The Best Bicycle Frame and Mini Pump Review
A flat tire can put a serious damper on a fun ride. When you are miles from the car and disaster strikes, your mini or frame pump is all that separates you from a long walk or a night spent out in the cold. What is the best portable bike pump for the adventures that you seek? To find out, we took 13 of the top-rated, most popular frame and mini pumps available and tested them head-to-head. We put them through months of testing and abuse, including quantitative tests comparing performance on both road and mountain bike applications. Following our gauntlet of tests, the contenders were rated on Looks and Design, Ease of Use, Pumping Performance, Durability and Portability. For all the details, keep reading!
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Frame pumps and mini pumps provide a means of inflating a tire while out on a ride. Frame specific products are well suited for use on road and cyclocross bikes and provide quick efficient inflation due to their larger size. A wide variety of minis is available. Some are designed to work well on high pressure road tires while others are designed specifically for use on mountain bike tires that have a higher volume and lower pressure. To assist you in your hunt for the best frame or mini pump, keep reading. We break down the different options available below. Also check out our Buying Advice Article for more help.
Types of Portable Pumps
When it comes to portable inflation, there are many choices. Our review encompasses both frame specific as well as mini. Below we have broken the categories down to explain the benefits and drawbacks to each design.
Mini pumps are small and portable, generally around 18cm-25cm in length. All of the minis that we tested come with a bracket to allow them to be attached to a bike frame using the bottle cage mounting bolts. However, it is common and preferable to many riders to carry a mini in either a jersey pocket or a hydration pack. Depending on the type of bicycle you have, it may not be possible to mount a mini pump using the bracket due to frame shape or suspension design. Minis are in general less efficient than frame specific pumps due to their smaller size, so it will take more strokes and more force to achieve a given pressure as compared to a frame specific one. Mini pumps can be broken down into two categories, mountain and road.
Mountain Bike Mini Pumps
Mini pumps designed for Mountain Bike use are designed to move a greater volume of air with each stroke than you would get from a mini pump designed for road use. The Lezyne Gauge Drive HV and the Specialized Air Tool Double Barrel are great examples of mountain bike specific products. Mountain bike tires need a much greater volume of air than a road tire, but mountain bike tires run at pressures of 20psi-40psi versus 80psi-120psi for a road tire.
Thus, a mini designed for mountain bike use should be very efficient at moving a high volume of air, with the ability to hit a pressure of 20psi-40psi with minimal force for each stroke. This is achieved by using a relatively larger diameter chamber and shaft that moves a lot of air per stroke. The downside of this design is that once pressure gets to around 30-40psi, it is extremely difficult to continue compressing the pump. When used for the intended application this is fine as few mountain bikers inflate their tires past this point, but it renders the product ineffective for road use.
Road Bike Mini Pumps
Mini Pumps designed for road bike use must be able to achieve higher pressures than a pump designed for mountain bike use. Road tires have a smaller volume of air than a mountain bike tire, but need to be inflated to a pressure of 80-120 psi, depending on tire size and rider weight, to prevent pinch flats. So road bike pumps use a smaller diameter chamber and shaft, which moves a smaller volume of air per stroke. The smaller shaft and chamber make it easier to continue to push air as pressure increases. The downside is that the volume of air per stroke is so minimal that it can take a ridiculous amount of pumping to get a mountain bike tire up to pressure. So while a road-specific product will get a mountain bike tire up to pressure, it is incredibly inefficient and will take the user a long time to achieve. The Lezyne Road Drive is a perfect illustration of this, it is an excellent high pressure pump, but very inefficient when used on high volume tires.
Pumps with a Pressure and Volume Selector
Some mini pumps such as the Vibrelli Mini and the Topeak Road Master Blaster have a valve that can be turned to provide either pressure or volume. The volume mode on the pumps allows them to push more air by turning itself into a dual stage pump. This means that they move air into the tire in both the compression and expansion motion, versus only moving air during the compression stage. This feature can be effective at increasing the initial volume of air in a tire more quickly than a single stage. However, the dual stage quickly becomes ineffective as pressure increases, requiring the user to switch back to pressure mode at a relatively low pressure.
Frame pumps used to be a staple item for any serious road cyclist. This specific type uses a spring-loaded handle that is compressed to fit within the front triangle of a bicycle. The pressure from the spring holds it in place running either parallel with the top tube or parallel with the seat tube. These type of pumps are sold in a range of sizes to fit different sized frames and offer one distinct advantage over mini pumps: size.
Even a size small frame specific contender will generally be twice the length of a mini pump. A longer pump has a longer and higher volume chamber that will yield more air per stroke, filling your tire to the desired pressure more quickly and efficiently. As an example, the Silica Impero frame pump was by far thee most efficient pump we tested for filling road tires, hitting 103 psi in only 112 strokes! The longer length of a frame specific pump is also its greatest disadvantage. The size makes carrying it anywhere other than the frame impractical, as they must be correctly sized to fit your frame, and they will not fit on the vast majority of full suspension frames. While they lack versatility, it can be argued that they are the best choice for road cyclists.
