After disappointing experiences with many bicycle pumps, I learned what makes a good bike pump. After reading this short article, you’ll know, too!
Are Bike Pumps Really Different?
My assumption used to be: ‘A bike pump is a bike pump. They’re all the same.’
I was very wrong. Time and personal experience proved that.
In fact, there are vast differences between pumps… Differences that make one pump work well, and others that really don’t.
Element 1: The Pump Head is the Key
The main factor that makes a pump great is the pump head – the part that attaches to the tire’s valve. That’s the most critical part of any pump. It is the interface between the pump and the tire, so it makes complete sense that this would be so important to a pump’s efficiency and usefulness.
If the pump’s head doesn’t make a good seal around the tire’s valve, air will escape during the pumping process. Or, it will not go into the tire efficiently. Or, when the pump head is removed, it allows air to escape from the tire.
This may seem obvious, but a leaky or inefficient pump head requires more effort and time to fill the tire. Who wants that? But this is not the only important element of a good pump head.
More About The Pump Head: Some Pumps Don’t Work
I bought a very popular brand of bike pump and encountered a big problem. The pump was made by a very large, well known manufacturer. This particular pump had what is called a ‘twin’ pump head, (Pictured below Left), with Presta on one side – for road bikes – and Schrader on the other – for other types of bikes and tires. The problem with this pump head was: The Presta side of the pump head did not make good contact with the ‘nut’ on Presta valves, which must be ‘depressed’ to allow air to flow into the tire.
It didn’t matter how hard I tried to pump, no air would go into the tire. To resolve this, I had to fiddle with the pump head, (sometimes endlessly), to adjust the way it sat on my tire’s valve so that it actually depressed the nut and allowed air to flow into the tire. Very Frustrating!
I called the manufacturer about this. They knew about the problem but, amazingly, didn’t seem
to really care. They made no effort to try to help me, their customer. The money I’d paid to buy this pump – about $40 – had been wasted. Needless to say, I would never buy another one of their products.
Longer Lasting Is Better
Another problem I experienced with the pump head on a different pump was longevity. I purchased another pump (to replace the one described above). This one also was made by a large cycling accessories manufacturer with a very well-known name.
I loved this pump… until it stopped working after only 10 months. I don’t fill my tires every day… usually just about once per week, (I like to train on tires with different pressure levels), so I didn’t really get a lot of use from that pump before it stopped working – only about 40 uses. Fortunately, the cycling retailer I purchased this pump from was great, and they took it back in exchange for store credit.
Important Tip: Look for a pump with a longer guarantee… 90 days might not be long enough!
I promptly used the aforementioned store credit to purchase another pump from this retailer. This one also was from a well-known and large brand and was much more expensive than any of the pumps I’d previously purchased ($53.95, on sale).
While the pump did work well, the pump head (Image to the left) was stiff and difficult to use, especially when I had to switch between Presta and Schrader valves.
We have bikes in our home with both Presta and Schrader valves. When switching between the two, this pump required an adjustment. One had to unscrew a part of the pump head; flip it around; and then screw the whole thing back together.
This was a real pain in the butt. The parts were small, which made especially difficult when I was in a rush. I wear glasses, but not when I go out for a bike ride. Not having them with me when I needed to change the pump head with its small parts made the problem worse.
It was especially difficult for my wife, who was a little intimidated by the pump and was not comfortable switching the pump head around. So, if I wasn’t around and she needed to fill her tires, she was stuck.
Better Pump Head = Better Pump
The bottom line: A good pump head makes all the difference. The Better the Pump Head, the
Better the Pump, regardless of price. And, in addition to easily filling a tire, a better pump head can be removed from the valve without leaking that precious air from the tire – the air you just worked so hard to put in the tire!
Sure, there will always be a sound of air escaping when the pump head is removed. But when using a good pump head, this is the air left in the pump’s hose, and not air escaping from the tire. And the sound is distinctly different from the sound of air escaping the tire. A good pump head will not allow air to escape from the tire when it is removed from the tire.
