[This article was last updated on March 27, 2018]
A track pump, also called a floor pump, is designed to inflate your tyres quickly and easily. A small, lightweight pump is great for carrying when you ride, but a track pump is the best tool for the job when you're at home.
It doesn’t need to be especially portable so, unlike most things in cycling, weight isn’t an issue. Instead, you want something that’s built solid so it’ll last you years.
The base needs to be stable so wide is good. You usually put a foot on either side of the base to hold the pump steady. If you’re likely to use your pump on polished floors inside your house or flat, check for non-slip rubber contact points that won’t cause scratches.
One of the advantages of a track pump is that you get a gauge that allows you to inflate your tyres to the correct pressure (some hand-held pumps have gauges but most don’t). Some are digital but most are dials.
The ability to set a marker to show your target pressure is handy. Some people prefer a gauge positioned at the top of the barrel rather than at the bottom for easier reading. A gauge at the top can be damaged if the pump gets knocked over so needs to be well protected. The important thing is that you can see it clearly, wherever it is.
The barrel – the main body of the pump – can be made of various different materials. Because weight isn’t usually an issue, strong steel and aluminium are good options. The larger the barrel, the more air you can pump into your inner tubes with every stroke.
As well as getting your tyres pumped up more quickly, a large barrel will allow you to seat tyre beads in tubeless tyre systems, but beware if you're a very small rider: you might struggle to get higher pressures into your tyres with an oversized barrel.
Most track pumps are suitable for both Presta (road type) and Schrader (car type) valves. Some have a dual head with different holes for different valves, some have a single hole that works with both, some have a chuck that you turn around according to the valve type. Sometimes you have to unscrew a cap and flip over a bung to swap between valves. That’s not a problem if you use the same type of valve all the time but it’s a bit of a pain if you use both.
If anything is going to fail on your track pump over time, it’s likely to be the valve head, so it’s a good idea to check that you can buy spares separately to save you buying a whole new pump.
Birzman use a Snap-It head on many of their pumps that locks onto Presta valves superfast and is equally easy to remove.
Lezyne use an ABS Flip-Thread Chuck that screws in place one way around for Presta, the other way around for Schrader. You can press a button to let air out of the hose making for easier removal from the valve.
A bleed valve is a handy feature if you want to be very precise with the air pressure in your inner tubes. It allows you to let a little air out without removing the valve head from the valve.
The piston is the rod underneath the handle that forces air out of the barrel and into your tyres. Some pistons can be flexy meaning that you have to pump carefully to avoid destroying the whole pump. Go for something as sturdy as possible.
Handles come in a variety of different materials. Choose a handle that’s comfortable to use and, again, go for something sturdy that’ll stand the test of time.
A long hose – one that stretches the full length of the barrel and back again – can make life slightly easier although it’s unlikely to be a deal breaker.
Tubeless air tank
The growing popularity of tubeless tyres has led to a new pump category, with an extra chamber that provides a big burst of air to get a tubeless tyre seated. You pressurise the tank, and then release all the air into the tyre in one hit, blowing the tyre bead up on to the rim seat.
Weight and portability
The weight of your track pump probably isn’t much of an issue for you because it’s likely to live most, if not all, its life in your house or garage. You might want something relatively small and lightweight if you’re likely to take it with you when you travel to events/races, particularly if you’re flying.
Check that the pump is capable of getting your tyres up to the pressure you need. The chances are that it will be, but bear in mind that some tubulars require very high pressures and some manufacturers exaggerate their pumps’ capabilities.
It used to be that track pumps were purely functional (or ‘boring’, depending on your point of view). Now you can get ones with polished steel or anodised aluminium barrels, wooden handles, and so on. They actually look cool.
Why pay more?
Pretty much every track pump out there will get enough air into your tyres relatively easily, so why not just buy the cheapest you can find and be done with it?
Well, pay extra and you're likely to get something made from better quality materials so it'll probably be more robust and last longer. If you only cycle rarely, that might not be much of an issue, but if you're a year-round cyclist, perhaps with several bikes to keep on the road, a better pump is more of an asset.