To compare each frame pump that was tested, be sure review our side-by-side comparison of all frame pumps.
Criteria for Evaluation
Ease of Use
Flat tires always seem to occur at the most inopportune times. We all have busy lives and most of us try to make the most of our available riding time by planning a ride that uses up nearly ever minute of the available window. So when a flat occurs, it is imperative that the equipment is easy and fool proof to use. Most cyclists don't use a mini or frame pump on a daily basis, so when it is time to put one to use it should be intuitive and easy to use. Some products are easier to use than others. Our testers found pumps that employ a flexible hose and a thread on valve attachment to be easier to use. It takes a few extra seconds to deploy the flexible hose from the pump and thread the fitting onto the valve, but the interface provides a consistent leak free connection during operations.
The Lezyne Road Drive is our highest scoring mini pump. Its Presta-only hose has a thread-on chuck at one end and a slip chuck at the other. We often find ourselves using a mini pump out on trail to just add a few psi to a lower pressure tire such as a cyclocross tire. The slip chuck is fast and offers a good seal in low-pressure applications. The road drive also has an ABS valve on the hose that allows you to bleed the pressure from the hose and release the Presta valve back to the closed position This prevents air loss when unthreading the hose from the valve. The Topeak Race Rocket HP is also a standout with a flexible hose and air chuck system that allows the user to fill both Presta and Schrader valves with the same head. The Lezyne Race Rocket does not have an air bleed valve, so removing the pump from the tire valve is a bit more difficult than using the Road Drive from Lezyne.
The Lezyne Gauge Drive is also a top scoring product with pump connections that are similar to the aforementioned Road Drive. The Lezyne Gauge Drive stands out with an inline ABS pen gauge that allows the user to see tire pressure while pumping. The Pro Bike Mini also has an inline pressure gauge but lacks the ability to bleed off the air in the hose for valve removal.
The Silca Impero is the highest scoring frame pump for ease of use. It is by far the easiest to attach securely to a frame with its flexible silicone bumpers. The head is also easy to attach; it pushes on and does not rely on a lever to lock as do the other frame models we tested. Pumping is also easy with a smooth, consistent motion with minimal increase in difficulty as pressure increases.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Putting air in the tire in an efficient manner is critical. All the contenders we have reviewed have been put through inflation performance. In general, we found that products designed for mountain bike use don't work all that well for road, because they are often unable to hit the target pressure. Road pumps will get a mountain tire up to pressure, but often require so many strokes that you might just decide to walk home instead. The best pumps allow you to hit your target pressure quickly, with a minimal amount of strokes. In addition, the effort required to achieve that pressure must be manageable.
Manufacturers often quote max pressure ratings in marketing literature, but we found most pumps to be incapable of reaching their claimed max pressure due to progressively increasing difficulty to achieve a stroke as pressure increases. In addition, when a pump is cycled through several hundred compression cycles in rapid succession, heat buildup is inevitable. As the chamber heats up the metal expands, decreasing the piston seal. This allows air to escape around the piston and decreases the volume of air per stroke. So the faster you pump, the more inefficient your pump will get. How well a design manages these factors determines how well it will perform for its intended purpose.
The highest scoring mini pump for road applications is the Lezyne Road Drive. The Road Drive consistently achieved a pressure of 69psi in a 25c road tire at 200 pumps, and can achieve 100psi with minimal increase in effort at around 300 pumps. Other products we tested were able to achieve a higher pressure at 200 strokes, but the effort to compress those pumps was substantially greater.
Our top scoring mini pump for mountain bike applications is the Lezyne Gauge Drive HV. The gauge drive is fairly large compared to other minis we tested, but when you need to fill a tire this thing can move some air. At 300 strokes in a 27.5 2.3" mountain tire, the Lezyne Gauge Drive hit 37psi. Pumping effort per stroke remained relatively easy, with only a minimal increase in compression effort around 175 strokes.
The Silca Impero is our top scoring frame pump, hitting an impressive 103psi at only 112 strokes in a 25cc road tire. Silica uses a leather piston that is able to better adapt to the micro changes in chamber diameter that occur with heat buildup. Due to this design, loss of efficiency during pumping is minimal.
The Pro Bike Tool Mini also scored well, with great all-around pumping performance it hit 74psi at 200 strokes on a road tire, as well as 22psi in a mountain tire at 300 strokes. We were impressed at the versatility, but struggled with hitting 90psi in a road tire due to the increased resistance to pumping at high pressure. It is hard to design a product that does everything well, but the Vibrelli Mini gets pretty close.
Looks and Design
We ranked all of the pumps in our review on looks and design. How important the aesthetic appeal of a product is to you is entirely a personal choice. If you were going to mount a frame pump on a high-end road bike, you would probably prefer one that does not detract from the beauty of your bike. Beyond that, unless you intend to mount a mini to your bottle cage bolts, the pump will be stowed in a jersey pocket or hydration pack.
