Co-written with Mark Hansen
Have you finally gotten your mountain bike’s suspension feeling just right, but something still feels off in the way your bike rides? Or perhaps your new wide rims and tires are dialed but you just can’t get the shock pressures on point to make everything sing in perfect harmony?
Getting tire and shock pressures exact can be tricky.
Accurate pressures are an often overlooked variable that can drastically affect not just the way your bike feels and performs under you, but the way you and the bike and it’s suspension and tires interact with the trail or road surface. Tires may be the last frontier of control in a modern bicycle system, and accurate pressures are the frontier-tamer.
On today’s mountain bikes, many people run tires down into the teens (or even lower on fat bikes), where a few pounds of difference can mean a 10% or more difference in pressure and performance. Even if your rims are not a newer wider flavor and your tires are closer to 2 than 3 inches, such as on XC bikes, you need to “control for the roll” if you are running lowish pressured (meaning keeping your tubeless tire pressures above the point which they will roll off the rim during sharp cornering). Most built in analog pump gauges don’t have the resolution to accurately show the difference between 15 and 18 pounds, or if they do the readings can be inaccurate due to mechanical variables.
The same goes for high pressure shock pump gauges. Not so much because they are inaccurate but because if they screw on and off, even if the pump has a bleed valve, the pressure can drastically drop in the process of unscrewing the head unless you are super quick each time. And nobody loves endlessly re-pumping up their high pressure shock.
Enter the digital pressure gauge. Even better, the portable digital pressure gauge.
Are you experimenting with the difference among 16, 17 and 18PSI? Digital gauges tell you what you are working with. Want to drop your hardtail’s tires exactly 5 PSI for each descent? Are you stuck on the trail between pumping, releasing and using your thumbs to check the pressure? Are you not well versed in checking pressures with your thumbs? All of the wondering and all of the variables go away with one of these babies. Precision becomes your best friend.
With an accurate digital PSI gauge, pressures are crystal clarified and ride variables are less, well…variable. A rider can accurately and quickly dial in pressures to get their bike riding perfectly.
When we started using digital gauges they were attached to larger floor and hand pumps. Now handheld ultra-portable gauges are readily available. We’ve tried many, and the one we’ve settled on in the shop and is our current favorite for quite a while now is the SmartGauge D2 by Topeak.
The D2 meets our toughness standards. Although not totally dog or beer proof, it’s as close as it gets. And it meets our usability and accuracy standards spot on. It’s incredibly consistent and the build quality is excellent and Tonka-truck like.
The small and chunky package fits nicely in our hands, and we love the solid feel. The rotating head makes it more versatile for moving between valve angles due to wheel or shock position. We also love the super-easy-to-flip switch from Presta to Schrader valves.
The orange air release button and special air release mode lets us over pump a bit and slowly and accurately reduce the pressure to the exact pounds per inch we want (or tenths of a bar if you prefer!). That plus reading up to 250PSI means whether you ask us to check tire or shock pressures, the SmartGuage D2 is what we reach for.
But life changing?
Do you recall all those small innovations that you didn’t know you needed, but after you had it could not imagine living without? Because suddenly you could see something just that much more clearly. Or because your understanding of something, or connection to it was just that much deeper and closer? That may sound ridiculous to the non-cyclist when you talk about air pressures. But as the observant lover of modern two wheeled machines knows, things have gotten all precision-y up in here these past 10 years in particular. Pressure accuracy, as we have said, is a final frontier in handling and control precision. So yes, life changing!
If you’re looking to explore the world of exact tire pressure, stop by and we’ll be happy to show you around one of these. Most of us have also purchased one or two for ourselves (works great for cars and motorcycles too!) and it’s one of those essentials that once it’s in your toolkit you will feel naked without.
Although it may seem a little chunky for toolbags or packs, we feel the usefulness of the extra girth in giving the D2 extra grippiness on the trail, especially with gloves on, makes any extra little space it takes up well worth it.
Topeak SmartGuage D2
Sunshine Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
- Rotating head
- One click Presta to Schrader
- Engineering grade plastic
- Air release button with digital tracking
- 4″ x 1.8″ x 1.4