Comprehensive Bike Pump Buying Bike Pump Buying Guide: 7 Tips For Choosing the Right Model
In this bike pump buying guide, we’ll discuss the details of each type, dive into how they perform, and outline seven key questions you should ask.
Bike pumps won’t prevent flat tires. But, they’re indispensable for getting you rolling again after repairs are made.
The problem is there are so many models available at varying price points that making an informed decision can seem impossible.
Here’s an often-unacknowledged fact, though: Bike pumps have more in common than otherwise. This means that small details can distinguish between the ‘right’ model for you and one that’s just ho-hum.
This bike pump buying guide will help you learn more about what these differences are, as well as what they’ll mean in the real world. Then, using everything we’ve learned, we’ll outline how to maximize the value achieved from your next bike pump purchase.
Let’s begin by taking an in-depth look at the four main types.
The Different Types of Bike Pumps Available
Editor’s note: We chose not to include compressors or foot pumps here since they’re generally much larger, heavier, and pricier than bike-specific models.
Also, they’re typically equipped with Schrader-specific heads. If your bike has Presta valves, only a couple of aftermarket companies currently manufacture somewhat pricey ($50+) upgrades. Or, you’ll have to retrofit parts available at local hardware stores.
With these details in mind, for the purposes of this bike pump buying guide, there are four main categories:
Floor / Track Pumps
The basics: Floor pumps (also frequently referred to as track pumps) are the largest, sturdiest, fastest, and highest-pressure models available. They’re designed to store in your garage or throw in the back of your car before heading out to your ride location.
Floor Pump Leverage & Volume-Per-Stroke
With their upright designs and large barrels, track models can deliver more air to a tire with each pump (known as volume-per-stroke). Combined with the downward force of gravity, their broad, t-shaped handles provide a great deal of leverage to reduce effort.
Related: Bike Tire Glossary
In short, they’ll help you quickly inflate a tire using the least amount of energy.
Floor Pump Base Stability
A broad base helps stabilize a floor pump’s larger barrel, which is made from plastic in lower-end models, or aluminum or steel on more expensive versions. While the latter could certainly boost longevity, keep in mind that they’ll also increase the pump’s overall weight.
Base designs vary; some extend in only two directions, such as the Blackburn model pictured below, while others feature three evenly-spaced feet for maximum stability.
Pro Tip: Depending on where you plan to use your track pump, you might focus on models that feature wholly rubber feet, or at least floor contact points. Not only can this help prevent slippage, but it could also help avoid scratches if you plan to use your pump indoors, or on otherwise delicate surfaces.
Floor Pump Chuck Compatibility
Attached to the base, or a few inches up the barrel, is a flexible rubber hose that can vary in length and thickness, depending on the model and manufacturer. At the end of the hose is a head (formally known as a chuck) that attaches to the inner tube’s valve and transfers air from the pump’s barrel.
Most modern options are compatible with Schrader and Presta valves, although the specific design can vary widely. For example, the nozzle’s inlet could accept both valve types without doing anything, or users might have to flip the head around, as just a couple of examples.
Some nozzles also attach to the valve using a locking thumb lever, while others screw directly onto the valve’s threading.
Pressure Gauge & Accessories
As you pump, most floor pumps models feature a relatively accurate pressure gauge. Some of these use needles (known as chronographs), while others are digital. Mounting positions can vary between the base, mid-way up the barrel, or closer to the t-handle.
Finally, when shopping around, you’ll find that some models feature built-in compartments or other areas for storing different tips and needles (such as for inflating sports balls).
|Floor Pump Specs|
|Air Volume||300 – 600+ cc|
|Air Pressure||100 – 260 PSI|
|Price Range||$10 – $150+|
|Height||20” – 30”|
|Base Width||8” – 10”|
|Weight Range||1.5 – 8.5 lbs|
|Hose Length||30” – 45”+|
|Pros||Largest air volume. High pressure. Fastest and easiest to pump. Most stable. Longest reach. Most have gauges for accuracy.|
|Cons||Large, bulky, and heavy. Tend to come with the highest prices.|
|Best For||Every cyclist should have a floor pump at home. If you ride often and far enough, though, you’ll still need one (or more) of the portable options below in case of an emergency.|
The basics: Functionally, a frame pump consists of a long, slender barrel that’s smaller than a track pump, with rubberized tips at each end.
