So, you need to know how to pump a bike tire because you’ve probably got a bike that’s been sitting unused for a while and now has two flat tires, right?
In this short yet comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything there is to know about the topic of bicycle tire pumping, so that you know exactly what you need to do to get your bike back in a roadworthy condition.
If you’re unfamiliar with bike tire valve types, it’s worth reading my valve type article, which will help identify the valve type you have and, subsequently, which pump you’ll require to inflate your tire.
If you already know which bike tire pump type you’ll need, keep reading, and I’ll help you inflate those tires to the optimum pressure!
What PSI Should My Tires Be?
The pressure or PSI of your bike tires drastically changes how your bike feels and responds whilst you’re cycling.
High-pressure tires provide a higher rolling speed due to decreased rolling resistance, whereas low-pressure tires have increased rolling resistance but offer improved traction and control.
The best place to find out what PSI your tire needs is on your tire’s sidewall (side of the tire).
When inspecting the sidewall, we’re looking for the tire’s Min (minimum) and Max (maximum) PSI (Pounds per square inch). The image below shows an example of what you can expect to find on your tire.
Usually, you’ll also find something like 622-25 (700 x 25 – 28 x 1.00) on the side of a bike tire. Ignore this reading as it’s referring to the tire’s size rather than its pressure.
Check both sides of the tire, as some brands only display pressure recommendations on one side.
Once you’ve located your tire’s recommended pressure markings, you’ll want to consider your riding style, and if riding competitively, it’s worth considering factors such as the current weather conditions.
The best way to find your preferred tire pressure is by using a tire pressure gauge.
Bike tire pressure gauges are much more accurate than a pump’s pressure gauge and allow you to fine-tune your pressure preference.
I explain more about these devices at the bottom of my guide to bike pumps and recommend a smart pressure gauge to anyone who takes cycling seriously and wants to improve their riding performance.
As higher tire pressures increase rolling speed and lose less momentum on flat ground due to decreased surface contact, road bike tires are prime candidates for being inflated to a higher psi.
Your average road bike tires will work well between 80 – 130 PSI, but some competitive riders will push their tire pressure as high as 160 psi, for the decreased rolling resistance this provides.
Alternatively, if you commute to work by road bike and would prefer to reduce the vibrations your feel through your bike seat, inflating your tires to 80 psi will allow your tires to dampen the vibrations and shocks from the road.
Riding with your mountain bike tires at lower pressure will increase traction, making this a good option for rainy days or muddy conditions, but sacrificing speed due to increased rolling resistance.
Unlike road bikes, mountain bike tires benefit from being inflated to different pressures. Your front tire should generally be two psi lower than your rear tire.
So, for example, if your front tire sits at 24 psi, you should inflate your rear tire to 26 psi. This can be tuned to your preference, so having a tire pressure gauge to hand is a great way to find your optimum psi setup.
Inflating your rear tire slightly higher than your front will provide increased puncture protection and higher rolling speeds, improving your overall performance.
Because terrain tends to be much more varied when riding off-road, you’ll want to pay closer attention to your tire pressure when riding a mountain bike.
Keep adjusting until you find your preferred pressures for each environment and adjust accordingly before setting out.
How To Use a Bike Pump
Before we begin inflating your bike tire, you’ll need to identify which bike tire valve type your bike has.
As previously mentioned, my bike tire valve type guide will help you quickly identify your valve type and explain how each valve works and which bike pump type you’ll need.
Once you’ve worked out which of the three-valve types you have, proceed to the corresponding inflation steps below, which will teach you how to pump your bike tire.
How to Pump a Presta Valve
Presta valves are increasingly common on both mountain and road bikes.
They’re straightforward to use and require little to no maintenance as long as you inflate them properly.
To inflate a Presta bike tire, follow these steps:
- Remove the valve stem cap (dust cap) and inspect the top of the valve for any dirt or grime.
- If there is any visible dirt or grime on the valve, remove it with a clean, dry cloth.
- Unscrew the valve core nut until it’s loose, and then, before inflation, push the core down to release a short burst of air. This expells any remaining dirt and dust around the top of the valve.
- Next, attach your Presta-compatible pump (or a Schrader pump with a Presta adapter) to your tire’s valve. Some pumps must be screwed onto the valve’s threading to form a seal, while others clamp in place with a small lever.
- Begin pumping your bicycle tire until the desired air pressure is reached (click here to determine what tire pressure your tires require).
