How to Pump Bicycle Tires and Choose the Right Pressure

Alex Godbout Simard
  • 8 minutes

Why should I pay attention to the tire pressure on my bike?

To have a safe and enjoyable riding experience, it is absolutely key that the air pressure in your tires is properly adjusted. As the only point of contact with the road, tires can make the difference between a pleasant ride or a nasty fall that could have been avoided.

In addition, the vast majority of punctures, aside from road debris, come from a tire that was not properly inflated. In fact, a tire with too little pressure could collapse on impact and pinch the tube against the rim, causing a flat.

On the other hand, a tire that is overinflated greatly reduces the amount of grip on the road, which could cause the wheels to slip when cornering due to lack of traction. In addition, comfort will also be greatly compromised, as every little vibration or bump in the tarmac will be felt by the cyclist. Fatigue and discomfort will gradually and prematurely eat away your energy and endurance.

Another very important reason to inflate your tires to the appropriate pressure is better rolling resistance, thus increasing the overall efficiency behind every pedal stroke. There will also be a very good balance between comfort and grip: most of the vibrations will be absorbed, the tire will have an optimal amount of grip and most punctures will be avoided. Finally, your tires will have an optimal life span, often exceeding thousands of kilometres before it needs to be replaced. This reduces replacement costs that could have been easily avoided.

Fortunately, knowing how to inflate your tires to the right pressure is easy, quick and doesn't require any special mechanical knowledge. Here's what you need to know before you start.

What kind of valve do I have?

There are two common types of valve in cycling: Presta and Schrader. The valve model will determine the type of pump nozzle you will need, as they are different in diameter. There is no difference in performance or air retention between the two. If you are already familiar with the valves found on cars, then you are already able to identify a Schrader valve (pictured on the left). This model is generally common on entry-level bikes or hybrid bikes on the North American market.

Presta valves differ by the fact that its plunger- or tip- must be unscrewed before the tire can be inflated. Most road bikes and mountain bikes are equipped with Presta valves.
Even though tubeless system does not use an inner tube, a Presta type valve is still installed onto the rim in order to inflate the tire. However, for the same tire size, the amount of pressure will not be the same between a tire equipped with an inner tube and a tubeless tire. We will talk more on this topic a little later in this article.

How often should I inflate my tires?

As a preventive measure, before getting on your bike, we recommend that you test the pressure of your tires with your hand to make sure that they have not suffered a slow puncture during the previous ride. If you ride your bike every day, you may not have to inflate your tires every time you ride. For tires with traditional tubes, we recommend inflating your tires every three to four days if weather conditions are stable.
It is important to note that the higher the pressure in your tires, say 100 PSI, the more it will tend to decrease over time. A tire inflated to 30 PSI will be more stable because the stored pressure is much lower. You will have to inflate a high-pressure tire more often to keep it toped-off.
If you have latex inner tubes or tubeless tires, we strongly recommend that you inflate your tires each time you ride. Tubeless tires are known to be less airtight than traditional rubber tubes. They lose air at a faster rate yet are not more prone to punctures.

A word about valve caps

For Presta valves, the plastic cap is mainly used to prevent the valve from piercing the tube when its bundled up in its box. Therefore, its not essential for the life of the valve and its airtightness to keep the cap once the inner tube is installed in the tire.

Because of the cavity inside the valve, it is recommended to keep the cap on the Schrader valves to limit the accumulation of water and debris. This will increase the life of the valve while making it easier to inflate the tire by having a clean and unclogged valve. If you lose this one, don't panic: the air will not leak, and the valve will still be functional for a long time.

What bike pump should I use?

Now that you know the type of valve on your bike, you need a pump that works with it. Fortunately, most bike pumps are designed with a nozzle that can accommodate both Presta and Schrader valves. Also, if you only have a pump for the wrong type of valve, don't worry: There are small adapters available made just for that.

By far the most practical and efficient pump, the floor pump will allow you to inflate your tires quickly and accurately. Like the lube for your chain, a trusty bicycle pump is an essential maintenance accessory. Reaching the desired pressure is easy with the built-in gauge. No need to use your thumb to guess!

Hand pump or CO2 cartridge pump should accompany you on your outings to complete your puncture kit. Although they don't provide accurate tire pressure information, they are the lightest and most portable solution while out on the field. The hand pump, although reliable, can take several minutes to inflate a tire because of its small volume. The CO2 cartridge pump can inflate a tire almost instantly. However, the cartridge holds just enough air for one tire. Remember that!

Finally, an air compressor can be used if the flow rate and pressure are well controlled. It is easy to exceed the maximum recommended pressure after only a few seconds. If you don't have a manometer connected directly to the hose, we do not recommend tool to inflate your tires.

What is the recommended tire pressure for me?


The recommended pressure depends on three key factors: the type of road (road, mountain, gravel, etc.) the width of the tire and your weight. So, if you have a road bike and a mountain bike, the tire pressure between the two will be different. Similarly, if you change your tires to a wider or thinner alternative, you will need to change the pressure accordingly.

CAUTION : The maximum tire pressure recommended on the sidewall of your tires does not represent the pressure at which you should inflate them. It is a warning from the manufacturer to avoid catastrophic tire failure.

Here are two recommended pressure charts depending on your discipline, your weight, and the width of your tires. These pressures consider the fact that your tires are equipped with an inner tube.
Tire pressure chart based on rider's weight

Road, Triathlon and Gravel bikes: 700c Wheel (with inner tube) 

Tire Width/ Rider's Weight

140 lbs 165 lbs 185 lbs 210 lbs

23 mm

100 PSI 110 PSI 115 PSI 120 PSI

25 mm

85 PSI 95 PSI 105 PSI 115 PSI

28 mm

78 PSI 85 PSI 95 PSI 105 PSI

32 mm

70 PSI 75 PSI 85 PSI 90 PSI

38 mm

58 PSI 63 PSI 73 PSI 80 PSI

42 mm

53 PSI 58 PSI 63 PSI 70 PSI

Mountain Bike and Fat Bike (with inner tube) 

Tire Size/ Rider's Weight

140 lbs 165 lbs 185 lbs 210 lbs

29er x 2.0-2.2''

30 PSI 35 PSI 38 PSI 42 PSI

29er x 2.3-2.5''

28 PSI 33 PSI 37 PSI 40 PSI

27.5'' x 2.2-2.5''

27 PSI 28 PSI 30 PSI 32 PSI

27.5'' x 2.6-2.9''

24 PSI 25 PSI 826 PSI 28 PSI

26'' x 4'' (Fat bike, Winter conditions)

6.5 PSI 7 PSI 7.5 PSI 8 PSI

26'' x 5'' (Fat bike, Winter conditions)

4.8 PSI 5 PSI 5.5 PSI 7 PSI

What is the recommended pressure for tubeless tires?

If your tires have been converted to Tubeless, i.e. there is no longer an inner tube inside your wheel, you can reduce the pressure by 5 to 10% compared to the pressure recommended above. The great advantage of tubeless tires is that you can reduce the pressure for increased comfort without running the risk of pinching the tube on the rim.


Experiment!

Now that you have a good starting point, all the fun of experimentation can begin! Don't hesitate to increase or decrease, by a few PSI, the pressure of your tires to find the perfect balance between comfort, puncture resistance and efficiency. Quick tipto increased traction and comfort even further: put about 2 to 5 PSI less in the front tire than in the rear tire. Have a great ride!