I get it! Bike tire pumps can be a fiddly, confusing nightmare. So, I’ve compiled this comprehensive bike pump guide to help you determine which bike pump type will work best for you.
If you’ve been struggling with your bicycle pump or need advice on which pump is suitable for your bike, you’ve come to the right place.
In this short bike pump guide, I’ll talk you through the different bicycle pump types and their benefits, how to use a bike pump properly and plenty of other helpful pump-related tips & tricks.
And so your journey to becoming a bike pump guru begins.
Bike Pump Types Explained
Bike Floor/Track/Stand Pump
The floor pump, also known as a track or stand pump, is one of the most common types of bike pump, and for good reason.
As you can imagine, floor pumps rest on the floor and provide a foot platform that users stand on to stabilise the pump during use.
Floor pumps are operated using a large handle which sits parallel to the ground.
Before inflating their tire, the user attaches the pump’s hose to the bike tire valve, and the hose is usually locked in place with a small lever, which seals the pump around the valve.
Once the hose is secured to the valve, the user pulls the handle upwards, drawing air into the pump before pressing the handle back down into the pump’s body, forcing the air into the bike’s tire.
Inflating a bike tire with a track pump is much less awkward than a micro or frame pump since the long, flexible hose of a track pump prevents your bike from becoming unstable during inflation.
|Strokes Required To Reach 100psi With a Floor Pump|
|700 x 23c Road Bike Tires||20-30|
Track pumps are generally around two feet tall, which gives them a large capacity and allows them to quickly inflate tires to high pressures.
It took me 24 strokes with my track pump to inflate my 700x23c road bike tire to 100psi. Not bad at all compare to the other bike pump types!
Another advantage of track pumps is that they almost always offer a dual-ended hose attachment, suitable for inflating both Schrader and Presta valve types.
Track pumps also require less energy to use since users operate the pumps while standing up. In an upright position, users can use their body weight to depress the pump and reach a higher PSI than possible with a frame or micro pump.
|Average Cost of a Bike Track Pump||$19-31 (£15-25)|
Most bicycle track pumps offer a gauge that provides an accurate reading of the bike tire’s pressure during inflation.
As previously addressed, track pumps can inflate bike tires to PSIs that wouldn’t be achievable with manual hand pumps. My track pump can fill tires to a maximum of 160 PSI, which is way above what I ride at, but this showcases the power of track pumps.
As you can imagine, due to the large size of track pumps, they’re non-portable and won’t fit into a backpack.
If you’re looking for a portable pump to take with you while cycling, check out the frame and micro pumps below.
All bike shops and cyclists who ride regularly should have a track pump. They significantly reduce the amount of effort required to inflate a bike tire and allow you to inflate to your preferred tire pressure accurately.
Bike Mini/Micro/Hand Pump
Mini bike pumps, also called micro bike pumps, are perfect for taking with you whilst you’re on the move.
A micro bike pump will easily fit into your backpack or jersey pocket, but most are supplied with a frame mount, which generally attaches to your bottle cage screws.
The majority of modern mini bike pumps are tubed, which means they feature a small detachable hose that’s housed inside the pump when not in use.
However, some older or cheaper mini tire pumps attach directly to your tire valve (integral pumps), which are more fiddly to operate.
Additionally, it’s easy to bend or damage your valve when pumping your bike tire if you’re not careful.
|Strokes Required To Reach 100psi With a Micro Pump|
|700 x 23c Road Bike Tires||200-250|
One downside of mini bike pumps is that they don’t typically feature a pressure gauge, so you’ll normally have to guess your tire pressure unless you use a digital gauge.
I’d recommend using a digital gauge, and I explain why at the bottom of this article.
I take a mini pump and a spare inner tube whenever I’m out cycling. This way, I wouldn’t have to walk home or to the nearest bike shop if I had a puncture.
Then once I’m home, I use my track pump and pressure gauge to accurately adjust the tire to my preferred riding pressure.
|Average Cost of a Micro Bike Pump||$6.25-25 (£5-20)|
As you can see above, because micro pumps are “micro” sized, an increased number of strokes are required to inflate your tire to the desired pressure.
