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How to Properly Inflate Your Bike Tires: A Simple Guide for Perfect Air Pressure

In this article, you will learn about tire pressure and how to inflate your tires properly so that you can fill up your tires with confidence.

Bike tire getting inflated with gauged air pump. Source: TheDigitalWay, Pixabay
Bike tire getting inflated with gauged air pump. Source: TheDigitalWay, Pixabay

The best way to keep your bike riding smoothly and avoid flat tires is to keep your tires properly inflated. Properly inflated tires ride better, last longer, and resist punctures. But how do you know if you’re doing it right? And, how do you properly inflate a bike tire?

First, identify if you have Presta or Schrader valves. Always use a pump with a gauge to measure the air pressure as you pump. Reference the manufacturers suggested max PSI (typically located on the sidewall of the tire).

But there’s more to it than that. So, in this article, you will learn about tire pressure and how to inflate your tires properly.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 20, 2022, to include additional information regarding tire pressure.

Before getting into how to inflate bike tires, let’s first understand why tire pressure is inportant in the first place.

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Why is tire pressure important?

Over time, even overnight, your tires lose air. A similar thing happens with automobile tires, but it isn’t as serious since the quantity of air lost is so small compared to the volume of air in a car tire.

However, a tiny amount of air loss can be significant when it comes to bicycle tires.

Aside from making your bike less efficient, low tire pressure can result in a “pinch-flat.” A pinch-flat is a major threat that arises from low tire pressure and can occur when you hit a pothole, curb, rock, stick, or other sharp impediments.

If the air pressure in your tires is too low, the inner tube becomes trapped between the tire and the rim, and the rim edges cut two side-by-side holes into the inner tube, causing a “snake bite,” which is essentially a puncture that slowly leaks air out. You can learn how to avoid snake bites and other kinds of tire punctures here.

And, it goes without saying that tires with low air pressure are suckier to ride. They feel slow, sluggish, and are a drag.

What kind of pump do I need to inflate my bike tires?

Some bike shops allow you to use their air compressors to fill up your tires. This is perfectly safe. However, they typically don’t have a gauge built in to measure the air pressure, so you risk overinflating and damaging the inner tube.

Never try to inflate your tires at a service station with a vehicle tire compressor. Your bike tire can explode on you in seconds.

I always recommend using a floor pump with a gauge to indicate the PSI level. This way, you can fill the tire up to the specific recommendations set by the manufacturer.

If you don’t already own a floor pump, consider some of the options below.

What is the best bicycle tire pump?

Floor pumps have a larger capacity overall and can inflate bicycle tires to a maximum tire pressure of 160 psi. Therefore, we suggest the BV Bicycle Floor Pump*.

Hand pumps are small, portable ones you can keep in your car or carry on a bike ride. They come in handy if you ever need to re-inflate your tires while out riding. If you are looking for a quality hand pump, check out the Schwinn Air Sport Schrader and Presta Valve Pump*.

How to inflate a bicycle inner tube?

To inflate your bicycle wheels correctly, follow these steps.

  1. Determine the kind of valve you have

    Image of a bikes schrader valve. Source: Tim Foster, Unsplash

    You must first determine the valve type of your tube. Generally, two different types of valves are available; Schrader valves and Presta valves.

    Presta valves
    Presta valves are sometimes known as “French,” “racing,” or “needle” valves. Some Presta valves do not have threaded shafts. Others have smooth metal or rubber shafts.

    Schrader valves
    Schrader valves are similar to car tire valves and are frequently referred to as “American” valves. Schrader valves consist of a valve stem into which a valve core is threaded.

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    Plastic caps are included with every inner tube. The cap’s job is to prevent dirt or other particles from getting into the opening of the valve. These provide some protection as well as a “finished” appearance. I recommend always having the caps on. It can give you peace of mind knowing you are not willingly allowing air to escape from the valve.

    If you are looking for some 700c inner tubes, consider some of the options below.

  2. Uncap your valves

    The plastic caps on Presta and Schrader valves typically need to be removed before using either type of valve. Make sure you put the cap someplace secure, like your back pocket, so you don’t lose it. If you happen to have your caps, no biggie, replacements are inexpensive.

    To add or remove air from Presta valves, unscrew the tip by rotating it counterclockwise. Then, press down on the tip to open the valve and let the air out. Before inflating, press down to ensure the valve is open.

    In addition to taking off the cap, unscrew the lock nut from the Presta valve.
    Removing the cap from a schrader valve is much easier. There is no locknut on a Schrader valve, so just unscrew the cap. That’s all.

  3. Connect the pump to the valve

    There are many bike pumps available on the market with different instructions. The best way to ensure you use yours appropriately is to read the instructions carefully.

    Most contemporary pumps have a head that can accommodate both valve styles. However, some pumps have heads that must be disassembled and reassembled when you wish to pump up a different valve. Set it up for the valves on your bike and keep the instructions handy so you can remember how to change it if you need to.

    Cover about one-third of the valve with the pump head. If the pump head has a “lever lock,” flip it to connect it to the valve and begin pumping.

  4. Inflate the tire with air

    To get the proper PSI for your tire, reference the manufacturer’s suggested max PSI, which is written on the tire sidewall (it’s frequently on a little label, but it might also be molded into the casing, so check carefully).

    Keep your eyes on the gauge. You don’t want to overinflate, or you will render the tire useless! Unfortunately, this is more common than you might think.

    Don’t pump too hard. Slow and steady gets the work done and avoids pump damage (pushing too rapidly might damage the gauge).

