Two Floor Pumps and Two Gauges Tested
As you get more serious about performing well on your bike, tire pressure becomes increasingly vital. Whether you are trying to max out traction because everything is shiny and green, or you're bashing through rock gardens and you want the highest pressure your body can take, the squeeze test just won't cut it. Wider volume tires make pressure trickier as well; they feel awful when they are too hard but can wash in corners if you go too low. Inserts change this equation and I've been swapping tires and trying different inserts and combos so much in the last month that pumps and gauges have been working hard.
Over the winter my game has been all about traction, and I've been experimenting to see how low I can drop pressure without sacrificing handling precision, on many different rubber and insert combos. I've spent a lot of time in the teens, and going even 1 PSI too low can mess things up, so getting pressure dialled in has become mission critical, and this attention has helped my riding and my confidence.
Topeak Smart Gauge D2
After finding the Meiser Accu-Gage analog gauge, I figured a digital gauge would never measure up. The Meiser gets a good reading every time without little inadvertent pressure bleed going on or coming off, it operates without batteries and it has an effective bleed valve. The problem with Bourdon tube gauges is that they are fragile. If you drop it even once, they become inaccurate. Fortunately you can pull it apart and reset things so that the needle bottoms out at 0 psi, and I've had to do just that. You can't just toss it into your toolbox or gear bag the way you can with a digital gauge, but otherwise it's pretty sweet.
This made my expectations low for the Smart Gauge D2 but I was soon swayed by it's fine qualities. It has a valve that swaps between Schrader and presta with a simple slider, and the valve was the first element that impressed me. You don't need to wiggle it on before you get a reading or yank to get it to release. Firm pressure applied swiftly allows a reading with almost no air loss. There is no resistance at first and the valve seems to squeeze the presta head efficiently. When you release, the D2 comes off without any effort and with even less air loss. The bleed valve effectively dumps pressure and can be easily used one-handed.
The gauge head rotates 180º making it possible to get a reading regardless of where your wheel has stopped. The gauge seems to be very accurate, based on cross-referencing with other known gauges, and the reading repeatability is excellent. Getting a reading with one hand is possible, but bracing one hand above the tire makes life easier. It's nice and light, feels great in your hand, and it sounds a reassuring beep when the reading is ready. I haven't yet had to change batteries after several month's use and it's actually a pleasure checking pressure with the Smartgauge. This is a fantastic product. Topeak even sells a rebuild kit for parts that wear over time.
Topeak Shuttle Gauge
When I first heard about this product, I thought it was a great idea. Until recently I haven't had a floor pump that is readable at mountain bike pressures without binoculars or even one that gave a useful pressure ready. They are generally awful. The idea of the Shuttle Gauge is to put an accurate digital gauge on the head of your floor pump. Sounds like a great idea. The Shuttle easily attaches and locks into place on pumps I tried it on. The tricky bit comes when it's time to get a reading. The added bulk makes the process quite frustrating. The pump head and the rather large and unwieldy shuttle combine to fill up all the space in the parallel spoke gap where your presta valve resides.
Once you've navigated that, it gets a pretty good reading, but without the excellent valve head of the Smart Gauge D2. And because the head doubles as the pump head, it needs to lock into place, so there are two levers to deal with. Initially I was trying to use the gauge already clamped into the pump head, but I realized it's less awkward when you attach the Shuttle Gauge first and then engage the pump head.
If you think this sounds like more work than it's worse, I would agree with you. The Shuttle Gauge costs 64.95 USD, or a full 30 USD more than the Smartgauge.
I find it less hassle using a floor pump and a standalone gauge. I put in a little too much pressure with the floor pump and then bleed a little air using the gauge and I'm done. Save yourself some cash and give this one a miss.
Topeak Joe Blow Mountain X
This is a simple and effective high volume pump that is pressure limited to 40% of your body weight. Actually Topeak says the limit is 60 psi.. The large 44mm barrel pushes so much air that getting above 50 PSI is very hard work indeed. Give this a miss if there are road bikes in your life. Where that volume shines is inflating plump tires in a hurry or seating a tubeless tire, which I've done effectively with the Mountain X.
The business end is a simple twin header so you don't need to swap parts to go from presta to Schrader. The base is sturdy and the large gauge, although mounted low, can be easily read. There's also a dial to move as a reference for your ideal pressure. Even more shocking is that my use of the shuttle gauge showed the analog gauge to be highly accurate. In fact all the way up to 35 PSI the digital reading and the dial on the pump were identical.
This is not a full featured pump, which explains the low mounted gauge as well as the hose that is somewhat short, making pumping up your tires in the work stand difficult. It doesn't seem that corners with cut with function or durability however and for 50 USD this a sturdy and well-made piece of equipment and a solid value.
Topeak Joe Blow Pro Digital Floor Pump
This is the macdaddy of Topeak's single chamber pumps. If the Mountain X is Pavorotti, the Pro Digital is Peewee Herman. Actually it pushes enough volume to avoid any frustration on my part. A highlight is the excellent and versatile SmartHead DX3. I would have called it the DX1000 personally, but the first part of the name is at least accurate. Just push the head onto whatever valve you are dealing with, and it will adjust accordingly.* It seals well after the lever is applied and, like the Smart Gauge, little air is lost during engagement or removal.
*You'll need the included adapter for Dunlop valves
The hose is both long and mounted high, meaning no work stand could thwart it. The easy to read digital gauge is also mounted high and can be switched between PSI, Bar and some metric units used only in French laboratories. It seems to push a little less than half the volume of the Mountain X (337 cc vs. 722), meaning instead of 10 strokes to inflate a tire from zero, it will take you 24 or so. There is a bleed valve that makes it simple to nail 30 psi in your minions (don't care about your opinions), a deal density handle that is flat on top and comfortable in my hands.
If I could design my very own Topeak floor pump it would be a combo of these two pumps. The Twin Turbo is almost that pump; it has two stage pumping capability (so you can switch between high volume and high pressure settings), and the smart head, but lacks the digital gauge. Actually I'd be fine without a digital reading if the gauge on the Mountain X remains accurate over the long haul. That way you couldn't run out of batteries in a remote campsite on the morning of a ride you've been waiting for all year.
Conversely, putting a long hose and the smart head on the Mountain X would make it an excellent choice for those of us who eschew skinny tires. Luckily Topeak sells a kit with a 38" hose and a smart head for 28 USD.
The Joe Blow Pro Digital is priced at 125 USD.
For more on these products, hit up Topeak.com