I was attempting to reach 100psi, but after 230 full strokes (at around 90psi) the pump/inflation hose began to slowly leak air if I attempted to add any more.
As you may have figured pumping a pump 230 is tiring work. But bear in mind, the ability to clip one of these to your bike can be the difference between walking 10 miles home after a flat, or being able to patch and re-inflate your tire!
My mini pump’s detachable hose has two ends, one suitable for Presta valves and the other for Schrader valves. Dual compatible pumps negate the need for any fiddly little adaptors.
Bicycle Frame Pump
Frame pumps are essentially a larger version of micro bike pumps and reside on your bike’s frame.
Some frame pumps are spring loaded and fit snugly underneath your top tube, with one end against the head tube and the other resting on the seat tube.
Frame pumps that aren’t spring-loaded will are usually supplied with a frame mount. Remember, frame pumps are pretty long and may not be compatible with some bikes, such as full-suspension mountain bikes.
|Strokes Required To Reach 100psi With a Frame Pump|
|700 x 23c Road Bike Tires||75-100|
Frame pumps are either tubed or integral. So they either work in combination with an inflation tube (tubed), which attaches to the tire’s valve, or the pump connects directly to the valve itself (integral).
Both types of pumps have their advantages, which I’ve outlined for you later in the article, so keep reading. However, I prefer a tubed pump.
|Average Cost of a Bike Frame Pump||$15-25 (£12-20)|
Due to their increased size compared to a micro pump, a frame pump requires less effort and pump strokes to inflate a bike tire, but this is still more effort than a track pump.
In addition, their increased size means they stand out on your bike. So for cyclists that prefer to keep their bikes as clutter-free as possible, a frame pump probably isn’t the best option.
A CO2 inflator will probably be your best bet if you prefer a minimalist appearance.
Bicycle CO2 Inflator
CO2 inflators aren’t technically a pump, but they’re an extremely helpful tool which can be a lifesaver to carry with you whilst cycling.
CO2 inflators are the smallest and most portable bike “pump” type available. They’re super straightforward to use and inflate your tire in a matter of seconds, using a pressurized CO2 cartridge.
Inflating your bike tires with one of these is super easy, once attached to the nozzle it takes 3-5 seconds to inflate your tire.
The CO2 cartridges these inflators use are one-time use, which means you’ll want to carry two cartridges with you in case the first one doesn’t work properly.
A 16g CO2 inflates a 700x23c road bike tire to roughly 110psi. I advise you to carry a digital pressure gauge, which will allow you to adjust tire pressure and prevent you from riding on overinflated tires.
|Time Taken To Reach 100psi With a CO2 Inflator|
|700 x 23c Road Bike Tires||3-5 Seconds|
Alongside inflating bike tires, thanks to their rapid inflation rate, CO2 inflators can be used to set the bead of tubeless tires during installation.
As explained above, the one downside of CO2 inflators is that their canisters are disposable once used. So, if you get two punctures in the same ride and only took one canister, it’ll be a long walk or a bumpy ride home!
Many professional cyclists carry a CO2 inflator while cycling as they are super-lightweight and save a lot of inflation time should they suffer from a puncture mid-race.
My CO2 inflator has a single valve inflation nozzle, but is compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves. It also features a flow control valve, which is super easy to use and allows for easy regulation of the flow of CO2 into your tire.
Other inflators feature a double-sided valve head, one side for Presta valves and one for Schrader.
When depressurising, the CO2 canister’s temperature drops way below zero degrees celsius, so you’ll need to be careful not to get a cold burn.
Due to this rapid temperature drop, most CO2 tire inflators come with a sleeve or protective casing. These safety features prevent your skin from coming into contact with the freezing steel canisters.
|Average Cost of a CO2 Inflator||$19-30 (£15-25)|
If you’re operating an inflator without any protection, you should wear gloves to avoid burns and blisters. Believe me, these things get ccccold.
Another issue you’ll want to consider is that CO2 is much more soluble than oxygen and nitrogen in rubber, which means your tires will deflate at an increased rate.
