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Bontrager TLR Flash Charger Review

If you're a tubeless rider, this option is more affordable than others that can seat your tires
Bontrager TLR Flash Charger
Photo: Bontrager
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Price:  $130 List | Check Price at REI
Pros:  Seats tubeless tires, sturdy metal base, auto-select head, long hose, bleed valve
Cons:  Robs air from tire, plastic head with thin lever, poor gauge
Manufacturer:   Trek Bikes
By Sean Cronin ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 30, 2020
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 14
  • Ease of Attachment - 25% 8
  • Stability - 20% 8
  • Inflation - 20% 6
  • Accuracy - 20% 7
  • Gauge - 15% 5

Our Verdict

When the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger came on the scene, it was a game-changer. With tubeless tires becoming the norm, the ability to seat a tubeless tire bead onto a rim without a powered air compressor is increasingly relevant. We successfully seated numerous tubeless tire combinations, including 27.5 inch, 29 inch, fat bike, plus, and cyclocross tires. If you don't have an air compressor, these pumps are the next best choice. The Flash does use more plastic than we'd like to see, and when it is used as a traditional floor pump, and the hose is attached to a valve, air flows out of the tire and fills the pump. The tire is robbed of a huge amount of air, which translates into more pumping.

Product Updated

Since our test period, Bontrager has updated the gauge on this pump. It's now a digital gauge, which addresses an issue we had with the previous model. The digital gauge is assumed to give a more precise reading than the previous one, which we found hard to read. The new model is shown above.

July 2020

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Pros Seats tubeless tires, sturdy metal base, auto-select head, long hose, bleed valveMetal base, good gauge, accurate, good valueDual functionality, extra long hose, steel base, quiet, portable, air bleed valve, easy to read gaugeDurable, metal tripod base, large accurate gauge, HV/HP switchWell-priced, easy-to-use, simple, accurate
Cons Robs air from tire, plastic head with thin lever, poor gaugeOdd base shape, heavier than most, short hoseExpensive, heavy, intense effort to fill chamber, gauge not great for low pressuresClumsy pump head design, plastic gauge caseLess durable, small gauge
Bottom Line If you're a tubeless rider, this option is more affordable than others that can seat your tiresBuilt to last, this affordable model performs above its list priceA high-quality and high priced model that replaces the need for an air compressor to inflate tubeless tiresThis "gem" is impressively well priced for the quality and the utility of the featuresThis intuitive and straightforward bike pump gets the job done well for a very fair price
Rating Categories Bontrager TLR Flash... Topeak JoeBlow Spor... Topeak JoeBlow Booster Crankbrothers Gem AerGun X-1000
Ease Of Attachment (25%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
10.0
Stability (20%)
8.0
6.0
9.0
9.0
5.0
Inflation (20%)
6.0
8.0
6.0
8.0
7.0
Accuracy (20%)
7.0
9.0
6.0
9.0
9.0
Gauge (15%)
5.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
6.0
Specs Bontrager TLR Flash... Topeak JoeBlow Spor... Topeak JoeBlow Booster Crankbrothers Gem AerGun X-1000
Max PSI 160 160 160 160 160
Weight 6.2 lbs 3.7 lbs 6.4 lbs 4.0 lbs 2.6 lbs
Height 27 in 27 in 29 in 25.2 in 24 in
Hose Length 42 in 30 in 59 in 36 in 34 in
Tubeless Recommended? Yes No Yes No No
Accessory Inflators Included? No Yes No Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

Every day, another mountain biker discovers the relative flat-proof joy of riding tubeless tires. A couple of months later, they discover how much of a pain tubeless tires are to install onto a rim without the proper equipment. For those without an air compressor and the patience of a monk, what was once a 10-minute job now results in going down some YouTube wormhole on how to McGyver some useless contraption using baking soda, a floor pump, duct tape, and a soda bottle to seat a tire bead. Luckily, the TLR Flash Charger came to the rescue. It has its quirks, mainly the way it steals air from tires before asking your triceps to put it back where it belongs. We don't really like the gauge with its broad pressure measurements and small font, and the head has a delicate feel to it, but it seals tight and fits any valve without having to move around parts.

Performance Comparison


No outlet?  No problem.  The FLASHcharger makes tubeless tire...
No outlet? No problem. The FLASHcharger makes tubeless tire installation possible without an air compressor. We weren't crazy about it stealing air from our tires when used as a regular pump though.
Photo: Sean Cronin

Ease of Attachment/Detachment


The "auto-select" head of the Flash fits both Schrader and Presta valves without unthreading or flip-flopping internal pieces around. The head is entirely plastic; although the long lever makes it easier to secure to the valve, it still feels a bit delicate and thin for our liking.

