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Bike Pump: Am I doing it wrong?
January 24, 2013 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I've got a bike. I've got a compatible pump (two actually!). So why can't I seem to get the tires full enough to ride on? NB: I'm starting from completely flat tires (it's been a long time since I've ridden the bike). Is it not possible to hand pump bike tires all the way from flat?
posted by ocherdraco to Travel & Transportation (45 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Presta (skinny) or Schrader valve (like on a car tire)?

Presta valve: Make sure the top nut is unscrewed before you start filling the tube, and screw it back in when you're done.

Schrader valve: Make sure the pump is on the valve securely enough to depress the valve's center pin to allow the valve to fill. Most pumps have a lever you flip when you put it on the valve to make sure the pin goes down.
posted by Opposite George at 11:42 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, if you have a lousy hand pump as opposed to a quality floor pump, then yes it is possible that your pump is so lousy it cannot fully inflate your tires to their recommended pressure. I have one, and was very happy to replace it.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:44 AM on January 24, 2013


You simply don't have the pump pressed on hard enough, so once the pressure gets to about 40psi, it's too much to keep going.
posted by TinWhistle at 11:45 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's also possible that you've got a leak in your tubes and you're losing air. But yes, if the pump head is not closed properly onto the valve you will not be able to pump well.
posted by loriginedumonde at 11:46 AM on January 24, 2013


Yeah, if you're getting some air in, then make sure that you are pumping enough in. This is hard with most hand pumps, easier with a good floor pump. Usually floor pumps designed for high-pressure pumping have the skinnier barrels.
posted by Opposite George at 11:46 AM on January 24, 2013


What's happening that stops air going into the tires?

Some ideas:

your pump is not properly secured to the valve
your inner tube has a leak
you're meeting resistance because the tires are so full of air that extra effort is required to force the last bit in, and you're not using enough of your weight to force it in
your pump just sucks (pretty standard for anything under thirty-fifty dollars, sadly)
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:47 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it not possible to hand pump bike tires all the way from flat?

No, this is totally possible.

What sort of pump are you using? Is it one with a base that sits on the floor, or a tiny handheld one that you're intended to carry with you on the bike? The small ones, intended to refill a tire after a roadside repair, can be tough to use to high pressures, but will normally get enough air in the tire to ride it home.

If it's one that sits on the floor you should have no problem putting 150PSI into a bike tire with it.

Like Opposite George says, make sure that you know what kind of valves your tire has, either presta or schraeder and make sure your pump has the right fitting for that valve. Many pumps have both fittings, make sure you're using the right one.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:47 AM on January 24, 2013


It might be possible, but you really need a decent floor pump with a gauge. Get one that costs at least $30 and save yourself a lot of unnecessary frustration.

If it's a road bike (i.e., skinny tires), you want to pump to around 80-120 psi. 50-60 is good for a mountain bike or hybrid.
posted by theodolite at 11:47 AM on January 24, 2013


I have two floor pumps, one of them is this Topeak (or one that looks very similar, anyway).

The bike's tires have Schrader valves. I push it on and flip the lever. It seems locked in.

How long should it take to pump bike tires?
posted by ocherdraco at 11:48 AM on January 24, 2013


Also, do you hear hissing when you are doing the actual pumping? That would suggest a leaky valve-pump connection, or a leaky pump or tube. Sometimes leaks that aren't so bad -- like near or around where the valve attaches to the tube -- will allow low pressure to stay in, but not high pressure.
posted by Opposite George at 11:49 AM on January 24, 2013


I suspect you're pushing the valve stem down into the rim since the under-inflated tube is not providing resistance when you attach the pump.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:49 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it's a floor pump, and you're sure there's nothing wrong with your tires*, you're probably not securing the valve properly.

*is it a fancy road bike and do you have those super skinny high maintenance tires? I will never buy a bike like that, for this very reason, after dating someone who had a Cannondale with super finicky tires who ruined like every bike ride ever with his constant inability to keep damn air in his damn gazillion dollar tires.
posted by Sara C. at 11:50 AM on January 24, 2013


And what does that mean? (Sorry, I am bike-illiterate.)
posted by ocherdraco at 11:50 AM on January 24, 2013


That pump should be perfectly fine to get all the pressure you need for any bike if you put all your weight into it.

humboldt32 probably has it.
posted by Opposite George at 11:50 AM on January 24, 2013


(That was to humboldt32.)
posted by ocherdraco at 11:50 AM on January 24, 2013


It's also possible that you are trying to push the pump nozzle onto the stem in the closed possition and then flipping it over to open.

