“Yeah, yeah. I reckon that’s about right”, says Mark impatiently while he pushes his palm aggressively into the tyre tread. “Right, good to go!” and with that the pump and tools are packed away, followed by us pedalling back along the track after a brisk trail-side puncture repair.
It’s a familiar scene, and one that has likely played out in front of you on many an occasion. And there’s nothing wrong with it really. I mean, the old ‘Thumb Test’ is one of the most reliable ways of testing tyre pressure right? Give the tyre casing a bit of a squeeze with your digits, feels squidgy enough, and you’re good to go right?
Schwalbe Airmax Pro
Looking like a crappy Tamagotchi with a brass valve sticking out of its head, the Airmax Pro is actually a neat Digital Pressure Gauge designed for checking the tyre pressure on your bike. Designed by Schwalbe, this little tool is all about getting the most out of your rubber to ensure you’re achieving the best balance of comfort, traction, stability and pinch-flat resistance. It has a small screen to read out the pressure to one decimal place, and a single button that turns it on & off as well as scrolling through the various pressure scales depending on what side of the world you’re from: PSI, BAR, kg/m2 & kPa. Simply turn it on, pop it onto the valve of your tyre and the reading will display. Reset the screen by holding the button for a second and then do the same for the other wheel. Unlike analogue gauges, the Airmax Pro can be reset to ‘0’ regardless of what altitude or temperature you’re at, so you get a more accurate reading. It runs on a single watch battery (CR2032) and fits either Presta or Schrader valves. It is not compatible with forks & shocks.
Given the number of tyres we may be reviewing at one time along with all the various test bikes that come through the office, being able to setup tyre pressure accurately is vital. It also means we can try a range of pressures to monitor a tyres behaviour across the same trail conditions, as an alteration from as little as 2psi can make all the difference in ride quality. High quality floor pumps generally have accurate gauges on them, but more often than not the analogue readout is just too hard to read properly for anything under 100psi. And gauges on mini-pumps are really just there for looks.
On many a group ride, I’ve been subjected to various opinions and outright sledging of certain tyre brands or specific models as riders declare them a ‘death trap’ after using them for a handful of rides. However, it’s often the same riders who start heckling me when the little blue gauge has been whipped out of my backpack, moaning something along the lines of: “what has happened to the world of mountain biking these days!” Now that’s a pretty broad rhetorical question to address, but sticking to tyre pressure, it has to be said that there’s some pretty serious technology going into modern mountain bike rubber, as it really is an extension of the suspension on your bike. Reflected in the price, brands including Schwalbe, Continental & Panaracer are charging upwards of $80 per wheel for their top-range knobblies. As such, you probably want to make sure that you’re getting the same performance out of those tyres as what their designers intended.
Too much air pressure, and you’ll bounce your teeth out on the rocks and find the tread skidding out on loose climbs or breaking cornering traction without warning. Too little air pressure and you run the risk of pinch-flatting (and potentially damaging the rim) as well as having the tyre roll over through corners and causing a risky washout. Get the pressure bang-on however, and you’ll be rewarded with a better connection with the trail for more confident cornering, better stability, improved traction and comfort. If you’re not happy with the performance of your current treads, don’t give up on them just yet – do yourself a favour and try out a range of pressures between the front & rear tyres to find the best outcome for your riding style and conditions.
The Airmax Pro is a deadly accurate tyre gauge that is simple, compact and cleverly turns itself off to save the batteries. Not only does it help our job of reviewing tyres immensely, it also makes getting the full potential out of your new rubber much easier and with little margin for error. The very same tyre you despise at 25psi may actually blow your mind at 28psi, so it’s worth the patience. Whether you run tubes or tubeless, the Airmax Pro should be in your tool kit.