Blackburn Piston 4 Review
Cons: Hose doesn't hold down pump handle
Manufacturer: Blackburn Design
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Our testers have become intimately familiar with bike pumps after trying so many and running test after test to compare and contrast. The one that has come out on top is the Blackburn Piston 4. It's constructed with high-quality steel where it counts, has a heavy-duty steel tripod for a base, its AnyValve head is a breeze to use, and the gauge is large, clear, and accurate. This pump has everything we look for in a high-quality floor model and wins our Editors' Choice Award.
Ease of Attachment/Detachment
The Piston 4 comes with an excellent pump head called the AnyValve, which is our favorite type for the incredible user-friendliness it offers. The head connects automatically to Schrader, Presta, and even Dunlop valves with no adjustment whatsoever. Push the head down on to any valve you've got, lock the lever, and get pumping. We didn't have problems with air leakage, and the locking lever moves easily.
Our testers found this head to be the easiest to use of all pump heads they tested, including other smart, no-adjustment-required heads. It's very well-designed and works like a charm. The air hose is a generous 42.5 inches long, and originates near the top of the pump, making it a breeze to reach one's tire valve in any position, even up on a raised surface or in a work stand. It's not the longest hose we've seen, but longer than most, and we found it to be plenty for whatever purposes we could think up.
The Piston 4 has a steel tripod for a base, which is always a design that scores high for stability. This particular tripod is nice and wide, with wide legs, which means there's a great surface to stand on while operating the pump. There's a nice amount of weight at the bottom, and the pump does an especially nice job of standing up on uneven ground. The whole device feels very solidly built, and there's no shaking or wobbling while thrusting the handle down.
The gauge on the Piston 4 is mounted at the top of the pump, which is great for gauge visibility, but less so for pump stability. Moving the weight of a gauge up high changes the center of gravity, making the whole unit easier to knock over; however, this doesn't seem to be a particular concern in practice with this model. The wide tripod base is sufficient to keep everything upright despite the top-mounted gauge.
An interesting design choice with this pump is the fact that the hose does not wrap over the top of the handle, as tends to be the case with other floor pumps. In most pumps, the air hose is used this way to double as a securing strap to hold the handle down when moving the pump from place to place. It's not a deal-breaker for us, but frankly, it does make it one of the more annoying pumps to move from place to place. Instead of just grabbing the handle like other pumps, our testers were picking this one up by gripping around the barrel. It's certainly not difficult to do but takes some getting used to.
One of the greatest appeals of the Piston 4 is the speed with which it inflates a tire, which honestly feels like some kind of sorcery. While other comparable pumps mostly bring a tire from 20 to 80psi (our standardized testing range for this purpose) in roughly 21-26 pumps, the Piston 4 accomplished the task with only 17 thrusts of the handle. That number has only been beaten in our tests by specifically high volume pumps, which are extremely difficult or impossible to use to reach high pressures. This model is rated to 220psi, however, and our testers used it to reach as high as 130psi with little physical strain.
High marks are also given to the Piston for a smooth, easy pumping motion; the nice stable base and overall high quality of the build are apparent here.
We tested the gauge of the Piston 4 against our independent gauge and found it to be right on the money. In these tests, we saw differences of 1 or 2psi at both low and high pressures, which we consider to be roughly the margin of error for these instruments. We had no problems with air leakage from the pump head, which can sometimes be another cause of pressure inaccuracy.
One thing to note is that while pumping, the gauge needle shoots up a bit higher than the actual pressure before settling back down into place. The movement is fast enough that we didn't find it difficult to operate the pump at full speed and still land at precisely the desired pressure. If one does overfill their tires, there is also a convenient air bleed button built into the pump head to make minor adjustments if necessary.
As previously mentioned, the gauge on the Piston 4 is mounted at the top of the pump, which is a very nice feature for readability; it's also three inches wide, and extremely clear. It uses a combination of black print on a silver background, white print on darker silver, and a bright red needle. PSI is labeled on the tens, perhaps a bit of overkill, which makes the face of the pump busier than necessary, but that's our only beef with it.
The gauge is cased all in hard plastic, which helps to keep the pump from being too top-heavy while remaining sturdy enough to keep it protected. Although the Piston 4 has excellent stability and isn't likely to tip over often, we wanted to make sure this plastic-cased gauge, mounted two feet above the ground, could withstand a fall. Our testers tipped the pump over a few times specifically so it would land on the parts of the gauge most likely to make ground contact, and were happy to find no particular damage incurred.
The Blackburn Piston 4 costs twice as much as some entry-level models, but we think it's a great value. It's built to last, performs well by every metric, and still offers quite a bit of savings over several "pro" models, which may offer questionable benefit over this pump.
The Blackburn Piston 4 has everything we look for in an excellent floor pump. It's fast, accurate, easy to use, and stable. It's a great choice for anyone from the newbies to the pros, and it's the winner of our Editors' Choice award for the all-around best floor pump.
— Mark Schanzenbach