Like our early mountain bikes, our floor pumps were all derivatives of road bikes. Thin, small, low volume and high pressure, they were designed to pump up a 23mm tire to 120 psi. It gets the job done but not very well. Mountain bike tires are much bigger and most now only need to get inflated to 25 psi. Luckily, the industry has evolved and is now creating pumps that are suitable to task. Big, sturdy and build to get to 25 psi as quickly as possible.
But before you start shopping it’s good to understand the basic features. Air volume is key, as it determines how many strokes it will take to inflate a tire. Mtbr compared four floor pumps, inflating the same standard 2.25 mountain bike tire from 10 to 40 psi. The number of strokes it took ranged from a low of 33 to a high of 75. That’s quite a spread, especially if you’re in a hurry.
A long hose also comes in handy for when you’re working with your bike in a bike stand. The downside is a convenience, as you’ll spend more time wrapping that long hose through various clamps for storing when not in use.
For the gauge, a large uncluttered dial is easier to read. And placement at the top of the air canister instead of floor level is even better.
As far as valve chucks go, an unlevered chuck is quicker and more convenient — you just pop it on and off. But the gasket can wear out faster from impatiently jamming it on and yanking it off, as they tend to want to hang onto the valve. Some pumps feature T chucks with one side for Presta valves and the other for Schrader. Otherwise, you have to fiddle with the chuck, unscrewing a cap and changing out the gasket, which can be a pain.
Levered chucks typically have a better bite onto the valve — at least until someone, usually a family member or friend, forgets to release the lever before yanking off the chuck. Then you may have a useless pump till you can repair or replace the O-ring.
Beyond these basics, you also have the option of getting one of the best mountain bike floors pumps that has a digital gauge, which enables more precise inflation and can easily be switched between psi and bar measurements. But digital screens can be harder to read, especially in low light.
Finally, to make mounting tubeless tires easier, many pump makers offer fat-canister booster models with a burst mode to pump a large volume of air instantly to help set your tire’s bead.
Other things to look for when searching the best mountain bike floor pumps include a bleed valve for when you slightly overinflate or are mounting tubeless tires; how sturdy and foot-friendly the base is (test when you have your cleated shoes on if you ride clipless); how well your hands fit the handle; and general overall construction. Note that a braided hose is more durable than plain rubber. And while a foot pump may sound cool, we advise against them. Most are cheaply constructed and take a lot of stomping to reach even minimal air inflation levels.
If precision matters to you, consider testing the pump’s accuracy. I use a Topeak D2 Smart Head handheld digital gauge ($32) that is easy to switch between Schrader and Presta. It has a 180-degree rotating head for getting the right angle to engage and helpfully beeps when it obtains a reading. Using this gauge, I’ve found that floor pump gauges can vary as much as 3 to 5 psi, which is huge if you’re running low pressure in plus or fat bike tires.
With all the above in mind, here’s a rundown in alphabetical order of the best mountain bike floor pumps. And note that If you’re looking specifically for a tubeless set-up friendly pump, several of these manufacturers also have an offering in that category.
Blackburn Piston 4
A hallowed name in the bike pump arena, Blackburn delivers a lot of bang for the buck with the Piston 4. Its steel construction ensures durability, the pump head works on any valve, the tripod base, and extra-wide handle keep things stable while pumping, and the gauge is 3 inches wide and sits atop the canister for ease of reading. The Blackburn Piston 4 is no-frills but also no-nonsense. It just gets the job done so you can get out on the ride.
For affordability, simplicity of use, convenience, durability, and power, the Bontrager Charger is hard to beat. Its low weight belies its capacity. In fact, it won our volume test, pumping 30 psi with just 33 strokes. The dial sits atop the air canister, it has a dual-mode chuck, and in four years of constant service, it has never failed us. The Bontrager Charger is nothing fancy. It just gets the job done fast and efficiently. Riders looking for a tubeless set-up pump should also check out the Bontrager Charger’s pressurized-chamber cousin, the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger Floor Pump ($120).
