best mountain bike pump

Best Mountain Bike Pump

by Joseph Wells - Last Updated: November 24, 2020

I have had my fair share of flat tires on my mountain bike. Even riding tubeless has some issues, whether burping air, or just a puncture.  There is one key point in choosing the best mountain bike pump for the trails, and that is air volume.  The Lezyne Micro Floor Drive HVG Pump is by far the best pump I could carry with me.  For getting big tires up to pressure away from home or the shop, this is the perfect mountain bike pump.

When trying to determine what is the best mountain bike pump you have to look at a number of factors.  What is the pump made of? What features does it have?  Will it work on Presta or Schraeder valves? How easy is it to carry? And finally, how much air volume can I move?

Quick Answer – The Best MTB Pumps

Lezyne Micro Floor Drive HVG Pump

Lezyne Sport Drive

Noble – Hybrid Pumps [Air & CO2]

Doko In – Hand Pump

Important Information for the Best Mountain Bike Pump

Construction

I think this is the most important aspect of a pump.  There are low-cost pumps out there, and they are all plastic.  While it is lightweight, many of them are only for a true emergency.  You will struggle to use them and some will actually cause damage, like breaking off the valve core while pumping.

The Lezyne Micro Floor Drive is a great choice since it has many metal parts, and features a hose to reach to the valve.  This helps protect the tube and get a better seal.  If you can, look for the cylinder to be made of metal.  As a pump is used, it will heat up due to friction from the plunger and it will get less efficient.

Many people get frustrated with flat tires.  I always choose the right tools to help with that.  Getting the best mountain bike pump that you can carry with you on the trail is key to riding enjoyment.  Having to ride an under-inflated tire back to the start of the trailhead is not fun, and you will probably flat again.  Worse yet is having to walk.

Testing

When you visit a shop or store, ask to try a pump out.  I can’t tell you the number of people I have seen that don’t know how to use their own pump or even to get the tire off the rim to change the tube.  Test out the pumps that you see.  Find something you will want to use, and is easy to work with.

The benchmark in testing is usually a floor pump.  This is the type of pump that you leave at home or carry in your car.  I have seen a few commuters carry one in their backpacks though.  A floor pump can move a high volume of air, and since you can use your body weight, it is easy to get compression.  This equates to filling your tire quickly and easily.

I would recommend trying inflating a tire with a basic pump first.  Get a feel for it.  Try something like the Lezyne Sport Drive pump.

While this is an excellent pump, you will find that a small pump like this will struggle to inflate the average mountain bike tire.  A 26 x 2.0″ tire has quite a bit of volume inside.  Some small pumps can easily require 200-400 strokes to get reasonable air pressure. Not fun while out on the trail.

Why is the Best Mountain Bike Pump Important?

Simply put, optimum tire pressure is important for a variety of reasons.  Proper inflation helps reduce flat tires.  Additionally, ride quality improves as well. Most importantly there is a direct relation of tire pressure to rolling resistance. That is the key to bicycle performance.

In a study published by sports laboratories, having the appropriate tire pressure was important in realizing optimum rolling resistance.  The study found that not only did resistance improve but performance did as well based on tire pressure. It is not always optimum to ride the pressure as stated on the sidewall of the tire.  In certain conditions riding a very low pressure helps, such as for traction or rocky terrain.  In the mud, higher pressure can help as the grooves of the tire can shed debris easier.

So, say you bought the Best Full Suspension Mountain Bike Under $2000. Some of the tires here are well over 2″ in width.  Long travel suspension bikes also rely on bigger tires to help protect the rims, but also to clear rocks and roots.  But, one thing has to be done, and that is getting the right pressure for your riding style, and the terrain.

The late Steve Tilford, a member of the MTB Hall of Fame, used to ride certain trails using the least pressure possible.  It was a certain challenge to him, but also a way to go faster. After all the tire is part of the bikes suspension, and lower pressures allow the tire to deform on the trail getting more traction.  However, in doing so, he would get some pinch flats.  As we ride, we have to do something similar.  We don’t have the luxury of free CO2 cartridges all the time.  Finding the best mountain bike pump becomes very important so that you can adjust pressure when necessary during your ride.

Hybrid Pumps

Ok, what is a hybrid pump?  It is a pump that combines the use of a CO2 cartridge and a standard hand pump.  If you didn’t realize, small CO2 cartridges can be used to temporarily fill your tires.  12 and 16-gram cartridges fill a road bike tire easily to 80 psi. However, even a 16g cartridge struggles to get a mountain bike tire to any usable pressure. Normally, I would recommend CO2 inflators as the best mountain bike pump type, but there are issues that prevent that from happening.

A hybrid pump is a natural choice, as you prefill the tire with CO2 and then work to get the desired pressure with the hand pump portion.

For a quick fix, CO2 works really well.  As long as you repaired the puncture, you will maintain pressure for a few hours.  However, CO2 as an element is a pretty small molecule.  Let’s face it, all tires leak, even in a car.  Technically it is called leaching.  The air that we add contains very small molecules, like oxygen and nitrogen.  CO2 as well.  On a bike tire, due to the thinness of the tube, it is easy for these small molecules to work their way through the tube or around the valve.  Presta valves allow you to lock the valve closed, to help hold pressure better.  But, you will find that all tires lose air slowly.

Many times I have returned to my bike the next day after a puncture and thought I had a flat tire again.  Then I remembered, I used CO2 on the tire!  It is very common for CO2 to leak out rapidly in less than 24 hours.  Usually, half the pressure will be lost. If you are performance and weight minded, check out a high quality CO2 inflator.

Key Features

One of the top features you will see in most pumps is the ability to adapt from Presta to Schraeder valves.  Presta is a high-pressure valve with a lock nut that prevents air from escaping.  Schraeder is what you would find in your car.  Some pumps will automatically adapt so that you don’t have to take the pump head apart no matter the tire you are inflating.

Some pumps have built in gauges.  On inexpensive pumps the gauges are inaccurate.  Better pumps will see improved readings. 

Some people love going by numbers, I have gone by feel.  Then again I have repaired well over 10,000 tires as a bike shop professional.

Other key features that can be important depending on your needs would be a folding handle.  Having a reasonable handle for leverage is important.  Some pumps feature hoses.  Hoses can help prevent fracturing and breaking off the valve core.

Larger carry along pumps could feature a footpeg.  These pumps mimic your larger floor pump that you might have at home.  They will work much the same while on the trail.  You would anchor the bottom with your foot on the peg, then pump away with more leverage.

One feature I would potentially stay away from is something called dual-action.  That means that you inflate with both the inbound and outbound stroke.  In theory, this sounds great, fewer movements to get to a higher pressure.  Our bodies do not work all that great making opposing motions like this. While it seems great, the outbound stroke is awkward and usually poor quality.  I just stay away.

Conclusion – Best Mountain Bike Pump

There are hundreds of take-it with-your-bicycle hand pumps available on the market.  Some are great, others are barely useful, and maybe only for an emergency.  By all means, if you are in a pinch, and need some air, get something that works.  But when you need to depend on a pump and use it frequently, shop for the best mountain bike pump you can afford.

I really love the Lezyne Micro Floor Drive HVG Pump. It is made well, with the major parts CNC machined from aluminum.  This pump will get you to pressure quickly and efficiently.  It will also last.  One of the worst things about compact on the bike pumps is that they are not all that durable.  It is also a key point in making the Lezyne Micro Floor Drive HVG Pump the best mountain bike pump for your next trail ride.

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