It mounts to a bike frame by wedging each tip between tubes, and there aren’t any feet, t-handles, or hoses. Some have gauges, but they’re much less common here than with other models.
Frame Pump Leverage & Volume-Per-Stroke
Because frame models pump in a side-to-side motion, you won’t have as much leverage as the up-and-down motion used with floor pumps. Combined with the fact that its barrel is meaningfully smaller, this means it will take longer to reach the ideal pressure, and involve more effort.
So, while these are the largest portable models available, with the highest volume-per-stroke, you likely wouldn’t choose to rely on one as your primary pump (unless you’re a glutton for punishment, that is).
What a Frame Pump’s Unique Attachment Mechanism Means For You
The rubberized ‘foot’ attached each end of frame pump’s barrel features a concave design to conform around your bike’s tubing—whether between the seat tube and head tube, just under top tube (most common), or anywhere else you can find space inside your bike’s triangle. And all of this without needing extra brackets or other mounting hardware.
A spring inside one of these feet provides two functions:
- Maintains tension between the tubes and keeps everything in place while you’re riding.
- Offers some wiggle room when fitting to your frame.
There isn’t enough wiggle room to accommodate all frame sizes, though, so companies offer different lengths of the same models (e.g., small, medium, large).
Frame pumps are typically considered road-only models, since modern mountain bike frames (especially full suspension models) generally don’t provide sufficient space. And even if they did, their spring-loaded fitment would frequently fall out when riding on rough, uneven terrain.
Frame Pump Valve Compatibility
Frame pump nozzles are compatible with both Schrader and Presta valves in the vast majority of instances. However, we’re not aware of any models that feature flexible hoses, which means their head attaches directly to the valve.
While this approach can help minimize parts and reduce weight, their larger head sizes could also decrease maneuverability between spokes, while the lateral pressure generated by its side-to-side pumping motion might damage valves over time.
|Frame Pump Specs|
|Air Pressure||60 – 160 PSI|
|Price Range||$6 – $150+|
|Length||Small: 7” – 19”, Medium: 8.5” – 21”, Large: 11” – 23”|
|Weight Range||3 – 8.5 oz|
|Pros||Mid-size and weight. Best volume per stroke for all portable models. Spring-loaded end allows you to attach w/out additional hardware.|
|Cons||Large, will change the aesthetics of your bike. Attach directly to valves (no hoses), which can cause additional valve wear and tear. Heavier and more cumbersome than smaller models.|
|Best For||Lower pressure (> 100 PSI) applications with the most volume-per-stroke in a portable pump.|
Mini and Micro Pumps
The basics: Mini and micro pumps work much like frame pumps, but—as their name suggests—are more compact and lightweight.
Common Mini & Micro Pump Features
Although the overarching focus is on portability, there are a greater variety of differences between mini and micro bike pumps than any other category. For example, they can vary in length between 5” and 13”, weigh anywhere between two and 10+ ounces, and come with flexible rubber hoses or nozzles that attach directly.
Like their larger cousins, mini and micro pumps often feature integrated dust caps to keep dirt and debris out of the nozzle, and rubber handles for improved grip. Some feature a pressure gauge, while others don’t.
Considering their small size, as well as the fact that they’re often made from plastic parts that wear out faster, mini and micro pumps are designed for emergencies when you’re far from home—not for making sure your tires are fully inflated every time you head out.
In other words, you probably won’t use your mini pump very often. But when you do, it will likely be important.
Mini Pump Leverage & Volume-Per-Stroke
With such a diminutive size, it might not come as any surprise that mini and micro bike pumps boast the lowest volume-per-stroke. In fact, it could take several hundred pumps to reach 100 PSI or more, so even the best models will demand sweat equity on your part.
Ironically, since there’s an inverse relationship between barrel volume and pumping effort required (known as Boyle’s Law), their smaller sizes allows them to reach higher pressures.
