If you own a bicycle then at one point or another you are going to have to inflate your tires. The basic thing to know is that your tires have two components; the rubber casing on the outside, and the inflatable inner tube on the inside. The inner tube is filled with air using a pump via a valve that only lets air pass through it one way. Tires will deflate on their own over time, even if they don’t have a puncture. Manufacturers are limited in how much air they can “keep in” the inner tube.
Over time the deflating tire will create more friction, making cycling much harder and increasing the likelihood of punctures.
You’re going to need to find out what tire pressure the manufacturer recommends. This can usually be found on the side of the tire, typically between 50 and 100 pounds per square inch, although different bikes will vary.
To make the job as easy as possible try and choose a pump with a pressure gauge on it, that way you will be able to get the perfect pressure every time.
If you have a pump without a gauge then it might be worth investing in a separate gauge.
Knowing Your Valves
The valve is what allows air into your inner tube without letting it out. There are two main kinds of valve; Schrader valves and Presta valves.
The Schrader valve is similar to the valve found on car tires. They have springs on the inside so they don’t require a locknut to seal the valve. Simply remove the dust cap and apply the pump directly.
The Presta Valve is thinner than the Schrader and uses a small locknut at the end of the valve with a nut on the rim. To inflate you need to unscrew the locknut as far as possible before attaching the pump to the valve.
There will be a thread on the valve stem where you can attach a connector. This will allow you to get at the valve using a flexible adaptor.
This helps to reduce stress on the actual valve stem and, with a second attachment, will work on both types of valve. The Schrader has a wide thread, and the Presta has a thin thread, make sure to take note and get the right adapter.
You don’t have to use a flexible attachment, some pumps attach directly to the valve. Some have interchangeable connection heads, but others are fixed for only one valve type.
The threaded flexible tube that screws into the valve and the pump is probably the most common connector. The press-on plastic connectors have a lever which allows you to switch the air-flow on and off.
They are much faster to use which is why you will find them on most track pumps.
What makes the flexible connection the most common is that it places much less stress on the actual valve stem, as opposed to pumps that are directly attached to it.
The locknut on the Presta valve also reduces valve stress as the locknut holds onto the wheel rim directly. The locknut should always be finger tight only; over-tightening can cause damage to your bike.
The first thing to check when looking at pumps is its maximum pressure. There is little point in buying a pump only to realize it doesn’t go as high as you would like.
It is also worth considering how much effort is needed to pump the tire: a narrow tube will take less effort than a wide tube but take longer to finish.
It’s worth buying a pump that is compact enough to take with you on your journey. Better yet you can buy one that can be clipped to your frame, or even one that can be attached to the seat post.
If you want something better but less portable then a track pump is hands down the best option.
The pump stands upright with a handle on top and usually a pressure gauge. Most of the time you will be inflating your tires at home so the size doesn’t really matter, but it can be useful to have an “on the go” pump as well.