Bike Pumps Buying Guide
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Bike Pumps Buying Guide

Riding slower than you used to be? Legs feel like lead? It could be your tyre pressure that’s causing it. A pump not only can tackle the problems above, boosting your confidence while on the road away from home, but also can be used as a self-defense weapon!

A bicycle pump sounds like a simple buy, but in fact there are many different types, so if it is not clear what your needs are, you may just be wasting money. The following guideline tell you how to pick the best bicycle pump for your tyres.

Types of pumps

Track pump

Using a track pump is the most efficient way of pumping up your road or mountain bike tyres, and it’s an important piece of kit to have at home. Track pumps have a high volume shaft, which combined with the fact you use your body weight to press down on the handle, makes them easy to use for getting up to pressure.

Hand pump

A standard hand pump will fit to your frame, bags or even a pocket. Although they aren't anywhere as speedy as track pumps, they will get you home in times of trouble. Some mini-pumps have foldable bases, creating a semi-track pump which are a halfway option between performance and portability. The downsides of smaller pumps are that more effort is required and you'll have to guess the pressure as they don't have gauges. You'll need around 180 strokes to inflate a tyre.

Shock pump

Shock pump are small, high-pressure pumps designed for finely adjusting the preload in suspension shocks and forks that utilise a compressed air spring. Shock pumps generally feature a pressure gauge as suspension units are designed for specific inflation levels based on the rider’s weight. Be sure to refer to the suspension manufacturer's instructions regarding the correct amount of pressure for your bike. If you own a mountain bike with air suspension, it's wise to own a shock pump. This high pressure, small-volume pump serves adjusts the preload in air suspension. Often with a max pressure of 300psi, this pump will allow you to get the right pressure and fine tune it.

Frame pump

Effectively a longer, more efficient hand pump. A frame pump is designed to fit within the triangle of a bike frame. This allows the pump to be bigger, which often means a more effective hand pump. You’ll generally only find this style of pump on steel road and touring bikes.

CO2

CO2 is the fastest and most space efficient form of inflation in case of a road-side repair. These are tiny, single use cartridges which, when used with a small adaptor, make inflation easy on the move. One cartridge will inflate to about 90psi, so plenty for a mountain bike and enough to get you home on a road bike. As with hand pumps, the absence of valves means you'll have to guess the pressure. Don't forget to carry a few with you - it's worth having a hand pump as back up too. Inflating a tyre takes seconds.

High-pressure air cylinders

Because of the use of nitrogen-filled cylinders, you never really have to work your muscles to get this baby pumping. Even though the volume of air may be low, they are portable and easy to use. The only downside is that they can usually only be used once, so there is no way to save the air inside the pump – but hey it’s a very convenient way to pump your tires! It is usually sought after by the time-sensitive cyclist who owns a lightweight road frame that most people can never afford.

Things should know & consider

PSI

Inflation rate

Your tyres should tell you the PSI (pound-force per square inch) of your tyre.

This is from around 40 on a mountain bike and around 100 on a road bike. A gauge on the pump is a great feature to tell you how much more inflation is needed.

Pump heads and valve types

Most pumps will have two-sided nozzles to accommodate the two main types of valve used in bicycle inner tubes: Schrader and Presta.

Schrader

When you hear someone talk about a Schrader valve, they are talking about the type of valve that is most common to bikes and cars and anything else with inflatable tires. Schrader valve are also sometimes known as 'car-type' valves as they are the same type used on motor vehicle tyres. A Schrader valve is maybe as thick as your pinky, and has the valve itself recessed inside a metal stem. The nice thing about tires with Schrader valves is that any place with airing equipment like gas stations, etc., will work to fill your tires. Schrader valves are often found on MTB tubes, commuter bikes and BMXs. Most all kids' bikes and entry level adult bikes also have wheels with Schrader valve tubes.

Presta

A Presta valve are usually found on road bikes, some higher-end mountain bikes and other bicycles that require very high air pressure. It is skinnier than a Schrader valve, generally taller, and the valve sits on top of the valve stem. Presta valves evolved as the preferred valve for these type of high performance wheels because the valve is designed so that the high air pressure inside the tube holds it closed, meaning it can maintain the higher air pressure longer. Also, presta valves typically feature a threaded exterior onto which is wound a circular locknut, which keeps the valve tight to the wheel rim and prevents it twisting off or becoming damaged during inflation.

The main drawback to Presta valves is that they are not compatible with the pumps that you find at gas stations, etc., unless you've got a little adaptor with you. Not a big deal, and most road cyclists carry them, but something to be aware of regardless.

Pressure

Not many people really need a pump that goes to 260psi and even a committed mountain biker probably wouldn't need above 40psi. Higher pressure pump is often a trade-off for volume output, or at least gauge accuracy. Because of this, some brands offer pump models specific to road or mountain biking.

Volume

Much like pressure, this will depend on your main bike choice. A high-volume pump expels a greater amount of air per stroke, meaning it takes less strokes to pump up the tyre, but in turn will generally mean a lower maximum pressure. A high-volume pump is not a necessity, but it will make inflating your tyres easier on your arms.

Gauge accuracy

Not all hand pumps include a gauge, but any decent track pump should. Look for a gauge that’s easy to read and offers a suitable pressure range for your needs. Gauges are generally most accurate at the middle of the range, so if you're trying to accurately inflate your mountain bike tyre between 23 and 25psi you'll need a gauge with a low pressure accuracy.

Construction

The quality of a pump's construction is often in line with its price, and often the more expensive the pump, the more metal it contains. For track pumps, the cheapest options are plastic and will flex and wobble under heavy use, eventually giving up. The metal ones are far more solid, keep going and are well worth rebuilding.


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