Knowing how to pump up a bike tyre 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, tyres and pressures. To help you feel more confident and knowledgeable about pumping up your bike tyres, and why it matters, we've put together this handy 'How-to' guide for pumping up a bike tyre.
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Before we get into the detail of how to pump up a bike tyre, 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 recognise 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 tyres. 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 tyre. Schrader connections require a pin to push down the spring, whereas presta valves are opened via the lock ring.
How to connect the pump
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.
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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 tyre. 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 tyres, 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 pressurised 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.
Whatever valve stem your bike has, it's effectively just glued to rubber. With this, it's important to be gentle when inflating your tyres. 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.
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How do I know what pressure to pump my tyres to?
Each tyre manufacturer will specify different tyre pressures. It's always best to stick to manufacturers specifications which are most often found on the side wall of the tyre. Road bike tyres will generally run at a higher pressure than mountain bike tyres, typically a range of 80-120psi for road, 40-80psi for hybrids and 25-45psi for mountain bikes.
Not having enough pressure in your tyre could lead to pinch flats, spongy feeling when cornering and a decrease in performance. Pumping up your tyres in excess of the manufacturers maximum limit could result in an overall harsh ride feel with poor traction, or worst, your tyre could explode off the rim.
How often should I pump up my tyres
All tyres will slowly lose pressure which may happen faster depending on how often they are used, the condition of the tube and tyre, and the temperature of the air around it. Continental recommend checking your tyre pressure before each use, which for the recreational cyclist, could be as simple as a firm press of the tyre 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;