  5. Remove the pump from the valve

    If you were required to lift a pump lever, you should now lower the lever. After that, remove the pump head from the valve. 

    As you remove the pump, you might hear the sound of some air escaping. This is normal and shouldn’t have a big effect on the air pressure in the tires.

  6. Close the valve.

    Replace the valve caps. Make sure to tighten the lock nut on a Presta valve before replacing the plastic dust cap.

    The tire should feel firm if you have pumped it within the proper PSI range. 

How often do I need to pump my bike tires?

Pump up your tires at least once a week, hybrid tires every two weeks, and mountain bike tires every two to three weeks. Bike tires only carry a limited amount of air, yet they will quickly dissipate air under extreme pressure.

What is the correct air pressure for a bike?

The appropriate air pressure for a bike depends on the brand and model of the bike, your riding style, and the weather conditions. However, most road and fixed gear cyclists will be ok with air pressures ranging from  90-120 PSI. If you’re unsure about your bike’s air pressure, talk to a mechanic or another expert biker.

Should bike tires be fully inflated?

The ideal inflation level for a bike tire depends on the terrain you’re riding on, the weight of your bike, and your particular tastes. But it’s always a good idea to pump up your bike tires to the most pressure they can handle. This makes sure they work well and keeps flats from happening.

Can you over-inflate a bike tire?

Yes. So why not overinflate your tires on every ride? The increased pressure makes the bike seem faster, but it may slow you down! Also, if the tire is overly firm, it will rattle and bounce, increasing rolling resistance and making for an uncomfortable ride. And they will quickly dissipate air under extreme pressure.

How do I know if my bike tires are overinflated?

Almost every bike tire has the appropriate pressure directly on the sidewall. Unfortunately, squeezing your tire isn’t accurate enough to tell you how much pressure you have; instead, use a pressure gauge. If you don’t have a gauge available, try sitting on your bike, you should be able to notice a tiny bulge in the tires. If not, reduce the pressure slightly.

Are you looking for more advice? Look at this video called How to Inflate a Bicycle Tire from Schwinn Bicycles.

A video called How to Inflate a Bicycle Tire from Schwinn Bicycles’ YouTube Channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about inflating your tires.

What happens if you ride a bike with low tire pressure?

Low tire pressure makes riding more difficult And, you lose the responsiveness that properly filled tires provide. Additionally, low tire pressure can result in a “pinch-flat.” A pinch-flat is a major threat that arises from low tire pressure and can occur when you hit a pothole, curb, rock, stick, or other impediments.

How do I inflate my bike tires?

To begin, obtain the proper bike pump for your bike’s tire valve. Then, calculate the tire pressure required for your bike. Remove the valve cap by unscrewing it. Position the pump on the valve. Raise the pump lever. Remove the pump from the valve and inflate the tire.

How do I know if my tire is inflated enough?

Almost every bike tire has the appropriate pressure directly on the sidewall. Unfortunately, squeezing your tire isn’t accurate enough to tell you how much pressure you have; instead, use a pressure gauge.

How do you measure bike tire pressure?

You measure tire pressure with a gauge. They are typically fond of most bike pumps. However, you can also purchase a gauge directly without a pump. 

How do you check tire pressure without a gauge?

if you do not have a gauge available, follow these steps to check tire pressure:
1. Press the tire on each side to check the bike pressure without a gauge.
2. If there is a lot of give, inflate till you can hardly squeeze.
3. Get on your bike and look at the wheels below. If the tires protrude more than a centimeter or two on either side, you’ll need to add air.

How do you inflate a tire without losing air?

After inflating your tires, you must flip the switch on the pump head. Next, tighten the locking screw and cover the tire valves to prevent air loss. It is common for your tire to lose air once you remove the pump.

Should I inflate my bike tires to max psi?

The terrain you’re riding on, the weight of your bike, and your personal preferences will all affect the ideal tire inflation level. But you should always inflate your bike tires to their maximum safe pressure. This guarantees their functionality and prevents flats.

Why is my bike pump deflating my tires?

Your pump is not correctly seated on the valve, and instead of inflating the tire, you are just pressurizing your pump’s interior. Does your bike have Schrader valves, like on a car, or Presta valves, which are thinner and have a point on top?

Why won’t my bike tires inflate?

You might be using the wrong head on your pump for your valve stem style, you could have the pump installed incorrectly, your valve stem could be damaged, you could have a puncture in your tire, your pump could be damaged, or if you are going tubeless, your bead could be wrongly adjusted.

How much air does a tire lose daily?

Bicycle tires may lose up to 20% of their air daily.

Conclusion

Maintaining the proper air pressure in your bike is one of the most important things you can do to avoid tire punctures and ensure a smooth, fun ride.

This article covered why tire pressure is important, what kind of pump you should get, and how to inflate your tires in three easy steps. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • Tires with low air pressure are susceptible to snake bike punctures.
  • Bikes with low tire pressure ride slow and feel sluggish.
  • Never use an air compressor designed for a car on your bike.
  • Identify the type of valve your ties use (Presta or Schrader).
  • Always use a pump with a gauge to measure PSI levels as you inflate.
  • Road bikes and mountain bikes have different recommended pressure range levels.
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So, do you use a hand pump? Floor pump? Or do you typically YOLO it with a gauge-less air compressor? Let us know in the comments below (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on everything fixie. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.

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Written by Bradly Knight

As a native New Yorker, Bradley is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He’s been riding fixed for over ten years. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including playing guitar, video production, and photography.

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