Motorcycle Track Day Tire Pressures – What Should You Set Your Tire Pressures At For The Track?

You’re hopefully well aware that you should set your motorcycle tire pressures according your bike manufacturers recommendation.  That generally means a tire pressure that strikes a balance between grip and tire wear and will probably range anywhere from 32psi to 42psi (generally with higher pressures in the rear tire). But when you’re at the track, your only concern is grip. So how do you go about setting the correct pressure motorcycle tire pressure for a track day?

In almost all instances, you’ll set far lower pressures for the track than for the road. That’s because the lower the pressure, the more the tire will deform at speed – deformation creates more friction between the tire and the track which in turns generates heat. And the more heat (up to a point) the more grip you’ll have.  Lowering tire pressures also creates a larger contact patch, which means more rubber in contact with the track and hence again more grip.

If you’re an occasional track day rider, there’s no need to get too scientific. Most people recommend 28psi to 30psi on the front tire and 30-32psi at the rear. Don’t be tempted to go any less than these figures, as you’ll eventually hit a point where the pressure is so low that it begins to slow steering and turning.

If you’re more regular at the track or even an amateur racer, you can start to experiment a bit more and try different combinations of pressures. But if you’re such a rider, it’s likely you’ll begin to use dedicated track tires (either slicks or extremely performance orientated grooved tires). Here, you can again take the manufacturers recommended advice, but this time of the tire manufacturer and not your bike manufacturer.

Michelin has a great website called Michelin Power, where it allows you to choose your bike, the track you’re racing at and even the general weather conditions to get a tire pressure recommendation. You’ll see recommendations of 23-32psi for race slicks as they’re properly designed for high temperature/high grip situations.

Motorcycle Track Day Tire Pressures

But if lowering your tire pressures at the track is such a good idea, why not do it for everyday riding too? Because if you do, your tires will firstly wear to quickly but worse, they’ll deform to a dangerous shape. On the track, you’ll be leaned over on the bike much more than on the road, where you’re probably upright around 90% of the time. By lowering your pressures, you’ll wear the middle of the tire out and ‘square off’ the tire. A squared off tire will completely change the handling characteristics of your bike for the worse. You’ll have more than enough grip for street use following the manufacturers recommendations.

And remember, regardless of when you’re setting pressures at the track or on the street, ensure you do it while the tire is cold or you’ll have the wrong pressures once your tires heat up – cold inflation pressure is key.

Tire Pressure Basics Part One – Cold Inflation Pressure

Talk to any riding instructor or track coach and you’ll hear an alarming number of stories of riders who don’t know what their motorcycle’s tire pressures should be.  Perhaps just as alarming is of the riders who do at least know how much air to put into their tires, they fail to understand that this recommendation is based upon a cold inflation pressure.  That is, the manufacturer’s recommendation is based upon a pressure while the tire is cold and before you’ve ridden.  You can check out the video we’ve created below, or read on.

If you remember back to basic science at school you should know that when gas is heated it expands.  It just so happens that air is made up of a bunch of different gasses, so as your tires get warmer, the air inside them expands.  Because there’s nowhere for this air to escape from the tire, pressure increases.

A basic rule of thumb is that for every 10 degree change in temperature, air pressure changes by 1 pound per square inch. Now imagine that you only ever had to put air in your tires once – it never leaked over time.  If you filled your tires to 32 psi in the dead of winter, come summer your tire would magically have an extra 4 pound of air inside.

Similarly, if you put air in your tires before a ride your tires pressure will increase quite dramatically.  Even in winter it’s not hard for a tire to increase in temperature by around 90 °F just from normal street riding.  This can be even more dramatic in the heat of summer when roads are particularly hot or if you’re really punishing the tires at the track.

Cold Inflation Pressure Temperature and Pressure Change

Reading this, you may see a problem arise for a motorcycle rider and perhaps you’ve been in the same situation before.  You’re in the mountains and have been riding for a good few hours.  As you pull into the gas station to fill the tank, you decide you’d better check tire pressures because it’s been a few weeks since you last did it.  Connecting the pressure gauge, you’re surprised to see that it’s reading 45 psi in the rear tire, when you know it’s only should be 36.  You then deflate the tires down to 36 psi and continue your ride.

Once this rider has gotten home, his tires cool down.  If that rider then checks his tires before leaving the house for his next ride, he will find them to be grossly under inflated.  That’s because when he deflated his tires during a ride, it was at a hot inflation pressure.   His pressures when he checked at the gas station were actually correct – it was merely showing 46 psi because the original 36 pounds per square inch of air had expanded during the ride.

Letting pressure out meant he was actually riding under inflated tires.  It is for this reason it’s essential to check and adjust tire pressures before a ride – a cold inflation pressure.