The Best Bike Pumps for Getting Pumped

BluesCatBluesCat is a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, who originally returned to bicycling in 2002 in order to help his son get the Boy Scout Cycling merit badge. His bikes sat idle until the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked at over $4.00 per gallon. Since then, he has become active cycling, day-touring, commuting by bike, blogging ( and giving grief to the forum editors in the on-line cycling community.


I have to admit, I cannot recall a single time when I’ve said “I ride a bicycle to work,” and had someone look at me in wide-eyed terror and exclaim “My gawd! What happens if you have a … a … a flat tire?!?” I probably would say something like, “The same thing that would happen if you had a flat on your car: you’d either put the spare on, if you could, or call somebody to rescue you!”

In his article, “The Low-Skill Backup Plan,” Ted says a cell phone can be an on-the-road emergency bicycling tool kit. That’s the same toolkit Mrs. Cat has in her Honda. I don’t think Mrs. Cat knows where the tire jack is stored in her car, much less how to use it. Heck, I’m not even sure she knows what the tire jack looks like! I couldn’t tell you if the spare is pumped up on my own Honda SUV, or if the jack and lug wrench are in the proper places.

And as far as my old pickup goes, the tire jack broke and was thrown away a long time ago; I’m not sure where the crank is for lowering the spare out from underneath the truck bed, that’s a job for the tire shop. I know a number of bike riders who feel that changing the tubes and tires on their bicycles is a job for the bike shop.

In the final analysis, if you rely on your cell phone, you’re as prepared for a flat on the bike as for a flat on your car.

I did a brief, mental calculation, and since I started bike commuting in 2008, I’ve had just as many flat tires on my two automobiles as I’ve had on my five bicycles. My son, the mechanic, changes the tires on my cars. I stick to changing the tires on the bikes because it’s so much easier.

Learning how to change a tube on a bike tire isn’t really a necessary skill for bike commuting, but if someone wants to do it, there are plenty of instruction videos all over the Web. Also, if you make sure you have the right tools, and heed a few tips from an experienced Cat, you’ll find changing a bike flat less of a chore than changing the bag in the kitchen garbage can.

Grifter Mini Hand/Floor Pump W/Gauge

A few days ago, I rolled my bike out of the office in the afternoon and prepped it for the trip home. One of the few good habits I have acquired is pinching the tires before every ride. Whups! The front tire was absolutely spongy! It must have a slow leak because I know I checked it before I left home that morning. (Er … maybe not.) Simple to fix: whip out the frame mini-pump and top it off. My pump isn’t some wimpy $10 thing, it’s a Serfas Grifter, which costs around three times that. I bought it because of the funny story of my first experience flatting while out on the road with the high pressure tires on my commuting bike.

Topeak Road Morph G
Topeak Road Morph G

I was over two miles from the nearest bike shop, and around four miles from home, when the front tire picked up a cactus thorn and went “Pssssszzzzhit!” That sound was sorta like the exclamation I made as I pulled out the tire tools, the cheapo frame pump and the spare tube. At home, I’d practiced removing the tires and wheels off the bike, and that leads me to …

Tip No. 1: DO practice removing your wheels from a new bike, and loosening one side of the tire off the rim.

Nothing is more aggravating than realizing you don’t know exactly how to do it when you’re miles away from the instruction manual; I learned that the hard way, years ago, and I’m sure the entire neighborhood was delighted with the new cuss words they learned.

I had the wheel off and one side of the tire off the rim in short order. Got the tube out of the bag, inflated it slightly and poked it inside the tire. Oh yeah, here’s …

Tip No. 2: When you get a new tube, get a plastic sandwich bag, pull the tube out of the box, put the tube in the sandwich bag … and throw the box away.

I don’t know what it is — maybe the roughness of the cardboard — but miles and miles of banging around in a cardboard box in your seat bag will ruin a tube; that’s another story for another time andanother site, not a family oriented place like Commute by Bike.