- Once inflated, remove your pump from the valve. You’ll hear a small burst of air when removing it, don’t worry, this is air escaping from the pump rather than your tire.
- Next, tighten the valve core nut to sit on the top of the valve stem and hold the valve core pin in its closed position.
- To finish, return your valve stem cap (dust cap) to the top of the valve. If you’re not using dust caps, this article will let you know what you’re missing out on.
How to Pump a Presta Valve Without an Adapter
If your bike pump is only Schrader compatible and you don’t have an adapter, there is an old trick you can use, but you’ll require a dust cap (Presta-compatible) to do this.
Please note that this step only works with pumps that have a lever seal.
- Remove your valve stem cap from your Presta valve and brush away any dirt or grime from the cap and valve stem using a clean, dry cloth.
- Take a sharp knife or scissors and cut the top of the cap off using a chopping board, where the smooth top meets the textured section (see image).
- Loosen the valve core nut on your Presta valve and press it down briefly to release a sharp burst of air.
- With the dust cap upside down, screw it onto the valve so that the threads attach and secure the dust cap on the stem.
- Take your Schrader pump, and using its lever, seal the pump over the open end of the dust cap.
- Begin to inflate the tire as you would normally, being careful not to place strain on the dust cap, or it may loosen or leak air.
- Where this is such a rudimentary method of tire inflation, you might not be able to achieve super-high tire pressure with this method, but you’ll at least be able to inflate your tire enough to be ridden on.
- To finish, remove the makeshift Presta adapter and tighten your valve stem nut back down to hold your valve closed.
- Now either glue your cap back together or replace it with a new one available online or in any good bike store.
How to Pump a Schrader Valve
Since their invention in 1891, Schrader valves have been used by almost all automobiles with pneumatic tires.
But how do you pump a Schrader valve?
- Remove the stem cap from the top of your Schrader valve and wipe away any visible dirt or grime with a clean, dry cloth.
- Take a thin pointed object like a pen or pencil and poke down on the valve core pin to release a quick blast of air. This sudden release of air will remove any hidden gunk, preventing it from entering the valve.
- Once you’re sure your Schrader valve is clean, attach your pump to the top of the valve. Some pumps will wind onto the thread, whilst others will slip over the top and clamp in place with a lever/switch.
- Inflate your tire until you’re happy with its pressure. To learn what pressure your tire supports, click here.
- To finish, remove the pump from the valve and replace your valve stem cap (dust cap).
How to Pump a Dunlop Valve (Woods Valve)
Whilst Dunlop valves look somewhat exotic, they’re surprisingly easy to inflate. All you’ll need to inflate a Dunlop valve is a Presta-compatible bike pump.
- Remove the valve stem cap from your Dunlop valve, and using a clean cloth, wipe away any dirt from the top of the valve.
- Attach your Presta-compatible bike pump to the top of the valve and secure it in place.
- Begin inflating until you reach your desired tire pressure.
- Remove your pump and re-attach your stem cap (dust cap). When removing your pump, it’s normal to hear a small release of pressure.
- Ready to ride!
How to Deflate a Bike Tire
For pumps that don’t feature a dump valve, if you accidentally overinflate your tire, you’ll need to remove your pump and deflate the tire manually.
I understand deflating a bike tire can be fiddly and confusing if you’re not familiar with the different bicycle valve types.
I put together the simple steps required to deflate each valve type in my guide to bicycle valves.
If you know which valve type your bike uses, click the corresponding button below. Otherwise, read this short guide which will help you identify your valve and then deflate it!
Of all bike tire valve types, Presta valves are the easiest to deflate.
To deflate a Presta valve:
- Remove the dust cap from the top of your Presta valve
- Loosen the valve core nut (the small cylindrical shaped nut on the top of the valve core rod)
- Once loosened, press down on the valve core, and air should leave the tire. If no air comes out, further loosen the nut and depress it again.
- Once deflated sufficiently, replace the dust cap.
Deflating a Schrader valve is slightly fiddly but easily achievable, and no specialist tools are required.
- Remove the dust cap from the end of the Schrader valve and place it to one side.
- Using your finger or a pointy tool such as a screwdriver or Allen key, press down the spring-loaded core that sits inside the Schrader valve.
- Once you’ve deflated the tire enough, replace the dust cap and you’re good to go!
Unlike a Schrader or Presta valve, Woods valves don’t have a depressable core, so you’ll need to remove the core to deflate a Dunlop valve.
- Remove the valve stem cap from your woods valve.
