Mention tires to a group of adventure riders and you have a conversation that is more hotly contested than the 2020 presidential election. With so many variables in the terrain accessible by ADV bikes, there is no one tire to rule them all. But no matter what rubber you choose, tire pressure plays a key role in how tires perform. Today on MC Garage, we talk about adventure motorcycle tire pressure.
You’ve decided on new tires based on your needs and riding style for your adventure motorcycle. These could be anything from a pure road tire to a DOT-approved knobby and anything in between, but no matter how or where you ride, you need the proper tire pressure.
So where to start? As ADV rigs are streetbikes that are capable of off-road travel, your baseline should be proper street pressure. Follow the manufacturer’s pressure recommendations for your bike for the street, this will ensure you will have enough support for the maximum load of your bike.
Then evaluate that overall load. Are your bags full or empty—or do you even have bags? If you are fully loaded all the time, max pressure is your friend. If it’s just you and a backpack, you could reduce the pressure slightly on the street for better traction. But be forewarned—this can cause uneven and accelerated wear. If you are on the street and fully loaded, just stick to the recommended pressures and enjoy the ride.
Once we head off road, this is where we need to really think about our ride—the terrain, our aggressiveness, and if the tire is a tube type or tubeless. All of these factors will decide where you need to be on pressures once you head off the pavement. And, yes, that means carrying a tire pressure gauge! Both for letting air out to lower the pressure from street to dirt, but also for airing back up when you hit the pavement for home.
Which brings me to the next required item in your bag: a pump of some sort. If you’ve got the room, a 12V electric pump is sweet. If not, a small pump or CO2 inflator is the next best thing. Don’t get lazy and ride long distances on the street without airing your tires back up to street pressures. You’re just going to wear out your tires sooner and have terrible handling on the street. Be safe and be smart.
Back to lowering the pressure. If your ADV bike is struggling to find forward traction or skids or slips while turning, it’s time it air down. Start off with lowering the pressure 5 psi, and ride a bit. Take note of how the ride has changed. Hard dirt roads will require less air to be removed from a street-pressure tire than a soft-sand wash. Keep dropping in small psi increments, until you are happy.
But don’t go too low! As you decrease pressure the possibility of a puncture, pinch flat, or rim damage increases. With the substantial weight of adventure bikes, you can’t really run dirt bike-like tire pressures of 15 psi. If you go that low, you run a high chance of a pinch flat where the tube or tire sidewall is pinched by the rim as it flexes to a flat profile on hard hits. You need enough pressure to maintain enough sidewall stability to counteract that pinching possibility.
I’ve found in my extensive time riding adventure bikes off-road that somewhere between 26 and 22 psi is the sweet spot for true off-road riding. But, like I said, go by 5 psi increments until you hone in on the area you need to be, and then fine-tune in smaller adjustments. Take a note and store it away, as you can make that your off-road baseline in the future. As you change tires, add or remove weight, or change terrain, you will have a solid starting point to work from.
So as you can see, there is no cut-and-dried answer to the best tire pressure for adventure motorcycles. The answer is always, “It depends.” But now you know how to find your own best pressure, so get out there and enjoy the range and variety only ADV bikes can provide.