Cruising along the trail, Jenny steers her Hedgehog into the corners, rolls over the bumps not noticing the imperfections of the terrain under her tires. The smile on her face as she effortlessly accelerates along the path is priceless. She’s comfortable and confident on her bike, helped in no small part by the air in her tires.
Air filled tires are simple and amazing invention, so much so that today we take them for granted. But before Scottish inventor John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire we were all suffering through cobblestones and rough roads on solid rubber, wooden or metal tires. Think of a horse drawn cart, with its rigid wooden and steel wheel. That’s how uncomfortable early bicycles were.
Jump forward 130 plus years to today. While some of the materials have changed – a little less natural rubber and a little more nylon – we’re riding the same cushion of air, contained inside the tire making the ride safer and more comfortable.
Aside from the make-up of the tires themselves, the pressure of the tire is a major factor in how a bike performs. One of the things that helps Jenny on her adventure down the trail is the amount of air in her tires. Too much will cause a lack of traction, sliding tires and a lack of control. Too little and the ride will be sluggish, the tire will wallow in the turn – yes even for little Jenny – plus it increases the risk of punctures.
So, you’ve just purchased a bike for your child and you want the experience to be like Jenny’s. What’s the correct pressure? Great question. Stamped onto the sidewall of the tire you’ll see a bunch of numbers telling you the tire sizing, through to the tire model, but there’s one you should recognize; PSI (pounds per square inch), that’s the maximum amount of air at which the tire should be run. Depending on the model, that can be from 40-65PSI
“OK, why don’t I just pump up the tire to the maximum pressure and let my child pedal off?” I hear you ask. While the tires can take that pressure, you have to remember that the tire acts like as pneumatic suspension for the bike. At that high PSI the tire will feel like a rock, sure it might roll fast, but the comfort will be only slightly better than those cart wheels we mentioned earlier..
Our suggestion is to start somewhere close to these numbers:
Meerkat 40-55 PSI
Scout models 35-45 PSI.
With a little trial and error within those ranges you’ll find the correct pressure range that works, all depending on the rider and the terrain.
Determining the best pressure is actually pretty simple: You’ll want to start with that aforementioned PSI ranges, plus a regular hand pump and a cheap car type pressure gauge will help you – like that chrome pencil gauge in the car glove box you never use – see, now it’s useful! From there you’ll want to have your child sit on the bike and see how much the tire deforms (compresses) under their weight. Remember that pneumatic suspension analogy? A tiny rider and a larger rider on the same bike will require a different amount of air to support their weight and provide an optimal riding experience. Then it’s as simple as heading out for a ride, seeing how the bike rolls under your child, and that they’re comfortable and in control. Then all that’s left is to look for that big smile as they pedal away!
-By Andy Holmes