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Tyre pressures: What you need to know

There are many different factors that influence your bike’s handling and grip when riding off-road. These include the road surface, the type of tyre your bike has, the combined weight of the bike and rider, as well as the suspension setup. One of the most important factors though – and one that is often overlooked – is the very simple concept of inflating or deflating your tyres to the correct pressure.

Written by Jaco Kirsten

Why deflate?
When a tyre is inflated to hard road-riding pressure it has a relatively small contact patch. This is what the tyre was designed for at highway speeds and going softer will cause extra friction and a lot of heat build-up.

On dirt, however, there is less friction so you can confidently lower pressures. The reason why you want to do this is twofold: Firstly you want to increase your tyre’s contact patch with the road (and therefore increase grip) and secondly you want to help the suspension cope with little undulations and irregularities, resulting in a lot smoother ride.

How much should I deflate?
The following pressures are a guideline, assuming that you’re a single rider without too much kit on a motorcycle with tubeless tyres.
Normal on-road pressure: 2.2 to 2.5 bar
Good surface dirt roads: 1.8 bar
Rough surfaces that may include technical riding: 1.4 to 1.6 bar (when there are rocks present, you may want to increase pressures slightly)
Sand: Anything from 0.8 to 1.2 bar
For tubed tyres, especially on bigger adventure bikes, one should try and avoid too low pressures, as a hard impact could cause the rim to pinch the tube and cause the common ‘snakebite’ puncture. In sandy terrain one can go down to 1.2 bar, but if there’s even a remote possibility of encountering rocks, avoid going lower than 1.8 bar.
One solution is to fit extra thick enduro tubes – which are less prone to ‘snakebites’. Also, remember to fit a rim-lock to the rear tyre, as deflated tyres may move under hard acceleration, resulting in a torn valve stem.


Tip: When riding on tar with knobblies like TKC80s or Michelin Karoo's, you can help to preserve your tyres by inflating them to anything from 3 to 3.5 bar as this will help them to run cooler and therefore wear less. But bear in mind that such high pressures will give you less grip when cornering hard. For normal riding though, this shouldn’t be a problem.

The bike in picture was running a tyre pressure of only 1.2 bar, allowing it increased grip and a soft ride. Tailoring your tyre pressure to the terrain, could greatly improve your bike’s handling on dirt.

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