Learning how to pump bike tires might seem to be something that’s extremely simple and straightforward, but making sure you do it both correctly and efficiently is crucial to ensuring you have a safe and comfortable ride.
Not only this, but it’s also a key skill to know should you encounter any problems on a ride, and have to replace or repair an innertube. Most people think they’ve already got this skill mastered, but differences in bike tires, tubes and valves are more prominent than ever, so making sure you get the correct pressure (or PSI), or even the right pump for your bike, is something that might take a while to completely get your head around.
The following article aims to outline the key factors that will allow you to master this skill, so you can take on any route, road or trail with confidence.
How Do Tires Hold Air?
If you’ve never had a puncture before – whether that’s because you’ve rarely or never ridden a bike, or simply because you’ve been one of those lucky few – then there’s a good chance you won’t know all the ins and outs of exactly how bike tires.
With most bikes, the tires themselves aren’t actually filled with air, but rather they have inner tubes placed inside them that are pumped up in order to fill the inner cavity of the tire itself – much like a pillow inside a pillowcase. When the inner tube is inflated, it pushes against the inner wall of the tire giving it bulk, and allowing it to grip to the riding surface. In more recent years, various manufacturers have released ‘tubeless’ tires.
They work more like cars, where the actual cavity between the metal wheel and the tire is filled with air, and a special sealant seals any gaps to stop the air from escaping. Although tubeless tires are a little bit harder to install and/or pump up, without an inner tube in the wheel, there’s no risk of ‘pinch flats’. Not only this, but tubeless tires can also carry better, due to the rotating motion of inner tubes vs. non-tubed wheels.
Currently, tubeless tires are mainly used for mountain bikes, as they can run at a lower PSI (pressure per square inch), meaning they offer more traction and grip. But they are also starting to be used on other bikes, such as road bikes or hybrid bikes too.
What to Know About Tire Pressure?
Tire pressure is key to maintaining comfort and control on your cruiser bike. Bike tires come with a desired level of pressure – usually on the side of the tire wall – and this shows the PSI (pressure per square inch) that you should run your tires at.
There’s a little bit of give either side, but being as close to that PSI number is possible is the safest and most efficient option when riding. Run your tires on a pressure that’s too high and less of your tire will be in contact with the road surface, meaning you’ll have less grip and be more likely to fall off. Not only this, but a super-high pressure can put unnecessary stress on the tire itself, causing it to slowly come apart, or even burst under large, sudden impact.
Run your tires at a pressure that’s too low, and the air won’t absorb enough impact, meaning you’ll feel more bumps, and the wheel could actually get damaged as well. Riding over rocks or bumps could directly impact the wheel and cause it to crack or snap. Not only this, but low pressure also makes you more likely to get a puncture, as well as the tire coming off altogether, as there won’t be enough pressure to hold it in place.
All in all, when it comes to tire pressure, it’s important to strike a balance that’s both effective for performance, but also safe to ride on too. But remember, the number on the side of the tire is the best and safest option.
What Valve Type Do You Have?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal valve that’s used by every bike tire or inner tube, so depending on the type of valve your bike has, you might need a certain pump or adapter.
There are four main types of bike valves that we’ll quickly go over:
Schrader valves are the most common type of bike valve, especially on entry-level or beginner bikes. They’re also very common on mountain bikes, and are even the same as the ones used in car tires.
The valve itself is essentially a hollow cylinder with a pin inside – once the pin is depressed, air can be pumped in or let out. Because of this simple design, inflating or deflating these tires can be very easy and efficient.
The dust cap on the valve (usually black plastic) helps prevent air from leaking out, or dust and debris from getting in which can prevent the valve from working correctly.
Unlike Schrader valves, Presta valves are only used on bicycles (usually road bikes). This is because they are narrow than Schrader valves, and can, therefore, be used on road bikes, without damaging the structural integrity of the wheel when making the hole for the valve.
In more recent times, however, Presta valves have started to be introduced on various other types of bikes, including hybrid bikes and mountain bikes. Whereas Schrader valves just need their pin pushed down to let air in and out, Presta valves use a type of nut that needs to be unscrewed in order to pump air in or let air out – this also protects from air leakage and debris.
The type of valve on the bike doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse at dealing with certain types of pressures, but rather is best suited for narrower or wider wheels, as well as ease of use for the rider when pumping up their tires.
Because of the added components in their design, Presta valves are a little more prone to breaking or bending than Schrader valves, so it’s important to take a little more care when using them.