Now that you know the most important factor in a high quality pump: the Pump Head; let’s take a look at some of the other things that make one pump better than another. Even though these are not as critical, they do make a difference.
Element 2: Maximum Tire Pressure Counts
A better bike pump will fill tires up to 160PSI. Why? To pump to higher pressures, a pump must be made to higher tolerances. Otherwise, the pump will not be able to achieve the pressure to which it has been rated. If you ride a road bike, the chances are great that you fill your tires to higher levels – 110PSI, or greater. So, a higher rated pump is a necessity.
What about mountain bike tires? It is true that these do not usually need to be filled to such high levels of pressure. But… the point of this article is how to purchase a better pump.
Even if you only ride a mountain bike, pumps that accurately fill to 160PSI are better. They’re built to higher standards and tolerances than those that aren’t rated, or that are rated to a lower PSI. And, another important consideration: The cost of a pump rated to 160PSI may not be significantly higher, especially when one considers how long a pump should last… Years! (So, if one can afford it, a $10 or $15 difference for a better pump that will last for a long time is a smarter purchase!) It only makes good sense to spend a little more now to get better quality – especially since the better pump should actually last much longer than the lower priced models.
Do I Need a Pump with a Pressure Gauge?
Absolutely! The only way to know how much air is actually going into your tires is to monitor air pressure as you’re filling the tire, or to test it afterwards.
While the latter method may be okay, keep in mind that each time pressure is tested with a separate pressure gauge, the gauge actually lets a little air out of the tire. At high pressure, a ‘little air’ likely releases more pressure than you think…
So, the preferred method is to use a pump with a Pressure Gauge.
And, a good pressure gauge will have an adjustable ‘marker’ that can be easily moved to the pressure setting you’d like to ride. This makes it easier to see when your tires have reached the desired pressure.
Pump Efficiency Matters, Too
The more pumps strokes needed to fill a tire, the more energy you’ll burn, even before getting on the bike. My preference is to burn that energy during my ride, and not in preparation for it. (The same principal applies when filling a pool toy, basketball, soccer ball, or even a fitness ball.)
A good pump will maximize the amount of air that flows from the pump and into the tire with each pump stroke. In addition to filling the tire faster and with less effort, this usually means that the inner parts of the pump are made to higher tolerances/standards, which can be an indication of higher quality product.
Element 3: Customer Service
Life isn’t always perfect. This can be a bigger problem when buying products online, sight unseen. So, the brand you buy does make a difference.
The measure of a good company isn’t just the quality of their products. Unfortunately, every company – even the best ones – have some defective units that are sold to the public. When this happens, buyers can become disappointed or even angry. They want to know that the company will take care of the problem.
My experience with the company with the faulty pump head design aside, it is true that most companies really don’t want their customers to get bad products. It’s not good for business! And good companies will take care of these problems immediately.
Recently, a customer contacted our company, saying that he was going on an 1,800 mile bike trip with a couple of his friends. He was bringing 2 bike pumps with him. One was our Aergun X-1000 and he wanted to see about getting a replacement valve for the pump head (on our pump, this is the part that actually creates the seal with the valve on the tire), just in case he had a problem during his trip. He was willing to pay for the part and the shipping.
We knew that the AerGun would have no problem with such intense use. But, since customer happiness is our #1 priority, we sent him the replacement parts he wanted, at No Charge to him! Our only request was a small favor: After he returned from his trip, would he mind writing a product review for us.
Believe it, or not… There are bike pumps that actually sell for more than $100. (My bike store of choice carries several models at this level.)
For most riders, though, it is completely unnecessary to spend this much to get a high quality bike pump. You will, however, have to spend between $45 to $65 to get a high quality pump that works well and will last for years… Unless you are lucky enough to find a special offer – and they do exist, usually for very short periods of time.
My advice… Get One! As long as it meets the guidelines presented here, it will be well worth the money! As mentioned previously, a great pump will last longer and perform better, making you a much happier person for years to come!
Thanks for reading until the end! I appreciate your time and attention… Hope to see you on the road!