The Best Bike Pump (Floor Standing)
If you ride a bike more than a couple times a year, the $44 Lezyne Steel Floor Drive is the floor pump to buy. We reached this conclusion talking to a former bike pump designer, a mechanic who supports riders in the Tour de France, and the world’s preeminent bike repair manual author. We also ran tests on 15 different pumps. Paying just a couple bucks more than the absolute minimum gets you a pump that is extremely easy to use, thanks to what is far and away the simplest and most secure pump head. And because the Lezyne’s wooden handle, steel barrel, and heavy aluminum base are much more durable than bargain-basement pumps, odds are that it’ll last a lot longer.
That said, if our main pick is sold out, you’re super tight on cash, or you ride your bike only a couple times a year, pick up the $30 (or $36 with shipping) Nashbar Earl Grey. Attaching the pump to an innertube valve isn’t as easy as it is with the Lezyne, but it’s easier than many competitors’ mechanisms. And the Earl is as cheap as reliable floor pumps come. It’ll probably work fine for years.
Reaching this conclusion involved reading a lot of editorial reviews, looking at lots of pumps in stores, and talking with experts who take floor pumps very seriously. The owner of B.I.Cycle volunteered his shop for testing our 15 finalists. Testers ranged from a professional mechanic to a member of the Geezers of Fury, a cycling club of old men who “drink a lot of coffee and sometimes ride their bikes,” according to a local. The Floor Drive and Earl proved obvious, unanimous picks.
Who needs a floor pump?
The floor pump is the go-to when it comes to bike pumps. An air compressor might inflate a tire in under a minute, but it costs more and sputters obnoxiously. Frame pumps and CO2 cartridges offer quick fixes on the road or trail but, suffice it to say, they lack gauges, so tires end up either too hard, which causes a poor ride, or under-inflated, which increases the likelihood of an annoying flat.
If you have an old floor pump that works well enough, great. You probably don’t need a new one, unless your old one is missing useful features or isn’t working as well as it used to. If you need a first pump or want something better than that plastic thing you got at Walmart or the one your father promises to dig out of the garage, read on.
What makes a good pump?
Floor pumps have seen few upgrades since the Jurassic period. Experts say that a great pump for everyone from semi-pros to fathers inflating soccer balls costs between $25 and $60. It’ll last at least five years and more likely 10 or 20. Better yet, all but the junkiest plastic ones (like this comically bad $19.99 Schwinn sold at Target) will perform passably well, pushing up to 120 psi into a chubby Schrader valve or a needle-like Presta valve in less than a minute. (Most pumps work with Dunlop tubes, too, but those tubes are so rare we didn’t bother to keep track.)
“Anything you get at a bike shop, if you don’t use it as a hammer, you’ll be fine,” says Lennard Zinn, senior tech writer for Velo News for two decades, author of the most popular bike-repair manuals in America, and owner of high-end bike builder Zinn Bikes. He’s not being glib. “I’ve got a Pedros that I use every day and the only reason is because it happens to be here. I don’t see it being that different from anything else.”
We also spoke to a former floor-pump engineer who wished to remain anonymous. He told us that “Speaking strictly of the pump chassis—i.e. the base, barrel, piston and handle—they all do the same thing. A $100 pump will feature higher quality materials, and maybe a real bushing system for a super smooth/enjoyable pumping experience (haha) and a $15 pump will be all plastic. For the typical consumer this doesn’t matter too much.”
Other features that clearly make a great floor pump, in order of importance: durable construction, a stable base, an easily visible gauge, and a long hose, which allows inflation of front and rear tires without moving the pump.
Terrific pumps offer replacement parts, have a bleed valve on the pump head so pressure in the hose can be dissipated before removal of the head, and come with good warranties, though few users report lemons or premature failure.
There are a few pump features that don’t matter. Dual-piston designs, for one. They are often touted, the idea being that a high-volume piston pushes a lot of air into the tube quickly in the beginning, and then a low-volume piston tops off the tube easily. “But you pump eight times or you pump 10 times—what does it matter?” asks Daimeon Shanks, a mechanic for the Garmin-Sharp pro tour team, whose name you might recognize from the Tour de France.
High volume, low-pressure designs are often flogged, too. These make it easier to inflate, say, a 29er tube. If you’re not familiar with a 29er, don’t worry—you don’t need to be. (OK, it’s a large-diameter mountain bike tire.) And if you own one, then know that this special pump also won’t save much time or effort. “All the whizbang crap is dumb,” says Shanks.