Pro tip: Some manufacturers advertise that their mini and micro pumps can reach ultra-high pressures (210+ PSI). But, unless you’re a bodybuilder, you might not be able to compress the piston enough to achieve these pressures.
Several mini pump models even have small, foldout pegs that can help provide extra leverage when positioned between your foot and the ground.
How Mini Pumps Attach to Your Bike
Instead of the spring-loaded ends found on frame pumps, mini and micro models typically come packaged with plastic brackets that can attach to your water bottle bosses. Or, you can purchase inexpensive aftermarket straps that allow you to connect them to your frame just about anywhere.
Some of the smallest micro models are also compact enough that they’ll easily fit in a jersey pocket or a larger saddlebag.
Like track pumps, mini and micro chuck designs can vary quite a bit, including all-in-one or side-by-side Presta and Schrader compatibility. Other versions must be unscrewed and flipped around.
|Mini / Micro Pump Specs|
|Air Pressure||60 – 160 PSI|
|Price Range||$15 – $120+|
|Length||5” – 13”; typically 1” – 1.5” in diameter|
|Base Width||Pegs up to 2”|
|Weight Range||2 – 10 oz|
|Hose Length (when applicable)||7” – 11” (often slightly shorter than the pump itself)|
|Pros||Lightweight and compact design can unobtrusively fit just about anywhere. Can often reach higher pressures than frame pumps. Many feature flexible hoses with a variety of chuck designs.|
|Cons||Lowest volume-per-stroke means it could take 200+ pumps to inflate a road tire. Plastic parts can make them less durable. Considered emergency use only.|
|Best For||Peace of mind in case of a flat tire, but without sacrificing weight or bulk.|
The basics: Another emergency-only device is a CO2 inflator, which at its simplest, involve little more than a cartridge filled with compressed carbon dioxide that threads onto a plastic or metal nozzle. Although they’re technically not pumps, CO2 inflators are smallest, lightest, and fastest option available.
CO2 Inflator Functionality
On bare bones models, CO2 rapidly exits a cartridge as soon a chuck breaks its seal, while higher-end models might feature a trigger, shut off valve, or lever that can improve gas flow precision.
This release of CO2 generates intense cold. Some kits come with a simple rubber or foam sleeve that fits over the cartridge to protect your skin, while others are ‘cupped’ inside a protective plastic shell to completely avoid contact. Keep in mind that this protection will add bulk.
The Volume of Air Provided by a CO2 Inflator
Each of the previous options we’ve discussed works using handles, pistons, and enclosed barrels. This means that as long as you’re able to perform a stroke and everything works correctly, you have an unlimited supply of air at your disposal.
On the other hand, because small cartridges limit a CO2 inflator’s volume, manufacturers offer four different sizes, depending on your tires:
- 12g – These will typically fill a 700C tire to low pressure (90 PSI or less).
- 16g – 18g – These will usually fill a 700C tire to about 100-120 PSI, or a mountain bike tire to 25-45 PSI.
- 20g – 25g – Can fill one 700C tire to 130+ PSI, or a mountain bike tire to about 45-55 PSI.
- 38g+ – Can inflate two 700C tires up to 180+ PSI, or a single mountain bike tire to somewhere around 60+ PSI.
Threaded vs. Unthreaded CO2 Cartridges
In addition to their different sizes, CO2 cartridges are available in threaded and unthreaded (also referred to as non-threaded, or threadless) versions. Is one better than another?
From an ease of use perspective, some riders find that threaded versions ensure a better seal with the chuck. Most CO2 nozzles only accept one cartridge type or the other, though, so ensure everything matches before making a purchase.
From a cost perspective, the conventional wisdom is that non-threaded cartridges are less expensive. In our experience, purchasing online in bulk tends to minimize (or eliminate, in many instances) this difference.
Still, threaded cartridges are available at a greater number of retailers, including locally, since they’re commonly used for at-home soda fountains and beer taps, as well as air guns.
Unique Technique: Why CO2 Inflators Work Best as Backups
It’s always a wise idea to familiarize yourself with any cycling equipment before heading out on a ride. This is especially important when it comes to CO2 inflators, since they involve a unique technique that you’ll only master from hands-on experience.