So, whilst CO2 inflators are perfect for roadside flats, you’ll want to empty the tire and refill it with air once you get home. Otherwise, if left filled with CO2, you’ll have a flat again in the morning.
Bike Foot Pump
Foot pumps, as you can imagine, are operated by foot and aren’t typically designed for use with bicycles.
However, if you have no other option at home, a foot pump will allow you to fill a mountain bike tire to a high enough pressure to ride.
|Average Cost of a Foot Pump||$12.5-19 (£10-15)|
As foot pumps are designed for use with cars, they require a Presta adapter to add any air to a Presta valve.
Additionally, they aren’t typically capable of inflating a road bike tire to higher pressures and normally max out at around 100psi.
Unless a foot pump is your only option, I’d avoid using this bicycle pump type altogether.
Electric Bike Pump/Compressor
For those of you that want to exert as little energy as possible when pumping your bicycle tires, an electric air compressor/ electric pump is a great alternative.
Electric bike pumps allow cyclists to input their desired tire pressure before inflation and then inflate the tire to the specified pressure.
When using an electric bike pump, you can sit back and relax while it’s inflating your tires. However, you’ll want to keep an eye on its battery level and charge it once finished so that it’s ready to go next time you need it.
Because they require minimal physical effort, electric bike pumps are a good alternative for anyone who’d struggle to inflate a tire with a conventional pump.
One downside of electric bike pumps is that they’re usually very loud! Therefore, it’s best to use an electric pump outdoors and avoid using them in confined spaces. You have been warned!
Most cordless electric pumps are relatively compact, but too heavy and bulky to take cycling without a backpack. Therefore, if you enjoy the effortless inflation of an electric pump, a CO2 inflator will serve you well.
|Time Taken To Reach 100psi With an Electric Pump|
|700 x 23c Road Bike Tires||75-100 Seconds|
My electric pump takes roughly 2-3 minutes to inflate a road bike’s (120psi) or mountain bike’s (30psi) tires. This is longer than it would take with a track or frame pump, but this shouldn’t be an issue if you’re not in a rush.
Electric pumps have varying features. Mine has the addition of a bright LED light, which would be helpful if I had to inflate my tires in the dark. Although, to be honest, you’d wake the whole neighbourhood up if you used a handheld electric pump at night.
|Average Cost of an Electric Bike Pump||$37.5-56 (£30-45)|
Of all the bike pump types I own, my electric bike pump was the most expensive, costing £37 or $46. However, I thought this was a fairly reasonable price for such an accurate and reliable piece of kit.
Everything you need, including the hose and any adapters are normally supplied with an electric pump. Mine even came with a needle adapter for sports balls and a slightly unnecessary balloon adapter.
I’ve inflated my bike’s tires to 120psi countless times with my electric charger without needing to charge it. However, fully charging the battery from zero takes roughly two hours and whilst it’s charging you won’t be able to use it.
Those who don’t mind a bit of physical exertion will probably be better off with a track pump, they’re quicker to use and don’t require charging. However, if you’re a techie and like the sound of an automated inflation system then an electric pump would suit you nicely.
Bike Shock Pumps
Bicycle shock pumps are for adjusting the pressure of air-filled shocks. Shock pumps can inflate shocks to very high pressures and typically max out at around 300psi.
Whilst what you may have read online about using a shock pump to inflate a Schrader valve would technically be true, good luck to you because you’ll be pumping away for quite some time!
Shock pumps expel a tiny amount of air on each stroke, so they’re only really suitable for use with shocks.
|Average Cost of a Bike Shock Pump||$19-25 (£15-20)|
All bike shock pumps feature a pressure gauge, which allows riders to fine-tune the pressure of their shocks for the mtb discipline they’re riding.
You usually won’t need to take a shock pump with you whilst cycling, but if you know you’ll be riding several different MTB disciplines in a single session, they’re small and compact enough to fit in a backpack.
Adjusting the pressure of your shocks while riding can help increase performance when riding a variety of trails in the same session. This makes a shock pump a worthy investment for any MTB enthusiast that rides air-filled shocks.
