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The Best Bike Pumps for Getting Pumped

by BluesCat

BluesCatBluesCat is a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, who originally returned to bicycling in 2002 in order to help his son get the Boy Scout Cycling merit badge. His bikes sat idle until the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked at over $4.00 per gallon. Since then, he has become active cycling, day-touring, commuting by bike, blogging (azbluescat.blogspot.com) and giving grief to the forum editors in the on-line cycling community.


I have to admit, I cannot recall a single time when I’ve said “I ride a bicycle to work,” and had someone look at me in wide-eyed terror and exclaim “My gawd! What happens if you have a … a … a flat tire?!?” I probably would say something like, “The same thing that would happen if you had a flat on your car: you’d either put the spare on, if you could, or call somebody to rescue you!”

In his article, “The Low-Skill Backup Plan,” Ted says a cell phone can be an on-the-road emergency bicycling tool kit. That’s the same toolkit Mrs. Cat has in her Honda. I don’t think Mrs. Cat knows where the tire jack is stored in her car, much less how to use it. Heck, I’m not even sure she knows what the tire jack looks like! I couldn’t tell you if the spare is pumped up on my own Honda SUV, or if the jack and lug wrench are in the proper places.

And as far as my old pickup goes, the tire jack broke and was thrown away a long time ago; I’m not sure where the crank is for lowering the spare out from underneath the truck bed, that’s a job for the tire shop. I know a number of bike riders who feel that changing the tubes and tires on their bicycles is a job for the bike shop.

In the final analysis, if you rely on your cell phone, you’re as prepared for a flat on the bike as for a flat on your car.

I did a brief, mental calculation, and since I started bike commuting in 2008, I’ve had just as many flat tires on my two automobiles as I’ve had on my five bicycles. My son, the mechanic, changes the tires on my cars. I stick to changing the tires on the bikes because it’s so much easier.

Learning how to change a tube on a bike tire isn’t really a necessary skill for bike commuting, but if someone wants to do it, there are plenty of instruction videos all over the Web. Also, if you make sure you have the right tools, and heed a few tips from an experienced Cat, you’ll find changing a bike flat less of a chore than changing the bag in the kitchen garbage can.

Grifter Mini Hand/Floor Pump W/Gauge

A few days ago, I rolled my bike out of the office in the afternoon and prepped it for the trip home. One of the few good habits I have acquired is pinching the tires before every ride. Whups! The front tire was absolutely spongy! It must have a slow leak because I know I checked it before I left home that morning. (Er … maybe not.) Simple to fix: whip out the frame mini-pump and top it off. My pump isn’t some wimpy $10 thing, it’s a Serfas Grifter, which costs around three times that. I bought it because of the funny story of my first experience flatting while out on the road with the high pressure tires on my commuting bike.

Topeak Road Morph G

Topeak Road Morph G

I was over two miles from the nearest bike shop, and around four miles from home, when the front tire picked up a cactus thorn and went “Pssssszzzzhit!” That sound was sorta like the exclamation I made as I pulled out the tire tools, the cheapo frame pump and the spare tube. At home, I’d practiced removing the tires and wheels off the bike, and that leads me to …

Tip No. 1: DO practice removing your wheels from a new bike, and loosening one side of the tire off the rim.

Nothing is more aggravating than realizing you don’t know exactly how to do it when you’re miles away from the instruction manual; I learned that the hard way, years ago, and I’m sure the entire neighborhood was delighted with the new cuss words they learned.

I had the wheel off and one side of the tire off the rim in short order. Got the tube out of the bag, inflated it slightly and poked it inside the tire. Oh yeah, here’s …

Tip No. 2: When you get a new tube, get a plastic sandwich bag, pull the tube out of the box, put the tube in the sandwich bag … and throw the box away.

I don’t know what it is — maybe the roughness of the cardboard — but miles and miles of banging around in a cardboard box in your seat bag will ruin a tube; that’s another story for another time and another site, not a family oriented place like Commute by Bike.

With the tire seated properly on the rim, I began squeezing that frame pump out-and-in between my sweaty fists to try to get the tire up somewhere near 100psi. Oh man. I felt like I was in one of those late night/daytime television infomercials for exercise equipment. You know the ones I’m talking about, where they have the latest fan-favorite, model/actress du jour — with the insanely sculpted body — making vaguely erotic “exercise” motions while attached to a device that looks like it was cobbled together from a bunch of kitchen utensils? In my case, it was…

Hey, Kids! Want the pectoral muscles of your favorite Super Hero?? Then act now and get … The Pectinator! Just $19.99 (plus shipping and handling) and you’ll be on your way to having a chest that will make even your big sister jealous! But wait! There’s more! …

Lezyne Micro Floor Drive High Volume Pump

Lezyne Micro Floor Drive High Volume Pump

Get the picture? When I was done, my hands hurt, my chest hurt and my arms were almost numb. To add insult to injury, when I did get to the bike shop to have them top off the new tube it was only at 60psi! Which brings me to …

Tip No. 3: Get a decent bike pump!