Just thinking out loud here.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:50 AM on January 24, 2013


*is it a fancy road bike and do you have those super skinny high maintenance tires?

No, it's an inexpensive bike from Target with chunky tires. Basically an adult sized version of the bike I had in grade school.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2013


I suspect you're pushing the valve stem down into the rim since the under-inflated tube is not providing resistance when you attach the pump.

I don't understand what this means, exactly.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:52 AM on January 24, 2013


The stem is moving down into the rim as you push on the pump nozzle. Therefore you're not getting proper seating onto the valve stem.

(perhaps, of course)
posted by humboldt32 at 11:53 AM on January 24, 2013


That sounds most like what I'm feeling as I'm trying to get the pump set up. How can I fix it?
posted by ocherdraco at 11:54 AM on January 24, 2013


Grasp the valve stem with your free hand where it enters the rim and push the pump nozzle on while keeping the stem from moving down when you do so.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:54 AM on January 24, 2013


Push the tire in toward the rim from under the valve stem so that the valve stem sticks out and will not push back in. Hold it there. Now push the pump on the valve stem and close the lever. Now try it.

If this doesn’t work you may have holes in your inner tubes, that’s a very good possibility.
posted by bongo_x at 11:55 AM on January 24, 2013


Hmm... that's what I'm already doing. It seems like I can't get it seated properly, even when I'm holding the valve.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:56 AM on January 24, 2013


If you're close by a not-snotty bike store, you could schlep your bike and pump down there and ask them to show you how to pump up your bike. Bring a 6-pack of beer for the guys in the shop and/or buy something.
posted by Opposite George at 11:56 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Again, my response was to humboldt32.)

bongo_x, I'll try that.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:56 AM on January 24, 2013


How long should it take to pump bike tires?

Is there a meter on your pump that shows the pressure? You should inflate to the pressure indicated on the tires. It's a lot like putting air in a car tire.
posted by Sara C. at 11:57 AM on January 24, 2013


Also, if the tube is significantly deflated and the pump shows any resistance when you pump it, the nozzle is not properly seated.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:59 AM on January 24, 2013


I like Opposite George's advice. You shouldn't need to even bring beer. Every bike shop I've ever been to has had floor pumps they let anyone use for free. If you need a refresher on how to do it properly, they'll probably show you for free if they're not busy.

Maybe just make sure to go back to that store next time you need something, or snag a bell or a water bottle as a token purchase.

Question: are you sure you didn't bust the inner tube by overinflating?
posted by Sara C. at 12:00 PM on January 24, 2013


I made you a video.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:04 PM on January 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


It's a lot like putting air in a car tire.

Which is something I've never, ever done. (Yay urban living.) But I get your point.

Question: are you sure you didn't bust the inner tube by overinflating?

It's possible, I suppose, but I have only ever ridden the bike once, just after I bought it, and all attempts to fill the tires have been from completely flat tires after I hadn't ridden it for months.

Also, if the tube is significantly deflated and the pump shows any resistance when you pump it, the nozzle is not properly seated.

I think this must be what is happening, because I do feel resistance when I try to pump, and the tires are completely flat.

I am away from home now, but I'll try again when I get home tonight. If I still can't get it, I'll take the bike to the store where I bought the pump and ask them to show me how to use it.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:04 PM on January 24, 2013


I made you a video.

Thank you!
posted by ocherdraco at 12:05 PM on January 24, 2013


Just take it to your local bike shop.

If you bought the bike at Target and only ever rode it once, there's a strong possibility that it was assembled wrong or there's a problem with the wheels, tubes, or tires. The people at your local shop will be able to set you right.
posted by Sara C. at 12:10 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even if you manage to get the tires inflated you should ride it to the closest bike shop and let someone take a look at it anyway. Target is notorious for doing things like putting the fork on backwards, and it's likely that you'll want to adjust things like the position of the saddle in order to ride comfortably.
posted by theodolite at 12:14 PM on January 24, 2013


I have that pump, it is great and it should be possible to inflate your tires in about 30 seconds. Not to patronize, but are you sure you are using the correct side of the pump? It has a Presta and a Schraeder side, and you want to move the yellow lever away (if I am remembering correctly) from the side of the hose you attach to the valve. You definitely can feel when it attaches correctly, it feels solid and like it can't possible fall off.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:17 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


To implement humboldt32's excellent advice, I suggest deflating the tire completely, then pressing the valve stem up out of the rim with one hand from the tire side while seating and clamping the pump onto it with the other hand.

