The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How To Choose a Bike Pump

Pump heads come in many different designs including thread-on  dual-head  and auto-select
By Mark Schanzenbach ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday April 19, 2018

A good floor pump is one of the many bike tools that you will find yourself using most often. In fact, a floor pump has a good degree of crossover utility to other household applications. 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 thin crust. Nobody's waiting around while you huff and puff into a valve. On the trail or open road a frame pump or CO2 may be preferable, but at home or on a bike trip, the convenience and efficiency of a floor pump cannot be overstated. The accompanying lactic acid burn you get from slamming 120 psi 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.

You'll be happy to know that all the bike pumps we tested resulted in pumped-up tires, allowing us to go ride our bikes. Bike pumps relatively similar across brands and price spectrum in terms of basic utility. For many of you, that's all the information you'll require and the next concern will be spending as little as possible. 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.

There are a few key features in a floor pump that are worthy of spending a few bucks on. Proper tire pressure is a simple, but often overlooked, consideration to ensure 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 PSI or adding a few pre-ride pumps into your tires is all that's necessary to optimize performance.


Pump Head


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.

Stability


As the pressure within a tire increases with pumping, so to 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.

The Lezyne Steel Floor Drive's base is a simple metal tripod with a sturdy metal-framed gauge built right in.
The Lezyne Steel Floor Drive's base is a simple metal tripod with a sturdy metal-framed gauge built right in.

Gauge


Different types of bikes run hugely different tires pressures. A tubeless mountain bike tire is often ridden at 25 psi, whereas a skinny road bike tire can be upwards of 130 psi. Some gauges on the pumps we tested went up to 220 psi. Often times when inflating mountain tires, the low pressures are at the very beginning of the gauge readings; telling the difference between 22 and 24 psi, for example, when the gauge reads in increments of 10 psi 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 quite 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; better vision will likely improve your bike riding ability as well. We found chronograph style gauges to be useful for landing the needle on a 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.

Inflation Speed


If we as humans could reduce the need for adequate sleep, we could really 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.

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 2 PSI when we checked them with our separate pressure gauge, but larger discrepancies were noted, especially with some bargain models.

Other Considerations

Durability


In our minds, this is the other important 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.

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!

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.

Portability


We at OGL 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.

Extras


With the exception of the SKS Rennkompressor, all 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 bucks, it was 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.

Several pumps have built-in storage for their needle and cone attachments.
Several pumps have built-in storage for their needle and cone attachments.


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