Proper Tire Pressure is Worth the Effort
It goes almost without saying that quality tires are essential. Your safety depends upon it! Everybody loves the brand-name fat tires that come on the MAGiCYCLE Cruisers, Ocelots, and the Jaguarundi. MAGiCYCLE has a reputation for insisting on band-name components, and tires are no exception. Of course, if you choose the MAGiCYCLE Commuter, fat tires are not appropriate and your tifres are 1.5″ in width. Regardless of tire size, they don’t take care of themselves and it is up to you to maintain proper inflation. This article concentrates on the fat tires, so be aware that the thinner commuter tires will require much higher pressure.
Learn the Best Tire Pressure for Your Riding
The primary rule for inflating your e-bike tires is “do not exceed the maximum pressure.” Find the recommended tire pressure printed on the sidewall of your tires. For the sake of personal safety, to not inflate your tires beyond the maximum recommended pressure. However, the maximum pressure is likely not the ideal pressure for your riding comfort.
Tire Pressure Affects Tire Footprint
Tire footprint is the area of the tread that actually is in contact with the road or ground at any moment as you ride. The greater the tire pressure, the smaller the tire footprint. The smaller the tire footprint, the lower the traction as you ride. For the best safety, you always want good traction.
To state it another way, the lower the tire pressure, the larger the tire footprint and the greater the traction. While true, this does not mean you should ride with minimal tire pressure. A lower tire pressure not only increases footprint…it also increases rolling resistance. This means more pedal power is needed to move the e-bike, or more motor assistance is needed. It could also mean that your tires feel uncomfortably “squishy” as you ride, giving a sense of instability.
It seems reasonable to think that the lower rolling resistance that comes with higher tire pressure will mean that the bike always rolls easier with maximum pressure. Oddly, this is not the case. Maximum pressure equals minimum rolling resistance only if the surface you ride on is very smooth. If you’re like me, you rarely encounter a road or pathway that is perfectly smooth. Indeed, the opposite is often the case and the road has more than its share of various size bumps and rough patches.
As you encounter the bumps and uneven surfaces, the maximum tire pressure translates into maximum vibration felt in the handlebars and seat. This vibration is somewhat deceptive, giving the illusion of greater speed. In actuality, engineers have found that the rolling resistance is increased. This is because the maximum pressure makes the tire so firm that it cannot absorb even the smaller bumps. When the tire pressure is lowered a bit, then the tire begins to absorb the bumps and rolling resistance can actually decrease.
As an added benefit, as you lower the tire pressure, you also increase your comfort level. Now you are experiencing better traction and less vibration is transferred to the seat and handlebars. You can experience a much more pleasant ride with your tires helping the bike absorb the bumps in the road.
Finding the Ideal Tire Pressure
With a small investment of time, you can experiment and discover the ideal tire pressure for your riding conditions. Unfortunately, there is no one universally perfect tire pressure that covers all road and trail conditions, so from time to time you will likely want to make adjustments. Here are the factors that can affect your ideal tire pressure:
Size of Your Tires
The rule of thumb is…the larger the tire, the lesser the volume. That’s why a fat tire will need much less pressure than a typical commuter tire. The thinner commuter tire has much less volume, and requires much higher pressure.
Tire pressure works better for you when you adapt the pressure to the type of surface you expect to encounter on your ride. What type of terrain is likely? The rougher the surface, such as on rocky forest trails, the more you benefit from lower tire pressure which helps absorb the bumps. Be aware that it is not wise to go below 12-14 psi on rough trails, as tube punctures can occur along the rim in these very bumpy conditions.
On other surfaces, traction becomes a big factor. If you plan to ride in loose sand, be ready to reduce pressure as low as 6-8 psi for fat tires. This will vastly increase traction. The same is true for riding in snow or mud…traction is your friend!
Many e-bike fans like to keep on riding, regardless of the weather. Wet roads can be a problem, due to the loss of traction, and it is a good idea to lower your tire pressure until you get back on dry roads. Also, it is best to ride in the same area of the road that automobile tires use. A lot of oil gets dropped near the center of the lane, and of course, in rainy weather it can be extremely slick and treacherous.
Naturally, freezing rain is a high danger surface, and probably best avoided entirely. If you must ride on ice, definitely use a minimal tire pressure.
Experimenting for Best PSI
It is very helpful to develop a feel for what psi works best for you and your e-bike in various conditions. It’s not a difficult process, it costs virtually nothing, and the experimenting can actually be enjoyable — all you need is the time to do some riding, and bring along a tire pressure gauge and a portable tire pump.
Let’s take just one example, and you can apply the technique to other terrains. Consider a typical two-lane neighborhood paved road, riding the pavement on your fat tire e-bike. Begin the ride with your PSI set at 28 (but do not exceed the maximum pressure as stated on your tire’s sidewall). Ride for a quarter-mile and evaluate how the ride feels.
If vibration seems excessive or you notice your tire bouncing hard on small objects in the roadway, reduce your pressure in the front tire by 3 psi. If vibration is still excessive, especially in the seat, do the same for your rear tire. Now try another quarter-mile and re-evaluate. You may need to release another 3 pounds of pressure. Continue the process until you feel you’ve found the best tire pressure for your e-bike and payload.
Now that you’ve discovered the best tire pressure for ordinary roadways, you may want to repeat the process for off-road trails, sandy beaches, gravel roads, etc. A little time invested in finding the ideal psi for your e-bike tires will pay off big rewards in riding comfort and safety.