How We Tested Floor Bike Pumps

By:
Sean Cronin
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Sunday

We tested floor pumps by using them for what they are made for: inflation, inflation, inflation. We inflated bike tires, sports equipment, presta valves, and schrader valves. We tested their consistency with forming solid, no-leak seals on the valves. We tested their gauge accuracy and simplicity. We threw the contenders into our vehicles, we banged them up a bit, and we even tried stuffing them in luggage or backpacks. We observed how stable their bases are, how our hands felt after pushing on those handles over, and over (and over), and we examined the suppleness of the hoses over time. Hopefully, we put these babies through more than you will so that you can be sure you are buying a quality piece of equipment.

The Joe Blow Booster seating a wheelbarrow tire.  This pump costs more than the author will spend to heat his home all winter.  It's pretty sweet though!
The Joe Blow Booster seating a wheelbarrow tire. This pump costs more than the author will spend to heat his home all winter. It's pretty sweet though!

In order to make our findings verifiable and reproducible, we put each pump through the same testing process. For each of the eight pumps, we had three different testers inflate both a mountain bike tire and a road tire two times. Inflation speed was measured by counting the number of strokes taken to reach a desired pressure and accuracy was checked with a Topeak Smartgauge D2 digital pressure reader. The mountain bike tire was flat to start and we took it up to a pressure of 25 psi, while the road tire was inflated from 60 psi up to 120 psi. The mountain bike tire was a tubeless setup and a 27.5 x 2.3 Maxxis High Roller II mounted on WTB Asym 27.5, i23 series rim was used. The road tire was a Bontrager Race Lite 700 x 25c mounted to a Bontrager Select 622 x 14 series 6000 rim. It's impractical to think others would try to match this setup exactly to verify our test findings and we realize using different tire/rim combinations could produce different findings. Nevertheless, we feel our test used common, modern, middle-of-the-road wheelsets that will give our readers a close approximation of the performance they can expect from any of these pumps.

Each trial was scored using our five different rating metrics; stability, ease of attachment/detachment, gauge, inflation speed, and accuracy.

Stability
Stability was one of the more subjective rating metrics. It was assessed mainly during pumping; while shuffling things around, we noticed some pumps ended up horizontal a bit more often than the others. Especially when pumping a road tire up to a high pressure, those last strokes require a solid foundation to push against.

Ease of Attachment/Detachment
This was a heavily weighted scoring metric. Getting a tight, secure seal on the valve is paramount to effective pumping. The smoother the air chuck can be taken on and off the valve, the less effort you'll spend pumping up your tires. Think about it this way: are you struggling to attach the pump head, inadvertently releasing air from the tire as you wrestle the lever closed? Once you start pumping, is air escaping the seal every time you depress the handle or just constantly hissing out? Finally, are you again losing air from the tire as you forcefully yank the head from the valve? In this example, the user starts pumping at a lower psi, races against the leaking seal, and then must pump beyond their desired pressure rating in order to counteract the air lost during detachment.

Another consideration in this category was how intuitive the head was to operate. Could each tester simply grab the pump and know how to attach it onto the valve? Were there written instructions or diagrams printed on the head to aid in familiarization? All these things were taken into account when scoring this category.

Gauge
Another rather subjective scoring metric, this category assessed how user-friendly and readable each pressure gauge was for our testers. Some gauges were mounted high on the pump, making them easier to read. Others were placed further towards the base of the pump. Some testers felt this location made it harder to read the gauge, while others felt it increased the overall stability of the pump, making it less top-heavy. A chronograph dial on some pump gauges made selecting a certain pressure and hitting the mark rather easy. Certain color combinations seemed easier to read, while others strained our eyes.

Inflation Speed
To test inflation speed, we counted the number of strokes it took to achieve a desired pressure on the pump gauge. For the mountain bike tire, we increased tire pressure from a zero reading (flat tire) up to 25 psi. Our road tire was pumped from 60 psi up to 120 psi.

Cycling is such a leg-dominant sport.  It's a good idea to balance out muscle groups.  One way to do this is to test 8 different floor pumps.
Cycling is such a leg-dominant sport. It's a good idea to balance out muscle groups. One way to do this is to test 8 different floor pumps.

The initial 60 psi pressure was verified with our Topeak Smartgauge; the pump was attached, and pumping stopped when 120 psi was reached on the pump's gauge. Other variables that may affect inflation speed in a real-world situation are hose length, ease of head attachment, improper valve seal, and fatigue. We make reference to some of these variables in our discussion but all scoring was based on testing numbers.

Accuracy
Upon reaching the tire pressures designated in the above inflation speed scoring metric, we used the Topeak SmartGauge D2 digital tire pressure meter to determine how accurate the gauge reading was compared to the meter reading.
 

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