Bontrager TLR Flash Charger Review
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Bontrager TLR Flash Charger
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|$130 List||$80 List|
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$45.00 at REI
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|Pros||Great at seating tubeless tires, good universal nozzle, bright digital gauge, stable base||Nozzle works with Presta and Schrader valves, accurate, well-placed pressure relief valve||Works great with high volume tires, stable, universal nozzle works with Presta and Schrader||Inexpensive, stable, comfortable, auto select nozzle for Presta and Schrader valves||Efficient at high volumes, settings for road and MTB tires, double-sided nozzle|
|Cons||Hose management system does not work well, easy to use incorrectly when seating a tire, not as accurate||Expensive, heavy, tippy in one direction, not great for high-volume tires||Not so great with high-pressure tires, gauge is harder to read than some||Nozzle can be tricky to use, no ball or bladder adapters||More expensive, inaccurate above 30 PSI, tall for shorter users, no bleeder valve|
|Bottom Line||The best-performing pump in the test for seating tubeless tires||With a bleeder valve in its handle and a nozzle that works with Schrader and Presta valves, this pump does its job well||This high-value pump works exceptionally well with high volume tires and features a universal nozzle||A comfortable pump with an auto selecting nozzle and low price tag||The fastest pump for high volume mountain bike tires that we tested|
|Rating Categories||Bontrager TLR Flash...||Specialized Air Too...||Crankbrothers Sterling||Bontrager Charger||Topeak JoeBlow Spor...|
|Ease of Attachment (25%)|
|Specs||Bontrager TLR Flash...||Specialized Air Too...||Crankbrothers Sterling||Bontrager Charger||Topeak JoeBlow Spor...|
|High Volume or High Pressure||High Pressure||Both||Both||Both||Both|
|Weight||7.2 lbs||4.9 lbs||2.7 lbs||3.1 lbs||4.8 lbs|
|Height||28 in||25 in||25 in||27 in||29.75 in|
|Hose Length||52 in||45.5 in||36 in||38 in||32 in|
|Accessory Inflators Included?||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes|
Our Analysis and Test Results
While both tubeless tire seating pumps we tested were up to the task, what really sets the Bontrager apart is how well it works as a normal floor pump. It consistently filled mountain and road bike tires faster than the competition during our tests. It’s also stable and pleasant to use, with a chuck that easily forms a seal with both Presta and Schrader valves and a broad, flaring handle that we found less fatiguing over time.
Ease of Attachment
There are few things more frustrating than wresting a nozzle onto the relatively delicate valve of your tire, popping your knuckles against spokes, and sprockets along the way. The Flash Charger made a quick and easy connection every time we used it, whether with a Presta or Schrader valve. And, we used it a lot.
Pulling the chuck back off the valve often proved trickier. It formed such a tight seal that it was often hard to remove and shot off with some force, resulting in some squished fingers and choice language. Once we got used to it, this happened less and less. While the challenge of removing the nozzle isn’t ideal, we really appreciate its quick and effective seals, which let us get to the important work of filling our tire.
The pump has a universal valve, meaning that it works with both Presta and Schrader valves with no adjustment needed. This chuck nozzle type is becoming more popular, but they aren’t all created equally, with many struggling to create the quick and seamless seal that the Flash Charger manages. And it’s much easier to use than versions that make you choose which side of the nozzle to use or unscrew the front of it to switch around internal components.
As we mentioned, the Flash Charger works very well as a normal bike pump, and this is how you’ll be using it most of the time. Just make sure both red handles are horizontal, pointing to release pressure and inflate, attach the chuck, and use it as a regular bike pump. It’s one of the fastest pumps we tested when it comes to inflating a high-pressure road tire. It was also among the better performers when pumping up a high-volume mountain bike tire, a task that many struggle with.
It also works well on the less common occasion when you need to replace your tubeless tires or refresh their sealant. To do so, you flip both red levers vertically, in line with the main tube. That allows you to pressurize the large charger tube. Bontrager recommends pumping it up to 160 psi, which is as high as the gauge will read. This took us 46 strokes on average. Then flip the longer red lever up, followed by the shorter lever.