Plus, paying for a decent pump with a good head that locks firmly in place on the valve without leaking or working loose is definitely worth having. It makes life that little bit easier.
If you want a pump that's shiny and/or anodized with a wooden handle and a cool-looking gauge, it'll cost you more than a basic plastic pump, but you might not be interested in how the pump looks, especially if it's going to spend its whole life in the shed or garage.
Here are eight of our favourite track pumps at various different prices.
There are lots of inexpensive floor pumps on the market, and this one from the mighty Chain Reaction/Wiggle mail order empire fulfils all the basic criteria, with a head that works with both presta and Schrader valves and a gauge at the top of the barrel.
Great performance and build quality from a home workshop favourite. The construction is all-steel, with the pressed base bolted to the barrel. The Sport uses Topeak's TwinHead adapter, with Presta and Schrader valves sitting opposite each other and sharing a locking lever. It's a simple design that's simple to use. Both sides of the head accepted all the valves we tried with no leaks.
Zefal's Profil Max FP60 is a decent floor pump and doesn't cost the earth. It's pretty well-made and is a pleasure to use. It looks like it'll go the distance and if the head wears out then replacement is available. The long hose, Z-switch head, big dial and smooth pumping action make it a pleasure to use, and it gets tyres to 120psi with ease.
Most cyclists have a couple of pumps: a mini pump for road-side rescue and a track pump for home inflation. The cycling industry is nothing if not adept at creating niches, however, and the travelling track pump might be just such a niche - for when you're on a biking holiday or just need to cram a lot of stuff in a small car for an event. Cannondale's Airport Carry On floor pump is just such a pump, with a capacity equal to many a full-sized track pump and a clever folding design to make it more packable.
The Beto CJA-001S Tubeless Air Tank Inflator is a workshop-quality tubeless air tank with well-thought-out features and excellent performance. It should last you a lifetime of tubeless setup, road or mountain.
Lezyne's Sport Digital Floor Drive DV pump has the familiar CNC-machined build quality of its existing track pumps, but comes equipped with a digital gauge that makes inflating tyres an easier and more accurate task. DV in the product name stands for Dual Valve, a moulded plastic headnozzle that is compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves. Push the head onto the valve, pull the lever back, and away you go. It's easy to release with no loss of air.
The Topeak Joe Blow Elite brings with it the usual high level of build quality and easy usability Topeak has a reputation for. It has one very handy little addition, too.
The Elite has a really solid feel to it, from the steel barrel down to the steel base. All this adds to the weight, but what you get is a rigid platform when/if you want to get up to that 160psi maximum claimed pressure. It will happily reach 100psi on a 700x25 tyre in 27 strokes. Not market leading, but not something we'd grumble about.
The coolest thing about the Elite, and what sets it apart from the rest of the Joe Blow range, is that the gauge is mounted to the handle; not just to the top of the barrel – the handle. It's one of those things that you wouldn't think would make much difference, but not having to bend to see the needle doesn't half save you stooping over.
Well made, beautifully designed pump that can justify a high price. Like many bike tools, it isn't until you use a really good version that you realise how important paying a bit extra can be. The Birzman Maha Apogee III floor pump is a perfect example; it's certainly not cheap at £54.99 – though it isn't the most you could pay for a track pump – but it performs really well.
Yes, it’s pricey but this is a fast action, beefily-constructed pro workshop pump, recommended for everyone but more petite mechanics. You get an unusually long barrel, a large and very clear pressure gauge, a really solid die-cast base and cork handles. The head is a flip lever one, with two push-fit ports for Schrader and Presta valves. The head is all made of plastic, but it's a solid, weighty affair that looks like it should last a long time.
If you've made the switch to tubeless road tyres and you're looking for a new track pump then the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger should be on your shorltist. It's a good pump (admittedly with one drawback) but its ability to charge up and deliver a compressor-like stream of air to seat tubeless tyres is a really neat trick and one that it performs admirably, every time so far.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.