There are few things more despiriting than wheeling your bike out on a crisp morning and discovering you can't ride, because the tires are flat. You simply can't travel independently without air in your tires. And, because we work in a bike shop, quite often we forget that many people are completely mystified by bicycle tires.
Whether you ride your bike regularly, or leave it hanging out in your basement or garage, the tires will naturally lose air over time. It's like the balloon you brought back from a party: after a few days, it doesn't look so good. Bike tires don't lose air quite as rapidly as a balloon, and they can also be readily refilled. The trick is to know how and with what.
Before we get to that, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with the two types of valves commonly found on bicycles. If you have the inclination, and a little more time, you may also find it helpful to learn more about the anatomy of the bicycle wheel.
You should really check your tires for correct inflation any time you get on your bike. Unless you have super-skinny high-pressure road tires, it's not necessary to use a gauge. If your bike has been hanging around for a while, chances are you can simply eyeball the tires. They'll look pretty flat. Otherwise, just squeeze them. They should feel nice and firm, with almost no give. If they are squishy, it's time to put in some air.
Here are your options for getting air in the tires:
- Use a pump you have at home, or...
- ....if you do not own a pump
- ask to borrow a neighbor's
- go to a gas station and use their compressor
- go to your local bike store and use the free air, and, while you are there..
- GET A BIKE PUMP!
Seriously, a dependable bike pump is a must-have for any bike owner, even if you ride only occasionally. Less than fifty bucks gets you the confidence of knowing you can ride your bike whenever the mood strikes. Since I personally find stand-alone gauges to be anoying and cumbersome to use, I recommend getting a pump with a built-in gauge. It's best to get a floor pump for home use, and a portable pump to carry with you. But if you can only get one pump, a portable will do the trick; it'll just take longer.
Now that you have a source of compressed air, simply apply the pump head to the valve. (Most bicycle pumps on the market will fit both common types of bicycle valves, but if you have Presta valves, and are using an air compressor, you will probably need an adaptor. Click here for details on different valves.) Fill the tire to correct pressure:
- The correct pressure is embossed on the side of the tire and expressed as a range in units of PSI (pounds per square inch). A mountain bike tire will take 45-60 PSI, a hybrid tire might take 65-90 PSI, and a road tire 90-120 PSI. These are examples only. Use the information imprinted on your specific tire. There are exceptions, but most of the time, go to the top number.
- If you are working without a gauge, fill the tire until very firm.
- Fill the tire gradually, especially if it was very flat to begin with. Put in a little air, and slowly spin the tire, checking to see if it is properly seated in the rim. Look for any gaps between the tire and the rim, and any places where the inner tube might be protruding. You don't want that -- it can cause a blow out.
Getting air in the tires is one of the most basic tasks, yet it is one that causes many people frustration and keeps them from riding and enjoying their bikes. At Rapid Transit Cycleshop, we want to help you get on your bike and ride. If you are timid, uncertain or confused about getting air in the tires, we can help. We always have free air, and a range of bike pumps available. Our staff will be happy to assist you in filling your tires, and offer you help and advice if you are just starting out.