Tyre Valve Types and How to Pump On the Road

How to pump bike tyre

Pumping tubes on the road is a basic skill that every cyclist should know. Although filling air into a tyre doesn’t seem all that challenging, if you haven’t done it before it’s worth noting a few things. If you’ve ever bought a pump and wondered why the head isn’t fitting the valve, you probably don’t know the difference between a Schrader valve and a Presta valve. Now, if you already know what a Schrader and Presta valve is, this article might be too basic for you. However, if you don’t know the difference, this is necessary read.

What is the difference between, Schrader valve, and a Presta valve? Why is the difference important?

Firstly, you must know what a valve does. A valve regulates the flow of air into and out of the tyre’s tube. For instance, when you open and close a tap, you are actually opening and closing a valve. When the valve is open, it lets the water flow and when the valve is closed, it stops the water from flowing. In the same manner, when you close the tyre’s valve, the air in the tube stays in. Also, you can’t pump air into the tyre when the valve is shut.

Now that you know how a valve operates, let’s look at the two most common types of valves. The most popular type of valve is the Schrader valve. The Schrader valve is shorter and wider than the Presta valve. But, the most obvious difference between the two is the lock nut. Schrader valves don’t have a lock nut. You can directly attach your pump to it and inflate the tube. If you try doing that with a Presta valve, it won’t work. That’s because Presta valves have a lock nut that you must unscrew before filling air.

Both valves have a dust cap. Many people assume the cap keeps the air in the tyre from leaking. Actually, it doesn’t. The cap’s only function is to keep the dust from accumulating in the valve. If you want to see what a Schrader valve looks like, look at the valve on a car’s tyre — those are Schrader valves. It is important that you’re able to tell the difference between these two types of valves because you have to select a compatible pump head.

How do I select the right pump?

Naturally, the first step in this process is to determine what type of valve your cycle’s tyres have. If you have a Presta valve, you should get a pump that is compatible with that type of valve. On the other hand, if you have a Schrader valve, you should get a pump that fits a Schrader valve. Alternatively, you can buy a pump for Presta valves and get an adapter that lets you use it with Schrader valves, or visa versa. But, the best solution is to get a pump that fits both Schrader and Presta valves.

Next, you must choose the type of pump. Cycle pumps come in three different types: track pump, mini pump, and canister pumps.

  • Track Pump: A track pump is the most common type. A track pump is like a mega syringe. It has a cylinder and a plunger. To pump air, you need to push the plunger down the cylinder. The benefit of a track pump is that it allows you to fill the tyre to a high pressure with less effort. The downside is these pumps are cumbersome and not built for portability.
  • Mini Pump: If you want a pump to carry around with you, go for a mini pump. A mini pump is a miniature version of the track pump and it works the same way as a track pump does. However, the disadvantages is it will take you a lot of time and effort to build the pressure in the tubes.
  • Canister Pump: Lastly, there’s the canister pump. A canister pump is a small can filled with compressed carbon dioxide. It can inflate your tyre very quickly — and with no physical involvement on your part. But, it is fit for only one time use. More importantly, if you don’t know how to use it properly, you may blow up your tyre.

After accounting for the type of valve and your portability needs, you can select an appropriate pump. Once you buy the pump, using it is a matter of following a few simple steps.

If I want to inflate the tyres, what are the simple steps to follow?

Given that you have a pump that matches the valve on your cycle’s tyres, follow the steps to inflate the tyre:

  1. First, unscrew the dust cap that covers the valve.
  2. Next, loosen the lock nut on the valve. You can skip this step if the valve is a Schrader valve.
  3. Now, attach the pump head to the valve. To secure the pump head, you may have to either screw a nut or pull a lever.
  4. With the pump head securely attached to the valve, begin pumping the air into the tube by pushing the plunger.
  5. When the tyre begins to inflate, press your thumbs against the side of the tube to feel the pressure. If you have a road bike, you can stop pumping when pressing the tube feels like pressing an eraser. For mountain bikes, you can stop pumping when the tire presses down by about a centimetre.
  6. Of course, if you have a pressure gauge on your pump, you can stop pumping when the pressure reaches the desired psi. For road bikes, shoot for 80 to 130 psi and for mountain bikes aim for 50 to 70 psi.
  7. On reaching the required pressure, detach the pump from the valve.
  8. Then, tighten the lock nut. Skip the step if the valve is a Schrader valve.
  9. Lastly, screw the dust cap on the valve.

Awesome, you’re good to go.

The steps clearly demonstrate an easy-to-follow process. But, if you are not aware of the nitty-gritty’s, you may make rookie mistakes that lead to suboptimal performance. You deserve to get the best performance out of your bike. So, why not do it the right way — especially when it is so simple and easy.

But, what if I get a puncture on the road?

If you get a puncture on the road, pumping the tyre is a sub-skill within a major skill. The major skill is replacing the tyre’s tube. An alternative to replacing tubes is patching punctures.

Even if you don’t have a puncture, inflating tyres is still a useful skill to know. That’s because the pressure in the tyres will decrease with time because carbon dioxide permeates the rubber and escapes the tube. So, you must check the pressure in the tyres before every ride and compensate for a dip when required.

Great, any suggestions on the equipment to buy?

If you’re looking for a track pump, the Birzman Apogee III Track Pump is your best bet. But, it is expensive. So, if you have economy on you mind, try the GT Attack Mini Pump. For a quality CO2 inflator, you can count on the Lezyne Control Drive. You will also benefit from buying a Schrader valve adapter. Since your shopping for supplies, you may want to consider adding a couple of tubes, puncture seals, and puncture repair kit to your shopping cart.

What next?

The next step would be learning how to replace tubes and seal punctures on the road. Eventually, your aim should be to become self-sufficient when it comes to repairing and maintaining your bike. If you continue to journey along this road, you will become an expert eventually. And we are more than happy to help you along the journey.

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  • Founder of biketorpedo.co.uk... Obsessive about all things bikes and technology, Jamie decided to combine them to build BikeTorpedo to become the online hangout for UK cyclists.

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