How to Setup Your Mountain Bike for XC Racing – Tire Pressure Guide

Planning to compete in an XC mountain bike race? If you want to go home with a podium spot, you better master the art of setting up your tire pressure for race day conditions. This tire pressure guide will help.

Important Tips for XC MTB Tire Pressure Setup

  • The race course will change from practice to actual race day conditions and you must factor this into your decision.
  • Tire pressure settings will favor some parts of the track over others, so you need to find a nice rounded average, while others prefer to adjust their tire pressure either to better suit on areas they are slower, or perhaps areas they are faster on
  • You must become a master of reading the XC race course terrain and understanding how your tire works on various parts of it. Different tires, suspension, overall bike setup and the course changing with every lap will make this an ever changing factor
  • Tire pressure will vary for UST vs. Clincher rim setups

UST Wheels & XC Mountain Bike Race Tire Pressure:

UST wheelsets allow you to run less air, and gain more traction without the risk of flatting due to tube puncturing. However you must use commonsense and caution to avoid going to low with your tire pressure. Too low can cause the tire to burp and lose even more air, tire tearing usually on the sidewalls and possibly rim damage.  Watch out here if you have carbon rims.

Times to Add More UST Tire Pressure:

*Remember the terrain itself, and how aggressive you ride are factors to consider.

  • Lost of jumps, or drops that land you on jagged rocks
  • Wicked Rock Gardens
  • Many berms and you want to rail them hard
  • Very mild course mostly fire trails and you want less friction / rolling surface area contact
  • On a muddy course for more knob penetration

Times to Add Less UST Tire Pressure:

*Remember the terrain itself, and how aggressive you ride are a factor to consider.

  • Big climbs over lots of roots
  • Very sandy course less air is better for improved traction
  • Soften the ride a bit against lots of chatter
  • Very mild course mostly fire trails and you want less friction / rolling surface contact

Final thoughts:
Every rider and bike setup varies, but I personally don’t dip into the 20s on tire pressure, for me with my more aggressive style. I find the low 30s is my happy place with the type of tires I use. You will have to experiment to find yours, but do it on practice days, so on race day you know what your setting should be from all your practice time.

Clincher Wheels & XC Mountain Bike Race Tire Pressure:

If you aren’t running a UST setup and you have lightweight XC MTB race tires / tubes installed, your options are greatly limited on tire pressure.  You must use extreme caution to not let yourself get lulled into letting too much tire pressure air out as the ride quality seems to improve in many cases.

Usually the manufacturers recommended tire pressure is silly and on the high side. They might suggest 50 lbs. Most likely on a hardtail you shouldn’t go below 32 pounds in the front and 34-36 lbs in the rear. Heavier or more aggressive riders may need a couple more pounds thrown into the mix.

For full suspension bikes, you can usually add an additonal 2-4 pounds more to the above numbers for the best ride / race quality feel. Remember your suspension feeds off your tire pressure and visa versa so you need to find the happy match with each new tire you run.

Ok, go setup your tire air pressure correctly and get on the podium!