Silca Impero Ultimate Review
Cons: Heavy, large size, expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Silca Impero Ultimate is a top-of-the-line frame pump with excellent pumping performance. If getting back on the bike as quickly as possible is your primary concern, then the pumping performance advantages of this frame pump will amaze you. All-aluminum construction and a simple push-on pump head make the Impero easy to use and durable. The silicone wing flex bumpers provide a rattle-free, solid interface between the frame and the pump, and fit a wider variety of tubing shapes than competing designs.
The Impero is by far the best performing frame pump we tested. We were able to hit 103psi at just 112 pump strokes. If we had continued to 200 strokes in our 25c road tire inflation test, we would have blown the tire off the rim. The Zefal HPX was the closest competitor, reaching 95psi, but that was at 200 pump strokes. The achievable tire pressure is only part of the story when it comes to performance. Pumping effort is equally important, and the Silca Impero requires the least amount of effort per stroke of any pump we tested.
Also impressive is the minimal increase in pumping effort as pressures increase. The Zefal HPX requires more effort per stroke as pressure increases. The Impero is designed for high-pressure road tires, but it is also a capable pump for mountain bike tires, bringing a 27.5" x 2.3" tire up to a respectable 34psi at 300 pumps.
Ease of Use
Attaching a frame pump to the frame should be easy and intuitive. The Impero uses a spring-loaded handle to apply outward pressure and hold the pump securely to the frame. The other frame pumps we tested operate on a similar principle, but the silicone bumpers on the handle and head of the pump set the Impero apart. The silicone is soft and flexible, allowing the material to mold to the shape of the frame tubes and providing a superior connection to the hard plastic found on the Zefal HPX. The pump head also enhances ease of use with a push-on design — valve attachment is as simple as it gets. The other frame pumps we tested utilize a locking lever that must be flipped to ensure a seal with the valve. Pumping with the Impero is easy, with a minimal ramp up in an effort as pressures increase.
For optimal ease of use, check out the Lezyne Road Drive and the Lezyne Pressure Drive. Both of these contenders scored highly in this metric.
The Impero's all-black finish goes well with almost any color frame, and the red pump head accents add just enough flair. We like the understated look and feel. It is by far the best-looking frame pump in the test. The pump is made entirely of aluminum and features a brass check valve that only allows one-way air travel.
The pump head has a two-stage push on gasket that Silca claims is more secure than the locking lever designs of their competitors. We agree but have found the most secure air chucks to be of the thread-on variety found on Lezyne pumps.
Silca uses a dome-shape leather washer rather than the rubber washers found on most other pumps. The leather washers are pressure treated and designed to outperform their rubber counterparts. As pumps heat up from use, the internal diameter of the pump barrel increases and rubber washers become inefficient. Due to the shape and material used by Silica, the leather expands to conform to the increased barrel diameter resulting in less loss of efficiency at high temperatures. We found the Impero to provide great efficiency even when hot and pumping against high tire pressure.
The Impero is designed to be carried on a bike frame either under the top tube or parallel to the seat tube. When used for its intended purpose it is very portable. We would even argue it is more portable than many mini pumps just due to convenience. Once ion the frame there is no need to remove it until it's needed for use. With a mini pump, you have to remember to put it in your jersey pocket on the way out the door.
One drawback to frame pumps is that they are size specific, meaning that if you have bikes with differing frame sizes it may not be possible to mount the pump on multiple bikes. Frame pumps are also not practical on most full suspension frames. If properly sized, the Impero is very portable for use on a road or cyclocross bike. It out-scored the other frame pumps we tested due to the flexible silicone bumpers on the ends of the pump.
The soft and flexible material molds to the shape most bicycle frame tubing shapes and sizes, providing a stable fit on a wide range of frames. The Impero is heavier than the other frame pumps we tested, but we feel that the retention system benefits of the Impero make up for the 42g weight increase over the Zefal HPX.
The Impero has proven to be a reliable companion for long road rides and gravel adventures on the cross bike. We had no issues with durability during testing. The slip-on chuck became a bit easier to press on the valve as it wore in from use, but the seal remained secure. The all aluminum construction makes for a sturdy, long-lasting pump. The Impero also scores points for being completely rebuildable internally. The leather washer can be replaced as well as the slip-on chuck internals as they wear over time.
This Top Pick winner is the expensive pump we have tested. Despite this, we would argue that it is an excellent value. We have old Silca Super Pista floor pumps in our home shops that predate every other piece of equipment we own by 30 years. Silca pumps are expensive, but they last and keep on working almost indefinitely if you replace the leather washer and air chuck every few years. Sure you can get a frame pump for less than half the cost of the Impero, but the Impero will likely be the last frame pump you ever need to buy.
The Silca Impero is made in the USA, using Alcoa aluminum and leather washers from Milan. No other frame pump on the market comes close to equaling the quality of the Impero. Best in class pumping performance and unrivaled frame interface and security set the Impero apart from competitors in both design and performance. Quality comes at a price, but this pump is guaranteed to not leave you stranded.
— Curtis Smith