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For cycling beginners, choosing a bike pump and learning how to inflate a flat tire can be daunting.
When I first started biking, I was totally unfamiliar with the equipment necessary for bike maintenance, and I had a hard time finding a good resource.
I went ahead and compiled a comprehensive resource so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, no pun intended!
In this article, I’ll teach you everything you need to know about bike pump types, tire valve types, and how to use a bike pump to fix a flat tire like a pro.
Lets get into it!
Table of Contents
Types of Bike Pumps
The first thing you need to know before inflating your bike tires is what type of bike pump you’ll need.
Read More: Best Bike Pump For Fat Bikes
There are so many types of bike pumps out there. I’ve broken down this section into the main bike pump categories and listed the pros and cons of each.
Floor or track pump
The floor pump is one of the most common types of pumps. If you’re looking for a standard bike pump that will help you in any situation, this is a good one to have on hand at home.
For a helpful video on how to use floor pumps with any type of tire valve, click here.
Floor pumps are very user friendly, efficient and ergonomic. These stand upright from a footed base and are usually about 2-3 feet tall.
They have a pump head that locks onto the bicycle tire valve, which allows you to use both hands as you push and pull the pump.
It is definitely easier locking the pump head to the tire instead of having to hold in place while inflating.
Because they have so much stability and allow you to use more force in pumping, floor pumps provide higher air pressure than the portable pumps. Floor pumps will allow you to inflate a tire to very high pressures without exerting yourself for hours.
Another advantage is that they usually fit both tire valve types (explained below in the next section).
Floor pumps are large and therefore usually kept at home. If you are looking for a pump to take with you on a bike ride, read on.
Pro tip: I recommend looking for a pump that has a pressure gauge attached to it so that you know when to stop pumping.
Hand pump (mini pump)
Hand pumps are small portable pumps that have a little handle that you squeeze to manually fill the tire with air.
Mini pumps are great if you are on the road and need a quick fix for your tire pressure. They’re small enough to fit in your bag, which is a huge plus.
These pumps are small and require much more effort than floor or track pumps to achieve the same tire pressure.
Also, maximum tire pressure provided will not be as high as a floor or track pump.
Despite these disadvantages, it’s generally a good idea to keep a mini pump with you on long rides so that you don’t end up stranded far away from home.
Find a hand pump that has a hose attached to it so that you can comfortably attach the pump to the bike valve without placing pressure on the bike valve, contorting your hand or allowing air to leak out.
Here’s a helpful guide to picking the best hand pump for your needs.
Frame pumps are similar to mini pumps in that they’re small and portable.
These are usually slightly bigger than mini pumps, and they can be more challenging to fit when attaching to your bicycle tire.
These are a mid-size option that falls somewhere between a floor pump and a mini pump.
In terms of efficiency, a frame pump will allow you to fill a tire with less effort than a mini pump would, and it’s still a nice portable option.
While these will fit onto your bicycle frame, they take up a good amount of space and can be cumbersome.
For a tutorial on how to mount and use a frame pump, click here.
- Stand pump
Stand pumps are another sturdy option for inflating your tires.
These are different from floor pumps in that they usually have an attachment only for Schrader valves (see explanation below on valve types) and are most commonly used to inflate car tires.
You can purchase a brass converter to attach this type of pump to a Presta valve.
CO2 inflators are compact cartridges that are filled with compressed CO2 gas. With these, you just attach them to your bicycle tire and they inflate your tire to the optimal pressure.
Some people don’t consider these “bike pumps” because they provide a single large burst of air, but they can be a useful way to inflate your tire in a pinch.
Because these automatically inflate to the right tire pressure, you spend very little time pumping.
In addition, these are very lightweight. CO2 pumps can also inflate a tire to over 100 psi (not that you would need that kind of pressure) almost instantaneously.
CO2 pumps are single use and not as sustainable as the other options.
Also, each time you use a CO2 pump, you have to replace it with a new cartridge. You have to keep purchasing new ones instead of making a one-time investment in one of the other pump options.
Keep in mind that if you puncture a tire and use a CO2 inflator to refill it, the carbon dioxide will leak out of the hole faster than air would due to its chemical properties. You can read more here.
If you have an air mattress at home, you’ve seen an electric pump in action. Electric pumps can be used on all kinds of household objects, like car tires, inflatable pools, toys, etc.
Certain types of electric pumps can also be used to inflate the tires on your bicycle as long as they have a compatible attachment head.