Although we can appreciate the user-friendliness of a single auto-select head, this design may wear out a bit faster than those heads with separate ports for each type of valve. Ours still sealed tight onto valves by the end of our testing period, but it was bit chewed up. Pumps of this sort are still relatively new, and we found ourselves lending it out quite often to friends replacing tires that didn't have access to an air compressor.

The auto-select head was easy enough to figure out but we would have...
The auto-select head was easy enough to figure out but we would have liked more metal. The thin lever felt especially brittle.
Photo: Sean Cronin

Stability


Comparatively, this is a big pump. Luckily, it features a metal, 3-legged base wide enough to prevent it from falling over and breaking toes; there is no rubber or plastic on the base where it contacts the ground. Scratching of delicate surfaces is especially likely with this pump because of its significant weight. The polished alloy cylinder and meaty compressor cylinder rest in a plastic cradle atop the base, which is secured by a plastic mounting plate on the underside. Given the significant amount of force it takes to fill the second chamber to 160psi, metal would have been a more welcome choice for this part. However, the cradle is significantly recessed, allowing the barrels to fit securely and deeply enough to prevent unwanted movement.

Even though you keep your bike in the living room, you should pump...
Even though you keep your bike in the living room, you should pump up the tires outside and not on the wooden floors.
Photo: Sean Cronin

Inflation


The hose on the Flash Charger is 42 inches long. It attaches towards the top of the pump, which makes filling both tires possible without moving the pump around. For such a large pump, we expected this to be one of the fastest in the test, and we were surprised when it placed towards the bottom of the barrel. When connecting the auto-select head to the tire valve, the pump fills with air from inside the tire. The long hose and large barrel suck out a ridiculous amount of air, leaving the tire at a much lower starting pressure. As a result, simply topping off a tire turns into a full-fledged pump fest. Think we're kidding? A road tire starting at 100psi dropped to 40psi when we hooked up the Flash Charger. It required 35 pumps to get the pressure back to 100psi where we started! When you disconnect the hose from the tire, all the air escapes from the pump, and the hose hisses at you for 10 seconds like a cobra poised to strike.

The Flash Charger in normal pump mode on the right. When filling the...
The Flash Charger in normal pump mode on the right. When filling the high-pressure chamber, flip the red handle down and fill to 160 psi.
Photo: Sean Cronin


Accuracy


In everyday use, accuracy is difficult to determine with this pump. Due to the spacing of pressure values on the gauge, readings are often a best guess, especially on road tires. The lower values between 10 and 40psi typically encountered with mountain bike tires are spaced 10psi apart (i.e., 10, 20, 30, 40) and can be read with better accuracy. Past 40psi, pressure values are given in increments of 20 with no intermediate markings. Thankfully, we chose even pressure values for our testing, which are marked on the gauge. This pump was consistently accurate to within a couple PSI; however, in the real world, we feel accurate pressure readings will pose a much greater challenge.

Gauge


Despite the gauge being mounted towards the top of the pump, the minuscule font and brushed metallic background proved difficult to read for many testers. No chronograph dial can be set beforehand if reading the dial is difficult. The diameter of the gauge inside the housing is less than two inches, and our biggest gripe is with the spacing. Displayed in increments of 20psi, this is far too generous to obtain a reading with much accuracy. The red lever that is contoured to the shape of the gauge (and flips up and down to activate the pressurized chamber) is made of plastic and often the first thing to hit the ground when the unit is pushed over.

With pressure measurements labeled every 20 psi, we found getting a...
With pressure measurements labeled every 20 psi, we found getting a precise reading to be very difficult.
Photo: Sean Cronin

Value


This tubeless-ready pump is significantly cheaper than the other compressor-type pumps we tested. And, happily, the Flash Charger was just as successful at seating the bead on tubeless tires. That said, innovation costs money, and Bontrager effectively keeps the cost of this pump down by using plastic parts on the head, handle, and compressor chamber lever. Those in the market for a pricey pump might be willing to spend a few extra bucks to get more metal on such high-use pieces of the pump.

Conclusion


Our arms were ready to fall off from all the pumping required to test bike pumps. Having already recouped the money on having bike shops install our tubeless tires, we're definitely digging on these style pumps that act as air compressors. However, with the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger, we really couldn't get over the amount of air drawn out of the tire when attaching the hose. To make matters worse, the extra effort required to regain our starting pressure and fill the tire further was blown in our face when we detached the hose. This device will definitely save you some bucks, but it has some areas that could use improving.

Sean Cronin