Schwinn Air Center Plus Review
Cons: Imprecise gauge, does not reach high pressures
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Air Center Plus is one of several models of floor pumps made by Schwinn. As one of the most recognizable names in cycling, offering extremely affordable pumps, it would be easy for them to offer poor quality pumps for consumption by the masses. However, the Air Center Plus performed quite well in most of our tests. It isn't the best pump we tested by any means and especially struggles with high pressures (even with the words "High Pressure" printed on the side of the barrel), but for about the price of two inner tubes, this is a pretty nice device.
Ease of Attachment/Detachment
Like several other pumps we tested, the Air Center Plus uses a common head design with both Presta and Schrader valve holes right next to each other. This is an adequate design, although not our favorite, as it can be more difficult to secure head to valve without bumping it all around first (especially problematic on Presta as it leads to lost air). Our testers also had a hard time detaching this particular pump head from Presta valves without air loss.
The head has a smart red/green indicator to show whether it is locked or unlocked (locked = green = go). Presta and Schrader holes are also clearly labeled to help make things extra foolproof. The hose is the shortest of all full-size pumps we tested at only 28 inches — long enough as long as your bike is on the ground and you don't mind sliding the pump around between tires. It can have a hard time reaching a valve for a bike in a work stand, though.
The base is made of a shiny silver lightweight metal, which is quite strong and shows no tendency to bend when pressure is applied. It's larger than several other bases we tested as well, about 10 ½ inches wide and 5 inches from front to back. The shape might be improved by moving a little further in the direction of a tripod, but it's still quite effective at keeping the pump standing up. When using the pump, standing on the base does a good job of keeping the whole thing in place, but there is definitely some wobble to the handle, and between the barrel and the base.
Though it is marketed and labeled as a High-Pressure pump, the Air Center Plus only rated up to 120psi (most "high pressure" pumps go to 160 or higher), and in our tests, we weren't able to get much higher than 80. It has a volume of 483 cubic centimeters, which puts it more in the range of a High Volume pump; most high-pressure pumps are closer to the 300 cubic cm mark. It pumps quite a lot of air per pump stroke, making it quite fast at low pressures; it had one of the best scores of the pumps we tested in the number of pump strokes required to get from 20 to 80psi. However, it very quickly becomes physically difficult to pump to higher pressures — this is noticeable even at 60 and 70psi. Our testers were able to muscle it up to about 85. So while the "road" range on the gauge is a nice thought, the pump is essentially incapable of pumping up a road tire, and folks with less physical strength could struggle to fill even hybrid-range tires to a reasonable pressure.
The readings on the Air Center Plus are often more like rough eyeball estimates due to the distance between hash marks, but our tests showed that where the needle points is accurate. The gauge readings agreed with our independent gauge within the margin of error of 1-2psi.
Due to the high volume of this pump, we did have some trouble landing the needle on a specific spot; each pump stroke increases the pressure by several PSI, so if you're aiming for 70 you may find yourself jumping past it to 74. There's no air bleed button, so any extra air must be let out the old-fashioned way. This, combined with the lack of gauge precision, prevents us from declaring this pump as an ideal option for those concerned with accuracy.
The gauge on this pump has been designed with a focus on user-friendliness and simplicity. Pressure markings are only labeled every 20psi, with hash marks every 10psi; precision is simply not an option in between those numbers. Trying to pump up to 75? Just aim a little to the left of 80. This is not a satisfying gauge for professionals or mechanics, but beginners are more likely to appreciate simplicity. There are also helpful ranges printed on the face of the gauge to use as guides for different types of tires: 30-50psi is "MTB" range, 50-75psi is "Hybrid," and 75-120 is "Road." These rough estimates can also be very helpful for cycling novices — if you don't know anything about your tires' recommended pressure, but you know it's a road bike, you might just pump to the middle of that range, somewhere around 95psi. That would be good enough to get started with road tires.
Cased all in plastic and only loosely mounted to the barrel, there isn't much durability to be had with this gauge, and precision isn't an option, but it's 2 ½ inches across with clear print, and it works well enough.
For those who need a simple low-pressure pump and find this model suits their needs, this Schwinn is a fantastic value. With a strong metal base, accurate (if imprecise) gauge, and foolproof head, it's a good amount of pump for the money. There are lots of better pumps available for those who want more, and in our opinion, there is probably better value in paying a few dollars more for some improved components and features, but if price is your primary concern, you could do a lot worse than this pump.
The Schwinn Air Center Plus is the kind of pump that would look just right sitting in a family garage, coming out to the driveway a few times a year to fill up everyone's bike tires before a ride, or maybe perpetually holding the ball needle attachment in its head. It's not without issues, but it's a surprisingly nice and well-built pump for the money. More serious riders can also get by with it for a while as long as they don't run high-pressure tires. MTB riders on a budget, give it a try!
— Mark Schanzenbach