How To Pump a Bike Tire

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If you plan to ride your bike on a regular basis, you need to put safety first. A key safety step is making sure that your bike tires are always properly inflated. If you’re unfamiliar with how to pump a bike tire, this post will show you how easy it is.

Why tires need to be properly inflated

Bike tires were created to give riders relief from the jarring qualities of solid wheels. The air inside a bike tire creates a spring effect, which in turn provides suspension for you as you ride your bike.

Tires conform to the terrain underneath the bike. This provides you with better traction and grip.

Pumping up your tires is a relatively simple task, and it can dramatically improve the enjoyment and efficiency of your riding experience. On the other hand, if you ride with incorrect pressure, it can lead to an uncomfortable ride while also placing you in harm’s way.

How to check bike tire pressure

It’s important to check your pressure on a regular basis. Even though you can eyeball your tires and feel them to see if they’re soft or flat, you should also get an objective measurement of pressure on a regular basis.

To check the pressure of your bike’s tire, open the valve attached to the tire. Connect a tire pressure gauge to the valve. The pressure in your tires will register with the pressure checker, providing you with an accurate measurement.

Some bike pumps come with a pressure gauge attached, so you can see the pressure as you pump.

close up of the tire pressure gauge on a bike pump
Many bike pumps come with tire pressure gauges attached like this one, but you can also buy them separately. (© Pedal Street)

How often should you check bike tire pressure?

You should measure the pressure in your tires regularly. In general, the higher the pressure in your tires, the more often they should be checked. For example, a high-pressure road bike should have its pressure checked at least once per week. If you ride a hybrid bike, it should be checked every two weeks. Mountain bike tires should be checked every three weeks. The more often you ride your bike, the more frequently you should check your pressure.

What should bike tire pressure be?

The ideal pressure for your bike will depend on the style, make and model. In general, the pressure inside of bike tires should range between 80 PSI to 130 PSI. If you are looking for a precise measurement, most bike tires have the recommended pressure stamped on the rubber sidewall of the tire. Find this to get an accurate recommendation.

raised lettering on side of a bike tire showing the recommended air pressure
Not sure how much to inflate your tires? Check for raised lettering with a recommended PSI. (© Pedal Street)

How a bicycle pump works

Bicycle pumps use compressed air to inject air into your tires. A pump makes a secure connection with the valve of your tire, preventing air from escaping. Then, you use a lever that engages a piston to pump the air. When you push the lever down, the available space in the bicycle pump’s chamber is reduced. Therefore, the pressure in your pump exceeds the pressure of the air in the tires. Air naturally flows from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. In this case, it moves from your bicycle pump into the tire.

As the tire fills with air, the difference in pressure between the pump and the tire is going to decrease. That is why it gets harder to put air in your tires as you continue to pump.

Picking the right bike pump

If you are trying to find the right pump for your bicycle, first look at your tire valves. You should be looking at pumps that will connect securely to these valves.

You should also seek out a bicycle pump that’s relatively easy for you to use without getting tired.

Two types of bike tire valves

There are two common types of valves. They are:

Schrader valve

Schrader valves are common in less expensive bikes and mountain bikes. If you take a close look at these valves, you will realize that they are the same types of valves you see on car tires, and they come with a cap.

split image of a schrader bike tire valve with the cap on and off
A Schrader valve with the cap on (left) and off. (© Pedal Street)

Make sure you replace the cap on Schrader valves when you are done inflating your tires. The design of this valve is susceptible to contamination from grit and dirt if you forget to put the cap back on.

Presta valve

Presta valves are found only on bikes. These valves are commonly found on road bikes and newer mountain bikes. They are usually easier to use. Furthermore, the valve seals itself automatically because the pressure inside the tires keeps the valve shut.

split image of a presta bike tire valve with the cap on and off
A Presta valve with the cap on (left) and off. (© Pedal Street)

Even though these valves deal with contamination a bit better, they are also more fragile than Schrader valves.

Presta valve adapters: If you need to pump your bike’s tires using a Presta, you either need a pump designed for Presta valves, or a separate Presta valve adapter to make your pump compatible. You can use this adapter to connect your Presta to any traditional bike pump.

Closeup of a Presta valve adapter
A Presta valve adapter typically screws on to the top of your valve, allowing it to connect with a pump made for Schrader valves. (© Pedal Street)

How to pump a bike tire

If you need to put air in your tires, here are the steps:

Step 1: Prepare the valve

First, you need to prepare the valve. If you are using a Schrader valve, you simply need to take off the cap. If you have Presta valves, you may need to attach an adapter depending on your style of pump.

Step 2: Connect the pump to the valve

After this, connect your bike pump to the valve itself. Make sure you have a solid seal between the valve and the pump. If your pumps cause the connector to fall off, this means that you don’t have a secure attachment to the valve.

bicycle pump connected to valve
You want a solid connection between your pump and your valve. (© Pedal Street)

Step 3: Inflate the tire

Most bicycle pumps have a lever that has to be rotated or flipped 90 degrees to secure the pump to the valve before you start pumping.

split image of a bike pump connecting to a valve with lever down on the left and up on the right
This particular pump is attached with the lever down (left), but the lever must be raised to secure the connection and begin pumping. Instructions vary for different pumps. (© Pedal Street)

Be sure to read the instructions on your pump so you know how to inflate your tires using that particular pump. Usually, there is a lever or handle that you pump repeatedly to drive the piston, putting air into your bike’s tires.

Step 4: Disconnect the pump

If you had to rotate the lever before pumping, rotate it back in the other direction. After this, pull the nozzle from the valve. If you hear a little bit of air escaping from the valve, this is normal. It should not impact your pressure dramatically. But try for a quick, clean detachment. The slower you act, the more air is likely to escape during detachment.

Step 5: Check pressure

Before you close the valve completely, get your pressure gauge and make sure the pressure is appropriate. If the pressure is too high, release some more air. If the pressure is too low, re-attach the pump and add some more air.

Step 6: Close the valve

Finally, close the valve. If you are using a Schrader valve, simply screw the cap back on. If you are using a Presta valve, the valve should seal itself thanks to the pressure inside of the bike’s tire, but you should still screw the tiny ring at the top of the valve down as far as it will go. Remember to remove the Presta adapter if you used one to put air in your tires.

ring on the top of a presta bike valve
The Presta valve is topped with a ring that should be unscrewed to loosen before pumping, then tightened again afterward. (© Pedal Street)

How to remove air from your tire

You might find the pressure in your bike’s tires to be too high. In this situation, you need to let a bit of air out.

With a Schrader valve, if you look inside the valve you should see a little pin. Insert the tip of a key or small screwdriver into the valve and depress the top of this pin. You should hear air release from the tires. Let a bit out, check the pressure, and repeat if necessary.

releasing air from a bike tire's schrader valve
The tip of a key is usually small enough to press down on the pin inside a Schrader valve and release some air. (© Pedal Street)

With a Presta valve, it’s easier. Just unscrew the ring so it’s a bit loose at the top of the valve, then press down on the pin at the top of the valve. Again, you should hear that rush of air. When you are done, simply re-tighten the ring and check your pressure.

Knowing how to deflate tires slightly is an important part of how to pump a bike tire.