Being the sole point of contact with the road, a tyre’s role goes beyond just offering a decent roll. They are a critical part of the vehicle’s equilibrium aiding in steer, carrying the load, absorbing shocks, and transferring mechanical inputs to the bike’s motion. However, a tyre will not be able to perform these tasks if it is not properly inflated.
Proper inflation, as recommended by the manufacturer, on both the front and rear tyre improve the vehicle’s stability and add more precision to the steering control.
How inflation helps a tyre
Everyone knows how air in the tyres helps make a ride comfortable, but very few understand how it is also responsible for generation of heat and traction. A tyre needs to reach an optimum temperature to offer better grip and reduced wear. To reach that temperature, proper inflation is a must.
Keeping your tyre inflated at the pressure recommended by the manufacturer will result in:
- Better traction
- Enhanced tyre life (less wear)
- Precision in handling
- Reduced running cost
- Comfortable ride
I prefer lower pressures
With a decrease in the air pressure, the footprint of the tyre and its grip increase. Certain riders prefer this. However, this causes the tyre to generate more heat. Also, an underinflated tyre flexes too much putting more pressure on the shoulders. The increased heat and additional friction wear out the tyre way before its potential capacity.
When your tyre is 20% underinflated, your mileage (tyre life) drops by 20%. So, if your potential mileage is 40,000 km, a 20% underinflated tyre will wear out after 32,000 km.
When tyre pressure is lowered the following problems show up:
- Overheated tyre
- Uneven wear (more damage to shoulders)
- Wheel damage on a rocky terrain
- Poor handling and precision
- Tyre slipping and/or failure
- Poor fuel economy
An exception of off-the-road use
Airing down your tyres is suggested for off-roading. However, it is not as simple as it seems. For instance, you will experience a better grip on gravel and rocks, but you will also be exposing your sidewalls to damage and punctures. So, it’s important to drop the pressure marginally and retain the shape of the tyre.
In case of softer and more slippery surfaces like mud and sand, you can bring down the pressure to as low as 12 psi and still be fine.
Over-inflation does not mean safer
Before a shock reaches the suspension system, it must deal with the tyres. The air in tyres helps absorb shock to the vehicle especially when carrying heavy loads. Assuming that overinflating the tyre will further help with shock absorption is foolish as the ride now becomes harsher.
Moreover, it increases the chances of skidding. This is how over-inflation affects your ride and your tyre:
- Harsh, uncomfortable ride
- Uneven wear (more damage to central section)
- Less steering control
- Reduced tyre life
An exception for heavy loads
You may consider a pressure slightly higher than that recommended by the manufacturer if you regularly carry heavy loads, corner hard, and drive at sustained high speeds. However, be mindful that it is still lower than that indicated on the tyre’s sidewall.
Some handy tips and advice
- Check tyre pressure twice every week. A gradual decrease (5-10% a week) might indicate a puncture. If you can’t spot one, take your bike to a qualified service professional as the seal between bead and wheel may have loosened or the valve may have been broken.
- Often the optimal pressure for front tyre would be less than the rear tyres as the rear carries more load. While checking the pressure, be mindful of this.
- Always check pressures when the tyres are cold, i.e. have not been used in the last 2 hours.
- If you’re checking when the tyres are hot, add 5 psi to the recommended value.
- Even if tyres are inflated with nitrogen, the pressures and overall tyre condition must still be checked frequently.
- You can get it checked at the petrol station, but keeping your gauge is always better.
- While off-roading, remember to cool down your tyre before deflating.
- Never inflate to pressure indicated on tyre’s sidewall as it is the maximum pressure that tyre can sustain.