Whether you're training uphill for your fourth Tour de France or just want to bike to the grocery store, having properly-inflated tires is critical. Tires that are inflated to the correct pounds per square inch -- psi -- will give you the smoothest ride, last longer and resist the dreaded yet inevitable flat. How you use your bicycle and the type of bicycle you have will determine the best method of inflating your tires.
Lift each wheel off the ground before starting and check the pressure. Take the cap off the valve and insert the tire gauge to get an accurate reading. On most tires, the recommended psi will be printed on the sidewall.
Check the type of valve you have. Valves will generally fall into two categories: Presta or Schrader. Schrader valves are used on mountain bikes, children's bikes and other less expensive models. They have a flat top with a valve core that looks like a tiny pin in the center of the tube. Presta valves are used on high-quality road racing bikes, and are thinner with a small removable cap on the top. Once you know the type of valve you have, you will know what sort of pump to use. Some pumps are designed to fit both types of valve.
Angle your wheel so that the valve is at the bottom and attach the pump.
Pump the handle using a slow, steady motion. Pumping too fast can damage the gauge. Use firm, controlled pumping motions until the tire is fully inflated.
Remove the pump head from the valve and test the psi with the tire gauge. If it is close to the recommended pressure, you're ready to ride. If the psi is still lower than the recommended amount, re-attach the pump and continue until you've hit the correct mark. If the psi is considerably higher than the recommended amount, deflate the tire. With a Schrader valve, you simply depress the small pin in the center and push down on the tire to force the air out. With a Presta valve, you press down on the top to release the air.
- Professional road racers with thinner bicycle tires should check their tire pressure before every race, while off-road and mountain bike fanatics only need to check theirs every week or so.
- Always use a bicycle pump to inflate your tires. Car-tire compressors at gas stations and air compressors are too powerful for thin bicycle tires, and can cause your tires to explode in seconds.
Todd Maternowski began writing in 1996 as one of the co-founders of "The Chicago Criterion." He joined the local online news revolutionaries at Pegasus News in 2006, where he continues to work to this day. He studied religion at the University of Chicago.