Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
So that there are no misunderstandings, let me make something clear at the outset: This isn’t a standard RoadBikeRider new product review. It’s a rave about the new version of arguably one of road cycling’s most heralded products, Silca’s Pista Floor Pump.
To me, as soon as I opened the box and got my greasy paws on the new Molteni Orange Pista, it brought back so many great mechanic’s memories – from my start in a tiny Concord, New Hampshire shop in 1970, through my Vermont shops in the 80’s, and into the late 90’s wrenching here in California. Over all those years, one thing was constant – Silca’s trusty Pista was the pump of choice (Pista is Italian for “track,” as in Velodrome).
Revered By Mechanics Like Me
The reason for this was its reliable heavy-duty construction and elegantly simple design that ensured that it worked first time, every time. It had a compact size, too, which was ideal for packing with your race kit and not taking up too much space.
Maybe best, if anything ever did go wrong, you didn’t need an engineering degree to fix it. Even the newest mechanic could figure out how to disassemble the Pista pump and massage grease into the leather on the plunger that drives the air into tires – or put a new rubber grommet into the pump head if it had lost its airtight grip (and small parts have always been available).
Things like this happen when a pump gets as much use as Silca’s did. Appreciate that back in those days a lot of small shops did not have compressors. So the only way to inflate tires all day long was with the shop’s floor pump. Ditto for out at events and races. A Silca pump could see non-stop action the morning of a well-attended race, like the Tour of the Valleys Road Race that we put on for years at West Hill Shop in Putney, Vermont (Go, Putney!)
Pumping tires was satisfying, too. The simple (no levers to mess with) press-on chuck’s airtight seal on Presta valves and the nice gauge made it easy to quickly top off tires and nail the pressure. The steel barrel and plunger and a smart barrel length for mechanics of all heights and genders to push and pull made for easy inflation. Plus, the leather plunger inside the barrel and the fit between the piston and pump cap had a precision fit for smoothness and low friction.
The new Silca Pista Pump was introduced last year in commemoration of Silca’s 100th birthday. The idea was for it to be a limited-edition release. Yet, it proved so popular (old roadies and mechanics like me surely helped), Silca decided to keep it in their line.
It’s not available yet on their site, but they say that they will come out with another color choice at some point, Red. Personally, I wouldn’t bother. Molteni Orange is famous for Silca pumps and Eddy Merckx’s bicycles – so as colors go, it’s cycling royalty.
The original Silca Pista debuted in 1962, according to Silca, because post World War II “Champion of Champions,” Fausto Coppi asked his mechanics to “take the best attributes of each style of pump and combine them into one.” Coppi’s team did their homework because the pumps that resulted were durable, reliable and compact to more easily fit into toolkits making them immediately popular with pro mechanics.
Fast forward to the Interbike bicycle show in Vegas a few years ago when Silca owner Josh Poertner told a small group of us the story of what lit the fire in him to bring back the Pista. He had only recently purchased the company and hadn’t yet decided which of Silca’s products to focus on re-making.
Then he attended to Tour of Qatar (last held in 2016) and was surprised to have mechanics there come up to him and ask when he was going to bring back the Pista pump, which had been discontinued years ago. When he asked why they wanted them, they told him that the Pista pump was the only pump they could keep working at the race because sand would get into all their other pumps preventing them from working. So they were buying old Silcas on eBay and using them.
A Classic Improved
Fortunately, Josh was listening. He was also already fascinated with wheels because before taking the helm at Silca, he was an engineer at Zipp. So, he was well schooled in wheels, tires, rolling resistance and inflation – in short the perfect engineer to tackle reinventing a beloved pump.
You actually have to look closely to see what’s changed from the old Pistas to new, but once you start, you like what you find. Starting from the top down, there’s the lovely lathe-turned ash wood handle – quite an upgrade from the original’s plastic handle. It retains the original’s grooves for holding and safeguarding the pump hose – of course!
Next, you’ll notice that the barrel has a metal cap now, not plastic. The old plastic ones could strip if mechanics weren’t careful during pump maintenance. Then, the barrel and plunger have self-lubricating internal guide surfaces to make the Pista smoother running and more efficient than any pump before. And the leather plunger washer hasn’t changed at all and is still made the same way by the same leather company in Italy.
At the base of the pump sits a new gauge that’s upgraded to within 3% accuracy and protected with an aluminum body. And, the rubber hose is 43 inches long (109cm) long. The longer the better for inflating tires when bikes are on vehicle bike racks or in repair stands. And to keep the hose safe and compact for travel, the Pista has the grooves in the handle and a nice rubber chuck holder that rides on the barrel and won’t scratch it.
Saving one of the best features for last, Silca’s new press-on alloy pump head has a bleed valve for inflation precision and unscrews to reveal the built-in screw-on head for Schrader valves (original Pistas required Schrader adapters).
The pump also has a durable brass check-valve assembly for airtight pumping and accurate gauge readings. And, it’s worth explaining the base. Notice that it’s a somewhat narrow horizontal foot, just enough to place one shoe on the pump to keep it in place as you pump. Some cyclists used to complain that when left standing the Pistas would fall over. And the new Pista will do the same thing.
But, there’s a simple solution. Don’t park them standing, lay them down. The whole point of the narrow base is to make a thin pump that’s easy to stow away and travel with. If you keep knocking yours over, stop trying to store it standing up and find a nice spot to lay it. I keep mine on my workbench at home and flat on the floor in my 1987 Westy (race vehicle) – initial plates read “BIKEFIX.”
Overall, the new Pista Pump has the feel and function of a fine bicycle tool that, no matter how much you use and abuse it over the years will earn your trust and admiration – as it has mine – by keeping pumping up your tires like a champ.
Price, Extras and Sources
The Silca Pista Floor Pump is $99 and available at bike shops or direct from Silca. For travel and storage, Silca also offers the Pista Travel Bag. While at $90, it almost costs as much as the Pista, it features a padded spot for your Pista and room and separate compartments for tubes, tools, bottles and nutrition. Silca also makes the SuperPista Ultimate, which is a cost-no-object superpump at $450!
Ride total: 9,017
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.