In our tests, this seated both beads of the tire on the first try most of the time. Though we did have to try it twice a few times. There is some variance among tire brands when it comes to seating them on a rim, and even though a pump of this style does typically do the trick, it doesn't necessarily work every time with every wheel and tire combination. It helps if you keep the tire off the ground, preferably with a bike stand, and gently press the tread towards the wheel in several spots, working your way around the tire and moving both beads toward the rim.
On the instruction card that comes with the pump, Bontrager seems to recommend continuing to pump the tire while the blast of air goes to work. We didn’t find that to be necessary and found more success gently working with the tire.
A wide and flaring handle and solid base plate make for especially comfortable pumping. We also appreciate this pump’s relatively short height, which makes it easier for shorter riders to get good leverage. The handle hides a compartment for a ball and float inflater nozzles, making it a useful multi-tool.
Our main complaint here is that there is more room for error than there is with this pump’s only air-compressing competition in the test, the Topeak JoeBlow Booster. While the Booster only requires you to rotate the rim of its gauge from a clear line marked charge to one marked inflate, the Flash Charger requires you to flip two different levers, in the correct order. We screwed it up more than once during testing, earning an immediate punishment of filling the compression chamber with 46 more strokes.
The wide, triangular base of this bike pump is among our favorites in the test. We never once worried about knocking it over. And, with two wide baseplates jutting towards us, it's easy to alternate between positions during our extensive pump testing, keeping us more comfortable.
Unfortunately, the hose management system on this pump is essentially worthless. The u-shape mount meant to hold the chuck in place is much too wide and shallow to do so, even while the pump is standing still. Even if it did, the hose is the wrong length to do so securely.
This doesn’t seem like a huge deal until you hit yourself in the face with the chuck or trip over the hose for the third time in a day while moving the pump around. It’s also not awesome for the nozzle to crater into the pavement five times a day. It makes us wonder about its longevity. We tended to hook the chuck’s lever over the narrow joint between the gauge and the handle. But it’s an imperfect solution, with the hose swinging free almost as regularly.
It’s hard to tell how accurate any tire pressure gauge is. Pretty much all you can do is compare them, and you usually lose a little air pressure as you try one and then the next. We test each of these pumps against the same independent tire pressure gauge to get a sense of their differences. The Flash Charger was right in line with the control gauge at mid-range mountain bike pressures at 30 psi. It was a bit under extremely low pressures of 10 psi.
When we tested road bike pressures at 40 and 80 psi, it overshot by about 3 and 5 psi respectively. Once you get a sense of how the pressure gauge varies for your target range, you can easily make adjustments, but it can take a while to sort all this out. And, really, you shouldn’t have to. This is one of the biggest downsides to this pump.
The bright digital gauge on this pump is mounted on top of the large charger tube, placing it close to your face in an easy-to-read position. It’s also precise. Reading out psi, or pounds per square inch, to the tenth decimal place, and Bar pressure readings to the hundredth position.
While we love that the digital gauge leaves little room for guesswork and is easy to see in dim light. We don’t love that when the round coin cell/button battery (the kind that goes into a watch) runs out, we’re back to guesswork. While it’s not hard to keep some extras on hand, it sure is easy to forget.
Should You Buy the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger Pump?
If you like working on your bikes yourself and frequently change tubeless tires at home, we think the TLR Flash Charger is the best option. It has some minor quirks, but it succeeds in its task of seating tubeless tires and functions well as a regular bike pump. It isn’t exactly cheap but is less expensive than the other option in the review capable of seating a tubeless tire. And while you could get a bike pump and an air compressor for around the same price or less, it’s unlikely that either would be as well suited to the task as this one well-made tool. We think it offers a solid, if not excellent, value.
What Other Bike Pumps Should You Consider?
The ToPeak Joe Blow Booster is the other pump we tested that is capable of seating tubeless tires. It performs similarly to the Flash Charger, though it is a little more straightforward in its operation, and a fair amount more expensive. If you don't need tubeless tire seating capability, there are several great options, including our top-rated model, the Specialized Air Tool Pro. If you're not willing to spend that much, the Bontrager Charger provides solid performance at a very reasonable price.
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