How to Choose the Right Bike Pump
So now that you understand the different bike tire pumps, inflators and shock pumps, I’ll help you identify the bicycle pump that’ll be the best choice for your bike.
While I’ve bought, tested and used every bike pump type, you’ll have no reason to buy them all.
Below I’ve made a small list of things you’ll want to consider before purchasing a bicycle pump. Have a read.
When choosing a new bike air pump, it’s essential to pay attention to the types of valves on your bike tires.
If you’re unfamiliar with bicycle tire valve types, read this short guide to help you identify which valve type you have.
As we found out above, some pumps are only compatible with a single valve type, so paying attention and making sure you buy the right one is important.
As I explained above, integral bike pumps attach directly to the bike tire valve without using an inflation hose.
When I use integral bike pumps, I find them fiddly to operate. If you don’t keep the pump still (tricky), you can easily damage your tire valve during inflation.
Tubed bike pumps use a flexible inflation tube that attaches to one end of the pump and then to your bike’s tire valve.
A flexible tube prevents your bike from wobbling or tipping over whilst you’re inflating and minimises the risk of damage to your valves.
Since getting stranded 5 miles from home with a flat tire, I’ve always carried a pump and a spare inner tube whilst cycling.
This way, I can get back on the road if I get a flat tire. I choose to take a micro pump with me, as I’m not a fan of how my frame pump looks on my bike, and I’m not a massive fan of the disposable canisters that CO2 inflators use.
Like me, I’d recommend all cyclists carry a portable pump. You never know when you may need it.
Whilst having two pumps is technically unnecessary, I’d recommend a track pump alongside your choice of portable pump. Track pumps save a lot of time and effort when pumping bicycle tires at home and almost always have a pressure gauge.
If you’ve ever fully inflated a bike tire with a micro pump before, you’ll understand what I mean. It’s slow and tedious work, and a track pump will definitely make this easier.
If you’re riding a fixed gear or single speed bike, you probably enjoy the minimalist look? In which case, a mini pump mounted to your frame or a frame pump sitting underneath your top tube may prove to be an eyesore.
If you’d rather not mount a pump on your bike, you’ll want to carry a mini pump in a backpack or a CO2 inflator, which will be small enough to fit into your jersey/pocket.
In addition, if you take part in any competitive races or cycling events, it will be hugely beneficial if you have a CO2 inflator. They’re the fastest inflation tool to use and will get you back in the race in no time.
For your average commuter, a mini/micro bicycle pump will work perfectly and will allow you to inflate your bike tires wherever you are.
As we’ve already established, bike pump types provide varying features.
Apart from valve attachment adapters and different valve compatibility options, you may consider a pump that offers increased usability.
Some micro pumps offer a foot stand that allows you to use them as if they were a track pump. Others have a handle that folds out to provide a more comfortable hand position.
Some CO2 inflators offer a completely enclosed system that prevents skin contact with the canister, removing the risk of injury.
Finally, almost all bicycle shock pumps and several track pumps offer an air dump button that allows you to fine-tune your tire pressure.
Bike pumps that provide similar features to those above tend to cost slightly more, so you should consider what you want from a bike pump before making a purchase.
As with most purchases, you’ll generally have to buy again if you buy cheap.
I’d recommend reading into the reviews of any product you’re interested in to avoid disappointment.
If treated well and taken care of during use, a bicycle pump can easily last a lifetime. Of course, from time to time, you may need to replace a seal if it becomes worn, but any good quality pump should allow you to do this without breaking a sweat.
Higher quality pumps are likely to use materials such as aluminium or other metals and will offer increased durability compared to cheap plastic bike pumps.
My umps from Pro Bike Tool offer me a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects.
Many more companies have begun offering this over the years as they attempt to compete for business, but it’s good to know that you’re covered should something go wrong with a product you bought.
Usually, to receive cover from a “lifetime” warranty, you’ll have to navigate to the manufacturer’s website and provide contact details such as your email and telephone.
