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I almost wiped out on the morning commute while rounding a corner!

I have 700x25mm tires and usually keep them around 90psi. What is the most you've put in your tires (psi) to insure flawless turns?

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    Tyre pressure is only one of many variables. Consider for example a "perfect" tyre and a patch of ice/diesel half way round the bend. You would need to take into account the road surface, how tight your bend is, the load on the bike, the rubber compound used in the tread (and possibly sidewall)... – Chris H Aug 21 '15 at 14:02
  • Yeah, too many variables to really say one way or the other for tire pressure. I would think that less tire pressure would be better as there would be a larger contact patch. Other things you would have to take into account are the camber of the riding surface. If you're on a velodrome track, then going around the corner is almost the same friction as going in a straight line. Compare that to some city streets with negative camber to help water drain, and you have 2 entirely different situations. The most important part is what path you take around the turn. – Kibbee Aug 21 '15 at 14:12
  • Certainly a lot of physics to consider! The surface was new, paved well and dry. I appreciate the comments! Thank you! – Ben Aug 21 '15 at 15:23
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    You need to analyze why you "nearly wiped out". But with 90 psi in 25mm tires it's unlikely that tire pressure was a major factor. Either the surface was less stable than you anticipated, you approached the turn incorrectly, or you simply went too fast (and 20mph is pretty darn fast for any sort of street turn). – Daniel R Hicks Aug 21 '15 at 21:49
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    " The surface was new, paved well and dry" Was it brand new, like tarmac laid in the last month? Asphelt has oils in it that take a while to seep down, so it could be greasy when fresh. As it fades off and the oils descend it will lighten in colour. – Criggie Aug 23 '15 at 23:23
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The short answer

You say you usually keep them around 90psi.

I think it's a key point that you don't say that you checked them and they were definitely at 90 psi (6 atm).

Cornering at speed is always dangerous. You need your tires to be hard so that they do not deform, and you need proper technique. Your tires need to be at least 90 psi.

Regarding technique ...

At speed you must lean with the bike. You lean the bike to make it corner, rather than steer it. At these speeds your weight should be evenly distributed between handlebars and pedals: no weight on your seat.

You should look through the corner, so that you know what you're doing next, and to keep a calm, neutral position on the bike.

Approach new corners with care. It's not a race. On a public road a crash can cost your life.

But to answer your question - my tires are at 8 atm right now - 120 psi.

The long answer

There are four key components of cornering: your speed, your technique, and the tires and their grip on the surface (and that's omitting others, such as frame geometry). Unfortunately, misinformation on each are common. So don't take everything you read on these topics as Gospel (or Torah, or Koran, or Whatever-floats-your-boat). Evaluate each source, including this one.

Each of the four components interact with the other, so any discussion of them quickly gets complicated. This is part of the reason for the plethora of misinformation.

But first we need to be clear about how a bicycle actually works.

Balance

When you learned to ride a bike, you learned how to keep the wheels under you. As the bike and you lean to one side, you steer in that direction to get the point where your wheels contact the road under your center of gravity. It's easier to keep your balance as you ride faster, because the bike responds to your steering movements faster. You can see evidence of this when two riders go through a wet patch and onto a dry road. The faster rider leaves a very straight trail. It does wiggle, as the rider adjusts to small deviations, but not much. The slower rider leaves a wriggly trail, as the bike slowly swoops from side to side.

Speed and Technique

Speed and cornering technique go hand in hand. As you gradually increase your cornering speed, your cornering technique gradually changes.

Let's start by assuming the surface is clean, dry bitumen, and that the corner is open, such as riding in an empty supermarket carpark. You can choose how sharply to turn, you can see all the way through the corner, and you know where you'll go after the corner.

Your speed and previous experience with the grip of your tires on this surface determines your cornering technique. Accordingly you may brake hard as you approach the corner, brake gently, or not at all.

Let's start with a low speed corner, where you don't need to brake. As a kid, you learned the technique for these corners - it's called counter steering, where you turn a little away from the corner in order to move your weight slightly to the inside. When your weight is to one side of where the tires contact the road, you have to turn in that direction to keep your balance. When you get to the end of the corner, you actually turn a little harder to get the wheels under you again, so that you can ride straight.

