A bike pump is a pretty simple tool that a rider uses to maintain the air pressure of their bike tires. However, as straightforward as it may look, you’d be surprised that some people don’t know how to use a bike pump.
Every experienced cyclist will tell you that a bike ride on flat tires is the worst, but that’s a situation you can avoid if you know how to use a bike pump.
Bike pumps come in many shapes and brands, but the mechanism behind them is the same. We’re going to look at how you can use a bike pump, all the steps involved.
Before diving into that though, it’s important to know the various types of bike pumps that exist to get a clear picture of what we’re dealing with.
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Types of Bike Pumps
There are about 6 different types of bike pumps used widely today. Each has been designed uniquely, but they all serve the same function using similar principles.
A floor pump is a standard air pressure bicycle pump common among avid cyclists. The pump is placed on the floor, and the user has to pull and push the floor pump handle to trigger the airflow from the tube into the tire.
They’re easy to use and are able to provide a high level of air pressure that the smaller and portable pumps are unable to offer.
A floor pump is a quick, quality type of pump that takes minimal time to pump a bike tire to the required pressure. Caution should be exercised, however, because if you pump too much tire pressure, it may burst.
A hand pump is a portable pump that cyclists carry around for emergencies. They’re small, compact, and can be carried in a backpack or attached to a bike pump holder.
It doesn’t provide a high-pressure airflow, but it does get the job done.
A hand pump comes with a tire´s valve, which is placed on the corresponding bike valve. The user proceeds to pump the air repeatedly and manually until the desired level of air pressure is achieved.
Hand pumps are very tedious, but when you consider how convenient they can be in dire situations, then that becomes a small price to pay.
This is a multipurpose type of air pump that is used on car tires most of the time. When it comes to bikes, they can work with either the Schrader valve or the Presta valve combined with a brass reducer.
You can use this for bike tires that need low air pressure.
CO2 inflators work by injecting a single shot of carbon dioxide into the tire, making them an ideal choice for racers who are short on time and need a quick increase of air pressure in their tires.
The only drawback to this pump is that CO2 leaks out much faster than conventional air, and this will require you to pump the tire once again, not long after.
These are pumps that use electricity to increase tire pressure through the use of a built-in gauge that also gives the user an accurate reading of how much air is needed. This one feature stops you from over-inflating the tire, which can be dangerous.
The other big benefit of using the electric pump is that you won’t have to do any work; it eliminates manual work. All you do is press a button and hold.
The one drawback to this pump is that it is too costly and is too big; it can only be confined to your home.
A frame pump is a long and slender type of air pump that delivers very high pressure. They’re ideal for road bikes, and they need minimum strokes for the tire to be filled up to capacity.
The frame pump is usually fitted on the bike’s top tube during pumping.
How to Use a Bike Pump
Having cleared what bike pumps are and the different types that are in existence today, it’s now time to understand how to use a bike pump.
Step 1: Determine the type of pump you need
As mentioned, each pump has its own mechanism of working. Hence, before using a bike pump, step 1 is deciding on the right pump to use.
This is dependent on the type of valve on your bike’s tire.
You can have either the Presta or the Schrader. How do you tell them apart?
If the valve is slender and tall and has a locking nut near the top, then that is a Presta valve. If the valve is wide and flat near the top and looks almost like a car tire valve, then that is a Schrader valve.
The modern hand bike pump is equipped with dual heads that can fit both the Presta and Schrader valves, and at the same time, some hand pumps have been designed to work with only one of each. Therefore, always check the compatibility beforehand.
If you’re unsure of the type of valve on your bike, always ask for help at the bike shop. Using the right bike pump is important.
Step 2: Know the recommended tire pressure
Bike tire pressure varies; there’s a certain limit that should never be surpassed as that could lead to the tire bursting, and that would be bad for you. Underinflation is also another cause for concern as the rim could get damaged.
Air pressure for mountain bikes is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch). The PSI values are usually indicated on the tire’s sidewall.
If you look closely, you’ll notice some numbers following a format that looks like 80-130 PSI. Those values indicate the least and the most pressure that your bike tire needs to operate well.
Make sure you factor in your weight and riding style when pumping your bike’s tire.
Step 3: Check the tire valve for a dust cap
Some tires have dust caps that protect the valve from dust and other foreign objects that may get in and block it, damaging the airways permanently. If the tire has a valve cap, then simply unscrew it, pump the bike, then return it into place.
The same applies to tire valves like Presta that usually come with a locking nut. You have to unscrew that bit first before attempting to pump the bike.
At times, opening a Presta valve may be hard because of disuse. In that case, you’ll need a pair of pliers to open it.
Step 4: Attach the pump head onto the valve
Once everything is out of the way, the next step is attaching the pump head to the bike’s valve. It is the easiest step that only requires aligning the bike pump to the mouth of the valve.
Check the nozzle of the right pump head to see if it is firmly attached to the valve. You can confirm this by pumping some air once or twice; if it leaks out, then the nozzle and the valve aren’t yet aligned.
Some nozzles require the user to push them into the valve to attach. Some have rotating levers that you use to screw them on for them to latch on securely.
Step 5: Start pumping
Push the pump repeatedly to pump air into the tire. If you are met with silence and some form of resistance, then that indicates that all the air is being directed into the tire through the valve.
Continue pumping as you check the pressure on the tire. This can be done in two ways.
You can physically feel the tire by grabbing and pressing with your fingers. If the tire is still squeezable, then the tire requires more pressure.
Another method would be through the use of a pressure gauge that can tell you how much more is needed for the tire to reach the maximum air pressure.
Step 6: Detach the pump nozzle
Once you’re satisfied with the amount of pressure in the tire, it is time to detach the bike pump. This should be done in the right order.
First, make sure that you tighten the locking nut while the nozzle is still attached to stop any air from escaping. Then slowly loosen the nozzle and pull it off cleanly.
Fortunately for most modern bikes, the valves have a little ball inside that gets pushed up to cover the hole once the bike is full; this stops the air from escaping without any need for a dust cap or a locking nut.
Once you remove the pump, make sure you re-attach the dust cap. Your bike is now ready to hit the road.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The following are some of the common questions about mountain bike pumps that will help you troubleshoot any problems that may arise when you use a bike pump.
How often should I pump my bike tire?
Tires don’t need a puncture to lose air. It doesn’t matter how tight the valve has been secured; they simply lose air naturally after prolonged use.
This is why you have to check the tires every time you are about to go for a ride. In general, you should pump up your tires once a week to be on the safe side.
Inflate the tire every time you feel the pressure has reduced.
How much air should I put into my tires?
Always check the PSI rating of your tire; it’s the set of numbers inscribed on the sidewalls that indicate the lowest and highest pressure limits within which your tires can operate without any issue.
Do the valves matter?
Not anymore. Bicycle pumps these days are designed to be used on either the Presta valves and the Schrader.
They come with interchangeable nozzles that can be switched quickly depending on the valve type on your flat tire. Check your tire to determine the valve in use.
The Bottom Line
Knowing how to use a bike pump isn’t rocket science; all that one needs to be aware of are the important parts like the valve types on their road bike tires and the PSI values.
Keeping your tires inflated at all times is for your own good. A road bike that runs on underinflated bicycle tires makes for a very uncomfortable riding experience.
This guide on how to use a bike pump is aimed at all bike owners; if you encounter any issues, make sure you ask an expert for help. Forcing things may end up spoiling delicate parts of your tires, forcing you to buy new ones.