How to Inflate a Bike Tire – The Ultimate Guide to Pump it Right

Cyclist in black sport wear holding a pump in both hands using it in pumping bike tires up

This is one of the steps most underestimated by beginners.

At first, we tend to skip it, but it’s essential if we want to ride in good conditions.

We don’t really know if we’ve done the right thing when it comes to inflating bike tires. We often go by instinct, without really knowing the equipment we’re using or the type of valve we have in front of us.

It’s time to change that.

You’ll see, it’s not rocket science. In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know before inflating a bike tire, the types of valves that exist, how to recognize them, and the best way to inflate without making a mistake.

How can you find out the correct bike tire pressure?

The pressure of a bike tire depends on the type of tire, your riding style, and above all, how you feel about it.

I prefer to give you the elements you need to adjust the pressure yourself, rather than giving you a pressure to follow every time.

Generally speaking, the bike adapts to you, not the contrary. That’s why you must adjust the pressure to suit your feelings.

The principle is as follows:

  • High pressure = less friction / less grip / less wear / less risk of punctures
  • Low pressure = more comfort / more grip / more rolling resistance

The inflation recommendations (Min-Max) are on the tire’s sidewall. Take the average as a basis and adjust the pressure as you ride. Under no circumstances should you exceed the recommended range.

If you’re heavy or loaded, aim for the high range. And vice-versa – if you’re lighter, go for the low range.

For more details on optimum tire pressure:

The different types of valves – how to recognize yours?

There are several types of valves. The main ones are Presta and Schrader, while Dunlop valves are rare and Regina (or Italian) valves are even rarer.

Initially, Presta valves were for road use and Shrader for mountain biking. Today, the Presta valve is tending to become more widespread, notably through its use on MTBs for tubeless tires.

Presta valves

Close up of a presta valve

If you didn’t know the name Presta, you’d probably call it a ” small valve “. It’s the thinnest valve in the industry, which surely justifies its current democratization thanks to its weight.

Shrader valves

close up of a shrader valve

Shrader valves, which you might call “big valves”, are, or should I say were, used on mountain bikes for their robustness. Today, 90% of mountain bikes are fitted with Presta valves, thanks in particular to the democratization of tubeless tires.

Shrader valves can be found on older bikes and entry-level models.

Dunlop or Woods valves

Rarer, Dunlop valves closely resemble a mixture of Presta (removable shell) and Shrader in terms of rim diameter. This type of valve is more commonly found on British bikes, where it was designed.

Regina valves

Even rarer, Regina or “Italian” valves are rarely used. Pressure is difficult to adjust because of the shell-like cap.

Inflating a tire according to valve type – compatibility chart

The following table shows valve compatibility:

Valve typeValve diameterValve hole diameterType of inflation head

Once you’re sure of the type of valve you have and that you have the right inflation nozzle, you can get started.

How to inflate a Presta tubetype/Presta tubeless valve

The Presta valve being the most widely used today, it can be either tubetype or tubeless. The only difference is that, when inflating a tubeless valve, the sealed valve points downwards. This avoids clogging the tube with sealant.

To inflate a Presta valve, remove the plastic cap, then unscrew the top nut or so-called captive nut, then insert the Presta-type pump head (the small one).

Tip: Sometimes, despite the unscrewed nut, the air doesn’t get through. Press on the valve core to release it. Sometimes, the air pressure will press against the shell seal.

Once pressure is reached, release the pump, screw on the top nut, and replace the cap.

How to inflate a Shrader valve

To inflate a Schrader valve, remove the cap and insert the large Shrader tip directly into the pump. Inflate, then remove the pump and close the cap.

How to inflate a Dunlop valve

To inflate a Dunlop valve, first unscrew the nut holding the shell in place. Remove the nut and shell, then place the Shrader pump head on. Inflate to the correct pressure, then remove the pump. Fit the shell and secure it with the retaining nut. Tighten generously, by hand only.

How to inflate a Regina valve

To inflate a Regina valve, unscrew the removable top nut. This means that once unscrewed, all the air escapes. Be careful, as you can often lose it when releasing the pressure. Install the pump with the Presta head and apply slightly more pressure than required. When you screw the top nut back on, some air will escape.

What type of pump should you use?

Floor bike pump gauge

In reality, the type of pump has an impact on the ease of use only, not on the type of valve you need to inflate. In principle, all pumps come with either Presta or Shrader nozzles.

Having said that, I really feel that a hand pump is designed to be taken out in the event of a puncture and that a foot pump (floor pump) is indispensable at home. Fitted with a pressure gauge, it takes just a few strokes to reach the right inflation pressure.

In both cases, I recommend a bike pump with the two distinct types of nozzle, as it’s more efficient and easier to use.

How often should you check your bicycle tire pressure?

You should always check your bike tire pressure regularly.

The tire and inner tube (if you have any) ensure that air is trapped in the tire. Being made of rubber, their porosity allows air to escape over time.

Unlike a car tire, the volume of air contained and the finer coating of a bicycle tire lead to a more rapid loss of pressure. The average loss is one bar per month.

For this reason, tires should be inflated at least once a month.

Note that the larger the tire, the higher the air volume and pressure, the slower the loss.

For latex tubes, the pressure must be adjusted before each ride.

Now you can see that a flat tire is not necessarily a puncture. Be careful, though, as the age of an inner tube reduces its air-tightness.

As I specialize in restoring vintage bikes, I often have customers bring me their old bike thinking it’s flat, when in reality it was last inflated Methuselah ago. A little air and they’re off again.


What is the correct tire pressure for a bike?

As explained above, the correct pressure is the one that corresponds to the way you feel. There is no exact pressure; it depends on you. However, you must not exceed the recommended pressure range indicated on the tire sidewall.

How do you know if your bike tire has enough air?

A bicycle tire is sufficiently inflated when the pressure is within the range given by the manufacturer on the tire sidewall. You can then adjust the pressure according to how you feel. The use of a pump with a pressure gauge is virtually indispensable for this.

What happens if you put too much air in your bike tire?

The risk of an over-inflated tire is that it will burst or come off the rim. You must not exceed the maximum pressure recommended by the manufacturer. You’ll find this information on the tire’s sidewall.

Can you pump my bike tires at a gas station?

Yes, it is possible to inflate a bicycle tire at a service station, provided you have a Shrader valve, also used for car tires. A compressor is used to inflate the tire, so be careful not to exceed the recommended inflation pressure.

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