“If you’re in a Giro d’Italia stage and it’s pissing rain and the rider wants 106 psi in the front and 110 psi in the rear then you need a gauge,” says Shanks. “If you’re at home, just use the same pump every time. It’ll be accurate to itself. Pump it up to 110 and if you’re happy with that, who cares if it’s actually 105?”
How we picked
Pumps are simple, so how do you find the best value? How do you ensure that you’re not spending too much for a pump that’s overbuilt or overhyped? How do you ensure that you’re not spending too little, saving a couple dollars by buying a pump that’s annoying?
Zillions of companies make floor pumps. The only company that makes just bike pumps—indeed, makes just floor pumps—is Italian icon Silca, founded in 1917, but many names common throughout a bike store make floor pumps: Blackburn, Nashbar, Pedros, Park Tool, Serfas, Specialized, Spin Doctor, Joe Blow, Lezyne.
Publications like Bike, Velo News, Road Bike Action, Men’s Journal, Outside, Popular Science, and others rarely give pumps much ink. Outdoorgearlab.com, Bicycling, and BikeRadar have published thorough reviews on anywhere from eight to a couple dozen models, but only Outdoorgearlab reviewed pumps side by side. Complicating things further, only Outdoorgearlab and BikeRadar rank pumps against each other, and some of their criterias for greatness (the handles’ ever-so-slight variations in comfort, for example) just aren’t that important.
So we tested. To divine the most perfectly adequate pump, we read the reviews and product descriptions of over 100 pumps that cost between about $25 and $60. We eliminated any that cost more than that, as a good bike pump should fall into that range easily. We also eliminated any that didn’t inflate past 120 psi (more than 120 psi is for bikes used on a velodrome, not that that’s particularly important, but it’s better to have that capability than not), any that had obvious flaws such as a base so narrow you couldn’t stand on it, and any with a preponderance of one-star reviews on Amazon.
This narrowed the list of contenders to 37. We monkeyed around with several of these in local bike shops and managed to eliminate a few more for feeling too cheap. From the remaining models, we called in the most affordable pumps from each established brand (because the pump designer made it clear that there’s no performance to be gained by spending more), and a few others that had positive editorial reviews or were recommended by the experts we spoke with. This left us with 15 models to test.
How we tested
Experts had said they all inflate about equally fast and the gauges were roughly accurate, but just to double check, I attached each pump to a deflated mountain bike tire, pumped 35 times, and then looked at the pump gauge. Each gauge read between 29 and 32 psi, with the exception of the Serfas TCPG (22 psi), which made sense because it was by far and away the shortest pump, and the Park Tools PFP-8 (25 psi), whose head proved problematic. So almost all worked basically at the same speed, inflating an empty tube to full in about a minute, as claimed.
Since finding a great head, our most important criteria for a great pump, was both a subjective and objective question, we enlisted help: one commuter, two bike mechanics, one older rider from the Geezers of Fury, and me, a lapsed bike worshipper. The owner of an excellent 16-year-old bike store in Bainbridge Island, WA, named B.I.Cycle (get it?) volunteered his shop.
We set up five bikes and the 15 pumps, and got to work filling out the questionnaire I’d made. Questions included:
- How difficult or easy was it to attach and remove the pump head to/from the tube valve?
- How many tries did it take before you got a good fit?
- After pumping 15 times, did the head leak, pop off, or bend the valve stem?
- How easy is the gauge to read, on a scale of 1 to 5?
- How stable is the base?
- How does this pump stand out?
Three hours and a couple pizzas later, we had our picks.
There’s no struggling to hold an inner tube with one hand while using your other hand to push on the head and then looking for a third hand to flip the head’s lever. Just screw the threaded head onto the tube, twisting it clockwise four or five times, and pump. Foolproof. If this prevents one or two valve stems from being bent or broken, then the head alone justifies the slightly-above-budget price.
If you need to switch from Presta valve to Schraeder valve, you disassemble the head with six turns counter clockwise, flip over the rubber gasket inside, and screw the head back together. We found that switching takes about 7 seconds, but that it’s worth waiting because you know the head goes on securely.
All testers said it was “Super Easy” to attach and remove the pumphead—the most positive response for any pumphead by a large margin. No one spent extra tries to attach the head, and it never leaked, popped off, or bent the valve stem.
