One of the most commonly asked questions you see on the net is “what tyre pressures should I run for [insert bike and tyre make here]?”, and with the emphasis that’s put on having the correct pressures (and rightly so) both at and away from the track it’s no wonder.
Having the right pressure for your rider, bike and tyre combination is very important to getting the most out of your tyres both in terms of performance and longevity. As I’m sure you know tyres are very expensive, so making sure we get the most out of them by having the correct pressure and therefore avoiding bad wear should be a priority for all track day riders.
The trouble is there is no one magical pressure for one type of motorcycle or type of tyre, and as you’re about to find out there are times when you would even use different pressures for the same tyre on the same bike!
So to help you understand what actually goes into determining the best pressure (for you personally) here’s a look at some of the things that affect tyre pressure.
Weight – A pressure that works for an 11 stone runt (like me) won’t necessarily work for a person weighing considerably more than that. Someone heavier is going to create a larger contact patch on the ground which could overheat it and cause nasty wear. And vice versa, the lighter rider using the heavier rider’s pressures won’t have a contact patch big enough, so they won’t get enough heat into the tyre and again you’ll see another sort of nasty wear. This problem is made worse if your suspension isn’t properly set up for your weight.
Tyre Construction – Some tyres have harder carcasses and sidewalls which mean they don’t need to run as high a pressure as a tyre with a soft carcass.
Ambient Temperature – The outside temperature is going to affect how your tyres heat up. Setting your rear to 30psi on a cold day isn’t going to give you the same performance as setting it at the same pressure on a baking hot day, because on a hot day the tyre will heat up quicker and by more.
Some of the fast riders and racers actually change their pressures throughout the day to compensate for the change in temperature so they can maximize the performance of their tyres.
Hot and Cold Pressures – If you set your pressure to 30psi when the tyre is cold, this isn’t going to be the same as setting them to 30psi when the tyre is hot. A cold tyre will gain around 2-6psi (depending on your pace) through use on the track because it will heat up and so will the air inside, meaning the pressure will increase.
Road vs Track Tyres – Road tyres are typically designed to run at higher pressures than track tyres because they are not expected to heat up as much.
As you can see, there are many factors that come into finding the best tyre pressure for your bike and tyre combination. Right now you may be wondering how on earth you get the right pressures, and I wouldn’t blame you, so here we go.
What you want first is a good baseline pressure which you should be able to get from any of the below sources.
Manufacturer – Go direct to the manufacturer and get the pressures they recommend, you can usually find them on their website. If not, email them and ask what they would recommend setting tyre ‘X’ to for use on the track. They’re usually pretty helpful with stuff like this.
Tyre Expert – Speak to the tyre supplier at the track, or talk to someone you know who deals with tyres and setting up bikes for the track. They would have experienced many tyre and bike combinations, so they know their stuff.
Other riders – See what other riders with similar setups are doing with the same tyres. They too would have gone through the same process to find the best pressures for themselves, so they should be able to set you off close to where you need to be.
Once you have your base pressure, try it out and see how you get on. Did you notice any unsavory reactions from the tyre that wasn’t there before? Or the more common issue, is the tyre showing any signs of unnatural wear? If you answer yes to these questions then it could well be that your pressure is not quite correct.
Read my Tyre Wear Guide for more info on tyre wear and how pressure settings play a part in it.
When should you set your pressures? – If you have tyre warmers then set them once they have been in the warmers for a good 45 minutes or so (from stone cold). If you don’t have warmers then set them cold first thing in the morning, but remember that your tyres will gain a few psi so try to take that into account. Once you’ve done a couple of sessions you’ll be able to see how much psi you’re really gaining and whether or not you are near where you want to me.
Just keep an eye on the tyres. If they’re showing any sort of unnatural wear then you will need to adjust your settings.
Is your pressure gauge calibrated? – You probably shrugged your shoulders at this one, but it’s not that hard to do. Just ask the tyre expert at the track to set your tyres to a given pressure using their compressor, then use your gauge to check it reads the pressure they just set it to. You can also check it against one or two other rider’s gauges to see if they give the same readings. If you can, change the dial to show the compensation, if you can’t (more likely) just make a note so you remember the difference.
Wet weather riding – You want to make sure you’re pressures aren’t too low for wet weather riding, be it proper race wets or road tyres. If the pressure gets too low then the tread will compress which means it can’t clear water effectively.
Lastly, don’t overdo it. I know I mentioned some of the factors that come into play with getting the best tyre pressure, but this was to demonstrate that there’s not a one size fits all pressure. Don’t get too hung up on trying to get the pressure perfect.
Unless you’re pushing on at the higher end of the fast group then you probably wouldn’t notice the small differences that come from things like changes in temperature throughout the day or the way you set your pressures initially. If you feel grip and you’re not showing any ugly wear patterns then that’s all you really need to worry about.
Photo by Romana Klee
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