My pump, a Park Tools PFP-4 professional floor pump, has an analog pressure gauge mounted high, near the top of the chamber. I can’t really read it anymore, because my eyes won’t focus at that distance either with or without my glasses on, and that’s just as well, because I don’t really care what it says. I prefer the squeeze test, and bike nerds of all shapes and sizes are gasping and clutching their pearls as they read that.
Gordon Ramsay, Earth’s (least) favorite, abusive, profanity-spewing, celebrity chef pokes himself in the soft center of his cheek. “That’s raw,” he says. He moves the finger slightly outward, toward the ear and pokes again. “That’s rare,” he continues. Then farther out, he pokes again, “Medium,” he says. Then finally again at the temple. “Well-done,” he finishes. “Now what is the f*%king temperature of that pork line, you knob?”
I believe, just as every good cook should be able to assess the doneness of their protein by touching it, every good cyclist should be able to assess the appropriateness of their tire pressure via the squeeze test.
“But that’s so subjective and inaccurate!” the nerds whine. And to them I say, there are simply too many factors intruding upon the scientific reality of correct tire pressures. I don’t care what spreadsheet you’ve got and what pretty words you frame it with. I squeeze my tire, and I know if it’s right or not. My judgement, like any competent chef’s, is based on years of touching and squeezing and riding and knowing. I consider the air temperature, the ride terrain, the ground moisture, the need for speed, and I pump until I’m just a little past where I think I need to be. Then I squeeze and adjust by letting air out, until I feel in my bones (IN MY BONES!!) that my tire is optimally inflated.
Apropos of nothing: Momma’s got a squeeze box. Daddy never sleeps at night. Anyone with credible information on just WTF that means, please drop some science in the comments. Please also inform me how/why a rock band from London got in their heads that sticking a campy, country song in the middle of their 7th album made any kind of sense. I suppose it was the ’70s, and everyone was high on jazz cigarettes. Still, it’s irritating.
I do NOT want to talk about tire pressures with you, but I AM willing to squeeze your tire and tell you whether I think you’re on the right track or not. You’re welcome.
Digressing once more, think about the term “main squeeze.” This is a colloquialism denoting a person’s significant other, the person they mainly squeeze. The disturbing connotation is that there might be minor squeezes, tangential squeezes, random squeezes. Human people are not tires. Please only squeeze consensually.
If a friend asks me if their tire pressure is right, I give them my complimentary squeeze test and then, before I deliver a verdict, I smell my fingers, perhaps even dabbing them across my tongue for a taste, like a backwoods hunter tracking prey. Then I say something like, “I’d drop it a pound or two,” which isn’t even a thing when you’re just tap-tapping at the valve with an already gloved finger. “Psssssst,” it says. “Psst. Psst.”
There. Nailed it.
Look, you can buy a meat thermometer and jam into your steaks and burgers over and over until it tells you what you want to hear, but the juices are leaking out that whole time, and you’re probably not even putting it in the right place. Go ahead and start poking your food and gaining the requisite sensitivity to the firmness of the flesh’s texture. It will take some little time, but it will be worth it.
My full apologies to our vegetarian and vegan readers. For you I have chosen the following, substitute metaphor. You know how when you shake someone’s hand, and they give you the “dead fish” or the “steel claw,” and you draw deep and immediate conclusions about their worth as a human? Yeah. It’s like that, the only difference being that you can’t change a person’s basic character out on the road or trail to suit your whims for that day. If only.
In conclusion, please stop futzing with your bike and go out of the doors of your house and ride it. Your tires will be too hard or too soft some of the time, but the more you think about this the less you will feel the wind against your face and the thrill of your body moving through space, and the more you are going to aggravate your riding companions, especially if one of them is me.