how to pump a bike tire

How to Pump a Bike Tire in 9 Easy Steps

Got a flat or squishy bike tire? We’ve outlined how to pump a bike tire in nine easy steps.

Properly inflated tires will help you get the most out of your bike ride. Along with that, maintaining proper tire pressure ensures a safe and smooth ride no matter what winding road or rocky trail you find yourself cruising down.

Luckily, pumping a bike tire is a fairly simple and manageable task as long as you know what you need. We’ll cover the different bike pumps, valves, and techniques for airing up your bike tires.

Note that if you think you have a flat tire or a slow leak, you’ll probably want to change the tube. If your tires simply need more air, follow these nine steps for a quick and necessary fix.

How to Pump a Bike Tire

1. Acquire the necessary bike pump for your bike’s tire valve.

Depending on your bike, the bike tire will have either a Presta valve or a Schrader valve. If you aren’t sure which is which, we’ve provided photos in the FAQ at the end of this article.

Once you know what type of valve you’re working with, make sure your bike pump is compatible with that type of valve. Most bike pumps work with Schrader valves. You may need an additional adapter if your bike tire has a Presta valve.

You can either use a floor pump or a hand pump. Below, we outline how to pump a bike tire with both types of pumps.

2. Determine the tire pressure needed for your bike.

Don’t overinflate or underinflate your bike tire. Look at the sidewall of your bike tire to determine the minimum and maximum recommended tire pressure, which will be measured in psi.

The general rule of thumb is that road bike tires require a higher psi than mountain bike or hybrid tires. Generally, the recommendation is 80-130 psi for road bikes, 40-70 psi for cruiser bikes or hybrid tires, and 25-35 psi for mountain bikes.

how to pump a bike tire

3. Unscrew the cap from the valve.

Both Presta valves and Schrader valves usually have plastic caps that you need to remove. Be sure to store the cap somewhere you won’t lose it, like your back pocket. The purpose of the cap is to keep dirt or debris out of the valve opening.

If you have a Presta valve, unscrew the lock nut in addition to removing the cap. Turn the Presta valve several rotations to open the valve before attaching the pump. If you have a Schrader valve, this additional step won’t be necessary.

4. Place the pump on the valve.

There are a couple of different types of bike pumps. A floor pump is a great option to store in your garage and have at the ready for whenever you need to refill your tires at home. Overall, floor pumps have higher capacity and can pump bike tires up to a max tire pressure of 160 psi (which is more than you’d need).

Hand pumps are portable pumps that you can bring with you on a bike ride or in your car. If you’re a long-distance cyclist, a regular bike commuter, or a solo rider, a hand pump is a worthwhile investment.

More often than not, both floor pumps and hand pumps have two nozzle holes to fit both Presta and Schrader valves. Place the pump on the valve by selecting the correct nozzle and pushing it on to the valve.

5. Pull up the pump lever.

Now that the pump is on the valve, it’s almost time to begin pumping. The majority of bike pumps have a lever that needs to be rotated 90 degrees. Instructions for this process vary depending on the pump, so check your specific pump for instructions.

6. Inflate the tire.

Now that the pump is securely attached to the bike tire’s valve, it’s time to pump! This step is pretty self-explanatory. For a floor pump, put your feet on the sides and begin pumping with both hands.

For a hand pump, use one hand to hold the nozzle onto the valve and use the other hand to pump. Not all hand pumps have pressure gauges, but we recommend getting one with a pressure gauge, as “eyeing” the tire isn’t the best way to determine tire pressure.

Pump until you have reached the desired air pressure.

7. Remove the pump from the valve.

If you had to pull up a pump lever, push the lever back down. Then, pull the nozzle off of the valve. Note that you may hear a little bit of air escaping as you remove the pump. This is completely normal and should not make a substantial change to the tire pressure.

8. If you overinflated, remove some of the air to reach the correct psi.

For a Schrader valve, press on the valve with your fingernail until enough air escapes. For a Presta valve, with the lock nut open, press on the valve until enough air escapes.

9. Close the valve.

For a Schrader valve, simply put the plastic dust cap back on the valve. For a Presta valve, be sure to screw the lock nut closed and then put the plastic dust cap back on.

If you’ve pumped the tire within the parameters of the correct psi, the tire should feel firm. Now, back on the road and trails you go!

People Riding Mountain Bikes Photo Credit Andy B
Photo credit: Andy B

How to Pump a Bike Tire FAQ

How can I tell what type of tire valve my bicycle has?

A Presta valve has a lock nut at the top of the stem that allows you to open and close the valve. Depending on your bike pump, you may need a Presta valve adapter. Typically, Presta valves are found on road bikes and mountain bikes. Presta valves are, on average, more narrow and come in a variety of stem lengths.

A Schrader valve is typically found on BMX bikes. This valve is the same type of valves found on car tires. Most bike pumps will work on a Schrader valve without an adapter.

how to pump a bike tire
Presta Valve (left) and Schrader Valve (right)

What pressure should my bike tires be?

The minimum and maximum psi should be indicated on the side of your bike tire. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to determine the correct psi.

Generally, the recommended tire pressures are 80-130 psi for road bikes, 40-70 psi for cruiser bikes or hybrid tires, and 25-35 psi for mountain bikes.

To figure out the ideal tire pressure for you, consider your weight. If you’re a lightweight rider, stay on the lower end of the recommended psi range. And if you’re heavier, go with the higher psi.

How often should I check my bike tire pressure?

How often you check your tire pressure will depend on how frequently you ride your bike. Regardless of how often you ride, you should make checking your tire pressure a habit. Some people check tire pressure before every ride. Others check their tire pressure weekly.

What is the best bicycle tire pump?

There are two main types of bike pumps: a floor pump and a hand pump.

A floor pump is a great option to keep stored in the garage, ready to use whenever it is needed — whether you’re refilling the tires weekly or daily before your bike ride.

Overall, floor pumps have higher capacity and can pump bike tires up to a max tire pressure of 160 psi, which is more than you need. The smaller nozzle hole is for a Presta Valve.

For a floor pump, we recommend the BV Bicycle Floor Pump.

Hand pumps are portable pumps you take on bike ride or store in your car. They’re handy to have if you ever need to pump up your tires while out on a ride.

For a hand pump, we recommend the Pro Bike Tool Bike Pump.

how to pump a bike tire
BV Bicycle Floor Pump (left) and Pro Bike Tool Hand Pump (right)

Can I deflate a bike tire after putting too much air in it?

Yes, you can! If you accidentally overinflate a bike tire, you can easily remove some of the air until you reach the correct psi. For a Schrader valve, press on the bike tire’s valve with your fingernail until enough air escapes. For a Presta valve, open the lock nut and press on the valve until enough air escapes.

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Joybeth Sullivan
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Joybeth is a brand new resident of Denver, Colorado, recently graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in English and Entertainment & Media Studies. You can find her anywhere outside with beautiful sights alongside her German Shepherd companion, Jasper. She loves all things photography, film, and poetry. And, hopefully, she'll be hiking a fourteener the very near future!

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