Low Ain't Slow: Tire Pressure Tips For Real Winter Conditions

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After weeks of riding a mix of dirt, crusty ice, and just an inch or two of snow, it’s time to make the important tire pressure adjustments to preserve the trail and the fun.

For much of December, riders on the Winter Sports Singletrack were able to hop on their fat bike and ride at just about any tire pressure that suited them. While it may have looked a bit nordic, the trail’s base was so thin that we were really riding on just a few millimeters of snow, with roots and leaves poking through in many places on the trail system. Most of the trail was biked-groomed; instead of needing a snowmobile and drag, a few early-morning riders were able to pack things in nicely.

With this New Year’s Eve blizzard, however, it’s time to take another look at tire pressure. While you may right 8, 10, even 12 psi, those same pressures positively slice through soft snow. Even with a trail that’s been groomed and given time to set up, tire pressures that firm punch through, slide out, and cause deep ruts that take hours and hours to repair. How much time? To give you an idea, our volunteers put in over 11 hours of grooming on New Year’s Day alone!

So, what should your tires be at? After riding for years now, we’ve detemined that 4 psi is the highest pressure that you might ever need, and even that’s reserved for days with a firm base. Starting from 4psi, you can air down a little at a time until you have enough grip to stand up and pedal hard without slipping, and to turn without sliding out. That pressure can change slightly based on rim width, tire size, and rider weight; a heavier rider might need 1-2 psi more than a lighter rider. It can take a little guess-and-check, but once you find the right tire pressure for the conditions and your weight and riding style, you won’t just help us preserve the trail, you’ll also have a lot more fun!

We usually look for the tire to ‘puddle’, or flatten out once under weight. This puts the maximum amount of rubber on the snow for more traction, and gives you more flotation. Staying on top of the snow minimizes your track or rut in the snow, as well as making you much more efficient. Think of a dune buggy; those big balloon tires help to stay high on the sand, instead of slogging through it. That’s the same idea behind fat bike tires, and when in doubt, less pressure is always more fun.

Timing your ride to grooming efforts can also be a big help. With most of our trails being groomed in the morning, they’re often softer until they have time to set-up. Snow usually takes a few hours to get firm after being rolled or groomed, and the longer you can hold off, the better. You’ll always be the first to know if you’ve purchased your grooming badge…and you’ll help us to get out more often, and longer, with enough support to keep grooming as long as the snow flies!

You can learn more about our grooming efforts across northern Michigan, how to confidently adjust your tire pressure, and loads of more info at out NMMBA Annual Meeting this Sunday at Timber Ridge!