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How To Choose a Bike Pump

Pump heads come in many different designs including thread-on  dual-head  and auto-select
Tuesday June 30, 2020
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Even the least gear-obsessed cyclist among us won't get far — or anywhere — without a good bike pump. A floor pump is likely to be the piece of cycling gear you use almost as often as you ride your bike. And as niche as they may seem, these bicycle floor pumps have a good degree of crossover utility to other adventures. Ever go to move firewood in the fall, but you've got a flat tire on the wheelbarrow? Or worse yet, your crew shows up with a cooler of tallboys ready to float the river, but your inflatable deep dish pizza slice is flatter than a thin crust. Nobody's waiting around while you huff and puff into a valve. And for biking on the trail or open road, a frame pump or CO2 cartridge may be the only reasonable way to fix a flat, but certainly these are not efficient for regular use at home (or on a road trip). The intense muscular "pump" you get from slamming 120psi into a road tire with a tiny frame pump while sitting on your porch will be all the convincing you need to buy something with a bit more volume and better ergonomics.

First, the Good News


Yes, it's true, all the pumps we tested resulted in pumped-up tires, allowing us to go ride our bikes. Bike pumps are relatively similar across brands and the price spectrum — at least in terms of basic utility. Some of you may stop reading here and go choose the cheapest model in this review, knowing it filled our tires. After all, we all know someone using a floor pump they found in the woods or scored at a yard sale, getting by with something that sort of works… some of the time.

But for those of you still reading, if you're tired of that leaky pump full of spiders that topples over with every stroke, you'll be pleased to know that there are several key features of floor pumps that make them worthy of a few extra bucks. Proper tire pressure is a simple, but often overlooked, consideration which ensures the smoothest quality ride on your bike. We've all spent time fussing with this or that component on our bikes, trying to get a smoother or more efficient ride. Often blowing off a couple of PSI or adding a few pre-ride pumps into your tires is all that's necessary to optimize performance.

The line-up
The line-up

How to Choose the Best?


To be as organized and unbiased as possible, we assembled five assessment metrics to dive deep into testing and analyzing bike pumps: Ease of Attachment, Stability, Inflation Speed, Accuracy, and Gauge.

Ease of Attachment


So…what's up with these different pump heads? A quality pump head allows the user to easily attach and detach the pump to both Schrader and Presta valves. A good tight seal around the valve is imperative. If air is leaking out while you're trying to pump air in, you're wasting energy and will be unable to obtain an accurate pressure reading. Some pumps adjust automatically to accept either Presta or Schrader valves in the same port. Other pumps use a different port for each valve type. Ports may be adjacent to each other, on opposing sides of the chuck, or may require the user to unscrew and flip the head around. Depending on how much use your pump gets, this may spread out the wear on the pump head if you regularly inflate tires with both types of valves. The materials used in the pump head's construction should also be considered. Metal may stand up to abuse a bit better than plastic and increase the overall durability of the pump.

A valve that adjusts to all your tire valves with no fuss is an absolute benefit in the long run.
A valve that adjusts to all your tire valves with no fuss is an absolute benefit in the long run.

Stability


As the pressure within a tire increases with pumping, so too does the effort required to depress the pump's handle. A stable pump will be more efficient than a pump you have to fight to keep upright. A wide base allows the user a generous area to stand on and stabilize the pump; tripod designs tend to be the most stable. Heavier, metal bases help ground the pump and make them less prone to tipping. A hefty base also increases stability in pumps that mount the pressure gauge higher on the pump shaft. Though closer to the user's eyes for ease of reading, this can raise the pump's center of gravity, making it less stable.

Tripod-style bases are excellent choices for pump stability
Tripod-style bases are excellent choices for pump stability

Inflation Speed


If we as humans could reduce the need for adequate sleep, we could be productive and have lots more time to ride our bikes. While saving a few strokes pumping up your bike tires isn't going to open up hours in the day, we appreciate a pump that doesn't leave us gasping for breath like we just finished the Alpe d'Huez stage of the Tour de France. Pumps with long hoses can also save you from moving the pump from wheel to wheel and can reach tires with the bike in a bike work stand.

Plenty of hose means no squatting required.
Plenty of hose means no squatting required.