Sometimes they’re called “mini-pumps” or “frame pumps.” Purists will say a real frame pump is a spring loaded affair which fits between two little pegs on the bike frame, but the key is that these are pumps you take with you, usually attached to the frame with a bracket. There are two basic flavors of take-along pumps: small standard pumps which have a housing with a piston inside just like a regular floor pump, and pumps which use little compressed CO2 gas cartridges.

I’ve never been a big fan of CO2 inflators. They’re typically a one-cartridge-per-flat deal, and the cartridges run around $2 to $4 USD; so fixing a flat can get expensive with the added costs. The spent cartridges are nothing but litter, and if you forget to replace the ones you use, you’re without a pump the next time you get a flat. Almost every person I’ve heard of who uses CO2 inflators also has a regular pump with them for backup. The big advantage is the speed at which you can fill a tire, which I guess is important if you’re riding competitively, but not so important if you’re riding to work.

When you buy a regular frame mini-pump, you’re done with the expense of a pump. It’ll sit on your bike, ready when you need it. I suppose they do break, but I’ve never had one fail; even the cheapo frame pumps I bought when I started back riding. Even so, I won’t buy the inexpensive pumps ever again, my experience with the Pectinator has elevated my standards.

Here are the minimum specifications for a BluesCat Approved frame mini-pump:

  • Flip-Out T-Handle: Don’t bother with those things which have a pump handle which is the size and shape of a broom handle; about 20 pumps into it you’ll feel like a circular area of the skin on your palm is trying to meet the skin on the back of your hand.
  • Flexible Hose: No matter how careful you are, if you have one of those pumps which attaches directly to the tire valve stem, you’ll find yourself bending the stem against the hole in the metal of the rim as you pump, and if you ruin the base of the stem you’ve ruined the tube.
  • In-Line Pressure Gauge: You’re tired, ticked off, and not really sensitive enough to tell the difference between 20psi and 160psi with a pinch test.
  • Fold-Out Foot Pad: You flip out the foot pad, put your foot on it, keep the pump vertical, your arm straight while you grasp the T-handle, and just flex your knees up and down to pump; you’re using your weight to pump, not the strength in your arms.
Lezyne Micro Drive HP Pump

Lezyne Micro Drive HP Pump

A pump which meets these requirements will cost you more, but it is money well spent. My Serfas Grifter has all those elements, and runs around $30 USD, but there are a number of others.

Topeak Road Morph G will run you about $35 USD; a lot of bicyclists swear by Topeak pumps.

For about ten bucks more, you can get a Lezyne Micro Floor Drive High Volume HVG; a shop floor pump disguised as a take along pump.

If you want to go totally sexy, you can get a Lezyne Micro Drive HPG for $60 USD.

I may just get one of those Lezyne’s. When I get my next flat I’ll be out there, pumping-tire, looking all BuffCat …

And one, and two, and wave at the girls!

 
Burley nomad 229

21 Responses to “The Best Bike Pumps for Getting Pumped”

  1. rybolov says:

    Just slime your tubes. It’s $5 for a bottle that will set up both tires to be self-repairing against thorns. Once I discovered slime, life got way easier. Last year I had an inch-long blackberry thorn in the center of the tire tread and pulled it out with a pair of pliers. The hole hissed for a microsecond, spit a tiny amount of green slime, and sealed perfectly. I grew up in Idaho and between the prickly pear and the yucca, tires didn’t last that long: we used slime and kevlar tube liners to keep the bad stuff out.

  2. Miguel Marcos says:

    I’ll second the vote for the Lezyne pumps. The best portable pump I’ve ever bought in my life.

  3. Justin Winokur says:

    That is interesting about the plastic bag. I started taking the tubes out of the box to make it fit in my saddle wedge bag but then I was worried about thinks poking it. So, I put it in a plastic bag. Not only do I worry less, but it also makes sliding things into the pack a bit easier.

    I carry a tube and a patch kit. I get flats so rarely that I can afford to replace the tube each time. However, if I am on a long ride and get two flats, then it is nice to have the patch kit.

    I also use the Road Morph G. It works fine. But, just in case, I keep one of those shrader-presta adapters attached to the stem so I have options.

