Who would have thought pumping road bike tires would be such a nerve-wracking affair?
I swear it wasn’t so tough when I was a kid.
See, after taking a long hiatus from bike riding, I decided to take my bike for a commute last week. I noticed my tires were low and opened my new pump for the first time.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get out the inner screw with my fingers, and it seemed like I would bust out the pliers. I know many cyclists can relate.
The good news is my son was around and offered a helping hand before it got all up surgical.
And here are the steps we followed to pump up my road bike;
1) Selecting the right bike pump
2) Determining the right bike tire pressure
3) Removing the bike tire valve cap
4) Placing pump over the valve
5) Pulling the pump lever up
6) Inflating the tire
7) Removing pump from valve
8) Checking for over inflation
9) Closing the valve
As you can see, the steps aren’t really much hard to follow, especially if you’ve the right equipment and everything.
I’ve been practicing with success over the last few days, and if you’ve been struggling to pump your road bike tires , I’ll share my experience in the guide below.
Basics of Road Bike Tire Pumping
Here’re some of the basic elements you need to know about bike pumping.
The valves are ports or connections between the inner bike tube and the pump. They allow the entry and exit of airflow.
There’re a few different types of valves, but the main ones are:
1) Presta Valves
The Presta Valves are narrower than the Schrader valves, having a narrow opening on the rim.
They’re also generally longer, making them easier to mount a pump.
However, their extended length and light design make them a bit fragile and easier to break.
They’re less robust than the Schrader valve, and over my years in cycling, I’ve broken a couple of Preston valves more than I’ve my Schrader valves.
Additionally, they’re incompatible with car tire pumps or gas station air pumps. You need an adapter for pumping.
But their fragility and incompatibility with gas station air pumps are made up for with their ease of use.
I prefer a Presta valve over the Schrader as it allows easy and quick opening of the valve.
They’ve no spring in the valve, so it’s also easier to let them down with more positive action. It’s especially handy with the small capacity hand pumps as they don’t need an in-built device for depressing the spring in a pump.
2) Schrader Valve
Schrader valves are wider and more robust than the Presta valves.
They’re less likely to break than the Presta valves and will serve you for quite a long time.
They’re not easy to fill as the Presta valves. Of course, you can open the valve on a Schrader to let the air out using the tip of a key or a fingernail, but it’s just fiddly.
The smartest part of the Schrader valve is that it has a spring mechanism that keeps the valve closed and air inside.
It’s opposed to a screwable valve on a Presta valve, and this means no need to re-screw the valve after inflating because it won’t leak air outside unless pressed down.
What’s more? Another big benefit of the Schrader valve is compatibility with car pumps.
Schrader valves don’t need specific bike pumps. It’s beneficial, especially for beginners who don’t have a full gear set yet.
Presta Vs. Schrader
Both a Schrader valve and Presta valve have their strengths and weaknesses.
They’re also designed for use on different bike tires, so it’s not a matter of what is better than the other.
The key thing to remember is the valves have different widths, so it’s not easy to interchange one for the other.
One wheel can only accept a single type of valve.
For example, the Schrader valves are thick and will hardly fit the tube hole on a road bike rim. Conversely, the Presta valve is too thin to fit the tube hole on a mountain bike.
Usually, a Presta valve will need an adapter to fit on the MTB rim. But there may not be sufficient space for the larger Schrader valve to fit on the extremely narrow tires.
The difference in the valve types means the pump heads are equally going to be different.
Simply put, you can’t use Schrader pump heads to fill in a Presta valve and the other way around.
But, it’s still possible to use a different pump head for a different valve, provided you’ve an adapter.
The other workaround is investing in dual-attachment pump heads.
The dual attachments pump heads have a Presta bicycle tire pump and Schrader’s head into a single unit.
I’m a big fan of the double-attachment pump heads, considering I’ve both a road bike and mountain bike.
It saves me from the need to have two pump heads or buy an extra adapter.
Types of Pumps
Finally, we’ve the types of pumps. They’ll wrap up our discussion of the essentials of bike tire pumping.
As their name suggests, bike pumps are tools for inflating air in the bike tires.
We’ve different options available, but the most popular bike pumps are:
1) Track pump
2) Mini pump
3) Air compressor
4) Mini inflator
The track pump, also known as a floor pump, is the most popular pump for bike tires.
It’s a basic pump and essentially what every cyclist should own.
The floor pumps are, however, bulky, measuring up to 2 feet in height. The good news is they’ve a high inflating capacity, making the pumping task easier and effortless.
The track pump bike tires eliminate the hassle and work out of using the smaller pumps.
And as if that’s not enough, the floor pumps come with great features to make pumping easier.
For example, mine can support both valve types. The available pump heads can also lock onto the valve, so no need to worry about air escaping.
