How to Use a Bike Pump: Step-by-Step Guide

Looking to hit the road after a while? Now that your bike is done with waiting in the garage, it’s about time that you inspected the tires to ensure that they are inflated well enough for safe and enjoyable riding experience. After all, you sure don’t want a flat tire to ruin your journey.

Regardless of whether you are new to cycling or an old hand at that, investing in a good-quality bike pump is crucial if you don’t wish to be out of riding for long because of a tire puncture that could also see you stranded in the middle of nowhere. Get yourself a bicycle pump today (unless you have done that already) and feel confident to tackle punctures on the go.

Before we walk you through the steps involved in inflating tires with a bike pump, here’s a quick rundown of the different types of pumps that are in prevalence today.

bike pumps

Floor Pumps: A popular choice for inflating tires at home, these are tall pumps with large air chambers. They can reach higher pressures and do not require a lot of time or significant effort to inflate tires.

Stand Pumps: These pumps are designed for pumping bike tires that require low air pressure.

Hand Pumps: Small-sized hand pumps are travel-friendly and ideal for emergency usage on the road. They are, however, not the best choice for homes because they are not meant for regular use and entail significant effort to achieve full tire inflation.

Frame Pumps: These long and slender pumps can deliver high-pressure air, which is desirable for road bikes. They require lesser strokes for tire inflation and are usually fitted along the bike’s top tube to pump up tires.

Mini-Pumps: Slim-shaped mini pumps boast greater portability than frame pumps. However, they require considerable pumping because of their small air chamber size.

CO2 Inflators: These pumps rely on single-use, carbon dioxide-filled cartridges for the rapid inflation of bike tires.

With all that out of the way, let’s figure out how to use a bike pump correctly to pump your bike’s tires like a pro.


#1 Choose the Right Pump for Your Bicycle Tires

A bike pump works by fitting the pump’s nozzle to the tire’s valve to press air into the tubes. Bicycle tire valves are of two types: Presta and Schrader. You can determine the type of valve in use for your cycle’s tire by inspecting the tire for the valve’s physical attributes.

valves

If the valve is tall and narrow and equipped with a locking nut at the top, it is a Presta valve. If the tire features a wider black valve that is flat at the end and that resembles a car tire valve, it is a Schrader valve.

Choosing the right bike pump is important because not all pumps can fit both Presta and Schrader valves. While most modern pump models come with dual heads to accommodate both the types of valves (a bigger nozzle for Schrader valves and a smaller hole for Presta valves), yet there are a few bike pumps that are specific to a particular type of valve and may require the use of an adapter for added compatibility.

If you are unsure of your tire’s valve type, you can always seek expert opinion from a professional at a local bike shop.


#2 Determine the Recommended Pressure for Your Bike’s Tires

recommended tire pressure

When inflating your cycle’s tires, it is imperative to keep the air pressure within the recommended range. This is to prevent over-inflation that could adversely affect your ride’s quality and, in the worst scenario, blow the tire off the rim.

Similar to car tires, the air pressure for bike tires is measured in pounds per square inch or PSI. You can check your tire’s sidewall to determine the manufacturer’s recommended PSI range – usually 80-130 psi for road bikes and 25-35 psi for MTBs. Your weight and riding style will determine the appropriate psi for you within the recommended range.


#3 Check Your Tire Valve for A Dust Cap

It is not uncommon for valves to feature plastic cap coverings at the top. If your tire valve has a dust cap on it, rotate it counterclockwise to unscrew it and take it off.


#4 Open Your Valve

This step only applies to a Presta valve because a Schrader valve comes ready to pump. Presta valves are equipped with locking nuts at the top, which require unscrewing to open the valves before pumping air into the tires.

In a usual scenario, the locking nut should be easy to unscrew with several turns to the left. However, it may so happen that you are finding it hard to loosen it because you are bike has been lying unused for a while. If so, a pair of pliers will work just fine to slacken the nut.


#5 Securely Attach the Pump Head onto the Valve

Once the valve is ready to accept the pump head, press the pump’s nozzle down onto the valve and ensure that the head is firmly held in place by lifting the pump’s lever so that it is at a 90-degree angle. This will avoid any unwanted loss of air.

attaching the pump head to the valve

Do note that not all pumps are designed with levers that need to be pulled up. Some bike pumps may feature switches that require flipping down or levers that require pushing in to fasten the nozzle to the valve.

One of the ways to determine whether the pump’s head has been correctly attached to the valve or not is to observe the tire at the time of pumping. If the tire fails to expand while pumping or if you notice air seeping out instead of going into the valve, it could imply that the pump head has not been attached properly and you need to remove it and reattach it.


#6 Leverage Your Hands or Body Weight to Pump Tires

Once the nozzle head has been fitted onto the valve properly, your bike’s tires are good to inflate. When pumping with a hand pump, use one hand to hold the pump head tightly on the valve and the other for pumping. If you are using a freestanding floor pump, place your feet on the base to keep the pump still and use both arms to pull and push the pump handle.


#7 Ensure Optimal Air Pressure During Tire Inflation

An optimal PSI can ensure your bike’s tires have just the right amount of air to roll fast and smoothly. Leverage the pressure gauge on your pump to find out how much air is remaining in the tire and how much more is needed for full inflation.

checking bike tire pressure

If your pump doesn’t feature a gauge, you can use your thumb to feel the tire for its hardness. Alternately, you can grip both sides of the tire and squeeze to check whether the tire feels firm enough. The level of stiffness will indicate whether the tire has been properly inflated or not.


#8 Detach the Pump Nozzle Carefully to Avoid Loss of Air

After you are done with pumping the tires to the desired air pressure, flip the switch on the pump’s head to loosen the nozzle and detach it. Next, tighten the locking nut clockwise to firmly close the valve (applies to Presta valves only). Follow this by replacing the valve’s dust cap as soon as possible to avoid considerable air loss.


#9 Start Riding

Pat yourself on the back as you have successfully inflated your bicycle tires using a bike pump. You are now all set to shred the tarmac on your own or in a group with rides that feel safe, smooth and stable for long hours in the saddle.

About the author
How to Use a Bike Pump: Step-by-Step Guide — Bike Hacks