Basic Bike Setup – no 1

Posted: February 23, 2011 in 2011, General

It is fair to say that my family hate it when we are in town (driving or walking) and someone struggles by on a poorly set up bike, I take to muttering under my breath about all the things they could or should do to make their lives (at least on a bike) easier.

Now some people may feel this does not apply to them because they know what they are doing, their bike is tuned to within an inch of its’ life and is the most efficient machine on the road. Fine, this is not for you then but there are so many people out there who struggle unnecessarily; maybe someone ought to tell them. (Thinks: this could be an excuse for a low-key ‘grumpy old man’ style rant but I’ll try to keep it balanced!).

Just to keep it easy, let’s look at tyres. I am not going to delve into the whole thorny topic of having the right tyres for the job (why fit heavy, off road tyres on a bike that will ever see off road duty for example), I won’t discuss tyre weight, profile, or anything remotely technical and this discussion will be purely related to riding on the road. As such it applies to everyone from grannies on a shopper to the “all the gear but no idea” brigade who have spent a small fortune on a bike but can’t set it up to save their lives.

Yes, I am going to talk about tyre pressure. Do you bump along on the rims when you are riding? Do you get a sickening jolt when you bump up and down kerbs? Is your bike just bloomin’ hard work all the time? Well, it may be because you haven’t got enough air in your tyres.

To digress slightly, take a peek at motoring websites, especially ones which discuss fuel economy. Tell you what, to save you the effort, here’s one. Scroll down and check the maintenance section where it says:

1. Pump your tyres
Driving on under-inflated tyres requires more engine power. Keep them pumped up in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations for the maximum miles per gallon. But don’t over-inflate them, as this reduces road grip.

and then a little further down where it says:

• Under inflated tyres can increase fuel consumption by five per cent.

It is fine for cars, why not for bikes? Well, there’s no reason at all. Why do under inflated tyres cause greater fuel consumption? Simples! The engine has to work harder as the car has to overcome increased friction. In a car, all the driver has to do is put his foot down a bit and resign him or herself to paying a bit more for fuel, the cyclist however, has to pay directly. A 5.0% decrease in efficiency on a bike is going to hurt, you will be slower, you will accelerate slower, you will roll down hills slower and not to put too fine a point on it, you’ll be knackered more quickly!

How do you know what the optimum tyre pressure is? Manufacturers are really kind to us cyclists, they go to all the trouble of printing optimum tyre pressures on the sidewall. They will tell us the minimum and the maximum and if you are anal enough, it will give you the chance to play about with pressures for all road conditions but let’s be serious, not many people are going to bother. As a general rule of thumb, aim towards the top end of the pressure range and the heavier you are, the more pressure you will need.

Now comes the tricky bit… how can you tell what the tyre pressure is? My favourite is a track pump, basically this is a cycling specific stirrup pump which not only has a gauge so you know how much pressure in your tyres, it also makes pumping your tyres up a lot more efficient – that’s easier to you and me! You don’t need to check your tyres every day, you will soon get to know whether the tyres are inflated enough or not.

Oh yes, there’s one more benefit of keeping your tyres pumped up…. you will get fewer punctures and that, as they say, is a completely different story.



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