How to Use a Bike Pump (Updated 2021)

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A deflated tire can happen at any time, anywhere. You’ll be able to tell because it slows you down significantly.

Learning how to use a bike pump is a must. It’s easy, and it’s a skill that will come in handy for the rest of your cycling days.

This post takes you through a step-by-step on how to pump a bike tire. It’s easy to do, and even those who aren’t mechanically inclined are able to do it without difficulty.

But first things first. How do you know you have a flat tire?

Every bike tire will lose pressure from time to time. It’s important to look down on your tires as you cycle. If a tire is losing pressure it doesn’t look as taut as it did before.

Another way to tell whether a bike tire is losing pressure is if it becomes “lumpy”. It will make a sort of “bump, bump, bump” sound with each rotation. You should stop immediately and add pressure to the tire or else it will blow out, and you’ll need a brand new replacement.

What is the Best Pump for My Bike?

There are many different types of bike pumps in the market. By far, the best and easiest to use is a floor bike pump. It’s fast and efficient and anyone can work it. It looks and works like an ordinary air compressor.

A floor pump sits on the floor while you pump, so you don’t have to hold it in place. The best floor pumps are designed to work with both Schrader and Presta valves (see below to understand the difference).

If you invest in a floor bike pump you don’t have to top up bike pressure with a frame pump before you ride, and your frame pump will last longer.

In case you’re wondering, a frame pump is a small, spring-loaded pump that requires many strokes of the hand to fill a bike tire with air. Mini pumps are even smaller and require more strokes.

Both these types of pumps are easily mounted on bike frames and they are designed for emergencies. They give you just enough air to get home in case of a puncture while you’re out riding.

A hand bike pump is any kind of pump that you have to hold with one hand as you use the other to work the pump. Mini pumps and frame pumps fall in this category.

These types of pumps are typically smaller than floor bike pumps and have a shorter lifespan. However, it’s recommended that you never leave home without a hand bike pump because if you get a flat, it’s the one that’ll come to the rescue.

Steps on How to Use a Bike Pump

Step 1: Find out what kind of valve your tire has

There are two kinds of bike tire valves: Presta and Schrader.

How to use a bike pump

A Schrader is wider than a Presta valve, has the same circumference from top to bottom and the bottom half is wrapped in rubber.

Sometimes a valve will look like neither a Schrader nor Presta, and instead will have a plastic tip. Don’t worry; that’s just a plastic cap to keep out dust. Remove it to reveal the kind of valve your tire has.

Why does the valve matter? Because different valves use different bike pump nozzles. Most modern pumps have nozzles for both kinds of valves, but you still have to know the right one to use.

Some valves are made for Schrader nozzles only and if you want to use them on a Presta valve you need to attach an adaptor.

Step 2: Find out the right pressure for your bike tires

The right tire pressure is important. For starters, you don’t want to put so much pressure in a tire that you blow it out (be careful about this. It’s rare, but blown-out bike tires can cause serious injuries).

Secondly, if your tire has just the right amount of tire pressure it will roll at the right speed – fast but not so fast that you have a rough ride. Under-inflate your tire and it will slow you down and deflate before long.

How Do You Know the Right Bike Tire Pressure?

Bike tire pressure is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch). If you check the side wall of the manufacturer tire you’ll see the right PSI written there.

If you can’t find the right PSI on the tire, there are some general guidelines you can follow to make sure that your tire has the right amount pressure:

  • For road bikes: use 80 – 130 PSI
  • For cruisers and hybrid bikes: use 40 – 70 PSI
  • For mountain bikes: 25 – 35 PSI
  • Lightweight riders should stick to the lower range of the PSI and heavier riders should stick to the higher range.

Once you know what kind of valve you have and how much pressure you need to can get on to inflating the tire.

As mentioned, there are two types of pumps you can use: a floor bike pump and a hand bike pump. We’ll look at each individually.

Check out How to Put Air in Bicycle Tires

A) How to Use a Floor Bike Pump

Step 1: Remove the plastic cap from the valve

This cap keeps dust and debris out of the valve. Unscrew it and keep somewhere safe as you’ll need to replace it once you’re done.

Step 2: If your tire has a Presta valve, open it. If you have a Schrader valve skip this step

Presta valves need to be opened before you can put air into the tire. It may be a little difficult to unscrew especially if you haven’t put air in a while or if it didn’t have a protective plastic cover. You can use needle-nose pliers to get it loose.

After it’s loose, press down on it for just a second to release it.

Step 3: Place the floor pump nozzle on the valve

If you have a modern floor bike pump it will have 2 nozzles, the bigger one for the Schrader and the smaller one for the Presta. Press the right nozzle onto the valve until it holds firmly. You may hear a little air escape from the tire as you do this; that’s normal.

Step 4: Pull the pump lever to a 90-degree angle

Bike pumps have a lever that you need to engage before you can use them. Adjust upwards to a 90-degree angle to engage it fully. Not all pumps have a lever. Some, instead of pulling the lever, require that you push it in. However, most are designed to be pulled. Check to see what is required of your pump.

Step 5: Pump until you reach the right pressure level

With your feet at the base of the floor pump pull the pump up and down with both your arms. Keep doing this and watch the gauge to see how much pressure you’ve put in. Stop when you have the right amount of pressure.

Step 6: Remove the valve

To do this, push down the pump lever back to its original position. You’ll hear a little air escape. Again, that’s normal.

Step 7: Screw the valve closed and replace the protective plastic cap.

You can use needle-nosed pliers to screw the valve back on properly.

B) How to use a Hand Bike Pump

It’s a little harder to use a hand pump to add bike tire pressure. It requires lots more pumping to get the desired amount of air, and since hand pumps differ it, how much energy you use depends on the type of pump you get. That said, here are the steps to add air to your tire using a hand bike pump.

Step 1: Remove the protective plastic cap and keep it somewhere safe so you can replace it after you’re done.

Step 2: If your tire has a Presta valve, open it. If you have a Schrader valve skip this step

You’ll need to unscrew this valve. If it’s a little tight you can use needle-nosed pliers to get it loose. Press the valve down for a second to open it for pumping. You may hear a little air escape as you do this – this is normal.

Step 3: Place the nozzle on the pump

Just like floor bike pumps, hand bike pumps also have two nozzles. The bigger one is for Schrader valves and the smaller one is for Presta. Some pumps have the nozzles at the end of the hose. You can tell which nozzle is which by looking at the size.

To place the nozzle on the pump you need either to screw it in or press it in.

Step 4: Pump until you get the right amount of air into the tire

You’ll need one hand to hold the pump and the other to push it up and down. These pumps are small so you to pump a lot to get your tire inflated. Most hand pumps have a pressure gauge that you can check as you pump.

Some also have a switch that moves between high volume and high pressure. If you have one of these start pumping at high volume and then as the tire becomes harder to pump switch to high pressure mode.

If you have an old pump that doesn’t have a gauge you’ll need to manually gauge that you have the right amount of pressure in your tire. Grip with both hands and squeeze. If it feels firm and doesn’t give it means you’ve put in enough pressure.

Check out How To Deflate A Bike Tire

Step 5: Remove the nozzle from the valve

Unscrew the nozzle to take it off the valve. You may hear a little air escape; that’s normal.

Step 6: Screw the valve closed and replace the protective cap

Before you can return the protective plastic cap you’ll need to screw the valve closed. You can tighten it using needle-nosed pliers.

You are done. Make sure to check the pressure on your bike tires before you set out on rides to avoid emergencies. Just to be safe make sure you have a bike hand pump with you at all times.