Words: Neil Webb
The psutt, psutt, psutt, psutt accompaniment to a defaulting inner tube will happen to us all at some point. Thankfully, there’s no reason for it to end the ride. Just carrying a few spares in your jersey pocket will mean you should quickly be up and running — provided at least one of the ‘tools’ you’re carrying is a decent, reliable mini-pump.
While never as effective as a full frame pump, let alone a track pump, modern mini- pumps can be small enough not to leave behind yet effective enough at getting air into the tyre to enable you to carry on with your day’s riding regardless. The best options will always be a compromise, however. If you want something small enough to go unnoticed in stuffed pockets, the trade-off will always be inflation performance.
There is no way of telling quite what compromises have been made in the design of a pump without using it. In this test we tried every pump out as it will be used in the real world. A 24c Vittoria Pave tyre was inflated with up to 200 strokes to see what pressure was attained (This may seem a lot but it’s actually only 45-60 seconds of hard graft). We also felt how much harder it was — both effort and ergonomically — to use at the higher pressure towards the end of the inflation.
What to look for
We are not talking vertical compliance here, but how easy the pump is to use. As pressure increases it is harder to pump and if the handle of the pump or locking mechanism digs in to the hand or doesn’t offer support, inflating a patched or repaired tube can be a real drag.
Security of the pump head on the valve makes a big difference. A locking lever that prevents the pump pulling off not only offers security in the sense of preventing blow-offs, it also supports the valve, protecting it from the back-and-forth movement of frantic pumping. You really need a secure way of attaching the pump or isolating the abuse.
One of the compromises of a small pump is obviously the scale. With less room for the handle, there is not always enough room for the hand to grip fully. While this can be merely annoying, you need to look out for flesh pinching areas. Get flesh caught between the handle and barrel while pumping and, at best, you’ll end up with a blood blister. At worst, you slice your thumb or hand.
Our 7 of the best
Zefal Air Profil Micro £19.99
200 strokes: 59psi; 165mm
With a full aluminium body, barrel and handle, the Zefal pump is very solid; even the plastic locking lever is secure in use but we did have some issues. While we didn’t really feel much resistance until 140+ strokes, the last 50 weren’t the easiest due to the uncomfortably small handle. That said, it is only 165mm long. For its scale, inflation was very impressive with no pinching issue. The Zefal makes a good back-up to CO2 cartridges for true emergency use, but it’s
a little too small for full-time use.
Lezyne Pressure Drive £28.49
110 strokes: 76psi; 220mm
Like the Zefal, the Lezyne has a full aluminium construction, but that is where the similarities end. Rather than attaching directly, a seemingly ‘old-fashioned’ hose
is used to connect to the valve. In reality this (double ended for presta or schraeder use) actually separates pumping action from the valve very well. Not only that, the wide body got the tyre up to the second highest pressure in test with only 110 strokes. Getting much more would be very hard work, but 75psi-plus is a workable pressure. Lower ultimate pressure is always a trade-off for fast inflation.
BBB Hose Road £24.95
200 strokes 63psi; 220mm
Similar to the Lezyne pump with a hose connector, the BBB prevents rigorous pumping damaging the vulnerable valve. Rather than being double ended, a simple brass internal change offers presta or schraeder compatibility and once screwed on, it’s a very solid connection. The short handle wouldn’t slice through your hand, but can pinch skin, losing it a point, but the pressure reached was pretty good. Because the resistance only really increased at the very end of inflation, we have faith in its ability to get more in, unlike the Lezyne.
Boardman Pocket Bike Pump £24.99
175 strokes: 61psi; 165mm
As its name suggests, this diminutive pump would easily slip into a jersey pocket. The telescopic barrel also means it offers more theoretical bang for each stroke. In use, it got the first bit of pumping out of the way very well but the lack of any locking mechanism meant it began to blow off the valve and leak air at around 175 strokes. The 60psi in the tyre would have got you home and if we spent extra time being cautious when pumping it’s possible to get more in, but it’s a faff wecould do without.
SKS Diago £24.99
200 strokes: 78psi; 235mm
Only the SKS uses such a large quantity of plastic in construction and this is evident at the end of the stroke where the Diago clacks closed quite loudly. It doesn’t inspire confidence, but this belies the performance. Sure, it’s second only to the Blackburn in length, but inflation was a breeze. Despite being a push fit, like the Boardman, the long, ergonomic body and handle was a delight to hold, and even towards the end of 200 strokes it was pretty effortless. We’d be more than happy to keep this one in the pocket on every ride.
Airbone Supernova ZT-703 £16.99
200 strokes: 32psi; 120mm
We’ll admit this, we were suckered in by the tiny size of the Airbone pump, and should have really gone for the 3cm longer, £1 dearer 705 for improved performance. As it was we only reached meagre pressures after 200 strokes. In the name of fairness, we persevered up to 58psi with 345 strokes but an issue with any scale Supernova became apparent: the tiny size prevents a solid grasp on the pump, and the square edges dig in a little at higher
pressures. Even the longer versions would be emergency use only for us.
Blackburn Airstick Anyvalve £19.99
200 strokes: 68psi; 276mm
The rotating T-bar handle makes it very comfortable to use and prevents any skin pinching as the barrel does not close all the way. The thumb locking, Anyvalve head does indeed mate quickly and easily to any valve with very minimal leaking but we weren’t without issues. The Airstick ‘pumps’ in
both directions; pulling the barrel out to get full extension at higher pressures began to get quite difficult as it tried to suck air in at the same time. This and the comparative scale loses it a couple of marks.
One thing we noticed on this test is how mini-pumps have improved over the last few years. There was a time when a small-scale pump was often more hassle than it was worth, failing to inflate a road tyre to a usable pressure without ruining a rider’s arms. Now, there are plenty of options for a well priced, great performing, pocket sized pump.
For less than £20, your choice is pretty straightforward. For size and ease of use go for the Blackburn; for pocket portability choose the Zefal.
Overall, however, we were very impressed with the SKS Diago. Despite its unusual looks, and full plastic construction, in use it was superb. We were initially worried about the push fit connector, but had not a single issue and it’s only the need for a smaller scale pump that should have you looking elsewhere.