster in real-world circumstances—Don’t be afraid to go wider—700x25-28c is recommended on most road bikes. Your legs and your back will thank you.
Pressure-wise, don’t lock into the “Max PSI” number or your tire sidewall. Because the sidewall will hold that pressure doesn’t mean that it is optimal. Your optimal tire pressure is a function of your weight, the road surface, tire width, and whether you’re running it front or rear. Most riders should be using 80-100 PSI , more if you’re heavier, less if you’re lighter. Because the rear tire supports most of your weight, you may want to run a little higher pressure—maybe 5 lbs-- there than on the front.
Tubes or tubeless?
If your bike’s wheels are tubeless-ready, you have the option of adding a tubeless tire, rim strip, sealant, and valve. While you still need to run pressures of around 80 PSI, you will get a smoother ride-feel, and no risk of pinch-flats when you run tubeless. But be warned: the tight fit on a tubeless road tire makes it very difficult for most riders to fix flats on the road, and for that reason, we don’t consider them a default. Manufacturers are working hard to address this issue—Watch for friendlier road tubeless options in the near future.
For more information:
The internet is packed with tire width/pressure science. Google-up Lennard Zinn tire pressure if you’re looking to spend some screen-time learning more. Or go the old-fashioned way and stop by the shop and talk to Don.