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How to Pump Up a Bike Tire

October 05, 2016

Knowing how to pump up a bike tire is a fundamental component of cycling, but for someone that is new to cycling it can be a little daunting with all the different types of valves, tires and pressures. To help you feel more confident and knowledgeable about pumping up your bike tires, and why it matters, we've put together this handy 'How-to' guide for pumping up a bike tire.

Valve types

fullpage How to pump a bike tyre BikeExchange 2017 valves

Before we get into the detail of how to pump up a bike tire, it's important to know you'll come across two different types of valves; Presta and Schrader.

Presta valves (aka - high pressure or 'French' valves) are most commonly found on higher-end bikes and are easy to recognize because they are significantly narrower than schrader valves and feature a lock ring at the top that closes the valve. Schrader valves are most commonly found on recreational and kids bikes, they are also the same valves used on car tires. These type of valves are wider than presta valves and have a round opening at the top with a spring mechanism in the middle that is used to open and close the passage of air.

As each valve is different, unique connections at the pump head are often required to pump up the corresponding tire. Schrader connections require a pin to push down the spring, whereas presta valves are opened via the lock ring.

How to connect the pump

fullpage How to pump a bike tyre BikeExchange 2017 pump heads

Most modern pumps have two connections, one for presta valves and one for schrader valves. Pesta valve connections are distinguishable by the narrow opening, while schrader connections have a larger opening. Some pumps will automatically adjust to work with both valve types, so it's best to read the instructions of your pump if you're unsure.

Once you have identified the correct pump head to use, it's time to connect the pump.

If you have a presta valve, you'll need to remove the dust cap (if there is one), unscrew the lock ring at the top of the valve and press down on the head of the valve. Pressing on the head of the valve will ensure the pathway of air isn't stuck which would otherwise prevent air entering the tire. If you have a schrader valve, unscrew the valve cap and firmly connect the pump head to the valve. It also pays to press down on the spring mechanism in the middle of the schrader valve for the same reason you press on the presta valve.

Pump heads will either be screw on or a simple push on and lock process. Pumps heads that are required to be screwed on will have a threaded end, whereas a lever arm or locking mechanism will be present on a pump that you simply push on and lock into place.

You may hear air escaping when you attach the pump which is totally fine because you are about to pump it up anyway, however, if you continue to hear air escaping once the pump is attached and locked into place, then you may need to try the connection again. You shouldn't hear any air escaping if the pump is connected correctly.

Once you have finished pumping up your tires, remove the head of the pump quickly without bending or moving the valve. You will hear a release of air which is most likely just pressurized air from the pump and not from the tyre.

For presta valves, remember to screw the lock ring back into place. It doesn't need to be overly tight, just finger tight so that no air escapes if pressing on it. If you have a schrader valve, remember to put back the valve cap, this will keep the spring mechanism clean.

fullpage How to pump a bike tire BikeExchange 2017 valve angle

Be gentle

Whatever valve stem your bike has, it's effectively just glued to rubber. With this, it's important to be gentle when inflating your tires. Pay close attention to connecting the pump head as square (straight) to the valve as possible. If using a hand pump, be careful to brace the valve so that you are not bending it with every pump stroke. And when removing the pump, pull it away in as straight of a line as you connected it.

How do I know what pressure to pump my tires to?

fullpage How to pump a bike tyre BikeExchange 2017 max pressure

Each tire manufacturer will specify different tire pressures. It's always best to stick to manufacturers specifications which are most often found on the side wall of the tire. Road bike tires will generally run at a higher pressure than mountain bike tires, typically a range of 80-120psi for road, 40-80psi for hybrids and 25-45psi for mountain bikes.

Not having enough pressure in your tire could lead to pinch flats, spongy feeling when cornering and a decrease in performance. Pumping up your tires in excess of the manufacturers maximum limit could result in an overall harsh ride feel with poor traction, or worst, your tire could explode off the rim.

How often should I pump up my tires

All tires will slowly lose pressure which may happen faster depending on how often they are used, the condition of the tube and tire, and the temperature of the air around it. Continental recommend checking your tire pressure before each use, which for the recreational cyclist, could be as simple as a firm press of the tire to make sure it's not spongy or flat.

We hope this How-to has been handy, be sure to check out other BikeExchange Workshops 'How-to's' here;

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