This week, let’s go over something great to know when choosing bicycle pumps, both ones to take along on your bike for flats on the road, and home pumps (also known as “floor pumps” – because they stand up on the ground, making pumping fast and easy).
This subject came up on a ride last week, when Tom – who, rain or shine, never misses one of our Wednesday night hill climbs workouts – showed us his new Lezyne pump as we were kicking back in the shade post-ride. It’s similar to the one in the photo.
A pump head that screws onto the valve
Tom demonstrated how the pump uses a hose that hides in the hollow center of the pump when not in use. And how the hose has two different threaded ends. One screws onto Presta valves (also known as “French” or “needle” valves, and the most common type found on quality road bikes). The other end screws onto Schrader valves - which are identical to car valves and often found on entry-level bikes.
As Tom showed off his pump, the speediest rider who joins our ride, Natasha, chimed in that Tom’s new flat-fixer is the only type of pump she likes to use now. Because it threads on and stays in place. She said that it’s much easier to use than the more common type of pump that has a head that you press onto the valve.
A pump head that presses onto the valve
The press-on type of pump head works with a rubber grommet and often some type of thumblock that locks the head in place by tightening the grommet against the valve.
Both Natasha and Tom said that on that type of pump they didn’t like how the press-on head didn’t always go on airtight. And, worse, because the pump head has to be pressed down firmly on the valve, they have found that it’s pretty easy to mistakenly damage valves. Skinny Presta valves and especially their tiny tip, can easily be damaged.
This is a risk when using a take-along pump that has the head built into the end of the pump during inflation. If you don’t – or can’t – brace your hand against the tire/wheel, it’s possible to push too hard against the valve and damage or even break it off completely.
With the threaded hose head, you nicely avoid any pressure when putting on the head or inflating the tire.
A few pumping tips
I recommend not buying any pump until you’ve tried it to ensure you can inflate your tires with it. Most bicycle shops will have best-seller pumps that you can try out. If you don’t have a local shop, maybe someone you ride with has a favorite pump they’ll let you try. If you’re new to tire inflation they might even have some helpful tips.
If you choose a pump with a locking head to carry on rides, always brace the end of the pump when you’re inflating so that you don’t damage the valve. To do this, wrap a finger of the hand holding the pump head on the valve around a spoke. If you’re hands are large enough, you might be able to put your thumb over the tire, too. As long as you brace the end of the pump on the valve you’ll be pushing against your hand, not the valve. That’s what you want.
Remember that before inflating tires with Presta valves, you must unscrew the tips of them counterclockwise. But don’t stop there. Usually the pressure has sealed the valve shut. So, after unscrewing you need to press down on the tip to open the valve. If the tire is full of air, tap just once to open the valve, break the seal and listen for the pssst sound of air rushing out for that brief second. Then it’s ready to accept air. Be sure to screw it closed clockwise after inflation, too.
Some Presta valves have removable cores (the guts of the sealing mechanism). I’ve seen these come loose enough to allow a slow leak. If you look closely at your Presta valves and they have two flat spots on them for a wrench, you have removable cores. It’s a good idea to check these at least once to make sure they’re tight.
The tip of the Presta valve is what you loosen and tighten to open and close the valve. Sometimes this tip can unscrew from the small threaded post it is supposed to stay on, so use a little care when opening the tip. Don’t force it past its stopping point.
If you do happen to bend the tip’s threaded post while pumping, you can usually straighten them with needlenose pliers and they’ll work just fine again.
Here's a review of my favorite floor pump, Pedro's Super Prestige. And here's a review of John's, the Aergun X-1000. Both have a press-on pump head but are easy to use because they conform to Presta and Schrader valves as you close the thumblock.
And here's a review of the SKS Spaero Sport Pump for on-the-road use.
What’s old is new again!
After checking out Tom’s new pump, it occurred to me that pumps with hoses that thread on to valves are nothing new. I remembered my first adult bike, circa 1963. It had a pump a lot like the Lezyne in the photo above, with a threaded hose that screws onto the valve. I guess good ideas never go away.
Jim Langley is RBR's Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim's full bio.