The Beartooth Pass switchbacks up the couloirs and chutes of the Beartooth Mountains, a rugged range guarding the border of Wyoming and Montana. It is a ribbon of U.S. Highway 212 asphalt that pierces the thin air 10,947 feet above sea level and then plummets almost 3,000 feet in 12 miles.
For 20 miles, I never touched a pedal – only the brakes. I zoomed into Montana at 30-55 mph, white-knuckled, holding onto my Trek 8000 mountain bike like it was the Angel Gabriel.
For 2,500 miles, that bike ferried me across seven states. Four years earlier, three friends and I suffered six flat tires in three days as we alternately pedaled and trudged 200 miles across Missouri’s gravel Katy Trail.
Both experiences taught me a simple lesson: the best bike pumps work. They work in 10-degree Colorado nights, and they work 90-degree Utah days. They work when wearing gloves. They work when your fingers don’t. They work because they must.
Which ones are the best?
Meet the Cadillac of floor pumps: the Lezyne Steel Floor Drive. Many owners love it for a simple reason: The barrel and piston are made of steel, the bleeder valve of brass and the handle from wood. The only noticeable plastic component is the valve connector. At $60, it is not cheap, but nothing is more dependable. Some even use it to pump motorcycle and automobile tires!
The Lezyne Steel Floor Drive pump features a screw-on connection rather than the typical clamp-and-pray nozzle. It works with Schrader and Presta valves, except Presta valves without threads. The hose – which is extra long, by the way – screws onto the tire valve stem to minimize air leakage. No more fruitless pumping.
Mounted onto the aluminum base of the pump is an air pressure gauge with a 2.5-inch face, which is like reading a large-print book. If you over-pump your tires, you can press the bleeder valve chuck to slowly let air escape without unscrewing the valve connection. If you experience air leakage at the valve connection, unscrew the valve core, coat the threads with Loctite, and reinstall.
Best uses for this heavy-duty floor pump include 29er mountain bike tires and tubeless road bike “slicks.”
Endurance cyclists have been known to saw off the ends of their toothbrushes and shave their chest hair in their frantic obsession with weight reduction. The Topeak Pocket Rocket DX II mini pump weighs just 116 grams and isn’t much larger than a soda straw. Topeak boasts that the pump can handle pressures up to 160 PSI, but anything over 80-100 PSI may require steroidal assistance.
From the bottom up, this mini pump was designed for long road trips. The sleek aluminum body sheds wind and rain in equal measure. A dust cap protects the reversible valve connection from dust, sand and grit. The nozzle can accommodate Schrader, Presta or Dunlop valves. The mounting bracket stays cemented to the frame and refuses to let the pump go – a necessity on rocky single-track or urban speed bumps.
The Topeak pump features a squishy Kraton handle. It helps alleviate the oncoming carpel tunnel syndrome after 100 strokes – but as mini pumps go, it requires less effort than many.
Not everyone needs a bicycle pump that can withstand years of abuse in a mechanic’s workshop. For the buyer who wants to minimize costs and maximize utility, there is the Schwinn 5-1 Floor Pump.
The Schwinn pump has five inflation modes: Schrader, Presta, Dunlop, sports needle and inflation cone. All the accessory adapters are securely holstered to the pump. You can attach it to a Presta or a Schrader valve, however, without switching out any adapters.
The pump checks off all the necessary fundamentals: a wide, stable base; an accurate pressure gauge; a long, flexible hose; and a locking valve connection to reduce air leakage. It can handle pressures up to 160 psi. More than a few owners use the Schwinn 5-1 floor pump as a third hand around the house, topping off automobile tires and inflating spare basketballs. One user even used the pump equipped with the inflation cone as campfire bellows.
Weekend warriors and racing cyclists love Lilliputian mini pumps, but some cross-country cyclists abhor them. You try wiggling a mini pump between 40 pounds worth of saddle bags and pumping up a flat tire to 65 psi in the freezing rain.
Enter the BV Bike GM71 Micro Floor Pump. Designed for cross-country cyclists and backpackers, this 11-inch pump unfolds into a fun-sized floor pump capable of 140 psi. The 12-inch telescopic hose features a swiveling connection to attach easily to the tire valves, which is an absolute godsend on bikes outfitted with equipment racks.
The GM71 can be holstered onto the bike, carried in a backpack or stuffed into a cargo pants pocket. However, unlike traditional mini pumps, the pump must occupy a bottle mount. It cannot be strapped onto the side of the frame tube. It weighs 210 grams and features an all-aluminum body. At the end of the hose is a reversible valve connection that switches between Schrader and Presta valves. A small, accurate inline pressure gauge tells you how much air you need to put into the tire.
The Genuine Innovations G2628 CO2 (carbon dioxide) bicycle inflator is convenience embodied. Rather than pump up a tire using spare air sucked out of Mother Nature, this bike pump uses pressurized carbon dioxide to fill up a tire in seconds. It works with both Presta and Schrader valves (push on for Presta; screw on for Schrader). It also features a padded handle to protect your hands from the chilly endothermic reaction when the CO2 cartridge is emptied.
The operation is simple. Drop the CO2 cartridge into the inflator, lock everything in place, squeeze the trigger, and ride away into the sunset. The inflator can accommodate 12, 16, 20 and 25-gram threaded and non-threaded CO2 cartridges, but be wary! Using an alternative brand CO2 cartridge may void the warranty. Some users recommend dropping a dime or penny in the bottom of the inflator when using an off-brand 12-gram CO2 cartridge. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.
Not everyone has a Beartooth Pass. Some have jaunts to campus. Others have weekend rides with the girls. Some slick tires follow asphalt ribbons for 250 miles, whereas other knobby tires have never seen asphalt. So wherever you cycle, look for the best bike pumps.
Buy smart; bike smarter.