As you increase your speed, the movement you make to initiate the turn doesn't need to be as great. You can just lean into the turn. This is where some of the misinformation appears. In order to lean, you do counter-steer slightly. It's natural, once you've learned to ride a bike. But many talk of counter-steering as though it's some special technique that should be consciously applied. When we counter-steer, we deviate from a straight path. Anyone near us is now at risk - if you are riding in a group you can cause a crash this way. The term counter-steering actually comes from motoring, where the vehicle has so much power that it corners in a controlled power-slide. On a bicycle we don't have that much power. So ignore advice to counter-steer. You're already doing it. Try to do it less.

So, as you increase your speed, you need to lean more to balance the centrifugal force as you turn. As you lean the bike (and ever so slightly steer), the geometry of your bike changes the angle at which your tires meet the road. The grip of your tires on the surface produces the centripetal force that pushes you around the corner. More on this in the Grip section below.

Once you are going fast enough to be noticeably leaning as you corner, your need for more techniques appears. You will have rapidly learned that if you have the inside pedal down then it can hit the road, called pedal strike. In the worst case, this can lift one or both wheels off the road. Of course, your wheels don't have much grip in the air, and so the common result is a fall. So many go to the other extreme, and say you should have your outside pedal down. This is how you see the pro's do it. It looks good. Stylish. But they are (mostly) highly skilled riders, with bike control skills most of us can only dream of. For mere mortals, I suggest we get off the seat for high speed corners, to distribute our weight evenly between the wheels, and to feel and possibly react to what the bike is doing.

The other basic fast cornering technique is to look through the corner. Which just to means look where you're going next, instead of the nice person on the footpath, or the road in front of your wheels. The only time to look down at the road is to avoid an obstacle. The point is that you'll go where you look.

So that's basic speed and technique. If you think they are controversial, poorly understood, or with conflicting advice, take a look at ... Grip.

Grip

Grip. Rolling resistance. Tire pressure. Contact area. Gravel. Water.

These term all get mixed together when we talk about grip. So again, lets start simple.

On a bicycle, we have one main kind of grip. It's called static friction, because as your tires roll, at the point where your tire meets the road, it's not moving relative to the road.

On a dry, clean road, the amount of static friction you get depends on one thing - the force (or weight) you apply. So contact area does not alter your grip. This is, to put it mildly, counter-intuitive.

Static friction is important because it's always greater than the alternative - dynamic or kinetic friction. This difference means that once you start sliding, you're gone. Unless you have some amazing skills.

So how do you maximize your static friction? By keeping your tires firmly in contact with the road surface. And that means tire pressure (and also even weight mentioned above). Your tires need to have enough internal pressure to resist deforming under the forces of cornering. If they deform, then they lose that firm contact. They lose grip. And then you're gone.

But why do we all use lower pressure when it's wet? And why do cars and trucks have wide tires?

When our tires slide we observe dynamic or kinetic friction. We all know that this increases as a function of area, but good online sources are hard to identify. Tires with a larger contact patch grip more when sliding because the edges of treads and rough road surface features interlock as the tire moves over them, and the rubber surface squeezes around the road roughness. But this grip is always lower than static friction. We lower our tire pressure when it's wet to increase our kinetic friction. If don't lower the pressure too much we will still retain decent static grip. Since we'll ride a bit more cautiously in the wet, the trade is worthwhile.

So that explains why cars have wide tires. What about trucks? Trucks have wide tires to spread the load on the road surface. The road surface can only support a certain level of pressure before it deforms. In maximum road load per axle you can see that many jurisdictions limit the maximum wheel load to 650 or 700 lb per inch of tire width. So trucks have wide tires to avoid ruining the roads.

And finally, as Daniel points out, there is a limit to grip. Oil, water, dirt, and sand all reduce your grip. If you don't have enough grip for the turn you're attempting the result is a fall. Sometimes a rider can stay upright when the wheels are sliding, but it's more a matter of luck than skill.

Conclusion

Pump your tires up to near the maximum pressure written on the side wall.