    With all that said, I keep a lot more in my bag than most commuters. I also do self-supported centuries so I keep stuff to be extra self-suffient. That includes a Fiber Fix spoke and a powerlink.

  4. doubclik says:

    try sprinkling a little talcum/baby powder in that bag with the tube. It will keep the rubber from sticking to itself over time and will make it waaay easier to massage that tube into the tire roadside….

  5. burnhamish says:

    The Serfas Grifter has been very good to me and my presta stems!

  6. sean says:

    Rather than a sandwich bag, I usually put my tube in an orphan sock. Gives me something to wipe my hands, especially when the Stan’s or Slime has leaked all over the place. Jus sayin!

    I picked up a little PDW pump that will take a threaded CO2 cartridge but also is a hand pump. No pressure gauge though. I much rather make short work of repairing a flat when the mosquitos and black flies up here in the Northeast are hungry.

    You should also carry an adhesive tire boot and some self adhesive patches, useful if the tire is damaged by the puncture.

  7. bka says:

    I LOVE my Topeak Mini Morph as they are called here in Australia. I bought one four years ago when I started commuting 6km to work. I have since moved an now commute 8km. I love the hose connection which compensates amply for my wimpy muscles, and I love the ability to change the head from Presta to Schraeder valves.

    I love my pump so much, I bought one for my Dad as a gift (he also rides). He actually found the pump handle a bit small for his large, manly hands. But otherwise, he was “totally pumped” (his words, not mine).

    I love my pump so much I bought one for my hubby who commutes 10km. Between us, we has a particularly bad run of punctures – mine was 5 in two weeks, and his was 7 in two weeks (glass on roads and one 95km rail trail later) – these small but oh so functional pumps helped us keep some semblance of sanity.

    We have since upgraded our tyres (thank goodness!) – me to Schwalbe Marathon Plus on my steel frame commuter (=HEAVAN!!!) and hubby to Gator Skins on his steel frame road bike. No punctures yet. Touch wood!

    But yes, practice makes perfect.

  8. Joel says:

    BluesCat:

    This post makes me appreciate how lucky I have been on my commuting rides and fun rides on the weekends.

    It seems incredible to me that in many (I heard you snickering, “How many is many?”) years of biking, I have had only one flat. Yes, now that I have said it, the glass shards, tacks, and beer tabs will attack my bike with a vengeance.

    Maybe even more entertaining is the fact that I have carried around a spare tube, levers, patch-kit, spokes, and air-pump for all of that time only to lend them to my neighbor who recently needed them on a holiday weekend. Even better, I have been able to aid fellow cyclists who were walking their bikes in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, they thought I was a cycling guru because I was able to lever the tire on the bike, extricate the tube in one motion, rough up the tube, glue and stick the patch in less then a minute. I would ask them about why they liked to ride their bikes and by the end of the five minute conversations, I had gently reinserted the tube, set the tire bead and start the inflation of the tire. At this point, I would have them do the pumping as I reseated the beads and made sure the tube did not get pinched.

    Most, if not all, offered me some type of compensation for my equipment or time. I have told them to buy everything they saw me use and practice on an old bike tire so they could help someone else in the future.

    By the look in their eyes, I think quite a few of them took my words to heart and did just that.

    Did I tell you that I like to ride my bike?

  9. Tim Sherman says:

    I commuted with a frame pump only to find that if I did not tighten the lock nut it would fall off on the way to or from work. After replacing the nut twice I decided to carry my pump in my bag. I have not lost the lock nut since. I was lucky that REI had a Road Morph service kit and the mechanic in the bike shop there gave me the replacement parts for free. I put a water bottle cage on to replace the pump. A missing water bottle is easier to replace. Carry your pump in your bag to protect it.

  10. BluesCat says:

    rybolov – I’ve got mixed feelings about dealing with Slime mess. Maybe if I flatted as much as bka does I’d seriously consider it. Now, pre-Slimed tubes might be interesting.

    doubclik – Great idea about the powder! It would have helped one time with one of the mountain bikes that had a sticky tube; wound up with the tube pinched between the bead and the rim, a bubble, and an explosion that sent my poor dog running for cover!

  11. bg says:

    I also carry a spare tube and a patch kit, and a small pump. I use it to fill my AirZound air horn (life-saver!) and to pump up the tires. To pump up the tires I use what I call the “Charleston” method. I grip both ends, squat and use my knees to aid in the squeezing. 100psi is fairly easy using this method. If you happen by while I’m pumping, depending on what angle you see my from, I either look like the robot from Metropolis doing the Charleston dance, or like someone in need of counseling. I’ve recently seen the small pumps with fold-out feet. I’d like to try those.

    I also keep full-size floor pumps at home and at the office. Never more than 10 pumps to 100psi with these.

