How To Use A Bike Pump: Hand Pumps and Track Pumps [With Video Guide]

Photo of author
Written by
reviewed by Rory McAllister

The single bike maintenance skill you’ll use most often is knowing how to use a bike pump.

Pumping up your bike tires is a task you are going to be doing all the time. It might be to get the optimum PSI, or you might get a puncture on the road and need to get the air back in the tube. 

This article will tell you everything you need to know about using a bike pump, covering:

  • How Does A Bike Pump Work?
  • What Are The Different Types Of Bike Pumps?
  • How Can I Find The Optimum Bike Tire Pressure?
  • How To Use A Bike Pump in 5 Steps
  • Robbie’s Video Guide: How To Use A Bike Pump

Let’s dive in!

How To Use A Bike Pump: Title Image

How Does A Bike Pump Work?

A bike pump is what you use to increase air pressure in your tires.

They are a vital tool for any cyclist. Tires naturally leak air over time, so you will regularly need to top up their pressure. You will also need them when repairing punctures, losing a lot of air. 

A bike pump works using air compression. Pumps essentially are a cylinder with a piston inside. When you pull the pump outwards, it pulls air into the intake valve. Then when you push it forward, the piston compresses the air until it forces its way into the tire. 

Modern bike pumps typically work for two different types of valves: Schrader valves, which are similar to those used on a car tire, and Presta valves, which are longer and thinner.

Presta valves are the most common on modern bicycles.

A track and hand bicycle pump.

What Are The Different Types Of Bike Pumps?

You will find many different types of pumps on the market that will work for a bike. The main two are a track pump and a hand pump. Here’s what you need to know:

Track Pump

A track pump is a larger pump you would typically keep at home.

They are called track pumps because they are typically used in a track environment such as a velodrome. They are large pumps that can quickly move a huge volume of air and get tires to very high pressures. 

Track pumps are perfect for filling larger tires quickly or going to very high pressures. Some will even come with a boost chamber where you can pressurize air and simultaneously release it. This is to help set tubeless tires up.

Hand Pump

Two hand bicycle pumps next to each other.

Then we have the hand pump, and this is what you would generally take out on a ride with you. These small compact pumps are designed only to be used when needed on the road or in an emergency. 

Hand pumps are meant to be lightweight and small. Most will fit into your pocket, and you will find they are much harder work than a track pump. Being such a small size, they can struggle to reach high pressures.

Other Options

You also have other options which you will hear cyclists recommend, such as floor pumps, air compressors, and even garage pumps. We recommend being very careful when it comes to using these as they are not designed for bikes and are very powerful.

Many cyclists ask if using CO2 cartridges is an option, and yes, it’s possible, but it’s worth remembering CO2 will leak out within a few days and should only be used in an emergency, in our opinion.

A track bicycle pump and hand bicycle pump.

How Can I Find The Optimum Bike Tire Pressure?

When pumping up a bike tire, it’s good to know what tire pressure you need inside. Most track pumps and some hand pumps will come with a tire pressure gauge. Here’s how to find the right tire pressure for you. 

Check The Manufacturers Specifications

Most brands who sell tires will recommend certain PSI to suit the riding that you’re doing. If you check the website for the tires you’re using, it should tell you exactly where you need to be and the minimum and maximum pressures. 

Online Calculator

There are a lot of excellent online calculators that will tell you exactly what tire pressure you are going to need. Our favorite two are the Silca and the SRAM tire pressure calculator. These will give you a great recommendation but always double-check the maximum to ensure you don’t go over it.


Finally, the last way is to experiment. If you look at the side of the tire, it will have a max PSI. We recommend starting around 60% of this figure. Then if it feels too solid, lose some air. If it feels spongy, add air.

How To Use A Bike Pump in 5 Steps

Without further ado, here’s our step-by-step guide on how to use a bike pump. This guide will tell you how to use both a track and a hand pump. 

Step #1. Preparation

A track pump in front of a road racing bike.

The first step is to get yourself prepared.

You will need to find a safe place to work and ensure you’re not in anyone’s way. If you’re pumping your tires while out on a ride, make sure you are well clear of traffic and other cyclists. 

Step #2. Identify The Valve And Set The Pump Up

Graphic showing the difference between a Presta valve and a Schrader valve for a bike.

Next, you need to identify if you need to inflate a Presta valve or a Schrader valve.

A Schrader valve is wide with a small pin in the center, and a Presta valve is thin with a small screw piece on the top.

Ensure that your pump has the correct fitting. For a track pump, you often just flick a lever on the pump’s nozzle to switch between Presta and Schrader (usually marked with “P” and “S”). Other track pumps may require an adaptor to change valve types.

With a hand pump, you may need to switch between pump hoses or use an adaptor. The larger hole will be for Schrader valves, and the smaller hole for Presta valves.

Step #3. Attach The Nozzle 

A track bike pump nozzle on a Presta valve.

Now it’s time to attach the pump nozzle. If you are using a Schrader valve, remove the dust cap and press (or screw) the pump nozzle on, depending on the pump you’re using. Use the locking lever to ensure it’s tight if you have one.

If you are using a Presta valve, remove the dust cap and unscrew the valve at the top. After that, press or screw the nozzle, but be careful not to bend the top of the valve in this process. Lock it on with the lever, ensuring it’s nice and tight.

Step #4. Pump To correct PSI

A track bike pump gauge.

Now it’s time to get pumping!

If you have a track pump, put your feet on the stand and pull the handle up to the top. Then push down, and you will see the air go into the tire.

If you’re using a hand pump, you will need to have one hand on the pump and another on the handle. Pull the handle back and forward, and you will feel the air go inside.

A track pump will be around 10x quicker than a hand pump. Take your time to fill the tire with air, and if you have a pressure gauge, keep a close eye on it. If you haven’t, keep pinching the tire to ensure you are not putting too much in.

Step #5. Remove The Pump Nozzle

Removing a nozzle from a Presta valve.

Next, you need to remove the pump nozzle. Release the locking lever to loosen it first, then it should be easy enough to pull straight off. When you do this, you will hear a loud hiss.

This is normal and not something to worry about. Try to be quick when removing the pump nozzle to avoid air loss.

Once removed, if you use a Presta valve, you will need to screw it up again. Then finally, add the dust caps, and you’re done!

Robbie’s Video Guide: How To Use A Bike Pump

Check out the BikeTips YouTube Channel here for walk-through bike maintenance guides and more!

Photo of author
Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.