A flat tire in the middle of a bike rides sucks, but it’s a whole other level of suckiness if you don’t have what you need to fix it. Here are my recommendations for the best bike mini pump to get you rolling again after you hear that dreaded hiss.
In Defense of Mini Pumps
As a long-time cyclist and “weight weenie,” I know there’s a certain nerd factor associated with loading your bike up with too many gadgets, but I still think having a mini pump is well worth it. They’ve fallen out of favor since CO2 arrived on the scene, and I’m not promoting mini pumps over CO2 inflators because I love them too. There’s nothing more convenient when you get a flat tire on a road ride and want to fix it as fast as you can to get back to the group you’re riding with.
CO2 is also more likely to give you the big blast of pressure that you need to get a tubeless tire seated—although not always. Be aware that most manufacturers warn that CO2 can cause tire sealant to solidify and make it less effective, so replace the CO2 with air and add more sealant when you get home.
There are a few reasons why I carry CO2 and have a mini pump as a backup. Sometimes when you get a flat tire, the cause is apparent—say a nail or piece of glass sticking out from the tire casing. Other times it can be a slow leak with a mysterious origin. It’s crucial to find the cause because a tiny piece of glass or a minuscule wire embedded in your tire can quickly put a hole in your replacement tube, putting you back where you started. A mini pump lets you inflate your bad tube and look for the hole without using one of your CO2 cartridges.
Also, when replacing a bike tube, it helps to put just enough air in the new one to give it shape before inserting it into the tire. When you do that, you have less of a chance of the tube getting under the bead of the tire and being pinched by a tire lever or blowing the tire off the rim once inflated. A mini pump is useful for that little bit of inflation and lets you use the full charge of your CO2 cartridge for getting max pressure into the tire once it’s mounted.
Lastly, a mini pump means you always have air as a backup to CO2. I was on a ride recently with a guy on tubeless tires when one went flat. He went through both of his CO2 cartridges before he realized his sealant had dried up. If I hadn’t had a pump to loan him to put his spare tube in, he wouldn’t have gotten home. I’ve had something similar happen to me when my spare tube was old and rotted from sitting in my saddle bag unused for too long. It was only the fact that I carry a pump and an inner tube patch kit that finally got me rolling again after much swearing and time lost.
A Little Goes a Long Way in CO2 Inflators
You can see why CO2 inflators are so popular. Not only are they super-convenient, but they fit easily in even the smallest saddle bag or jersey pocket. I prefer minimalist designs like this one from Feckless Industries that use threaded 16-gram cartridges over ones that encase the cartridge, as they’re very simple to use and take up less space.
Feckless Industries Minimalist Bike CO2 Pump with Adjustable Flow
The Feckless Industries Minimalist Bike CO2 Pump is for Presta valves only and will work with any size threaded CO2 cartridge. You control gas flow by simply twisting the cartridge.
Something relatively new on the market for tubeless tires is plug kits, similar to what’s used on auto tires. Lezyne even makes a CO2 plug kit combo it calls the Blaster. I’ve yet to punch a hole in an MTB tire big enough to need plugging, but I hear the thorns are bigger out west.
LEZYNE TUBELESS CO2 Blaster
The LEZYNE Tubeless CO2 Blaster is a combo for plugging large holes in tubeless MTB tires before filling them from a threaded CO2 cartridge.
How to Pick a Bike Mini Pump
So, what should you consider when choosing a bike mini pump? Here are a few things that I think are important:
- The kind of riding do you do: For road riding, being able to pump up a tire to high pressure will be critical, whereas for mountain biking it’s not the pressure so much as the volume the pump puts out to fill up big fat tires without working yourself to death.
- Valve type: Do you have Schrader valves on your tires (like a car) or the narrower Presta valves common to higher-end bicycles? Some pumps will do both, but watch out for Presta-only models if you’ve got Schrader valves.
- Where to carry it: Are you going to mount the pump on your bike or throw it in a backpack? Some mountain biking backpacks are quite small, so do some measuring to guarantee the pump is short enough that it’ll fit in your bag. If you’re going to mount the pump on your bike, make sure you’ve got the right mounts on your frame and that the pump won’t be too large for the space you’re allocating for it.
The pump you pick needs to work well for whatever scenarios you plan to use it in.