They also have a lock ring that keeps them in place against the wheel, and keeps the valve straighter and more secure. Presta valves also use dust caps to keep them clean and act as a second barrier to air leakage.
As tubeless tires don’t have inner tubes to attach their valves to, the valve is actually attached directly to the rim of the wheel.
Tubeless valves vary – some resemble Presta valves, whereas some have more of a likeness to Schrader valves.
Many people are unaware of this, but there’s actually another type of valve that’s known as a Dunlop valve or Woods valve. These are a sort of hybrid between Presta valves and Schrader valves.
Many experienced cyclists go years – or even their lifetime – without ever encountering them, so there’s no need to worry too much about them. It’s just an interesting thing to know!
How to Pump Bike Tire
As mentioned earlier, pumping up your tire to the optimum pressure is ideal – not only for safety whilst riding – but also for comfort and efficiency.
The following points will help you understand the process of pumping up a bike tire, and how to do it correctly.
1. Get a Good Bike Pump
This is an easy mistake to make when not focusing properly, and has often been done by even the most experienced cyclists, but the first thing you need to do is make sure you have the right pump for the type of valve your bike has.
For example, make sure if you have a Presta valve, that your pump is a Presta valve pump, and the same goes with Schrader valves and Schrader pumps. If your bike pump and vale type aren’t compatible, depending on your pump, you might be able to get an adapter that will make it suitable for the different valve types.
The best piece of advice with pumps is to pay a little extra – cheaper pumps won’t last as long and will be harder to get an airtight seal, so consider spending a few more bucks for something that’s more worthwhile.
2. Get the Valve Ready
First things first, remove the valve cap from the end of the valve if there is one. They usually unscrew the same way you might unscrew the lid off a water bottle.
3. Find Out What Tire Pressure You Should Have
It’s important to know what tire pressure you’re looking to achieve before pumping up the tire – this will give you an accurate target to aim for, and prevent you from pumping it up too much and causing damage to either the inner tube or the tire itself.
The desired tire pressure is usually embedded on the external tire wall – find the PSI rating and this will give you an indication of the correct pressure. If you can’t locate this, look online for what other people have said about the type of bike you have (i.e. road bike, mountain bike, hybrid bike).
4. Attach the Pump Carefully
In order to pump up a Schrader valve, place the pump on the end of the valve and lock it in place (this is usually done with a lever or a screw).
The same method applies with Presta valves, however, you’ll have to unscrew the lock nut before placing the pump onto the valve. One the pump is attached to the valve, if you hear a hissing sound, this means air is escaping.
This isn’t always a problem as you can sometimes just pump through it without issues, but if this doesn’t work, you’ll have to re-attach the pump more securely before trying again.
5. Pump Up the Bike Tires
Depending on your bike, you might want to pump anywhere from 40 PSI to over 150 PSI. If your bike pump doesn’t have a pressure gauge on it, you won’t be able to measure the PSI as you pump.
If this is the case, pump the tire up in increments, riding around a little between each one to know if you need to increase the pressure any more. When you finally ride and the bike feels safe and stable, leave it at this PSI.
6. Enjoy Your Ride
If you’ve given your bike a short ride and it feels fine, then that should be it! Keep an eye on your tire pressure by pressing your thumb firmly onto the tire after every ride
But if it stays firm and secure then you shouldn’t have a problem. Go ride, have fun, and explore the outdoors!
How Often Should You Pump Your Bike Tires?
With high-quality bikes and tires or inner tubes, you can often go months at a time without having to pump up your tires.
Having said that, this isn’t always the case. Most people recommend checking your tire pressure after every ride, just to make sure it’s secure and stable, and you haven’t gotten a puncture.
If you start to take riding more seriously, consider picking up a pressure gauge, or a pump with a pressure meter on it – this will give you a much more accurate reading of the tire pressure and take any guesswork out of the equation!
How to pump bike tires isn’t the most complicated or detailed process, but for safety, comfort, and efficiency, it’s important to get this right.
The same way driving on a flat car tire is both dangerous and can damage the car, the same applies to your bike. With different types of bikes, tires, and valves, it’s important that your pump and bike are compatible with each other, or they’re likely to not work properly.
And if you don’t mind forking out the extra cash, it’s good to invest in a pump with a pressure gauge, just to give you a more accurate reading of the PSI. Now that you’ve got the knowhow – get out there and start riding!