Also, the best bicycle tire pump has an accurate pressure gauge, so it’s easy to determine tire pressure.
The only downside with the track pumps is they’re bulky and not portable. They’re generally stored in the garage and ideal for those staying at home.
The mini-pumps are a smaller version of the track pumps.
They’re portable pump solutions, ideal for those who need to go with their pumps on their bike rides.
The mini-pumps, also known as compact pumps, are small enough to stick in your pocket and come in handy in case of a mid-ride puncture.
These compact pumps will ensure that you get home in case of a puncture, rather than being stuck several miles from home with a puncture and no way of pumping the tires.
The mini pumps can inflate bike tires at reasonably high pressures but can match the track pumps.
It takes some elbow grease to use a mini pump, but IMO, I would rather take more strokes to inflate my tire than get stuck with a flat tire miles away from home.
Our third pump type isn’t strictly a bike pump.
The mini-inflator, also known as a CO2 pump, utilizes a CO2 canister to inflate bike tires.
The C02 cartridges are usually filled with compressed carbon dioxide for a quick, simple, and efficient filling.
A main advantage of the mini-inflators is they’re ultra-light, so they won’t weigh you down on long road bike trips.
Secondly, they’re efficient at filling up the bike tires and only take a fraction of the effort and time of a mini pump or floor pump.
The biggest downside of the mini-inflators is they are disposable and single-use only.
So, it only provides the opportunity of filling your tires depending on the number of CO2 cartridges you prepared.
Our final option, the compressor, is a rare sighting among casual road cyclists.
The air compressors are expensive and often used exclusively by professional cyclists or team mechanics.
The greatest benefit of the compressors is they make the inflation process quite simple, especially if you’re planning to inflate to the desired pressure.
It’s a time-saving air pump and simplifies the process of inflating several bike tires.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Inflating Road Bike Tires
Now that we’ve gone through the basics of bike pumping, let’s look at the exact step-by-step details of inflating road bike tires.
1) Selecting a pump
The first step is determining the type of valve your bike rim uses.
The two main types are Presta and Schrader Valves.
Once you identify your bike pump, the next step is selecting a pump compatible with your bike valve.
If your pump isn’t compatible with a particular valve, consider getting an adapter.
2) Determining the right tire pressure
After confirming bike pump compatibility, the next step is determining the ideal bike pressure.
The right bike tire pressure is critical to avoid a bouncy/harsh ride or rigid bike.
I’d recommend choosing a bike pump that indicates accurate tire pressure. It avoids overinflating or underinflating your bike.
Usually, it’s easy to determine the right pressure because most tires have the right pressure indicated on the sidewall. If not, check the user manual for the exact pressure.
But generally, road bikes will require higher pressure than mountain bikes. The road bikes need to be hard enough and minimize contact with the ground for less rolling resistance.
On the other hand, mountain bikes need more surface contact with the ground for better traction and overcoming obstacles.
Generally, road bikes will work with a recommended PSI range of 80-130 psi, while mountain bikes require 25-35 psi.
3) Unscrew the valve cap
The dust cap is a handy addition to the valve opening that prevents dirt and debris out of the valve.
Both Presta Valve and Schrader valves have a similar plastic cap design.
You simply need to unscrew the lock nut and remove the cap.
While at it, be sure to store your cap safely, so you don’t lose it. I usually prefer stashing mine in my back pocket.
4) Pump over valve
Once you remove the cap, the next step is tightening your pump head over the open head.
It’s more than just placing it on top, but you’ll need to turn it clockwise until it fits firmly. A good way to know it’s locked is when you feel some resistance.
However, take caution not to overtighten because you might break the valve.
It’s also necessary to once again confirm the correct nozzle (Presta valve or Schrader) when pushing it on the valve.
5) Pull the pump lever up
Once the pump head is tightly and securely screwed on the bike tire valve, it is time to begin pumping.
But not yet.
Most bike tire pumps have a lever that initiates the pumping or inflating action.
The mechanism and instructions will depend on the type of the pump.
But usually, most track pumps require you to twist the hand lever 90 degrees, then press the lever on top of your pump.
You can then start inflating the tire.
But as I mentioned, the specific instructions will depend on the model of the pump.
6) Inflating the Bicycle Tyre
This step is the actual inflation.
Usually, the inflation action is pumping the lever up and down until the tire is filled up.
You simply need to put the pump between your feet, place both hands on the lever, and start pumping for track pumps.
Conversely, for a hand pump, compact pumps or air compressors, hold the nozzle on the one hand, directing it to the nozzle, and pump with the other hand.
If your bike tire pump has a pressure gauge, it’s easy to determine the right amount of pressure you need for your tire.
If not, you can test for inflation using your thumbs.
Once you pump and feel your thumbs can’t push anymore, the tire is sufficiently pumped.
