Bike Pumps

September 12, 2009

Few things are more frustrating than having to fix a flat tire on the road. If the weather is ideal, it's little more than an interruption to an otherwise excellent day. But if the weather is miserable, prepare to prolong your misery.

No matter what the situation is, you want to get the tire fixed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, a good frame pump or mini-pump will never compare to a good floor pump, but there are some out there that come close, and will get you back on the road in a hurry. Here are a few pointers to help you select the right pump for your needs.

There are three main types of pumps available for carrying when you're out on the road: frame pumps, mini-pumps, and CO2 devices. Before you decide on your model, it's important to know the tire pressure you want to achieve. If you run 90+ psi (road tires), you will want a high-pressure pump. These don't put out as much air with each stroke, but they make it easier to achieve higher pressures. For many touring and mountain-bike tires, a low-pressure pump will do very well; these put out larger volumes of air with each pump stroke.

Once you have this piece of the puzzle in place, you can select your weapon of choice.

Mini-pumps: Best suited for road riders looking for a lightweight option, and for mountain bikers. For a long time, these were pretty inefficient, but they are making big strides in performance. Most will fit in a jersey pocket, while a few will make it into your saddle bag. Lately, I've been a big fan of Blackburn's Air Stik, which has a dual air chamber that not only inflates the tube as you pump in, but as you pull the handle out, as well. Mini-pumps started out mainly as low pressure pumps, but they are catching up on the road scene, and many now will switch between high and low pressures.

Frame Pumps: These are ideal for road, touring, or cyclocross bikes. Just fit it under your top tube and forget about it until its moment of glory arrives. They are a popular choice among touring cyclists, thanks to their durability and ease of use. The traditional frame pump will fit under your top tube, so you will want to measure that space to find the appropriate size. They are longer than a mini-pump, which helps them put out more air per stroke. One thing to pay attention to when searching for a frame pump is the barrel material. Aluminum barrels and shafts tend to be more reliable than plastic models. Zefal puts out a solid frame pump that will last a good long while.

CO2 Devices: If you want to fix a flat fast, this is your best option. These are best suited for day trips, unless you want to carry a lot of CO2 cartridges. I tend to carry these along when the weather is miserable, when I wouldn't want to deal with pumping a tire in the snow or rain. If you use these on a road tire, try to release the air slowly from them to make sure you don't overinflate or pinch the tube under the tire bead.

One thing I did not mention is valve stems. This used to be an issue with travel pumps, but these days most pumps are interchangeable between Presta and Schrader valve stems. Regardless, it's a good idea to check and make sure the pump you choose will match up with your valve stem of choice.


TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's Member Services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.


Tom June 1, 2015, 9:43 AM

I did some research last time I was buying a road bike pump and found that the CO2 pump was not for me. It was great in a pinch but the CO2 leaked too fast for my liking, and I found myself just re-inflating when I got home anyway. If I'm going to put in the effort, it might as just be once, which is why I bought a good frame pump. I'm not familiar with Zefal, but I may go check it out now since my current pump is coming up on it's 3rd year of use.

Steve September 19, 2009, 5:58 AM

Topeak makes a number of portable floor pumps

Todd S. September 12, 2009, 5:48 PM

Another thing to consider with the CO2 is that it leaks out much faster than air from your tube. I use CO2 as a stopgap measure if I need to get back on the road quickly, but it's a good idea to deflate the tire and refill it with air once you get where you are going.

Thanks for the links on the pumps, too. I've been looking for a new one.

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