The 10 Best Floor Pumps
The Floor Pump: A Practical Standard For Rubber Inflation
The Schrader valve is the same type of valve with which many car tires are equipped.
When the handle is pushed down, the air is compressed by the plunger, forced out of the piston and into the hose.
Whether you experience the thrill of bike races or take leisurely rides around the city for exercise and recreation, the last thing you need to worry about is a flat tire ruining your chances of victory or causing an accident. For these reasons, you'll need a reliable floor pump to keep those tires fully inflated and ready for action.
Also known as a stand pump, the floor pump is a manually-operated air compressor that leverages piston-style action and positive displacement to inflate a bike tire. The device is typically equipped with: an air hose, creating a connection between itself and the tire; a sturdy base used to maintain stability on flat surfaces; a metal or plastic shaft connected to a handle at the top of the device; a plunger assembly at the bottom of the shaft, which is designed to create and an airtight seal; and an integrated pressure gauge, which is used to monitor the air pressure inside the tire.
When the pump's handle and shaft are pulled in an upward motion, fresh air is sucked into the piston through an intake valve on the unit. When the handle is pushed down, the air is compressed by the plunger, forced out of the piston and into the hose. Finally, the air flows through the hose and out of the pump's fill valve, which is connected to the inner-tube valve on a bike's tire. The repetition of up-and-down motion gradually inflates the tire.
Floor pumps attach to one of two types of inner-tube valves found on a bike's tire: Schrader and Presta. The Schrader valve is the same type of valve with which many car tires are equipped. This valve is short, relatively uniform in shape, and often sealed with a plastic cap. Most bicycles engineered before the 1980s used Schrader valves. By contrast, the Presta valve is longer, slimmer, and has a removable inner core. It requires twist-lock operation by the rider. Regardless of valve type, its purpose is to ensure that any air exiting the pump valve flows directly into a bike tire's corresponding intake valve without any loss of air pressure while in transit.
Pumping Up The Competition
Because floor pumps require manual operation, there are several things to keep in mind. One consideration is the compatibility of the pump head. Depending on the type of bike you own, it's worth the extra expense to purchase a pump with a double-sided head that easily connects to both Schrader and Presta valves. Some pumps also include a special adapter for connecting to both valve types instead of using separately-dedicated ports for each valve. Whether you're a racer or you just ride your bike on a daily basis, invest in something with stainless steel parts instead of plastic to ensure its longevity over time.
A gauge with a small readout is easier to see when it's placed higher up on the pump body near the handle, which is more convenient than bending down to the pump's base to read it.
Think about the width and durability of the unit's base. A wide base ensures superior stability on a variety of surfaces (e.g. cement or carpeting). Keep in mind that as you continue pumping air into your tires, the air pressure inside them also increases with each subsequent stroke. The less you have to fight with your pump and the wider the base, the easier it will be to maintain control.
Consider the size, placement, and accuracy of the pump's pressure gauge. A gauge with a small readout is easier to see when it's placed higher up on the pump body near the handle, which is more convenient than bending down to the pump's base to read it. Accuracy can also be verified using a digital tire gauge. Don't discount judging tire pressure by direct feel either. Depending on a tire's size, thickness, and the type of terrain it traverses, different levels of air pressure are acceptable. That said, you'll learn to recognize what constitutes a good level of air pressure by the way the tire feels after inflating it.
The comfort of the pump's handle is an important consideration because you'll be pushing down on it repeatedly. A handle molded to the shape of your palms will minimize excess fatigue, while also improving your stroke efficiency. We're not telling you to stand in your garage and compete with friends for the fastest tire inflation time. However, the level of resistance in the handle should be minimal with each downward stroke as you approach the tire's optimal air pressure.
Some floor pumps also come with on-board storage for extra components, such as needles and other attachments for inflating soccer balls and air mattresses, extending the device's functionality beyond just tire inflation.
A Brief History Of The Floor Pump
While no definite date exists for the arrival of the floor pump, common belief is that it appeared around the same time as Scotland native John Boyd Dunlop's invention of the first practical pneumatic rubber tire in 1887. Growing out of the need for something that could be used to inflate the tires on his son's tricycle, Dunlop's invention was an adaptation of the football pump, invented in the 1860s by Robert Lindon. This early floor pump consisted of a metal cylinder and rod running down the middle of the device, acting as a piston to suck fresh air in and force pressurized air out. The pump was also fitted with a valve for forcing air into a rubber tire.
The bicycle boom of the 1890s paved the way for many additional patents from inventors directing their attention to perfecting the pump's design. This time period also saw the birth of the automatic pump, which kept tires inflated while a bike was in motion.
Fast forward to modern times and the fundamental operation of the floor pump hasn't changed much. The majority of serious cyclists still depend on the device to properly maintain their equipment.