If you ride a bike, you need a pump (maybe even two… wait, three).
One of the most essential items to have in your shed or workshop as well as with you at all times on the road or trail, a pump’s single but crucial job is to put air in your tyres – or more specifically, to ensure that your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure.
However despite their singularity of purpose, there are hundreds of different pump designs on the market, with some designed for speedy, high-volume air inflation at home and others made in portable form to tackle road- or trailside emergencies.
The type of pump you buy (and again, you may need more than one) will largely depend on whether you want to carry it with you or not. Air pumps fall into two main categories – floor-standing track pumps for home or workshop and portable pumps (either full-size framefit, or mini-pumps) to bring with you on the bike or in your backpack.
See below for a more detailed description of the most common types of pump.
Whichever type of pump you choose, it has to do the same job (to inflate your tyres or suspension), so all pumps share some design characteristics. Here are some of the things to consider when buying a pump:
Valve compatibility: Most pumps will have two-sided nozzles to accommodate the two main types of valve used in bicycle inner tubes: Schrader and Presta.
• Schrader valves are also sometimes known as ‘car-type’ valves as they are the same type used on motor vehicle tyres. Schrader valves are often found on MTB tubes, commuter bikes, kids’ bikes and BMXs. To inflate or deflate a Schrader valve you simply remove the valve cap, press the pump nozzle against the valve until the central pin depresses, opening the valve, and off you go.
• Presta valves are usually found on road bikes and some higher-end mountain bikes. They are available in different lengths so can be used to fit tubes on aerodynamic, deep-section racing wheels. 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. Inflating a Presta valve also involves unscrewing a small nut at the very tip to open the valve before then attaching the pump nozzle – to deflate the tube you unscrew this nut and press it in to let the air escape.
Pumps vary in terms of how they accommodate Schrader and Presta valves – some will feature a double-sided head, while others require the addition/removal of an adaptor to switch between the two types. Still more have a ‘smart’ head that will automatically adjust when pressed onto the valve, and a select few are designed specifically for one valve type only. Most pumps will also feature a lever to securely clamp down on the valve and open it ready for inflation.
NOTE: A third, less-common type of valve is the Dunlop Valve. This is similar to a Presta and can be inflated using a Presta head, but has a wider base than a standard Presta and so can be used with rims drilled for Schrader valves.
Volume: As the name suggests, a high-volume pump expels a greater amount of air per stroke, meaning it takes less strokes to pump up the tyre. A high-volume pump (such as a track pump) is not a necessity, but it will make inflating your tyres easier on your arms, especially in the case of high-volume MTB tyres.
Pressure gauge: Some pumps have a pressure gauge with a needle indicating how much pressure is in the tyre (pounds per square inch or Psi). A pressure gauge comes as standard on track pumps and is not an absolute necessity but riders who like to keep their tyres inflated to a consistent pressure (e.g. road riders at 80psi or more, MTB riders around 30psi) need to have a way of measuring it.
Hose: Floor-standing track pumps and some portable pumps come with a flexible hose connecting the pump head and body, which reduces the risk of accidentally damaging a valve (especially a Presta valve) when exerting too much leverage during inflation.
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Few riders venture beyond their front garden without a small pump in their pack or attached to their frame. Mini- and micro- pumps are eminently portable but inflating a tyre will take more effort and achieving the desired pressure may not be possible, especially with road bikes.
Most riders regard mini-pumps as an essential for every ride, but as a temporary fix only – in the event of puncture or pressure loss they’ll get enough air in your tyres to get you home so you can inflate it properly with a track pump.
Yes, you can survive with just a mini-pump only, but anyone who is taking the step up to serious cycling – multiple weekly rides, a daily commute or a training schedule – will soon find a decent track pump at the top of their ‘must buy’ list.
When buying a mini-pump look for one with sturdy metal construction, a comfortable ergonomic handle and a simple, secure means of attaching to the frame (and taking it off again). A pressure gauge is a bonus, but not essential.
While a micro-pump in your backpack or a small pump that fits to the frame is fine for out on the trail, you will make life a lot easier for yourself with a proper floor-standing track pump in the garage.
These pump a larger volume of air, making inflation much easier, and feature a built-in pressure gauge to accurately measure your tyre psi and prevent over- or under-inflation. They are also essential for properly seating UST (tubeless) tyres.
Track pumps (also known as floor pumps) feature a large-volume barrel, flexible hose, base plate (you stand on this when inflating, to keep the pump stable) and twin-sided handle for two-handed operation. Anyone using a track pump for the first time will be struck by how easy they make it to quickly and accurately inflate a tyre – but they are a workshop option only as they are too heavy to be transported.
When buying a track pump look for a sturdy metal construction, a comfortable handle, an accurate and easily readable pressure gauge and a head that is compatible with Schrader, Presta and Dunlop valves.
Framefit pumps are a type of portable pump designed to fit the front triangle of a bike. This is the ‘classic’ type of road, city or touring bike pump, with mid-volume inflation and a short length of flexible hose to connect pump and valve.
They will never be fully obsolete but have largely fallen out of favour with road and MTB bikers who prefer to have an ultra-compact mini-pump with them on the bike, and a high-volume track pump at home in the shed.
However if you need just one bike pump in your life, this could well be ideal.
Suspension pumps – also known as ‘shock pumps’ – are small, high-pressure pumps (up to 300psi inflation) 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.
Get spare parts or upgrades for your track or mini-pump, including replacement hoses and pump heads, frame mounting brackets, shock pump adaptors and more. Meanwhile if your pump doesn’t have a built-in pressure gauge you can buy a separate, digital unit to take with you on the road or trail and monitor your inflation levels without the need for a track pump.