How Firm Should Bike Tires Feel? 3-Step Test without a Gauge

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The Short Answer

Bike tires should have a slight give when squeezed, but not feel squishy or rock hard. They should be firm enough to provide comfort and grip, while reducing the risk of punctures. Checking tire pressure by feel can be done through squeezing, pressing down, or listening for the sound while riding.

If you’re anything like me, bicycle tire pressure isn’t something that is tested with a fancy gauge but instead with a pinch and press.

But if you’re not sure exactly how firm your bike tires should feel, I’ll give you my easy process for determining if you bike tire pressure is about right – without any equipment.

Should Bike Tires Be Hard or Soft?

The Goldilocks principle can be applied to bicycle tire pressure. Tires shouldn’t be too hard, nor should they be too soft. The answer is between the two, although considerably closer to harder and than softer.

Should Bike Tires Be Rock Hard?

No. Although rock hard bike tires can help you cycle faster, having no give in them at all can present you with a few problems:

  1. Discomfort: rock hard tyres won’t absorb any imperfections on the road, meaning your body will take the hit instead, which can be very uncomfortable.
  2. Less grip: hard tires have less contact points with the road surface, this means that you are more likely to skid or lose control, especially when turning.
  3. Puncture risk: really hard tires are much more likely to get a puncture, which can be cause by riding over something sharp or even simply hitting major bump or pothole in the road.

How Squishy Should Bike Tires Be?

Although bike tires shouldn’t be rock hard, you should only be able to feel a tiny bit of give when squeezing your tire – they certainly shouldn’t be “squishy”.

Indeed, if you sit on your bike and you think your tire looks a little too soft, it almost certainly is.

That said, there are some circumstances in which it would be advisable to have a lower tire pressure, such as in particularly slippery or even icy conditions or if you’re riding with additional weight on your bike (e.g. if you are riding with heavy pannier bags).

Should You Be Able to Press in a Bike Tyre?

Generally speaking, there should be a very slight give in your tyre when you press it in. However, this can vary a great deal depending on the type of bike and tires you have.

How to Check Bike Tire Pressure without Gauge (3 Ways)

If you don’t have a bike tire pressure gauge (or you’re just a bit lazy, like me) there are three things you can do to tell if a bike tire is hard enough by feel alone:

  1. Squeeze the tire: Using your fingers, give the tire a gentle squeeze. If the tire feels firm and doesn’t give much when you squeeze it, it’s likely hard enough.
  2. Press down on the tire: Place your hand on the top of the tire and press down with your weight. If the tire feels firm and doesn’t compress much under your weight, it’s likely hard enough.
  3. Listen for the sound: As you ride the bike, listen to the sound the tires make as they roll on the pavement. If the tires are properly inflated, they should make a consistent, smooth sound. If they’re underinflated, they may make a thumping or flapping sound.

Of course, this is only a rough guide to bike tire pressure by feel. If you want to optimise your bike, checking your PSI with a gauge is definitely recommened. Many bike pumps have gauges built-in these days, including many cheap mini bike pumps.

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