The biggest advantage of electric bike pumps is that there is almost no physical labor involved. Since they can also be used on so many different types of objects, they’re a versatile addition to any household.
These tend to be more expensive than manual pumps. Also, they aren’t portable and can only be used where you have access to an electrical outlet.
Just like with the floor pumps, it’s a good idea to find an electric pump that has a pressure gauge so that you don’t over inflate.
Click here for a guide on choosing and using an electric pump to inflate a bike tire.
How To Tell What Type Of Valve Is On Your Bike
Now that you know what type of pump best suits your biking needs, let’s talk about what valve type you will be attaching the pump to your tire.
Bike tires will usually have one of two major valve types: Schrader and Presta.
It’s important to know you’re valve type because the attachment heads that match up to these different valve types are not interchangeable due to the different valve widths.
In general, if you have a road bike, your tires likely have Presta valves. These are slim and usually come with a screw top and a lock nut that secures the valve to the wheel rim.
A Presta valve will usually require less elbow grease to pump your tire up since they don’t have a spring mechanism that creates resistance.
However, you will likely need a Presta valve adapter.
A nice thing about a Presta valve is that even if you don’t re-attach the screw top to the valve, air won’t leak out of the valve until you press on it.
Even if you lose your screw top, your tire will still remain inflated.
Make sure, if you have a road bike you will need a bike pump that fits a Presta valve!
Schrader valves, on the other hand, are largely found on mountain bikes or other thicker-tired bikes.
These valves are usually wider, and they are spring loaded so that once the top is removed, air begins leaking out of your bike tires.
BIke tires with Schrader valves usually require a little more effort to pump up, since you’re working against that spring mechanism.
Here’s a tutorial on using Schrader valves.
How To Use A Bike Pump
Now that you’ve figured out what type of tire valve you have and which pump you should use, it’s time to inflate your tires!
Below is a step-by-step guide on using a bike pump.
- Check the sidewall of your tire to find out exactly what PSI you need to properly inflate the tire. See the section below to figure out how much air pressure your tires need.
- Locate your bike tires valve. Valves are usually located on the inner rim of the wheel, near the tire spokes.
- Once you’ve found the valve, unscrew the top of the valve. If you have a Presta valve, make sure that you also gently unscrew the locking nut. This won’t fall off, so don’t worry about losing it.
- Attach the pump head to the tire valve. There are usually two mechanisms to do this. Your pump head will either have an internally threaded attachment, or you will need to properly place the head on the valve and flip a switch to keep it in place. Before moving forward, listen carefully and make sure that there isn’t any air leaking out of the tires. You’ll be able to hear it if there’s an air leak.
- Depending on the kind of pump you’ve chosen, you may need to use two hands while pumping the tire. Pumping can be done by pushing and pulling the handle multiple times. Expect to feel a little resistance, and for the resistance to increase as you keep pumping. Continue pumping until you reach the optimal tire pressure.
- Once you reach the optimal psi for your tires, remove the pump head from the tire valve and secure the valve closed. If you have a Schrader valve, you may lose a little bit of air on this step, so make sure that you either overinflate just slightly to compensate for this, or you move quickly to minimize the leakage.
- When the valve is closed, you’re all set! You’ve just successfully inflated your tire and it’s time to ride.
How Much Air Pressure Do My Tires Need
Make sure after you remove the pump to check the air pressure. It’s important to know how much air pressure your tires need.
Especially if you’re looking to optimize your bike riding experience.
If your tire pressure is too low, you run the risk of your wheel rim deforming since there isn’t enough air cushioning to protect its shape.
You also increase the likelihood of puncturing your tire if the air pressure isn’t high enough.
However, if your tire pressure is too high, the bike will bump along every little rock in the road without much shock absorption, slowing you down and making for a less comfortable ride.
On average, a road bike will require 80 – 100 psi.
Mountain bikes, on the other hand, operate well at much lower tire pressures between 30-50 psi.
To remember this, think about the kind of terrain you’ll be riding over. If it’s rocky and uneven, you’ll want to maintain a lower psi so that your tires can absorb the shock and make your ride nice and smooth.
Pumping up your bike tires can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! Once you know what type of pump you need, whether you have a Presta or Schrader valve, and the appropriate steps to take, it’s a piece of cake.
Many bikers even own multiple types of pumps; some experienced bikers advise keeping a floor pump at home for routine use and either a mini pump or a CO2 inflator on hand while you’re biking in case of a flat or punctured tire.
With this information, you can decide what will best suit your needs. Keep those tires inflated, and happy riding!