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Michael Stenning takes a look at a tool we all wish we never needed .... the humble and not so humble bicycle pump.


Punctures may be a less frequent fact of life these days thanks to advances in tyre and tube technologies but we all succumb now and then-no matter how stout that Aramid casing.  Despite the ubiquity, not to mention sheer convenience of Co2 cartridges, leaving home without a decent pump and basic tools is inviting trouble.

Mini Pumps


Outside of touring circles, these have ruled the roost for fifteen years or so. Compact dimensions mean they sit unobtrusively on the bottle bosses, in jersey pockets and most bike/rider mounted luggage. Time was when you’d need arms like Arnie and 500 strokes to feed 60psi into a 700x28 but these days, better examples will ram a more realistic 90psi plus in around 150 strokes ( or three minutes depending upon rider stamina). 


High Pressure v High Volume


This brings me nicely to the subject of high pressure and high volume. These are largely determined by your genre of bike. Mtbs and their derivatives are high volume whereas road requires high pressure. Simply put, a high volume pump requires fewer strokes to achieve the desired psi (or bar if you prefer) but generally means top end 40/60psi. Fine with 2.1 inch knobblies, or seating a tubeless system but hopeless for 700x 32, never mind 23mm tubulars demanding 160psi.

Mini Pumps on Steroid Diets


Some manufacturers have responded to this dilemma by offering designs that resemble track pumps passed through a matter shrinking device.  They look slightly ungainly riding shotgun on the bottle bosses but require less effort per stroke, which can make all the difference with higher pressures. 80 and 120psi (26x1.5 and 700x23 respectively) in around 90 seconds is pretty realistic. 

Frame fit, mini v midi pumps


This distinction has become increasingly blurred in recent years and depends to some extend on the marketing department. 


High pressure frame fit pumps still retain a quiet following with SKS and Blackburn still offering designs that are genuinely relevant; capable of delivering sportive typical pressures 100-130psi. However, changing frame designs and materials means they often won’t fit cleanly, or at all.


Tethering them to the seat, down or top tubes using cable ties is one option and can frustrate opportunist theft while you’re having a full English but either way, shouldering the bike is tricky. 


Stowed in rucksacks or panniers, they can pop up periscope fashion, nudging you in the neck, or ride proud of smaller, single panniers. Midi pumps such as this now defunct Zefal HPX light follow the mini pump narrative but employ more substantial carry brackets and measure a sensible 30cm.

This is my default for training and weekend riding whereas CO2 cartridges and mini pump are my go-to’s for ‘cross, trail and shorter TT style efforts.        

Pressure Gauges


Standalone models are the most precise. That’s not to say integral ones have passing affinity, rather they tend to be most accurate around the mid- range. Unproblematic when talking commu-tour typical 35mm sections running at 85psi, mountain bikers looking to run their tubeless at 23-25psi for optimal traction will want something more precise.

Head and Valve Types


Presta and Schrader are the two dominant types and most pumps will cater for both. However, some are more user friendly than others. Something valve specific but with an interchangeable head is the neatest option, although twin heads means faff free flitting between types-perfect if your bike runs Presta but the tagalong/trailers use Schrader (car type).


Smart heads, which as their name implies, automatically morph to fit are lovely to use. However, weakness lies in the sprung mechanisms, which in our experience behave impeccably for eons but eventually go Kaboom without any prior warning. 


Screw on hoses have crept back into fashion these past few years in response to riders shearing willowy Presta types clean off while desperately trying to achieve rideable pressures. Generally dependable with standard butyl set ups, stick with press-fits with tubeless as they can actually unscrew these valves during detachment.



Obviously this has implications for longevity. Rule of thumb says the more metal involved, the more dependable its likely to be However, pump failure is generally pretty rare, especially since these are for roadside use and track/compressors used at home.


High quality carbon composite bodies with aluminium shafts are the perfect accompaniment to a carbon frameset and will usually take mortar like ejections from jersey pockets/similar accidental carelessness in their stride. Models made from better quality plastics shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Personally, metal types get my vote for touring and longer distance commuting. Whatever your preference, inspect mounting bracket carefully, I still mourn the passing of a much loved high pressure midi pump that was jolted from its resin bracket and into the path of an oncoming double decker bus…   

Other Things to consider


Some people prefer CO2 cartridges and take a mini pump along for absolute dire emergencies, others want something that’s efficient and relatively pleasant to use. A handle or valve head that digs painfully into the palms when trying to achieve useable pressures isn’t good news. 


Locking mechanisms that clamp heads securely to the valve improve reliability while safeguarding against vigorous strokes. Really bijous designs fit brilliantly inside jersey pockets and wedge packs but unless you’ve really dainty digits, there’s a real risk of pinching palm and fingers between head and barrel, especially in summer when hands quickly turn clammy-I’ve had some very painful blood blisters while trying to inch 26x1.9s past 55psi.  

CO2 Inflators


These are by far the fastest way of resurrecting a flaccid tyre and worth their weight in gold during a race, or bitterly cold training ride. Some triggers are more intuitive than others, so ensure you’re fully familiar with their MO before embarking on a long; or competitive ride. 


I’m a fan of those that release gradually by depressing a button, others require screwing the cartridge clockwise, or discharge in one rush. Whatever your preference, add several compatible cartridges at time of purchase. 


Expect to get 115psi into a 700x23, 85 into a 700x35 and 60ish into a 26x1.75 in approximately three to four seconds. Dust caps are a wise choice, keeping dirt and ingress from contaminating the head, some designs employ a neoprene “cosy” for improved grip and preventing fingers from getting painfully cold during discharge.    


Racers will want to load one before they hit the start line but these degrade (albeit very slowly) once connected, so otherwise leave loose until required. Prices vary but sheer purchase power means some superstores are offering bundles, comprising of an inflator and several cartridges for a tenner. 





Ryton On Dunsmore

Coventry  CV8 3FH


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