With the tire seated properly on the rim, I began squeezing that frame pump out-and-in between my sweaty fists to try to get the tire up somewhere near 100psi. Oh man. I felt like I was in one of those late night/daytime television infomercials for exercise equipment. You know the ones I’m talking about, where they have the latest fan-favorite, model/actress du jour — with the insanely sculpted body — making vaguely erotic “exercise” motions while attached to a device that looks like it was cobbled together from a bunch of kitchen utensils? In my case, it was…

Hey, Kids! Want the pectoral muscles of your favorite Super Hero?? Then act now and get … The Pectinator! Just $19.99 (plus shipping and handling) and you’ll be on your way to having a chest that will make even your big sister jealous! But wait! There’s more! …

Lezyne Micro Floor Drive High Volume Pump
Lezyne Micro Floor Drive High Volume Pump

Get the picture? When I was done, my hands hurt, my chest hurt and my arms were almost numb. To add insult to injury, when I did get to the bike shop to have them top off the new tube it was only at 60psi! Which brings me to …

Tip No. 3: Get a decent bike pump!

Sometimes they’re called “mini-pumps” or “frame pumps.” Purists will say a real frame pump is a spring loaded affair which fits between two little pegs on the bike frame, but the key is that these are pumps you take with you, usually attached to the frame with a bracket. There are two basic flavors of take-along pumps: small standard pumps which have a housing with a piston inside just like a regular floor pump, and pumps which use little compressed CO2 gas cartridges.

I’ve never been a big fan of CO2 inflators. They’re typically a one-cartridge-per-flat deal, and the cartridges run around $2 to $4 USD; so fixing a flat can get expensive with the added costs. The spent cartridges are nothing but litter, and if you forget to replace the ones you use, you’re without a pump the next time you get a flat. Almost every person I’ve heard of who uses CO2 inflators also has a regular pump with them for backup. The big advantage is the speed at which you can fill a tire, which I guess is important if you’re riding competitively, but not so important if you’re riding to work.

When you buy a regular frame mini-pump, you’re done with the expense of a pump. It’ll sit on your bike, ready when you need it. I suppose they do break, but I’ve never had one fail; even the cheapo frame pumps I bought when I started back riding. Even so, I won’t buy the inexpensive pumps ever again, my experience with the Pectinator has elevated my standards.

Here are the minimum specifications for a BluesCat Approved frame mini-pump:

  • Flip-Out T-Handle: Don’t bother with those things which have a pump handle which is the size and shape of a broom handle; about 20 pumps into it you’ll feel like a circular area of the skin on your palm is trying to meet the skin on the back of your hand.
  • Flexible Hose: No matter how careful you are, if you have one of those pumps which attaches directly to the tire valve stem, you’ll find yourself bending the stem against the hole in the metal of the rim as you pump, and if you ruin the base of the stem you’ve ruined the tube.
  • In-Line Pressure Gauge: You’re tired, ticked off, and not really sensitive enough to tell the difference between 20psi and 160psi with a pinch test.
  • Fold-Out Foot Pad: You flip out the foot pad, put your foot on it, keep the pump vertical, your arm straight while you grasp the T-handle, and just flex your knees up and down to pump; you’re using your weight to pump, not the strength in your arms.
Lezyne Micro Drive HP Pump
Lezyne Micro Drive HP Pump

A pump which meets these requirements will cost you more, but it is money well spent. My Serfas Grifter has all those elements, and runs around $30 USD, but there are a number of others.

ATopeak Road Morph G will run you about $35 USD; a lot of bicyclists swear by Topeak pumps.

For about ten bucks more, you can get a Lezyne Micro Floor Drive High Volume HVG; a shop floor pump disguised as a take along pump.

If you want to go totally sexy, you can get a Lezyne Micro Drive HPG for $60 USD.

I may just get one of those Lezyne’s. When I get my next flat I’ll be out there, pumping-tire, looking all BuffCat …

And one, and two, and wave at the girls!

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