If you’re on the road and don’t have a pocket pump with you, there aren’t many options for where and how to top up your tires when all of a sudden one or both of them lose pressure mid-ride.
The first time they find themselves in such a situation, most cyclists whip out their phones and ask, “Can I fill up bike tires at a gas station?” Which is exactly what we will be talking about in today’s blog post.
You can inflate your bike’s tires with a gas station pump, but they must have a Schrader valve (or a Schrader adapter for a Presta valve). Inflate in small, quick bursts and watch the pressure so the tire doesn’t blow out.
Air pumps at gas stations are meant for quick inflation of car and motorcycle tires. These tires are inflated at a much lower pressure than bicycle tires, so care should be taken when using a gas station pump for your bicycle.
The good news is that, with the right knowledge and technique, you can do it without problems. Read on to find out how.
Can I Pump Bike Tires at a Gas Station Safely?
The thing about gas pumps at gas stations is that you can’t be sure how fast the air’s getting into your tires. But you can be sure that the compressor is powerful, so it’s all too easy to pump up too much air and blow out a bike tire.
And, as any experienced cyclist can attest to, a blown out tube is a tube that’s no longer usable—and must be replaced on the road. This can be an issue if you don’t have a spare tube and repair kit with you.
For when you do have to use a gas station pump on your bike tire, add air in short, small bursts, checking the pressure with the gauge each time so that you don’t end up overinflating the tire.
You can see your recommended pressure range on the sidewalls of your tires. Generally, road bike tires require around 90-120 PSI, mountain bikes require 30-50 PSI, and hybrid tires require 50-70 PSI.
Related: What Does PSI Stand for on Bike Tires?
Many cyclists recommend not inflating to your maximum PSI at a gas station pump, as you risk overinflating. A rule of thumb would be to stop at around 10% below the manufacturer’s recommendation.
How To Pump Tires With Schrader Valves At A Gas Station
If your bike tires have Schrader valves, like mountain bikes and road bikes with tubeless tires and compatible rims tend to, you are in luck. The same valves are used on cars, so the air chuck on the gas station’s pump will fit directly onto the valves.
How to inflate a bike tire with a Schrader valve at a gas station:
- Take off the valve cap and put it in a safe place so that it won’t be swept away by the wind and you won’t forget it.
- Fit the air chuck onto the valve and lock it in place with the clip. If the clip doesn’t work or the tire starts to deflate, hold the chuck in position with one hand.
- Add air in short bursts and keep an eye on the tire’s pressure until you get to 10% below the manufacturer’s recommendation.
- Remove the chuck and screw the valve cap back on.
Remember: Always add air in small bursts and never inflate the tire to the maximum pressure when at a gas station pump.
How To Pump Tires With Presta Valves At A Gas Station
Road bikes and city bikes tend to have clincher and tubular tires—and most clinchers and tubulars have Presta valves. These valves are incompatible with the air chucks on gas station compressors, you’ll need to have an adapter if you want to use them.
An adapter is a useful thing to carry with you in case you do have to inflate at a gas station, as well as when you have to borrow a pump from a motorist or fellow cyclist with Schrader valves.
How to inflate a bike tire with a Presta valve adapter at a gas station:
- Take off the dust cap and put it in a safe place so that it won’t be swept away by the wind and you won’t forget it.
- Unscrew the brass or chrome tip of the valve till it sticks out.
- Screw the valve adapter on tightly, ensuring an airtight fit.
- Put the air chuck onto the adapter, securing it with the lock or holding it in place with your hand.
- Add air in short bursts, checking the pressure until you get to just under 10% of the manufacturer’s recommendation.
- Remove the chuck, unscrew the adapter, and screw the cap back on.
Some presta valve adapters can be left on the valves if you are frequently filling your tires with nozzles for Schrader valves. However, you probably want to remove them when not in use so they don’t loosen or get lost along the way. (The trick is to remember to bring them with you.)
More Tips for Inflating Bike Tires At a Gas Station
Since car tires are inflated to a much lower PSI than many road bike tires, it may be difficult to get your tires inflated adequately. Road bike tires will be much trickier to inflate using the gas station pump than mountain bike tires.
Keep in mind that pressure gauges on the pumps are not always well-maintained and therefore accurate—one of the many reasons why you don’t want to inflate your bike tires to maximum pressure in this scenario.
Be careful not to use an automatic inflation or digital pump. This is designed for car tires and will overinflate your tire with ease. If this is the only thing you have, you’ll have to interrupt the process and use a standalone tire gauge to check the tires.
Alternatives To Gas Station Pumps For Bike Tires
The best thing to do is to bring a mini pump or CO2 inflator along with you. There are any number of options to choose from, and you may find that it is a worthwhile investment so you don’t risk getting a flat from a gas station pump or being out of range of a service station.
Mini pumps vary in quality, and they’re not immune from the idiom “buy it nice or buy it twice” You will want to buy something you can rely on that won’t require too much elbow grease when you need it.
Make sure your tires are well-maintained, and check the pressure before you set out. If you are frequently having to fill your bike tires at a service station, you may want to look into purchasing new, higher-quality tires.
Can you inflate bike tires at a gas station? Yes.
Should you? Probably not. Should you? Unless it’s your only option, probably not.
It’s difficult to judge how much air is flowing into your tire and you can’t always rely on the pressure gauges. So there’s a chance, if small, that you might end up with a blown tire than a filled one.