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Cycling is a great way to get around, stay in shape, and have fun. But if you don’t know how to use a bike pump, your activities may soon grind to a halt.
Knowing how to inflate tires is a vital part of bike maintenance, whether at home or out on a ride.
This article tells you all you need to know about using a bicycle pump correctly.
Types Of Bike Pumps
A bike pump is a bike pump isn’t it? Not exactly. There are various kinds of bike pump.
Floor Pump (aka Track Pump)
The floor pump is so-named because it stands on the floor during use. It has feet to support it and often includes a built-in pressure gauge. This is not usually a portable pump, so you either use it at home or keep it in the trunk of a car.
One of the great benefits of using a floor pump is the ease with which you can pump up tires, including high-pressure road tires. The long piston and barrel of the pump ensures this, coupled with the fact you’re pushing against the floor for greater efficiency.
Of course, the ability to see the air-pressure level as you pump up the tire is also useful. Using a separate pressure gauge is less convenient as you must disconnect the pump to check the pressure.
Frame pumps used to be very common on bikes. They’re usually carried under the top tube or along the seat tube of a traditional “diamond frame” bike. This means most road-style bikes or touring bikes.
On older bikes, it was common to have braze-ons built into the frame (pump pegs) as a way of attaching a pump. You can still install pump pegs to hold a pump or use Velcro straps.
A benefit of frame pumps like the Zefal HPX-4 over mini-pumps is their longer piston and barrel, which makes it easier to reach high pressures on narrow tires.
Portable enough to store in a jersey pocket, mini-pumps are ideal for roadside repairs. They are designed to suit either road tires or MTB tires.
Mini-pumps meant for road tires like the Lezyne Road Drive have a narrower barrel in order to reach higher pressures.
An MTB mini-pump will have a fatter barrel with the aim of pumping more air volume into a bigger tire, but it’ll struggle to go far beyond 40-50 PSI in pressure.
Which Pump Should I Use For My Tire?
Based on the type of bike you have, as well as other factors, you can make logical decisions about which pump you might use.
Presta vs Schrader
There are two main types of valve you’ll find on bike wheels: Presta and Schrader valves. A Presta valve is 6mm wide, while a Schrader valve is fatter at 8mm wide. A third, less common type of valve is the Dunlop valve.
A Presta valve also has a tip that unscrews before you can add or release air.
These valve types aren’t only decided by the tires or tubes you have fitted. The rims of your wheels are drilled to accommodate a certain valve width or diameter.
In general, sportier bikes like road bikes, MTBs and hybrids will almost always have the thinner Presta valves. Heavier bikes like cruisers or city bikes are more likely to use Schrader or Dunlop valves. Schrader valves are also found on motor vehicles.
Road Bike / Hybrid Pumps
The majority of road-bike riders (roadies) probably use a floor pump at home and carry a high-pressure mini-pump and/or CO2 inflater with them on rides.
A cycling traditionalist might use a frame pump at home and on the road.
Tires on hybrid bikes are usually wider and inflated to what you might call a “medium” pressure. You can use road-bike pumps for these.
MTB Pumps / Cruiser Pumps
Suitable mountain bike pumps include a floor pump at home or an MTB mini-pump. For bigger, fatter tires, you need a pump that delivers high air volume rather than high pressure.
What Tire Pressure Do I Need For My Bicycle?
In line with Boyle’s Law, the bigger and wider a bicycle tire is, the less air pressure is required to achieve sufficient firmness. For this reason, you cannot use tire pressure to reliably predict comfort levels between different tire widths.
Let’s look at a few bikes and their typical tire pressures.
Unless the rider is extremely light, tires on a road bike will typically be pumped up to 80-120 PSI in pressure. This reflects their narrow width and function as fast-rolling tires on relatively smooth surfaces.
Hybrids are placed between road bikes and MTBs in their intended use. It’s hence unsurprising that they have a “medium” tire pressure of around 50-70 PSI.
Gravel bike tires might fall anywhere between 30-80 PSI in air pressure. You’d typically run a softer pressure when riding off-road in order to absorb more vibration.
Owing to their size, MTB tires are run at very low pressures of around 25-50 PSI. As with all tires, the correct tire pressure is decided by the width of the tire, the weight of the rider and the nature of the terrain.
Video: Choosing The Right Pressure For MTB Tires
Beach cruisers are often fitted with big “balloon tires”, which historically were an early version of fat tires. Tire pressures are in the same ballpark as MTB tires at 30-60 PSI.
How Do I Use The Pump?
We can divide bicycle pumps into two main types: hand and floor pumps.
Using A Hand Pump
Hand pumps include frame pumps and mini-pumps. With either type, you hold the barrel of the pump with one hand while the other grips the handle.
If you’re using a hand pump, chances are it won’t have a pressure gauge built into it. You can use a separate pressure gauge to measure the current tire pressure. This gives you an indication of how much air you’ll need to put in to achieve your required result.
2. Connect Pump Hose
Most hand pumps have a hose that screws into the valve. Before you screw the hose on, you need to unscrew the valve tip if it’s a Presta valve. It’s a good idea to release a little air before you connect the pump hose.
Some hand pumps have a push-on head and a cam lever to secure the pump to the valve. Note: you must unscrew the tip of a Presta valve before connecting the pump.
3. Pump Up The Tire
Once the hose is connected to both valve and pump, begin pumping. Note that most air goes into the tire at the end of the pump stroke, so it’s wise to push the piston all the way into the barrel each time.
4. Check Pressure
If you have a pressure gauge, check the PSI (or bar) level of the tire once it seems to be getting firm. Squeeze the tire with your fingers to see how much it yields. Usually when a tire is adequately pumped up, it won’t give much with finger pressure alone.
5. Disconnect Pump
When you’ve sufficiently pumped up your tire (reaching the desired PSI if you’re measuring that), disconnect the pump hose from the valve. If you’re working with a Presta valve, screw the tip back down to complete the process.
Using A Floor Pump
A similar process takes place with a floor pump:
1. Select Correct Valve Connection
Many floor pumps have both Presta and Schrader connectors in their pump head. You have to ascertain which one you need for your bike.
2. Connect Pump Head To Valve
A floor pump most often has a push-on head that secures to the valve using a cam lever. Release a little air from the valve before connecting. With a Presta valve, unscrew the tip before connection.
3. Check Pressure
Most floor pumps have a built-in pressure gauge. As you connect the pump, you should get a pressure reading on the gauge. The gauge will typically have PSI and bar pressure scales.
4. Pump Up The Tire
Pump up the tire to your required pressure, which you can conveniently see on the gauge of most floor pumps as you pump. Again, try to push the handle all the way into the pump barrel for maximum efficiency.
5. Disconnect Pump
Disconnect the pump when the correct pressure is reached. Screw the tip back down on a Presta valve. Put the dust cap back on (optional).
A CO2 inflater fires compressed carbon dioxide into a tire and inflates it instantly. You attach a CO2 cartridge to the inflator, push it onto the valve, and push a button or lever to inflate. Avoid touching the cartridge during use, as it becomes freezing cold.
What Should I Do If The Tire Does Not Inflate?
What do you do when your tire refuses to inflate?
Is it hard to get air into the tire? Tap the valve a few times to let air out before pumping air in. It’s often impossible to pump up a tire without this step.
If air goes out as soon as you pump it in, you may have a puncture or a faulty valve. Replacing the tube fixes this. Check the tire carefully for sharp items that may cause repeated punctures.
With tubeless tires, this problem might mean the tire bead has not sealed or the “bung” on the valve is not doing its job (cone-shaped bungs work well).