The Lezyne Steel Floor Drive met other criteria for a great pump, too. It has a varnished wood handle, steel barrel, and thick aluminum base—making it one of burliest pumps at any price, if not the burliest pump. All agreed the Y-shaped base was stable.
The 2-inch diameter gauge is good. It does lack the typical spinning bezel with easily visible arrow. A bezel like that allows a user to set the desired pressure before pumping, making it easy to note progress. Instead, a user has to look directly at the gauge’s black numbers on a silver background, which is more difficult. But only one tester actually said the gauge was Difficult to read. The rest said it was Pretty Darn Easy.
The hose reaches 48 inches, the farthest in the test. Replacement parts are readily available from Lezyne or Amazon. The head has a bleed valve. And Lezyne offers a relatively okay two-year warranty. Overall, four out of five testers placed it in their top 3, a rare consensus. One tester said the pump stood out because, “The screw on head is great for both types of valve.” The other who left a comment said, “Solid. Well made. Nice head.”
Who else likes it?
Editorial reviewers agree. BikeRadar gives it 5 out of 5 stars, citing “fantastic build quality and the performance of a higher priced unit.” They call the head “beautifully made” and acknowledge that it’s not the quickest, but say, “It stays on securely, however, and means you’re less likely to damage the Presta inner valve. It also means you can use it when only a little of a Presta valve is exposed, where other pumps would struggle.”
In other reviews of Lezyne pumps with the same head, they write, “what really makes it is Lezyne’s excellent Flip-Thread chuck. This does away with a locking lever, the reversible head screwing directly—and very securely—onto Presta valves for leak-free pumping every time. Slightly slower to attach, but worth it, and it makes bent Presta valves a thing of the past.”
OutdoorGearLab didn’t test the Steel Floor Drive, and we’re not sure why. But they did test its more- and less-expensive brothers, the Alloy and the Sport Drive, which share the same gauge, hose, and head. They found the gauge “difficult to read in certain lights;” the hose “awesome,” and that the head “made for super secure seals to the tire valves.” The two models were their 2nd- and 3rd-place pumps.
27 Amazonians rank it 4.6, making it the highest-ranked pump on Amazon.
Amazonian BCC gives a good rundown of the advantages of Lezyne’s head design compared to that of other companies’: “[The screw-on head] may cause a few seconds of extra time (perhaps 30 per tire?) but insures the pump is securely attached and prevents the tube stem from being damaged when inflation is complete and the pump head is removed. I had a Park pump (PFP-8) that repeatedly pulled out the stem from the tube, causing unfixable punctures, because the pump head was so tight on the stem. While Park gave great service and replaced the head, its essentially the same type. I probably lost 4 tubes using the Park pump, and nothing is as aggravating as being ready to go for a ride, only to have to replace the tube at the last minute.”
A blogger named VeloHobo writes that it’s “worth every penny… Another thing I like about this pump is the screw on stem chuck. I’ve had issues with the quick ‘clamp on’ types found on other pumps. It’s been my experience that when a pump fails, it’s usually related to the stem attachment. The Lezyne chuck takes a few seconds more to attach than a ‘clamp on’ type, but should last years and [can] be easily replaced.”
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Shortcomings are few and will matter to even fewer users. The biggest is the gauge, which is only “Pretty Darn Easy” to read under normal lighting, but would be hard to read in the dark—black text on a gray background wasn’t a smart design choice. If you’re a commuter regularly inflating in an unlit garage in the morning, you have to weigh the convenience of attaching the head against the slight difficulty of reading the gauge.
Screwing on the head is far more secure and foolproof than lever-based heads but adds a couple seconds to pump time. So if you’re using this in the middle of a race like the 24 Hours of Moab, maybe you should look elsewhere. Lastly, switching from Presta to Schraeder takes about 7 seconds, as mentioned, so if you were working in a shop and pumping up both types all day, this wouldn’t be for you. But for the rest of us, this is a terrific pump and a no-brainer investment.
A (slightly cheaper) alternative
Tester responses for attaching and removing the head: Pretty Darn Easy, Pretty Difficult, Easy, Super Easy, and Easy. That’s slightly better than average. It took no one extra tries to attach the pumphead, and it never leaked, popped off, or bent the valve stem.
It has a plastic handle (same as a Serfas), steel barrel, and large stamped steel base. The only other pump below $40 with a metal base was the Topeak, which cost more and slowly leaked.