However, this is usually not the best method because it can sometimes be deceiving. Plus, it’ll also depend on your physicality.
The other thing is different tires have different pressure ratings. What will work for a road bike may not work for a mountain bike.
7) Removing Pump from Valve
Once pumping is finished, remove the pump from the valve.
The removal process is the opposite of the pump insertion. For example, if you had a pull-up lever, you simply need to push it down. Plunger-style pumps may need multiple pushes to remove the pump.
From there, remove the nozzle of the valve.
You may also hear some hissing noise as you remove the tire. It’s the extra air, usually within the pump, so perfectly normal. It won’t affect the overall PSI o your tire.
8) Check for overinflation/Check for too much air.
It’s easy to check the exact level of tire pressure if you’re using a digital gauge.
Checking for the right tire pressure and keeping your tires properly inflated is particularly useful for road bike cyclists looking for comfort and great riding performance.
However, it’s important to note that different bike tire pumps have different gauge scales, so you need to be extra cautious.
Another precaution to account for is that dirt and debris on the valve and pressure can affect the accuracy of the scale reading.
Now, if your tire bike is overinflated, you can release some air pressure by opening the valve.
If you’ve a Schrader valve, you simply need to press it with a key or fingernail to release air. For the case of the Presta valve, simply open the plastic caps and press on the nut.
9) Closing the valve
Once you’ve ascertained your tire is inflated to the right pressure, the next step is to close the valve to prevent any air escape.
If you’ve a Presta valve, start by screwing the lock nut until it tightens, then put the screw cap back on.
For the case of a Schrader valve, you simply need to put the dust cap on. It doesn’t matter whether you leave it open because Schrader pumps don’t lose air unless the valve spring is pressed.
But it’s always good to have a cap on to prevent accidental pressing or culmination of dirt and other debris on the valve.
Inflating Presta Valve
Inflating a Presta valve isn’t any different from a Schrader valve.
However, you’ll need a pump utilizing a Presta valve pump.
A key element of inflating a Presta valve is inserting the pump head.
You start by removing the valve cap and unscrewing the lock nut. The next step is positioning and inserting the pumping head.
Inflating a Road Bike Tire Using a Hand Pump
The hand pump is one of the traditional and popular ways of inflating a road bike tire.
It offers a simple and pretty straightforward way of pumping a tire.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to using a hand pump:
1) The first step is finding a flat and even ground. The tires should stand straight and vertically facing away from you.
2) Attach the pump nozzle to the valve. Ensure the nozzle is attached securely.
3) Wrap your hands around the pump handles and start pumping
Inflating a Tubeless Setup Bike Tire
Tubeless tires are different from regular tires because they lack inner tubes.
They also don’t use traditional bike pumps but instead air pressure. The inner tube is filled with sealant, preventing punctures when riding.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to pumping a tubeless bike tire:
1) Get an air compressor with a correctly-sized inflator head. The inflator head should also have a valve core remover to easily remove the valve stem core.
2) Position the inflator head over the inner tube valve. Ensure it’s aligned correctly for easy screwing and unscrewing of the stem core
3) Apply pressure to force enough air in
4) If you feel the tire is hard and you can squeeze anymore, remove the valve stem core and then remove the pump while holding the compressor tightly on the other hand.
Assuming you don’t have a valve stem remover, a coin or a small key can be a perfect substitute.
How Much Tire Pressure Does my Bike Need?
Proper tire inflation is necessary to avoid your tires feeling hard-rock or bouncy-soft.
The ideal tire pressure should be between the hard rock and bouncy pressure for optimum performance and comfort.
There’re a couple of ways to determine the ideal pressure or how much air you need for your tires.
You can check on the manufacturer’s manual. Alternatively, check the pressure with your pump gauge.
The final option is a crude one and involves determining the tire pressure using your thumbs.
I’m not a big fan of the last method, and I’d suggest you find a pressure pump with a gauge for accurate reading of the pressure.
If your tire is underinflated, you can add enough air until it fills the right pressure.
How Often Should I Pump my Road Bike Tires?
It’ll depend on the regularity of use.
However, for most casual riders, you can inflate tires after every two weeks.
Having proper tire pressure will save you from dealing with pinch flats now and then.
The proper bike pressure is even more important for racing bikes because it may affect comfort and speed.
A final thing to consider with the tire pressure is the ambient temperature and conditions. Tire pressure will increase or decrease depending on the available temperatures.
So, always check the pressure after riding for a couple of hours.
That’s everything you need to know about inflating a road bike tire.
Be sure to have all the equipment ready before starting the process. More importantly, ensure your equipment are compatible with your bike system.
And finally, be on the lookout for the right tire pressure. Properly inflated tires are comfortable to ride and optimized for performance.