Blackburn AirStik SL Pump
Mini-pumps. Not a fan. The idea of replacing a highly-evolved, highly-effective component — the frame-fit pump — with one that has a questionable design and seems to have trouble doing the job it's designed to do strikes us as pretty stupid. Good thing frame designers have done mini-pump makers a favor by building frames where it's hard to fit a pump underneath the top tube. A real boon and a good reason for mini-pump designs to evolve quickly. Just about everyone "needs" them now.
This isn't to write that we haven't tried mini-pumps in the past. We've had several. The first was a big, twin-barreled pump from Topeak (too big), then a tiny pump marketed by Torelli (too small) after that, followed by a Crankbrothers model (too wide for putting on your bike), finishing up with the SKS Sub 40. The Sub 40 is indeed light, ours weighed in at 39g, but resembles a joke about the maligned Trabant automobile produced in East Germany. The punchline of the joke is that the American who bought it thinks he's been sent a working model; who'd think a real car would have cardboard body panels (in fairness, it was Duroplast, which could have cotton and paper fibers in it). The pump while light, barely works. Even the SKS people told us it was only for emergencies. We also have CO2 inflators, but having only a few shots is fine for a race, not for shredding a tire on the far side of nowhere with the winter sun setting.
As we wrote, the Blackburn Air Stik SL was the rare mini-pump that impressed us the moment we saw it. When you have the pump in your hands the biggest difference between it and the pack is how tight the tolerances are between the aluminum barrel and aluminum shaft. It actually feels as well made as a full-size pump. It feels reliable and sturdy. The rubber cap that goes over the Presta-only pump head seems to prove that the pump works; if you extend the shaft with the cap on and try to push the shaft back in to the barrel, you'll have a tough time.
It also is a good size. 15.7cm long by 1.9cm in diameter. It fits very nicely in our hand as well as snugly on the included bracket. The weight is 59g (advertised weight is 58g), the plastic bracket is 13g and the two extra-long bottle-mount screws tip the scales at 3g apiece (6g for both). Bolting it to our seat-tube-mounted bottle mounts did not require the extra-long screws; the Arundel screws were long enough and the Arundel Mandible cage thin enough. Though, with the extra clearance the bracket afforded, we moved our cage a bit lower.
The problem with testing a mini-pump is that you want to try it in the field, not in the comfort of your home or workshop. You've got all day to pump up a tire, and usually a comfy chair to while away the time. Blackburn reports that the max pressure is 160psi (aka 11 bar) but our arms are probably not capable of getting there.
We rode with the pump for a month. No flats. Almost an argument for the mini-pump. But the week before, we shredded a tire and the replacement tube we were carrying had a small leak. Our full-size frame-fit pump was no problem getting up to safe riding pressure several times
We practiced with the pump at home. The pump head doesn't have a valve lock on it, but the washer inside the head can be adjusted via the dial cover. Clockwise to make the space for the valve smaller, counter-clockwise to make it larger. When we first used the pump, the washer was so tight; we ripped the valve from the tire. Next time, we opened up the washer a bit and the pump head engaged and disengaged easily. Those who fear ripping a valve can loosen up the washer much further before engaging the valve, tighten when on the valve, and loosen before removing.
In terms of pumping, the small diameter shaft and short stroke should make pumping relatively easy, even for those with weak pipes. Just like taking short steps, the pump strokes can be easy; you just need lots. Playing with the pump, we found that our arm got a bit tired before we got the tire to what seemed to be an acceptable riding pressure. Going further we could get decent pressure, good enough for riding confidently and safely home.
We decided to quantify the action. We started with a flat tube inside a 700x23 Michelin Lithion tire. We did 100 strokes in 35 seconds. The tire was still a bit soft for riding. We then did another 100 strokes. The second hundred took a minute, as resistance increased. After 200 strokes, the tire felt firm enough for riding. While we couldn't locate our air-pressure gauge, we put our floor pump to the task. The pressure is probably under 80 psi, but still felt good enough to ride. Tried the same protocol with a Vittoria Open Corsa Evo-CX 700x23 and the result was about the same.
The pump is certainly the best of the many mini's we've tried. Light, small, reasonably easy to use, and we're able to get the tire up to acceptable pressure for riding. It's staying with us. That noted, we're sticking with our Blackburn frame-fit pump as long as it fits on our bikes. The Air Stik will be for the days when we're doing unsupported races with lots of climbing or need a small repair kit in our backpack.
There is something so PRO about the full-size pump as well. It's recognition that we're taking our riding seriously. That we expect to be out on a long ride with no assistance other than what we brought with us. There are those aesthetes who want their bike to look as pristine as the steeds that are ridden in the Tour, but these people fail to recognize that most professional riders have worked out ways to strap on their big pumps for daily training.
Considering how far we've come with carbon-fiber technology and custom fabrication, it's past time that somebody with skills figured out a way to custom-build frame-fit pumps that nestle perfectly under the top tube of monocoque carbon-fiber frames. They've got a standard pump head that they can build out to fit under the seat tube/top tube juncture and can custom-mold handles to fit both the user's hand an the top/head/down tube juncture, and between the two can run a painted-to-match aluminum or carbon-fiber barrel with an aluminum shaft.
Still not a fan of mini-pumps. But definitely warming until our dream pump is realized and made to fit our dream bike.