The 2¼-inch diameter gauge with oversize numbers tied a couple other pumps for easiest to read. Testers said it was Pretty Darn Easy, Pretty Darn Easy, Easy, Pretty Darn Easy, and Super Easy to read.
The hose is an impressive 44″ long (compared to the 36” typical for a sub-$40 pump) and the Earl has a lifetime satisfaction guarantee. The comments? “Good feel. A little on the noisy side.” “Nice base. I like a big angle on the base extensions.” “Simple, intuitive.”
Unfortunately, no experts have tested it, and as it’s the house brand of the eponymous website, no Amazonians or users have published feedback. Replacement parts are not available (I don’t think) and it lacks a bleed valve. In other words, it’s a well-built pump with a typical design at a great price.
The Lezyne is all that and has a head that shines, but in the event that the Lezyne is sold out, you can’t find it anywhere, or you just want to save a few dollars, the Nashbar Early Grey is a solid alternative.
Long-term test notes
I’ve continued using both pumps since we published this guide, and both are working just like before. If anything, the Lezyne seems even better after six months of inflating bike, wheelbarrow, and riding-lawnmower tires. It has proven especially great for unwieldy tubeless tires like you find in a wheelbarrow. Attaching a pump with a different head to a wheelbarrow tire requires a bit of messing around–you have to hold the whole big tire in your hand to press the valve stem onto the pump head. With the Lezyne, you just screw on the pump head with one hand. It’s easier, in other words.
None of the competitors had a head that was even close to as good as the Lezyne, so they really only compete with the Earl. And in that, they do a good job, not surprisingly, since many are constructed from identical parts. The Pedro’s Prestige, for example, shares a head with the Nashbar Earl Grey, and a base and pressure gauge with the Serfas TCPG. Planet Bike Ozone Comp and the Serfas FP45 share another head. And on and uninspired on. Some pumps did flub it, though.
The head of the $33 Park Tools PFP-8 blew off a total of three times for two testers—a surprise, given that Park has a reputation for making some of the best bike tools you can get.
The $55 Park Tool PFP-7 wasn’t any better. It has an enormous easy-to-hold head, but each tester ranked it Super Difficult to get on and off. (It seemed the inner gasket was too small.)
The all-plastic $30 Planet Bike Ozone Comp got universally bad scores for wobbling, not to mention astoundingly cheap all-plastic construction.
The $35 Topeak Joe Blow Sport II is Outdoor Gear Lab’s Editor’s choice, with 379 Amazon reviewers ranking it 4.5, but it slowly leaked for two testers. If we were only going to spend $35, we’d go for the Earl, which didn’t have any problems and comes with a lifetime warranty (compared to two years for the Sport) and a 44-inch hose (vs 31 inches for the Sport).
The $38 Lezyne Sport Drive broke. The plastic fingers on the plastic base that holster the head snapped off while riding in the trunk of the car.
The $33 Pedros Prestige comes from another highly regarded bike tool maker but fails to surpass expectations. It has a good head (the same as the Earl) and a clear gauge mounted up high, near the handle. Some loved its visibility. Others worried it would crack as soon as the pump tipped over. It lost points for a wobbly plastic base.
On the other hand, the $45 Pedros Super Prestige worked well and had a nice cohesive design but failed to justify its higher cost considering the Lezyne is better at the same price.
The $35 Bontrager reCharger shared a similar design to the Prestige, with a similarly contentious gauge and wobbly base.
The $40 Specialized AirTool Sport, recommended by Shanks, scored well in all categories but lost points for its gauge. “Red on black is not an easily visible combo for the gauge,” wrote one tester. “The red is pretty but my eyes can’t focus on it,” wrote another.
The $45 Spin Doctor Team HP just wasn’t quite right. One tester thought the base wobbly, one tester thought the head difficult (requiring 3 tries to install), and two testers found the gauge numbers cramped and Really Difficult to read.
Wrapping it up
In the homogenous world of bike pumps, the Lezyne Steel Floor Drive stands out. Testers and reviewers agree that it’s durable, stable, supremely easy to use, and a great value. The bleed valve, a decent warranty, and long rubber hose are just bonuses. If you’d like to spend less, the Nashbar Earl Grey will require more fiddling and increases the risk of a bent or broken innertube valve, but it’s the best value for a typical design.
Originally published: March 19, 2014