- Remove the top nut from the valve stem.
- If your tires are inflated to a high pressure, complete step 4 with concentration and care.
- Firmly grip the valve core and slowly pull it out of the valve stem.
- Air should begin to escape from underneath the valve core, which may be pushed out quickly, so grip it tightly!
- Once deflated, return the core to its original position and re-attach the top nut and valve stem cap.
FAQs - How to Pump a Bicycle Tire
Go to Your Local Bike Shop
Every bike shop will have access to a pump and will almost always be willing to inflate your tires for you or lend you a pump to use free of charge.
If you don’t have access to a bike pump at home, going to your nearest bike shop will be your quickest way to pump your bike tires without buying a pump.
Street Bike Pumps
Public bike repair stations are becoming increasingly common on the streets of towns and cities.
Typically these public service stations will also be equipped with a few tools you can utilise for some essential maintenance, so be sure to adjust your brakes whilst you’re there!
If you live in London or in the south of the UK, I’ve put together a guide called “Bike Pumps Near Me“, which will show you the location of every publically available bike pump and bike repair station that you can use free of charge.
Gas Station Pumps
If you have a flat and don’t have a bike pump to hand to re-inflate your tire, why not take it to a gas station (petrol station) where they have a car tire pump?
Gas station tire pumps are only compatible with Schrader valves, but if you have an adapter, you should be able to inflate a Presta valve. Otherwise, you’ll be able to inflate a Schrader valve just fine.
Most gas stations charge a small fee to use their tire pump, so don’t forget to take some change or a card with you for payment.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to inflate tires past 60 psi, so this isn’t a permanent fix, but you’ll be able to ride on tires inflated to 60 psi on any bike.
Worth a try if you don’t have a bike pump at home and require your bike for travel.
Technically, whilst it’s a tire inflation tool, a CO2 inflator isn’t a pump.
CO2 inflators easily fit into your pocket and allow you to inflate your tires on the go in seconds.
You’ll want to carry a few additional CO2 canisters to ensure you have enough gas to inflate a flat tire properly.
But as we previously found out in this guide, CO2 pumps are a great way to inflate a bike tire without a pump.
Using a digital pressure gauge alongside a CO2 inflator will help make sure you don’t overinflate your tires.
Unfortunately, despite what many questionable websites regurgitate, inflating a bike tire with your mouth is impossible.
As scientific research shows , the Human lungs can only reach internal pressures of roughly 1.8psi.
I can tell you now, you won’t be riding far on a tire inflated to 1.8psi.
Don’t bother trying to inflate a bike tire with your mouth. You’ll likely end up with the taste of some strange oil/lubricant in your mouth all day, and your tire will remain flat, trust me on this one.
If you’re having issues inflating your bike tire, the four most common problems and solutions are:
- An improper seal between the pump and tire valve – Remove the pump and re-attach it so it sits properly over the valve.
- Your tire’s valve is (stuck) in the closed position – Remove your pump, depress the valve core if using a Schrader valve, or, if using a Presta valve, loosen and depress the valve core before attempting to inflate again.
- You’re using the wrong pump – Presta pumps won’t inflate a Schrader valve, and vice versa. If your pump doesn’t fit or seal onto the valve properly, you’re likely using the wrong pump type.
- The tire/inner tube is punctured – If you can feel the air going into your tire, but it’s losing pressure after you’ve inflated it, it’s likely that you’ve got a puncture of some sort. I teach you how to fix a puncture here.
- Your pump is broken – If you’ve tried all the above steps, but your tire doesn’t seem to be inflating, it’s a good idea to check your pump is working correctly. Remove the pump from the tire and check that air is being expelled when the pump is depressed.
If none of these steps work, to continue troubleshooting, attempt to pump another bike tire. If this doesn’t still work, try using another bike pump.
If air isn’t coming out of your bike pump when you’re pumping it, the internal mechanism is likely to be causing the issue.
Depending on your type of bike pump, you may be able to open it up and inspect the internals. Most floor and frame bike pumps can be opened up and repaired relatively easily.
You’ll typically need to unscrew or loosen a top cap which holds the pump together, and then the most likely issue is a broken plunger.
The plunger must have an airtight seal on the pump’s air chamber. If you notice the plunger is damaged, you’ll want to try and source a replacement piece online. Otherwise, you may need another pump altogether.
Sometimes re-greasing the sides of the internal chamber is enough to get a pump working again, so it’s worth a try if you haven’t already!