More info: www.trekbikes.com
Chock full of Crankbrothers cleverness, the Klic is the ultimate modular pump. The hose and dial fit into the barrel when not in use (and are kept in place magnetically). You can start with a basic model in either analog or digital dial, then add a burst tank, which can be detached and stored when not in use. The gauge fastens magnetically to the top of the tank for ease of reading, and the tripod base has rubberized footings for stability. All this modularity comes at a price both in dollars (up to $225) and convenience because there’s lots of required fiddling to set things up. But if you’re an industrial design freak, all the Crankbrothers Klic’s little touches are appealing. In fact, Crankbrothers won a 2018 Design & Innovation Award for “the market’s most practical tubeless pump.”
Fabric Garage Pump
For classic looks and performance, you can’t beat the Stratosphere Pro floor pump. It has a varnished wood handle, wood base, and a sleek aluminum barrel with a braided hose and dual-mode chuck. The oversized base-located gauge is easy to read and the base itself is underlined with grippy rubber and topped with sandpaper for enhanced foot purchase, especially in cleated shoes. Technically a track pump, it may make you want to dress in Lycra and tap dance as you walk. But it works fine for knobby tires so we include it out of nostalgia for our roadie roots of yesteryear.
Lezyne Sport Digital Drive
Despite a few annoyances, the Lezyne Sport Digital Drive is our go-to pump for trailhead pressure checks (for just that reason it stays in our Subaru). We love the accuracy and precision of its digital gauge. When we first purchased Ibis wide-rim carbon 941 wheels a few years back, we found that even a single psi difference made a noticeable and sometimes striking difference in ride quality. But one-psi increments are tricky to pinpoint on a standard dial. The digital readout Lezyne Sport Digital Drive gave us the precision we needed to experiment with psi so we could get it dialed for each ride. We also like the wood handle’s ergonomics. It fits our palms and has a natural feel more comfortable than the typical plastic handle. That said, we wish the dial were bigger, easier to read, and positioned at the top of the canister rather than at the base. We also wish the chuck was levered. Lezyne’s new ABSI Pro “flip chuck” is great for a secure connection to the valve — both sides actually screw onto the valve — but requires manually reversing the chuck lid to change modes. The Lezyne Sport Digital Drive also did well on our volume test, pumping 30 psi in 42 strokes.
Silca Superpista Digital
Back in our racer youth, Silca was our first and favorite floor pump. We still keep one around, especially for inflating skinny tires. It’s a bit clunky but generates a lot of volume from its short slimline canister. And the fact it still works well after four decades is a testament to the durability of Silca pumps. At $275, the more modern Silca Superpista Digital doesn’t come cheap (a standard Silca Pista goes for just $99 if that’s more your style). But the Silca Superpista Digital has some slick features, including a preset psi or bar setting (a beep sounds when you reach it). The oversized, troughed base is friendly to cleated bike shoes, and the side-levered, dual-mode, full metal HIRO chuck is magnetized for securing to its port. The gauge sits at the top of the canister and extends laterally for ease of reading. The gauge also features backlighting if you’re pumping in low light conditions. And if you can afford the Superpista you can also use it to top off the tires on your Bugatti.
Specialized Air Tool MTB
The affordable price of the Specialized Air Tool MTB belies its bulletproof construction. Features include a steel base, high-volume aluminum barrel, and a 3-inch gauge that’s highly readable despite its base positioning. The levered chuck is dual-mode and the base itself is rugged and stable. The high volume capacity is touted for airing up tubeless, but it’s not as effective as pumps with a burst mode. Specialized.com is currently out of stock on the current model, which could be the hint of an update on the way. But in the meantime, there are lots of Specialized Air Tool MTB floor pumps available elsewhere.
Topeak Joe Blow Booster
Though a touch heavy at 7 pounds, the Topeak Joe Blow Booster nonetheless gets high marks for utility. It features a huge gauge at the top of the canister and has a lengthy 5-foot hose with a dual-mode chuck that comes in handy when your bike is in a work stand. The booster function works well for mounting tubeless tires, as it has a “charge” setting that pressurizes the spacious second chamber, then releases a compressor-like burst of air meant to help seat tubeless beads. And it works well, as this Mtbr test illustrates. Several other “burst mode” floor pumps exist, but the Topeak Joe Blow Booster is arguably the best. Most of the time our Booster stays in our shop, but we also take it on road trips for those (hopefully) rare occasions when a tire is damaged or fails.
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