Design of the pump is a big deal, and to rate it we look at things such as material used for its body and handle. The more metal the better; frame and mini pumps see a lot of abuse as they are often exposed to the elements for extended periods of time and are only used occasionally. We also prefer the flexible hose style of valve connection to the integrated air chuck that is fixed at the head. The flexible hose makes the pumping process easier because the user does not have to worry about putting leverage on the valve stem during inflation. Most hoses make the valve connection via a threaded chuck – this design feature provides the most secure leak proof valve connection.
Our highest scoring product is the Lezyne Road Drive. Design highlights include an aluminum body and the ABS Speed Flex hose for reliable valve interface. A close runnerup is our Top Pick Award winner for Frame Pumps, the Silca Impero. The Impero features all-metal construction with silicone bumpers on both ends that create a secure interface with the bike frame and also protect the paint. The dual seal push on the head provides a solid leak-free interface with the valve. In addition, Silica uses a leather gasket to improve inflation performance and accommodate for heat buildup.
The Pro Bike Tool Mini features a design similar to the Lezyne Road Drive; we rank it lower due to its lack of a locking mechanism for the handle. During testing the handle would frequently extend on bumpy roads – not the end of world but annoying when you have to stop and push the pump back to the closed position so it is not sticking out of your jersey. The Lezyne Gauge Drive HV had a similar issue, but being a mountain bike specific pump we mostly carried it in a hydration pack which would prevent it from extending.
When it comes to mini pumps, size and weight matters. The mini is a mandatory piece of equipment you will be carrying it all the time, either in jersey or hydration pack. Paying attention to the weight and size when you purchase will pay dividends in the long run. Pump length is also a consideration. In general we advocate purchasing the longest one that you can fit in your hydration pack or comfortably carry in a jersey pocket. The extra length makes the pump slightly less portable, but it pays dividends in efficiency.
That said, the highest scoring mini we tested is the Topeak Race Rocket HP. It is the shortest product we tested at 18.5cm, and also the lightest at 87g. The Race Rocket simply disappears in a jersey pocket. The Lezyne Road Drive, winner of our Editors' Choice Award, scores lower due to its increased length at 23.5cm. We still find it to be easy to carry in a jersey pocket, but it will not fit horizontally like the Race Rocket, so it must be carried in a vertical position and it will stick out the top of most jersey pockets.
Our highest scoring frame pump is the Silca Impero. While it is heavier than the other frame pumps we tested, it has by far the most secure fit on a wide variety of frames. The silicone end bumpers are very malleable and flex to accommodate a wide variety of tubing shapes. The Topeak Road Master Blaster is also a standout, providing a secure fit on most frames. But when it comes to wide tube shapes, the Silca Impero has a definite edge. Even on the roughest roads we never had an issue with dislodging the Impero. We acknowledge that weight is important, but feel the optimal security provided by the Impero outweighs the increased weight.
Hopefully you will not be using your mini pump on a daily basis. In general, mini pumps and frame pumps are a seldom-used item, but when you need them there should be no question of functionality. Any tool with moving parts is subject to wear over time with use, and we certainly made every attempt during testing to put the products through far more use cycles than the average cyclist will see in a season of riding. Most mini pumps and frame pumps deteriorate more from exposure to the elements than actual use.
All of the products we tested help up fairly well over our six-month test period. With that said, most see deterioration of the head or air chuck as the most rapidly occurring form of degradation. This is due to the delicate nature of rubber seals that are susceptible to drying out and cracking with both use and exposure to the elements. For this reason, our highest scoring products are the Lezyne and Topeak pumps, with stowable flexible hoses such as the Lezyne Road Drive and the Topeak Race Rocket HP.
The Pro Bike Tool Mini is also a good choice; it uses the same stowable hose design as the Lezyne Road Drive with the addition of an inline pen gauge. Scoring slightly lower is the Lezyne Gauge Drive HV. It uses the same stowable hose design as other Lezyne pumps, but the female threads on the body are plastic rather than the metal threads found on other Lezyne products we tested. We found that with very rapid extended inflating sessions it is possible to get the pump hot enough to damage the heated plastic threads when removing the hose. Overall, having the hose stowed inside the pump protects the valve from the elements and leads to longer life.
Other high scoring products include the Silca Impero and Silca Pocket Impero. Silica pumps feature a leather piston that is known to be one of the longest lasting, most reliable designs available. Many of our testers have 20-year-old Pista floor pumps that are still in working order with the same leather piston design. In addition, Silica uses a brass check valve in the head that is widely regarded as one of the most reliable designs available. What we don't like in regards to the Silica pump is the exposed nature of the head seals that are not protected from the elements when stowed on a bike.
Mini pumps and frame pumps are a critical piece of equipment for cyclists of all disciplines and experience levels. We hope you found our review helpful to your mini or frame pump purchasing decision. For more assistance see our Buying Advice Article. For more information on our testing process, see How We Tested.
— Curtis Smith
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