How To Use a Bike Pump to Pump a Bike Tire

{Cover photo: Your Best Digs}

It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, you’re ready to go for a bike ride…..but you have a flat tire.

Assuming it’s been a while since you’ve ridden your bike, you probably just have low tire pressure. An easy fix!

We’ll show you (step-by-step) how to pump up a bike tire using both two different kinds of bike pumps: a floor pump and also a hand pump.

No matter how mechanically un-inclined you are, you’ve got this!

Determine Whether Your Bike Tire Has a Presta Valve or a Schrader Valve

Before you even get around to pulling out the pump, take a moment inspecting your tire.

Bicycle tires (or rather their inner tubes) have two different kinds of valves. They are either a Presta valve or a Schrader valve. Check the pictures below to figure out what kind of valve you have.

But wait a minute, you say, my valve doesn’t look anything like those pictures. It appears to be plastic. That’s because your valve has a plastic dust cap on it. Simply remove it by unscrewing it.

Why does it matter what kind of valve you have? Because different valves require different pump nozzles. Most modern pumps (both floor pumps and hand pumps) will have both, but you have to use the correct one. Other pumps will only accommodate Schrader valves and you may have to get an adaptor to accommodate a Presta valve (if your tires are Presta).

Determine the Appropriate Tire Pressure for Your Tires

The next thing you want to do before starting pumping, is figuring out what the appropriate tire pressure is.

Bike tires (like car tires) measure air pressure in pounds per square inch, or PSI for short. You want plenty of pressure so that you can roll fast, but not so much that you experience a harsh ride. Also, if you inflate your tires too much, you could actually blow the tire off the rim. (Don’t worry—this is a pretty difficult thing to do).

Inspect the sidewall of your tire to find the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure. If your tire doesn’t have this (most will), then here are some basic guidelines:

If you’re a lightweight rider, stick to the lower end of the psi range; if you’re heavier, go higher.

How to Use a Floor Bike Pump

Step 1: Remove the Dust Cap From Your Valve

There is probably a plastic cap covering the top of your valve. Go ahead and unscrew this and remove it. Remember: left-y loose-y, right-y tight-y.

Put it somewhere safe so you can replace it again at the end.

dust cap

Step 2: If You Have A Presta Valve, Open The Valve (Otherwise, Skip)

Have a schraeder valve? Skip this step. But if you have a presta valve you will need to open the valve to put air in.

Unscrew it several turns. Again, lefty loose-y, righty tighty. If your bike has been sitting unused for a long time, or if it’s missing it’s dust cap, it may be difficult to unscrew it. In this case, use a pair of needle-nose pliers to help loosen it.

Release the valve by unscrewing it several rotations

Once the valve is loose, go ahead and press down on the top (just for a second) to release it.

Step 3: Place the Pump Nozzle On the Valve

Most floor pumps will have two nozzle holes–one for a Schraeder valve, one for a Presta valve. The big hole is for a Schraeder, the little hole is for Presta.

Press the appropriate nozzle hole down onto the valve until it’s firmly on the valve. A little air may escape from the tire while you’re doing this. That’s okay.

Step 4: Pull Up On the Pump Lever So It’s at a 90 Degree Angle

Most air pumps will have a lever that you need to engage. Pull up on the lever until you’ve rotated it a full 90 degrees.

Once the nozzle is on the valve, pull the lever up.

It’s worth noting that not every pump is like this. Some professional pumps will have a lever that you push in. That said, the vast majority of commercial pumps are designed to be pulled up on.

Step 5: Pump Until You’ve Reached the Appropriate Air Pressure

Put both feet on the base of the pump and use both arms to pull up on the pump and then push down. Continue pumping until the air gauge indicates that you’ve reached your appropriate tire pressure.

Step 6: Push Down the Pump Lever and Remove From the Valve

Push the pump lever back down (90 degrees) and pull the nozzle off your valve. A little air might escape–again, that’s ok.

Step 7: Screw the Valve Closed (if Presta), and Replace the Dust Cap

If you have a presta valve, make sure to screw it closed again.

Also, if you removed a dust cap at the start put it back on again.

You’re done!

How to Use a Hand Bike Pump

A hand pump is a little harder to do, for two reasons: 1) each hand pump is quite different, and 2) it takes a lot more pumping to reach your desired tire pressure.

Step 1: Remove the Dust Cap From Your Valve

If you have a plastic dust cap on your valve, remove it first. Screw left to loosen it, then put it in a safe place so that you can replace it later.

Step 2: If You Have A Presta Valve, Open The Valve (Otherwise, Skip)

If you have a presta valve, you need to open it before adding air to your tire. The top of the valve will unscrew–turn it left several rotations. Note that nothing comes off, it just loosens.

Then, press down on the valve for just a second. You should hear a short release of air. This means that the valve is open and ready to be pumped up.

Step 3: Place the Pump Nozzle On the Valve

Like a floor pump, most hand pumps will have to nozzle holes–one for a Schraeder valve and one for a Presta valve. The bigger of the two is a Schraeder, the smaller is Presta.

Other hand pumps, like the Lezyne HV Drive, have a nozzle on the end of a hose. One side of the hose is for Schraeder and the other is for a Presta.

This hand pump has a Schrader nozzle on one side and a Presta nozzle on the other.

Whatever type of hand pump you have, try to first identify which nozzle you should be using.

Then either press or screw (again this is different depending on the brand of hand pump) the nozzle onto the valve. A little air may escape in the process–that is okay.

Step 4: Pump Until You’ve Reached the Appropriate Air Pressure

Use one hand to hold the nozzle firmly on the valve, and the other to pump. Because hand pumps don’t have much volume, it will take A LOT of pumps to get your tire fully inflated. Rest when you need to.

Some, but not all, hand pumps have a switch that changes your pump from “high volume” to “high pressure.” You want to begin pumping in high volume mode, and once it becomes very challenging to pump anymore, switch to high pressure mode.

Many hand pumps will have a pressure gauge. Continue pumping until you get to your desired tire pressure.

If your pump does not have a pressure gauge, then you’ll have to manually feel your tire to determine when you have enough pressure. Firmly grip both sides of your tire and squeeze. It should feel firm and not too squishy.

Step 5: Remove the pump nozzle from the valve

Unscrew or pull of the nozzle. Don’t panic if you hear a little air release.

Step 6: Screw the Valve Closed (if Presta), and Replace the Dust Cap

If you have presta valve, make sure to close it again by screwing right until it’s firmly closed.

Also, if you have plastic dust cap, make sure to screw that back on as well.

Congratulations, you’re done!

Bike Pumps We Recommend

Don’t already have a bike pump? Here are several we love, use, and recommend. It’s also worth noting the bike pumps can break and otherwise die, so if you’re not having any luck, it might be time for a new pump.

Topeak JoeBlow Sport Floor Pump

This pump is a favorite of a lot of ladies we know.  It’s durable, will last for years, and provides a good connection between valve and stem.  

Lezyne Steel Floor Pump

This pump is pretty, but practical too.  The steel construction means it will last a long time, and unlike many pumps–the gauge is actually accurate!

Lezyne HV Drive Hand Pump

This is the hand pump I personally use ALL THE TIME.  As a petite female, I have limited upper body strength but have no problem using this pump.

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