The wheel deal: easier is better.

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When it comes to bikes, we can all agree that easier is better, right? Bikes are such a brilliant design when it comes to converting energy into distance travelled, and there are a few things you can do to make your machine more efficient. The simplest and easiest way to improve your bike is to look to your wheels. The rotational force of a heavy wheel will slow you down more than would adding a pound or so to your frame. So if you would like to buy a lighter, faster bike but don’t want to invest in an expensive bike, try buying a set of nice, light wheels instead and see what a difference they make!

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And if you’re riding a bike with low pressure tires, you’ll find that simply switching from a bigger, low pressure tire, to a skinnier, high pressure tire will make a noticible difference in the amount of energy it takes you to travel anywhere. Any tire with more than 75 psi will significantly reduce the amount of effort you’ll need to spend. It will cost a little bit more than will a low pressure tire, but you’ll likely save the difference in replacing and repairing tubes lost to puncture, which happens often enough with those low pressure tires. You’ll need to remember to pump the high pressure, skinny tires up regularly, though. They too become prone to puncture if you let the pressure drop below 80 psi, and instead let them get too soft. It’s a bit of a trade-off, really. Letting the tires go a little soft will give you increased traction if you normally ride at the upper end of a high pressure tire, at or over 110 psi. Some people will even intentionally let a little bit of air out of a high pressure tire in a situation where they might want a softer ride and a little bit more grip.

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How low is too low? Well, it helps to have a friend on hand to give you a better perspective. Sit on the bike, and maybe ride in a circle around them. With you on the bike, the tire should be inflated enough to remain at least one third as ‘tall’ as it would be with nobody on the bike. Anything softer than that and you are asking for a pinch flat.

Even a little on the soft side, a high pressure tire is far more efficient than a bigger, low pressure tire – expecially knobbies! The trade off for this efficiency is an increased translation of road vibration through the bike to you, but you can mitigate these vibrations easily enough: you can use a gel saddle or one with springs, and you can also opt to sit in a more natural, upright position, taking the strain off your hands.

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