The Best Bike Mini Pumps
Personally, two things matter most to me in a mini pump: weight and an external hose. Weight matters because—frankly—I need all the help I can get, and I like external hoses because it takes away the potential for side pressure on the valve stem when you’re pumping. I’ve seen people snap valves off with some pumps because they couldn’t keep them from putting lateral force on the stem. Other things are going to be more important to other people.
Best Road Bike Mini Pump: Lezyne Road Drive
I have the more expensive carbon version of this mini pump on my road bike, and I’ve had great experiences with Lezyne pumps in general for both road and MTB use. They’re lightweight, very well made, and feature the external hose that I prefer. The Lezyne Road Drive will work with either Presta or Shrader valves and comes with a clip to mount it next to your water bottle cage. The clip works well, and I’ve never had one come loose or rattle. There’s even a little air bleed button on the side of the hose to get the pressure just right.
Lezyne claims this pump will handle up to 160psi, but like all mini pumps, you’re going to get a workout if you want to fully top off a high-pressure road tire—which, again, is why I carry CO2 as well.
The Road Drive comes in either black or silver and lengths of small (180mm), medium (216mm), and large (283mm). The longer the pump you choose, the more air it puts out, but then it’s heavier too.
The rubber caps at each end keep out dirt, and I’ve found they stay securely in place when the pump is not in use.
LEZYNE Road Drive Compact Hand Pump for Road and Mountain Biking, Medium - Black
The lightweight and well-made Lezyne Road Drive bike mini pump sits snugly next to your water bottle out of the way until you need it. It comes in two colors and three sizes.
Best Mountain Bike Mini Pump: Pro Bike Tool
If you see some similarities between the Pro Bike Tool Mini Bike Pump and the Lezyne I recommended above, there’s a reason. This is a proven design that works.
The Pro Bike Tool pump also works with Presta and Shrader valves and will go up to 100psi. Pro Bike says its design will get you back on the trail faster with 30 percent fewer strokes than conventional mini pumps—which is important for higher-volume mountain bike tires.
This pump is only 7.3 inches long and weighs 3.6oz. Like the Lezyne, it clips next to a water bottle and has a rubber strap to hold it securely, so it’s not rattling around on rough trails. As a bonus, you can choose red over black or silver if that’s your thing.
PRO BIKE TOOL Mini Bike Pump Fits Presta and Schrader - High Pressure PSI - Reliable, Compact & Light - Bicycle Tire Pump for Road, Mountain and BMX
The Pro Bike Tool Mini Bike Pump comes in red, black, or silver and is just 7.3 inches long and 3.6oz. It'll put 100psi into Presta or Schrader valves.
How to Make Yourself Ready for Just About Anything
So, whether you’re on tubed or tubeless tires, here’s what I think you should have with you on rides.
- CO2 inflator
- 2 CO2 cartridges
- Mini pump
- Spare tube
- Patch kit
- Tire boot material
- Tire levers (optional)
All of the above sounds like a lot, but I can cram everything but the pump into the smallest saddle bag along with a couple of Allen wrenches. It’s important not to let tools rub against your spare tube because they’ll abraid a hole in it in no time as the bag vibrates under your saddle.
What is tire boot material, you ask? Say you run over a piece of glass that cuts your tire so severely that the replacement inner tube can push through the hole and blow out. Your tire is now shot, but you still need to get home. Some riders use folded money to put between the tube and the inside of the tire. I carry bits of material cut from the casings of old sew-up tires, but Park Tool also sells an inexpensive Emergency Boot Pack that does a great job.
Park Tool TB-2 Emergency Tire Boot (Pack of 3)
The Park Tool Emergency Boot Pack is super-strong and features a pressure-sensitive adhesive to make sure the boot stays in place in any tire, road or mountain, high or low pressure.
I put tire levers as optional because you don’t need them to get the tire off with some rim/tire combinations, while others can be a real bear. Do a test run with your tires to find out and decide if you need to carry levers. One other thing to note about patch kits, always replace them after using the rubber cement once because it’ll dry up before the next time you need it—even with the cap screwed down tight.
Yes, carrying a mini pump in addition to a spare tube and CO2 may seem like overkill, but take it from someone who’s had to sit shivering in sweaty bike clothes on the side of the road for over an hour while someone came to pick him up, you can never be too prepared.