As but one example, as soon as you decide to release a cartridge’s carbon dioxide, you’ll only have one shot to inflate fully. If there’s an improper seal between the inflator’s nozzle and your tire’s valve, you could end up with a long walk home.
Together, many riders recommend using CO2 inflators as lightweight backups in case your primary frame, mini, or micro pump fails.
Deciding if the Weight Savings Are Worth It
Still considering a CO2 inflator as your only carry?
At the very least, you’ll need to bring two cartridges along in case of a second flat, which occurs more often than you might expect. And, when adding the weight for these two, along with an inflator nozzle (or perhaps something more substantial, like an enclosed model), you might not achieve a meaningfully lighter setup compared to a standard mini pump.
Along these same lines, larger options with canister holders or covers will take up more space than standalone nozzles. In fact, some CO2 inflators can easily match the size of a mini pump. Keep in mind if space savings is one of your main goals.
Why It Matters That CO2 Inflators Use Carbon Dioxide vs. Oxygen
Did you use a CO2 inflator to refill your tire while out on a ride? If so, you’ll need to release all of the carbon dioxide when you get home and refill with a traditional air pump.
This is because although CO2 is a much larger molecule than oxygen, it’s soluble with butyl rubber (the type found in bike tires and inner tubes). As a result, it will quickly escape and leave you with another flat.
Related: How Bike Tires Are Made
So, while CO2 inflators can fill tires faster than any other option, you’ll still need a traditional pump in your arsenal.
|CO2 Inflator Specs|
|Air Pressure||90 – 120+ PSI|
|Price Range||$10 – $30+; $0.50+ for each replacement cartridge|
|Length||1” – 5”|
|Weight Range||1 – 4 oz (without cartridge)|
|Pros||Compact, lightweight design that can fit just about anywhere. Fastest inflation. In many instances, the least expensive option.|
|Cons||Unique technique: You only have one shot. Backup option only, which means you must carry a traditional pump. Minimal weight savings when carrying two cartridges and inflator. Have to re-inflate tire w/oxygen.|
|Best For||A quick-inflating emergency backup to traditional frame, mini, or micro pumps.|
Now that we’ve built a solid foundation to work from, let’s put all of this information into action.
7 Factors You Must Consider When Buying a Bike Pump
Like any other consumer product, no single bike pump category (or combination thereof) will work perfectly in every situation, nor meet every rider’s requirements or preferences.
But, based on factors like your bike’s tires (and their inner tubes), budgetary restrictions, must-have features, and even physical capabilities, we’ve distilled everything into seven simple questions that can help you make a more knowledgeable decision:
#1: What’s Your Budget?
As with most products, there’s a direct relationship between a bike pump’s price and its overall quality.
Specifically, the more you pay, the greater the chance the pump’s key components are made from steel or aluminum, versus plastic. Examples include external parts like the base, barrel, handle, couplers, and chuck, as well as internals like the piston and plunger.
Not only will metal parts last longer and potentially deliver more value for the money, but also common components to fail (e.g., valve gasket, hose) with extended use over the years are often replaceable. Instead of buying an entirely new pump, this could allow you to pay much less for a replacement part.
In addition to their construction, durability, and serviceability, higher-priced models may feature bases coated with non-slip rubber or rubber pads that can help prevent scratching flooring.
The handles might also be padded or made from wood, with large-diameter ergonomic grips, as well as longer hoses or those made from higher-grade rubber.
#2: What Are Your Needs & Preferences?
Next, think about why you’re shopping for a bike pump and decide which features are most important and which ones you can do without to remain within your budget.
Here are the top factors cited by many cyclists:
Volume & Efficiency
Do you need a pump that can quickly top off your tires before heading out on a ride? Something that delivers maximum volume with the least amount of effort? What about a dedicated option for your garage?
In these instances, a track pump will likely deliver the most bang for your buck. In fact, as mentioned earlier, we’d strongly recommend that every cyclist own at least one floor pump, even if you only hop on the saddle a couple of times per month.
In addition to their necessity, they’re super efficient, widely available, and relatively affordable, so there’s no good reason not to buy one.
