Determining the Valve Type
The first step to inflating your bike tires is to determine what valve type your bike has.
There are three different types of valve:
(also called Sclaverland or French valve)
The Presta valve is most common among bicycles, especially higher-end road bikes. It is narrow (6mm) and long and consists of an outer valve stem and inner valve body.
The valve will also have a valve cap, which is essential for keeping out water and dirt.
(also called American or car valve)
The Schrader valve is most commonly found on car tires, but can also be found on certain bikes. It is wider (8mm) and shorter than the Presta valve.
The valve consists of an outer valve stem with an inner valve core. Unlike the Presta, the Schrader valve also contains a spring that closes the valve when the pin is not depressed. This is a slight disadvantage because it can allow air to leak.
(also called Woods or English valve)
The Dunlop valve is the same width as the Schrader valve, but uses the same mechanism as the Presta valve. It is less common than the other two valves, but is often found in countries such as Japan and the Netherlands.
Finding a Bike Pump
Once you have determined which type of valve your bike has, you can collect your materials.
You will, of course, need a pump of some sort.
If you already own a bike pump, check to see which type of valve it is compatible with. If it is a smart pump or has two holes, it is compatible with either. In the case of a two-hole pump, the larger hole fits Schrader and Dunlop and the smaller fits Presta.
If you do not own a pump, you will need to buy one or borrow one.
When buying a pump, consider what is best for your lifestyle. If you are traveling with your bike, you may want to consider a portable bike pump. These are more compact and convenient than a floor pump. Floor pumps, however, are somewhat more user-friendly.
Otherwise, you can borrow a pump from a friend or local gas station.
Beware that you may need a couple extra materials, depending on the compatibility of your valve and pump.
If you have a Presta valve but wish to use a gas station pump, you will need to purchase an adaptor. These are generally under $10 and can be worth the investment if you don’t intend to buy a pump of your own.
If you have a Schrader you may need a small tool such as a pen cap to press down on the stem.
If you are using a universal bike pump, you might need to invert the internal rubber stop to fit your valve.
It is essential to fill your tires with the proper amount of pressure. Air pressure on bike tires is measured by PSI, or pounds per square inch.
You will typically find the PSI inscribed on your bike tire. It will be listed in a range; the first number is the absolute minimum, the second number is the optimal amount.
If your bike pump does not have a pressure indicator, fill your tires until they feel firm. Be sure to check them over the next several days to ensure that no air is leaking out.
Filling the Tires
You are now ready to get started.
- Open the valve.
- Schrader – unscrew the rubber cap
- Presta or Dunlop – unscrew the dust cap, then loosen the brass cap until you can hear air release after pressing on the valve stem
- Place the nozzle on the valve. If the nozzle has a lever, switch it to the parallel position when placing the nozzle on the valve and return it to perpendicular to close once the nozzle is in place.
- Schrader –
- Inflate the tire. Keep an eye on the pressure and try not to make the tires too firm.
- Close the valve.
- Schrader – replace the dust cap
- Presta or Dunlop – tighten the brass cap and then replace the dust cap
Deflating the Tires
For a Schrader valve, use your thumb nail or pen cap to press on the valve stem until air escapes. If you have a Presta or Dunlop valve, simply remove the dust cap and press down on the valve.
- Be sure to check your air pressure often to avoid unsafe riding.
- Keep track of your dust caps or water and dirt can collect, making it difficult to inflate your tires and lead to eventual leakage.