  12. Joel says:

    BG,

    Arnold would be proud of you as you “Pump things up!”

    When you find a counselor who does not outright reject your problem, email the address because he/she sounds very open minded! 8)!

  13. Island Dave says:

    I have had just one flat on my velomobile in 16,600 + miles in just over 30 months of riding this bike. I ran one set of front tires over 3,800 miles trying to get a few more miles out of them. They were beyond worn out. I swap in a new pair just about every 3,000 miles ever since. Riding out in the lane is the best place to ride because all the road debris is in the gutter.

    With my much slower Diamond Frame bikes I would ride closer to the side of the road and at times on the shoulder and was prone to getting more flats. Even with slime there was the giant fish hook that must of been left over from the filming of “JAWS” that went in the tread and out the side wall, spraying panniers, frame and legs with slime. I had to cut that hook with my Leatherman wire cutters.

    I do carry a Road Morph pump, patch kit, spare tubes in talced baggies and a tool kit.

    The nice thing about the velomobile is that all three wheels are a one sided strut mounted so that pulling a tire off or on does not require removing a wheel.
    Finally went completely car free just about a year ago.

    I even got an Undrivers License….(-:

  14. listenermark says:

    Bagging your tubes w/talcum is a smart strategy.

    A pair of surgical gloves will keep your hands nice and clean while changing that back tire, they weigh nothing, and take up little space your bag. Single pack baby wipes can be handy as well.

    +1 Topeak Road Morph

  15. BluesCat says:

    listenermark – I shoulda made the gloves and wipes another pair of tips. Good catch! I buy a 40-count dispenser box of cheap, food-server-type gloves; the nitrite kind. Toss a couple pairs in a sandwich bag and throw it in the seat bag.

    And having two little granddaughters who LOVE to “help” Grampa with his bikes, we discovered — as you have — how great baby wipes are for getting grease off of any size of fingers.

  16. Rob E. says:

    I tried Slime when I was flatting regularly. It works on the right kind of flat: small puncture on the outside of the tube. That’s probably the most common flat, so maybe it works most of the time, but for me it seemed like it didn’t work a significant amount of the time. And when it doesn’t work, you can get Slime places you didn’t want it. On my wife’s bike which came with pre-slimed tubes, Slime got out every time you re-inflated the tube, gumming up the valve and the pump. When she finally got a puncture that the Slime couldn’t fix, I was happy to swap that tube out for a Slime-free one.

    On my own bike, I just got more robust tires. I always have a pump and some tire levers. I try to have a spare tube and a patch kit, but right now my spare tube has been floating, unprotected in a pocket in my trunk bag for a while, so who knows if it’s good. The patch kit moved into my touring panniers the other week, and I haven’t moved it back yet. Also still in my touring gear: the tool I need to remove the rear wheel. I used to think being prepared for a flat was absolutely essential, and I do make an extra effort to be prepared if I’m riding any distance, but I haven’t had to change a flat on my commute in years, and if I got one, there’s always the bus, or even walking.

    I’ll still be annoyed with myself when I do get that inevitable flat and I don’t have what I need to fix it, but the absolute best thing I bought to deal with flats turns out to have been some decent tires.

  17. Avril McCormack says:

    Agreed the Lezyne Micro Floor Drive is excellent.

    I was looking for a pump that was made of metal for durability, had a hose so I had no risk of breaking my valve stem, and had a gauge. This pump fulfills all those requirements, with the bonus that it can be used like a floor pump so it’s way easier on my arms. I have wide tires, so I only go up to four bars, but it’s really pretty easy to get there.

    Read more: http://www.istumbledupon.com/lezyne-micro-floor-drive-hpg-bicycle-floor-pump/

  18. bicycle pump says:

    Lezyne is THE pump to get if you ride a road bike. It’s a high pressure bicycle pump, very light, quick to set up and delivers air efficiently for its small size.

  19. plh says:

    I use a Topeak Racerocket for the simple reason that it fits inside my bag. That way on those thankfully rare occasions when I have to take it out, it is in full of water, and been destroyed by the weather. Its small size means that persistence not strength is what is needed to get the tire inflated. Thanks for mentioning the plastic bag. I put that into practice immediately upon reading it.

  20. FloorPumps says:

    Road pumps are still going to take some arm strength to achieve maximum or close to maximum psi ratings. Mountain bike tires probably hold about the same volume of air – but at a lower psi rating. Remember – mountain bike tires are a lot wider & shorter.

  21. Rideon says:

    Park Tool PMP-5 frame pump, fits in my hydration pack or on any of my four bikes frames including on the rear rack of my Dahon folding bike.

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