Pro Tip: To help ensure you’re achieving the most value for your hard-earned money, we’d recommend visiting a local bike shop when it comes time to buy. A friendly, knowledgeable salesperson can walk you through the models that might best meet your needs, which will also typically feature higher-quality parts than department store versions.
On the other hand, is portability (a combination of size and weight) one of your top criteria? Do you typically ride far from home, and need something that can provide peace of mind in case of an inevitable flat tire?
This calls for a smaller option like a frame, mini, or micro pump. Just remember that these will take much longer and meaningfully more effort to reach an acceptable PSI than track pumps.
Finally, there are some pump versions (often referred to as ‘micro’ or ‘mini floor pumps’), such as the Lezyne Micro Drive HP pictured above, which perhaps split the difference between full size and portable pumps.
While you shouldn’t expect them to work as well as a standard track pump, I successfully used the Lezyne on several road and mountain bikes for several weeks as my only option.
Let’s take a look at a closely-related question next.
#3: What Bikes Do You Ride?
In general, road bike tires inflate to between 80 and 110+ PSI. Hybrids reach about 50 to 80 PSI. Mountain, cruiser, and comfort tire manufacturers generally recommend between 20 and 50 PSI, with kids bikes falling somewhere between 15 and 40 PSI.
Obviously, any pump you purchase will need to at least be able to reach the manufacturer’s minimum recommended air pressure for your specific tires. If you’re not sure, take a quick peek at the side of your tire, which will provide all of the details you need.
Pro tip: You don’t necessarily need to pay more for a pump that advertises ultra-high pressure (ex: 200 PSI), since almost no bike tire requires this. Not to mention the fact that it would take most portable pumps several hundred compressions to get there (assuming you could even compress the piston by then).
Are you looking for the highest pressure possible, without resorting to a compressor? If so, several companies offer models that build pressure inside a larger volume chamber, and then release it when needed.
This feature can come in especially handy when seating tubeless tires onto rims, or quickly inflating a plus or fat-size tire. Remember that these larger sizes will naturally increase weight, though.
#4: Do Your Bikes Have Presta or Schrader Valves?
The Differences Between Valve Types
Schrader and Presta are by far the most common valve types used by bike tire manufacturers.
Schrader is much the more popular of the two, since it’s also found on motor vehicle tires. However, you’re more likely to find Presta valves on road bikes, as well as higher-end mountain bikes (including those with tubeless setups).
Pump Head Compatibility
What’s the point? You’ll need to make sure that any pump you purchase features nozzles compatible with the valves on your bike.
Fortunately, most modern bike pumps offer dual compatibility to cover you in any situation. How this works, however, can vary a great deal.
For example, some chucks accept both valve types in the same inlet, while others come with side-by-side holes (a large one for Schrader and a small one for Presta).
Others, such as the Lezyne referenced earlier, feature heads that require users to unscrew them, flip them around, and screw them back in.
Keep in mind that some of these flip-around versions use small plastic parts that can easily fall out and become lost in a dimly lit garage, or on the side of the road or trail. And if this happens, you’ll have a useless pump.
While these versions are often lower priced, only you can decide if a saving a few dollars is worth the potential inconvenience.
Valve Attachment Methods
Some chucks attach to valves by pressing down and engaging a locking thumb lever, while others actually screw onto the valve’s thread.
On the upside, this threading can create a tighter seal than levered options. Their heads are also generally smaller and easier to maneuver between spokes.
On the flip side, though, threaded chucks can unscrew removable valve cores if you’re not careful, thereby releasing all of your hard-won air in a couple of seconds.
Pro Tip: Adding a drop of thread locker can help prevent this accidental unthreading, which will come off with just a bit of force when you need to remove the core.
The Merits of an Air Bleed Valve
Finally, some pump nozzles feature an air bleed button. Although they’re certainly not necessary, they’re a faster and easier option than disconnecting the chuck and manually bleeding air from the valve with a finger.
#5: What Should You Look For in a Hose?
Flexible hoses generally aren’t a choice when it comes to frame pumps. But, what about for track, mini, and micro versions?