  • Very thorough and appreciated! :-) – Ben Aug 24 '15 at 15:04
  • Thorough, but not the best advice. Max pressure on the sidewall is likely not a good pressure for the real world as it creates the smallest contact patch with the road. That road surface is also likely not perfectly flat, so the rather than the contact patch being the surface in which the tire LOOKS like it's in contact, it's actually just the peaks of the macadam. Reducing pressure along with supple casing permits the tire to conform to imperfect surfaces. Too little pressure can result in a clincher rolling off the rim or bottoming out the tire against the rim, so one must be careful. – Chris Cleeland Aug 25 '15 at 16:54
  • @Chris The whole reason that rubber is used for non-rail wheel applications is that it deforms to match the surface. It squishes into the imperfections in the road surface. Extra pressure aids that process. With lower pressure, the rubber is not forced into the gaps as much, so you get less grip. But lower pressure is important when we suspect that the road will not be clean, ie with rain, dust, or dirt. We use lower pressure in those situations to try to increase the contact patch, but it still reduces grip. There's very little that can be done about oil, unfortunately. – andy256 Aug 26 '15 at 1:25
  • @andy256, higher pressure will not help "squish" the tire compound down into the road surface; it simply acts as a more taut air spring that keeps the bike elevated. The only thing that will squish it more is a heavier rider. The ability of a tire to conform to road surface is a function of the compound, its durometer, the flexibility of the casing to which it's bonded, and the flexibility of tube holding the air. – Chris Cleeland Aug 28 '15 at 20:38
  • There is a good writeup here. velonews.competitor.com/2014/05/bikes-and-tech/technical-faq/… – Chris Cleeland Aug 28 '15 at 20:39
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You have a couple types of failures.

  • Lose traction
    Lower pressure will have a slightly larger contact patch
  • Fold / Flex
    The tire can flex or even fold over from the centrifugal force
    A higher pressure tire is more rigid
    An under inflated tires will jump around - not good
    You can only lower the pressure so far before you start loose side to side strength
    This would also be down in the range that you would start to get pinch flats

I will take a tire in the operating range
If you are above 170 lbs then near the top of the range

If you want a bigger patch then get a bigger tire and run it within the recommended pressure range
A bigger tire is not just bigger - it has a lower pressure operating range

Run a soft rubber compound

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I think one point has been kind of glossed over: There is a limit to what sort of turn you can make at 20 mph.

The force available from static friction must be greater than the centrifugal force you're generating in making the turn -- the sharper the turn, the greater the centrifugal force, for a given speed. If centrifugal force exceeds frictional force then your tire slides out from under you.

Additionally, the geometry of the surface can have an effect. A very slight slope to the surface would be inconsequential when going straight but can severely compromise the force from static friction when turning.

And, of course, the slightest amount of sand, gravel, or oil on the surface changes the picture completely (and I've rarely seen a surface free of these contaminants).

I'm guessing that your main problem was that you simply took the corner too fast, with too sharp of a turn.

  • Yes, that's true. In my case I kinda assumed that was obvious. But it should be stated. – andy256 Aug 24 '15 at 12:32
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If you are asking only tyre pressure, I would put 90 psi minimum riding it wet condition. Running a lower pressure increase the risk of snake-bite puncture, side wall split/cut.

However, more important factors regarding traction upon cornering are:

  1. Operation of the rider inappropriate for road condition. For example, 20 mph on sharp wet corner bend, panic braking when cornering, etc.

  2. Weight distributed to the front: the more weight put onto the front wheel, the higher limit of friction the front wheel can handle.

  3. Type of tyre: better rolling resistance usually associated with poorer traction. You can see some tyre having two bands laterally, in addition to a slick in the middle; these are created to improve cornering.

So the importance of tyre pressure in gaining traction is really minimal in comparison to other factors.

It is similar to winter tyre and summer tyre on car, you can get better traction by deflating summer tyre but never get it to be as good as winter one.

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In this Technical FAQ from VeloNews (http://velonews.competitor.com/2014/05/bikes-and-tech/technical-faq/technical-faq-tire-grip-wet-conditions_328827), several tire manufacturers answer the questions:

  1. do slick tires have less traction than treads in wet weather?
  2. does lowering tire pressure help in wet weather?

Specialized, Challenge, Vittoria, and Continental all respond.

While this question is slightly different from yours, the elements discussed in the answers are directly applicable to non-wet conditions. As one responder points out, pro mechanics tune tire pressures based on rider style, rider weight, ambient conditions and specific road conditions. So, the only real answer to your question is that "it depends", because what works for me in my situation may not work for you--at least considering that there are too many variables and not enough of them are known in this situation.

I have raced on 700x25 continentals inflated to 110psi on dry asphalt and cornered just fine at 25+mph. I have raced 700x23 (same tire) at over 120 and cornered off-cambers just fine. But I've also raced both those tires at lower pressure and cornered just fine. And I've raced tubular tires at far lower pressures, cornered at race speeds, and been fine.

Not all tires and riders are equal. Not all roads are equal.

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