Before you decide which type of bike pump to get, it’s important to determine what kind of inner tubes your bike has. Tubes are inflated via valves, and there are two standard valve types: Schrader and Presta.
Schrader valves are more widely used and can also be found on cars, hybrids and children’s bikes. Presta valves are common on most road and off-road bikes. The nozzle of a Presta valve is longer and thinner, with a threaded tip.
If you are unsure which type of valve you need or if you have multiple items that need inflating, you can always do what I did: purchase a pump with a head that can fit either type of tire valve.
Standard bike pumps
Standard bike pump styles are great for beginners, intermediate and experienced riders alike. If you own a bike, chances are you’re already familiar with one or all of these bike pump types.
Stand pumps are also sometimes known as floor pumps or track pumps, various names that describe its functionality. It stands upright, on the floor, and keeps cyclists on track! (OK, I’m not sure where the “track” name came from, but the other two seem self-explanatory.)
This is the most common kind of bicycle pump. It’s fast, efficient and easy to operate. The floor pump’s features include a base that you stand on to steady it, handles so you can pump with comfort, heads that lock to avoid air leaks, gauges to determine how much pressure is required, a long hose for hard-to-reach valves and a large chamber to maximize air transfer.
A stand pump is a must-have for all cyclists who want to maintain their bicycles.
Mini pumps or hand pumps
Small, portable pumps can be a life saver in emergencies. As the name suggests, mini pumps are compact, lightweight and designed to be carried along on rides. Most models come with brackets that allow them to be mounted to the frame of your bike. They’re convenient in a pinch, but mini-pumps are not meant for every occasion. A compact pump requires more effort to inflate a tire, and it adds pressure to your bikes valves, which can lead to leaky inner tubes.
Frame pumps are designed to be mounted on—you guessed it!—your bike’s frame. They’re more commonly seen on steel road and touring bikes. Frame pumps are essentially more efficient versions of hand pumps, for a flat tire when you are far from home.
Specialty bike pumps
Specialty bike pumps are for more experienced enthusiasts and professionals. These options are more expensive, but they offer extra features and conveniences that are specific to different cycling needs.
A CO2 inflator is another small, light, easy-to-carry option that can help you service a flat tire when you’re out on a ride. It’s perfect for a quick fix, as it does not take as much time or effort as a traditional manual pump. CO2 inflators are perfect for racers. They are less practical for the average cyclist because they require wasteful aluminum cartridges, and the cost of those adds up over time. Keep in mind that CO2 leaks faster than air, and if you run out of cartridges you’re out of luck.
Hybrid pumps combine the convenience of a CO2 inflator with the peace of mind of a hand pump. It covers all your bases for those long rides.
Shock pumps are designed specifically for mountain bikes that have air-sprung suspension. They provide a very high-pressure output with a minute volume. Most models have a maximum pressure of 300psi, making them the perfect tool for precision pumping.
Electrics pumps are another great option for those looking to reduce the manual labor aspect of inflating a bike tire. Much larger than conventional pumps, electric ones are meant for at-home use. They tend to be more expensive but they also offer built-in digital gauges for accurate pressure readings. The ease of use makes electric pumps perfect for all household inflatables, including car tires, air mattress, pools or anything else you need to blow up.
Pros and cons of various types of bike pumps
Things to consider when buying a bike pump
Pump heads and valve types
As mentioned above, the most common valve types are Schrader and Presta. Most bike pumps are compatible with both through a twin-valve head that has separate slots for each style of valve, with a ‘smart head’ that adjusts its valve size, or an attachment that allows you to switch between the two.
Size is less of a concern for pumps you use at home, but when shopping for a portable model it’s a good idea to determine how you will carry the pump during a ride, and how much space it will take up.
The less you pump weighs, the easier it will be to cycle with it attached to your bike But you don’t want to sacrifice practicality for convenience. If it’s small and light but takes extra effort to operate it might not be as helpful as a heavier pump.
With quality material comes a price increase. But you’ll be purchasing a more durable product that will last longer and need to be replaced less frequently.
Pressure gauges aren’t that common on hand pumps, but most floor pumps and all shock pumps will have a gauge. Accurate pressure readings are required for a mountain bike tire but less essential with most commuter bikes.
High-volume pumps are more useful for mountain bike tires that require greater volume and lower pressure. The greater the pump’s volume, the fewer pumps it will need to reach the desired pressure.
The higher pressure the pump, the less accurate the gauge will be. Most mountain bike enthusiasts need no more than 40psi. Volume output decreases the higher pressure the pump is.