How to Choose a Bike Pump
It should be common practice to check your tires before any bike trip, so even though it takes a bit of effort to keep your tires properly pumped, doing so will help keep you more efficient on your ride and avoid damage to your bike.
As you’re shopping for a pump, keep a few things in mind to make sure you’re choosing the right one, whether it’s a floor pump, portable pump, or high-tech CO2 pump. But first, a few words about psi output.
The maximum psi (pounds per square inch) output, or how much air the pump can force into your tire, is an important consideration. Read the psi rating on the side of the tire. The pump you choose needs to match or exceed the stated air pressure your tires can handle. If the pump’s max air pressure is too low, you won’t be able to adequately inflate the tires, no matter how much you pump.
Note that road bike tires typically require a higher psi than mountain or hybrid bikes.
If you’re looking for a bike pump that you can store in a bike equipment closet or your garage, go with a floor pump. This is great to keep around the house for use on a weekly basis or before any ride you go on. Because you place your feet on the base of the product and pump with your arms, this is by far the most stable choice, and the long, slender frame will give you the highest-capacity filling power available.
The leverage you achieve with floor pumps is great for high-pressure tires, and the products often come with pressure gauges to let you know exactly how much air pressure is in your tire. A standard floor pump will have a volume per stroke (see “Air Volume” below) of around 300 cubic centimeters and can deliver a max tire pressure of 160 psi.
If you’re an avid cyclist and regularly ride long distances, you’ll need a portable pump to carry with you in addition to a floor pump to keep at home. Many of these pumps are small and light enough to affix to the frame of your bike, or to carry in a pack or saddle bag. These pumps can still be used at home, but they won’t provide the air volume that you get from a floor pump.
Portable pump psi ratings can vary. Some offer 90 psi, others up to 160 psi, so make sure to match your pump’s ratings to your tires’ volume.
Portable hand pumps are crucial for any solo ride. If you’re in a group, make sure that at least one of the riders is carrying a pump.
Because they have reduced air chambers, smaller pumps typically have a lower volume per stroke, meaning that it will take more strokes, and more time to fill a tire, with a small pump as opposed to a large one. Micro pumps (those measuring about six inches long) are great for an emergency, but may take quite a while, and quite a bit of effort, to inflate a high-pressure tire. The larger the pump, the faster the inflation, with stand-up floor pumps being the most efficient of all.
There are some micro and mini pumps that use dual action—that is, they pump air on the down stroke as well as on the up stroke. This makes these particular pumps more efficient, and somewhat mitigates the rule that smaller pumps always take longer to inflate a tire.
New technology has led to pumps that let you fill your tires with the push of a button, using compressed CO2 in small cartridges and a delivery system. These pumps are particularly popular with road cyclists, as they’re the smallest, lightest pumps available.
A single CO2 cartridge typically only provides enough air to fill an empty tire. If you’re just using the CO2 cartridge to top off a slightly deflated tire, the cartridge may last a bit longer. Empty cartridges are simply thrown out.
As far as bicycles go, two main valve types are still in use: Schrader and Presta.
i) Schrader valves are the same as the valves on car tires and are generally found on lower-end bikes. The valve operates by use of a spring to hold the valve shut. Occasionally dirt or sand can get into the valve and cause the spring and valve to jam. On the plus side, the Schrader valve is easier to manipulate than a Presta valve. Schrader valves are most commonly found on hybrid bikes ii) Most road and mountain bikes use Presta valves. Because the slender Presta valve requires a smaller hole in the wheel rim, the rim’s integrity is greater. Also, unlike Schrader valves, Presta valves use back pressure to close the inner valve and are less vulnerable to dirt or sand. On the negative side, it’s easier to bend and even snap off a Presta valve if you’re not careful.
Be sure your pump can accommodate whichever valve your bike tires have. Make sure all the mounting hardware and fittings can fit the valve as well as the frame and wheels of your bike. To be safe, Presta-Schrader valve adaptors work really well, and a few pumps on the market even accept both Presta and Schrader valves without having to change any internal parts.
Air Pumps for Bike Shocks
Some bikes require air in their front and rear suspension. These shocks use Schrader valves and can require air pressure up to 300 psi. Specific mini pumps are sold for bike shocks. If you’re buying a mini pump to use on your tires, double-check the description to make sure that the pump is not designed for shocks.
A pump is a necessary piece of bike gear to keep your tires firm and your ride safe. So think about where you’ll be riding, how long you’ll be out, and what type of tires you have, and you’ll be on your way to finding the best bike pump available.