Accuracy


Some cyclists are satisfied with pumping air into their tires, giving them a squeeze, and pedaling away. While this might work for some, as we mentioned above, tire pressure can have a big impact on feel, efficiency, and performance. Many riders know what tire pressure feels best for a certain tire and check before every ride to ensure proper inflation. If you are this type of discerning rider, you want to know that the pressure reading on the pump's gauge is accurate. Several pumps we tested were within 1 or 2psi when we checked them with our separate pressure gauge, but larger discrepancies were noted, especially with some bargain models.

The newly upgraded giant gauge of the Steel Floor Drive.
The newly upgraded giant gauge of the Steel Floor Drive.

Gauge


Different types of bikes run hugely different tires pressures. A tubeless mountain bike tire is often ridden at 25psi, whereas a skinny road bike tire can be upwards of 130psi. Some gauges on the pumps we tested went up to 220psi. Often when inflating mountain tires, the low pressures are at the very beginning of the gauge readings; telling the difference between 22 and 24psi, for example, when the gauge reads in increments of 10psi can be a bit of a guessing game.

The size, font, and color of the gauge can affect the overall readability. We found this to be entirely subjective and something you should take into account before purchasing a pump. Some users may find it easier to read a gauge that is mounted higher on the pumps towards the handle rather than lower down by the base. Again, individuals will need to determine what they prefer. A visit with the optometrist may be in order if reading a pump is giving you trouble; the better vision will likely improve your bike riding ability as well. We found chronograph style gauges to be useful for landing the needle on the desired pressure.

The chronograph style gauge on the ToPeak JoeBlow Sport III is one of the best.
The chronograph style gauge on the ToPeak JoeBlow Sport III is one of the best.

Other Considerations


A few other factors are important to consider when narrowing down your selection.

Durability


In our minds, this is another crucial attribute for a floor pump. A pump needs to be dependable. While they are not the most expensive piece of equipment you'll buy, nothing is worse than needing one and finding out that yours just quit. Especially if you plan to travel with your pump at all, or if you tend to be rougher on your tools. In most cases, you get what you pay for in terms of durability and solid construction, so if you have the means, try to make a solid investment that you can depend on. Look for burlier materials like metal and wood and prioritize those over an abundance of plastic.

This plastic base is only minimally capable of keeping the pump standing.
This plastic base is only minimally capable of keeping the pump standing.

Comfort


You may not always notice right away if your floor pump has uncomfortable handles, but once you've felt comfortable ones, it's hard to go back. Comfort will also ultimately have an effect on the pump's overall ease of use and inflation speed. It's a lot easier to push down repeatedly on something wide, padded, and molded to your palms — you'll pump harder without realizing it, and the job will be done in a snap!

A lovely wooden handle feels great in the palms.
A lovely wooden handle feels great in the palms.

Appearance/Design


While not necessary for high performance, using equipment with an attractive overall design will enhance the experience of its use. If you're going to invest in a floor pump, all other factors being equal, why not get one that's good looking? A nice mix of form and function can be a beautiful thing.

When the Lezyne Steel Floor Drive isn't in use  consider displaying it as an art piece.
When the Lezyne Steel Floor Drive isn't in use, consider displaying it as an art piece.

Portability


We at GearLab are movers and shakers, and we know you are too. Road trips, family vacations, bike races — you'll want to take your pump with you sometimes, and it's worthwhile to give due consideration to each pump's portability. No question here that size matters.

The folding feet of the Rennkompressor's base
The folding feet of the Rennkompressor's base

Extras


Several of the pumps we reviewed included a needle for inflating things like soccer balls and footballs, as well as a plastic conical attachment used to inflate rafts, beach balls, air mattresses, etc. While these attachments can easily be picked up for a couple of bucks, it's a nice touch to have them included. Tiny pieces like these are often easily lost, but some pumps had clever storage spots for these helpful extras.

We love a secret compartment.
We love a secret compartment.

Alternatives to Floor Pumps



Lezyne Pressure Drive Hand Pump
Frame Pumps

These are not nearly as convenient as floor pumps, but much better for bringing along on the road; they are more compact and can be less expensive. If you only have one bike and limited storage, you may just want to have a hand pump. That said, they take about ten times longer to inflate a tire, especially a larger mountain bike tire.

Portable air compressor pump
Portable Air Compressors
These plug into an AC outlet or your car. If you have Presta tires, it can be a hassle to buy the right adapter. The upside is they will inflate just about anything: car tires, rafts, air mattresses, etc.

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