How to: Pump up your Bicycle Tyres - Total Women's Cycling

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How to: Pump up your Bicycle Tyres

We're going back to basics with this in-depth How To guide on pumping your bicycle tyres

One of the biggest mysteries to any cyclist just starting out, is finding the right tyre pressure. If you find you’re riding slower than usual, your legs are feeling heavy and you have difficulty pedalling, it could be that you need to pump up your bicycle tyres.

There’s a number of things that can happen when your tyres are on the low side. More tyre contact with the ground makes it feel like you’re pedalling through treacle, and you’ll make yourself more prone to punctures. If you’re tyre pressures is virtually non-existent, then you run the risk of damaging the rims.

We’ve compiled the ultimate guide for ensuring your tyres are full of air, and ready to roll.

Check your Valve Type

Presta (left) and Schrader (right)

The valve is attached to the inner tube which sit between the rim and the tyre. The valve protrudes through an opening in the rim, and there are two main types: Presta and Schrader.

The Presta valve is most common, and it’s the thinner of the two. It consists of a small pin valve in a wider tube, held closed by a nut. You need to unscrew the nut to allow the air flow in/out of the inner tube.

The Schrader valve is similar to the valves used on cars, motorbikes and pram wheels. It’s fatter, and the central pin valve sits down inside the outer tube. Unlike the Presta valve, there are no nuts that need to be loosened here.

Both types of valve are likely to have a small plastic dust cap that screws on over the top. These help keep the valve clean and protected from grit, grime and damage. These aren’t essential, but they are handy to have.

Check your Pump

 

Make sure your pump is compatible with the valve type you have. Some pumps can only be used with one type of valve, while other pumps can take both. It should be listed on the pump, or on the packaging that came with it.

If it’s a small hand pump, it may be able to convert between the two types of valve. This can usually be done by unscrewing the nozzle attachement and swapping over an adaptor.

Here’s our top recommendations for faff free pumps

Some hand pump and floor pumps will have a larger nozzle that clamps over the valve with a lever. The opening here is designed to take either valve, and the lever tightens a rubber ring to seal the nozzle shut.

Other track pumps work in a similar way to the above, but will have a head that has two nozzles; one for each valve type.

When out on a ride, many people will carry CO2 cannisters and an adaptor instead of a pump. Although this can be a quick fix for a flat, they are often used as a short-term solution until you can make a proper repair.

Attach the Pump to the Valve

This is simple enough, but there are a few things to be careful of. Once you’ve taken off the dust cap and unscrewed the core, you need to make sure that the nozzle is pressed firmly down onto the valve. If you find that the air is escaping from the inner tube, or that it’s not inflating when you pump, this may mean the pump isn’t attached properly, so try again.

Which Inner Tube Valve: Presta or Schrader?

With Presta valves, take care not to damage or break the thin central pin, the core. This can’t be replaced in most inner tubes, so if it’s broken it means you’ll need to change the entire tube.

Pump Up your Bicycle Tyres

You can now pump your tyres to the desired volume.

The pressure range for a tyre is printed on its sidewall, and is usually listed in psi – pounds per square inch – or bars. As a general rule, for a road bike it will be 80 – 130psi, mountain bike tyres will be 30 – 50psi and hybrid tyres 50 – 70psi.

The recommended range gives you an idea of the ideal tyre pressure. However,  it’s usually quite a wide window. The ideal number will vary between riders and based on conditions. Lighter riders generally need lower pressures, as they don’t push down on the tyres and cause them to compress against the surface as much. In wet conditions, you generally want to run your tyres to a lower pressure, too – to allow a greater surface area to connect with the ground.

If you’re a lighter rider, heading out on a wet day, opt for the lower end of the scale. A heavier rider on a dry day should go for the higher end of the scale – adjust this accordingly depending upon your weight and conditions.

We recommend having a track pump at home to keep your tyres fully pumped up, and carrying a small hand pump for on the go for top ups, or puncture repairs. You’ll also find that most bike shops will have a track pump available for customer use, sometimes set up outside the shop.

Keep the Pressure Up

Your tyres will naturally loose pressure over time with use. Keep checking them and keep them topped up to ensure your ride is smooth and efficient.

As a general rule, we recommend checking them every week – it should be part of your pre-Monday commute checks. However, if you ride a lot you’ll need to check them more, and if you ride less you may not need to check them as often.

So now you’ll be able to keep your tyres pumped and primed, ready to roll into action at moments notice. 

You may also enjoy:

What to look out for with Winter road bike tyres

How to: Remove and replace an inner tube

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