This section only applies to portable pumps, but if you’re looking for a pump to use on the go, it must be easy to travel with.
A big clunky pump will demand more space on your bike’s frame, whereas a slim, compact pump will be lightweight, easy to mount and won’t get in the way.
The mounting system a portable bike pump uses also significantly impacts its usability. Mounting systems need to hold the pump firmly in place whilst you’re cycling, but not too firmly so that it’s a struggle to remove the pump.
Similarly, no one want’s a loose-fitting mount that lets the pump rattle around whilst they’re cycling.
Consider where you want to mount your pump to your bike. Unfortunately, most bike pump mounts can only mount onto the water bottle cage screws.
However, if you have a water bottle cage in place, this isn’t the end of the world. Many pumps can attach underneath your cage, providing easy access to the pump when you need it!
Bike Tire Pressure Guages - Are They Worth It?
If you took four different bike pumps with a pressure gauge, they’d all provide different readings for your current tire pressure.
A smart bike pressure gauge will allow you to accurately fine-tune and check your tire pressure wherever you are.
Most pressure gauges also feature a dump valve which will allow you to dump air in small quantities until you reach the exact pressure you require.
Once you’ve clocked up enough hours on your bike, it’s surprisingly easy to notice a drop in tire pressure after riding for a while.
Smart tire pressure gauges are compact and can easily fit into a backpack or your jersey pocket so that you can monitor your tire pressures in all conditions.
Riding correctly inflated tires allows you to perform to the best of your ability and get the most out of your ride.
Bicycle Pump FAQs
The three most common bike tire valve types are Presta, Schrader and Dunlop valves, which can all be inflated by dual valve pumps (Schrader & Presta compatible).
So if you’re looking for a new bike pump and want maximum compatibility, look out for pumps compatible with both Schrader and Presta valves.
However, if you’ve got a Schrader-only bike pump, you’ll need to get a Presta valve adapter and vice versa.
Floor pumps are the best pump type for anyone who regularly rides their bike.
Not only are floor pumps the easiest to use, requiring minimal effort to inflate your tires, but they almost always feature an accurate pressure gauge allowing you to inflate to your preferred riding pressure with ease.
Almost all cars use a Schrader valve, so as long as you have a Schrader-compatible bike pump, you’ll be able to use your bike pump to inflate your car tire.
Bear in mind, due to the large volume of a car tire, you’ll need to pump for quite a while, so I’d recommend using the biggest pump you have.
I inflated my car tire to 30psi (from flat) with a bicycle track pump, which took nearly four minutes. If I were to repeat this with a micro pump, I’d probably still be there tomorrow!
So to answer your question, yes, you can use a bike pump to inflate a car tire.
The two most common bike tire valve types are Presta and Schrader valves.
To accommodate for this, many bike pumps offer dual compatibility for Presta and Schreader valves, allowing cyclists to inflate almost any bike tire.
The History of Bike Pumps
Before pneumatic tires existed, when early adopters of the bicycle (velocipedes at the time) were riding on iron bands or penny-farthings with solid rubber tires, there was no requirement for bike pumps.
But as you can imagine, riding up and down the poorly cobbled streets on rock solid tires didn’t make for the most comfortable riding experience.
It wasn’t until 1887, when John Boyd Dunlop invented one of the early pneumatic tires, that the bike pump was created.
John’s son, Johnnie, complained of headaches caused by his trike tires rattling against the unforgiving streets of Belfast. So, with prior knowledge of rubber works, John set to work on creating a more comfortable tire for his son to ride.
The first bike tire pump was rudimentary, but its mechanism and operation are mirrored by many modern bike pumps.
Since their inception, many different bike pump types have hit the market, each serving a slightly different purpose.
Finishing Up - Bike Pump Guide
So there you have it. A complete guide to bike tire pumps and the different pump types available. You’re now officially a bike pump guru.
It took me quite a while to produce all of this information, so I hope you’ve found it beneficial, and I hope I’ve managed to answer all of your bike pump related questions!
If you still have unanswered questions, please leave me a comment below, and I’ll update this article with the answers so that it’s a better read for the next person.
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