A hose is a nice feature to have on a bike pump since it can make reaching valves easier and more comfortable (especially if you have pain or dexterity concerns). It can also give you more leeway regarding pump placement, and—if the hose is long enough—can even help you air up both of your tires without having to move the pump at all.
Pro Tip: As a general rule of thumb, look for hoses that are at least twice as long as the pump’s barrel. These should provide plenty of wiggle room in most situations.
Hose Material & Connection
In addition to the thicker rubber mentioned in the previous section, some pumps also feature steel-braided hoses that can potentially withstand higher pressure and last longer. However, many online customers note they’re stiffer than rubber and are often overkill based on the lower PSI required by most bike tires.
Whether made from rubber, steel-braids, or another material, manufacturers frequently offer replacement hoses for their higher-quality pumps, which are typically attached to the barrel via a coupler mechanism that allows for 360-degree rotation.
#6: Do You Have Physical Restrictions?
As a reminder, there is a direct correlation between the size of a bike pump and the effort required (both repetition and strength-wise) to reach your desired tire pressure.
Given this, if you’re experiencing chronic pain in your upper body, weakness in your arms or hands, dexterity concerns, or any other types of movement restrictions, a floor pump’s wide, stable base and greater volume per stroke might make the most sense.
But remember: No single option will work for everyone, and it might require some trial and error. Having a brief conversation with a healthcare professional could help start you off on the right foot.
Let’s carry this thought over to the next section.
#7: Do You Require Accuracy & Stability?
A pressure gauge is undoubtedly the easiest way to know precisely how much air is in your bike tires. This data is commonly displayed on a dial (chronograph style), although many digital displays are available as well.
Gauge Placement is Key
A gauge’s overall ease of use involves a combination of font and color scheme, as well as how far up the barrel it’s located.
On the one hand, gauges farther down the barrel can be more challenging to read, but this placement also lowers the pump’s center of gravity and decreases the propensity of inadvertently falling over. On the other hand, higher-up placement can throw off the pump’s center of gravity and reduce its overall stability, while allowing for easier viewing.
Furthermore, these gauges are sensitive instruments, and the impact from frequently toppling over can decrease their accuracy or break them entirely.
Need a Gauge? Wider Bases Are Better
To help offset higher gauge placement and improve stability, some pumps feature broader bases of three or more ‘feet,’ which could be important if you regularly inflate high-performance road tires to their maximum PSI.
With these questions rooted firmly in your mind, what’s the next logical step?
Bottom Line: Buying a Bike Pump is All About Give & Take
Although the sheer number of choices might be overwhelming, the fact of the matter is that purchasing a bike pump isn’t rocket science. It is subjective, though, so what works well for one cyclist might end up a complete dud for another.
Fortunately, asking yourself the seven questions above will go a very long way toward helping you make the most informed decision possible.
One Feature Affects Another
Just keep in mind that placing greater emphasis on one feature could have a ripple effect on your overall choices. For example, if you want something that has the biggest barrel volume and fastest inflation times, this will also make it more cumbersome, heavier, and less portable.
Along these same lines, bike pumps made from hardier materials like aluminum are frequently heavier than those made from plastic (as but one example). This is to say nothing of the fact that they typically come with higher prices.
However, metal models are also typically sturdier, more resistant to wear and tear, and boast more accurate gauges.
Speaking of which, due to size restrictions, gauges are fairly uncommon on mini and micro hand pumps. If this is a must-have, but you don’t have enough space for a frame pump, you might consider purchasing a standalone gauge and keeping it in a saddlebag, or in a jersey or shorts pocket.
Customer Feedback is Important
Once you’ve balanced pros and cons with your needs and preferences, and narrowed your options down to a few models, don’t forget to consider online customer reviews. This firsthand feedback can be invaluable for learning what you might encounter after committing to a purchase.
Also, what’s the company’s general reputation on websites like the Better Business Bureau? How long have they been in business? What kinds of refund policies and warranties do they offer?
Together, you should be able to find a bike pump that meets all of your needs (including your budget) and dependably works when it counts.
What did you think about this bike pump buying guide? Have tips or tricks to share with other readers? Tell us your feedback in the comments below!
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