I regularly pump my 700 X 42 tires up to 100 lbs (30 lbs. over the recommended limit) with an old Zefal hand pump that's curved because a car ran over it when it fell off my bike one time. I doubt your pump is the problem unless the rubber of the fitting is torn or old and brittle-- or unless you're using the wrong pump head for the valve style of your tires, which is very easy to do, by the way.

Have someone you know check whether the pump head is compatible with your Schraders. Most high end pumps come with Presta valve fittings by default.
posted by jamjam at 12:20 PM on January 24, 2013


If it's the linked pump, it definitely has a t-shaped end- one side is Presta, the other is Schrader, no need to swap parts in and out.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:23 PM on January 24, 2013


what kinda bike do you have. Road bikes need 100+psi and 0-100psi is going to take a long time. Generally the psi rating will be near the sidewall of the tire. One of the gauges should have a psi indicator, pump till its within the range given by the tire.
posted by radsqd at 12:28 PM on January 24, 2013


So you don't feel crazy, I also have this problem when trying to inflate a totally flat tube with a floor pump. It's also a Topeak, and sometimes it will not latch on properly. I end up using my trusty Zefal frame pump to get 30-40 pounds in, then I switch to the floor pump.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:13 PM on January 24, 2013


Just chiming in to say that it takes a lot longer than you think to get a bike tire pumped up. It seems like it should only take 5 pumps to get it filled up, but it's more like 50.

What does the gauge say when you are pumping? It should bounce up as you pump, and after that settle down. After 20 pumps or so, it should read *something*. As you get closer to filled up, the plunger will feel bouncy and smush down pretty far, and then just give you a little "fisst" of air actually going into the tire.
posted by gjc at 2:35 PM on January 24, 2013


Disassemble your pump's plunger assembly by unscrewing the main shaft's cap where the plunger rod enters the pump under the handle. Grease the gasket or o-ring liberally, even if just with petroleum jelly, even if it's a new pump. This is a throw back to when this part was exclusively a leather disc, at peril of drying out and deteriorating. Anyway, this should dramatically increase the effectiveness of the pump's ability to pressure-seal and might help you out.
posted by No Shmoobles at 3:19 PM on January 24, 2013


Is the pump completely down when you insert it into the tube? It won't pump if it's slightly raised.
posted by ilk at 3:47 PM on January 24, 2013


If the pump head is reversible between Presta and Schrader, make sure it's set up correctly. I once spent ages trying to inflate a tyre before realising that the pump head had two reversible bits inside it.

(sorry, just seen that this was ruled out)
posted by anagrama at 4:16 PM on January 24, 2013


Play with the locking lever a little bit. Last time I pumped up my tyres, it wasn't QUITE locking on, or I was pushing it in the wrong direction or something, and I thought I was going crazy. The connection didn't come off the tyre, so I thought it was on okay, but the air just wasn't going in. It took me about 10 attempts to reseat it before I got it on properly, and I seem to remember an "aha" moment when I realised it was a problem with the lever rather than a problem with the angle of the connector.
posted by lollusc at 5:24 PM on January 24, 2013


I had this problem this summer and grew frustrated to the point of tears, then my friend came over and said, hey, let's go to the gas station and use their thinger. One dollar later, full tires.

In my case I determined that my pump had crapped out because it had been so long since I'd used it, the rubber seal part inside the the pump head had deteriorated.
posted by looli at 10:41 PM on January 24, 2013


I've mentored a lot of folks at a bike repair charity and it's not uncommon for people to get flustered with tire inflation.

Assuming you have a nearly flat tube, what you need to do is:

1) Put your hand on the tire right behind the valve. Pushing on the tire should push the valve out. It must be straight or you risk cutting the valve stem on the rim as you ride.

2) Push the pump head on the valve and lock the lever. Pull a little bit on the pump head. It should hold firm and pull the valve out straight. You can stop pushing on the tire.

3) Pump. The gauge should go up slowly.

If the gauge goes up quickly but the tire doesn't inflate, you may have a bent pin in your valve or you did not push it on hard enough when locking the head in place.

FWIW, I have that exact pump and it's an fine floor pump. It should be a breeze to do once you master the technique.
posted by chairface at 10:31 AM on January 25, 2013


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