Review: The best bicycle tyre inflators to use with an air compressor
Review: The best bicycle tyre inflators to use with an air compressor
If you’ve landed on this article then you probably have an air compressor already (or are at least considering one) and you’re looking for a dedicated bicycle tyre inflator to suit it.
Don’t have an air compressor? Check out our guide to air compressors for bicycle use.
When it comes to inflating tyres with an air compressor there are plenty of options. This article covers DIY options and dedicated bicycle-specific inflators across a broad price range. All the inflators covered below will work with any air compressor – it’s just a matter of fitting the appropriate couplers (covered in the guide to air compressors).
There’s plenty of useful information in this article, but if you simply want to know the best bicycle inflator with a gauge, it’s the most expensive tested: the EVT 3-in-1 inflator.
Meanwhile, EVT’s Presta-Only inflator, which lacks a gauge, is easily the best thing money can buy if you want unhindered air into your Presta valves and little more. The best budget inflator is the PrestaCycle Mini (also no gauge).
Those wanting something that’s equally great for cars and a family of bicycles (where Schrader valves are likely found) should consider the PrestaCycle Pro or a high-quality car inflator and use a thread-in Presta adapter (Arundel’s Woodsman valve has proven a good-value option).
Introduction to bicycle-specific tyre inflators
I’ve got some 15 years of hands-on experience with air compressors and over the past year of lockdowns I’ve intentionally tested some of the more common and popular tyre inflators with the goal of finding the best. In a broad sense, there are no awful choices here – they’ll all get air into a bicycle tyre. Similarly, there are also no perfect options, and even the best on the market still offers room for improvement.
That said, there certainly are differences to be aware of and common themes in the ones I’d choose to own for home use or put into operation within a professional workshop. Notably, I’ve taken a liking to inflators that offer a 90º angle of approach to the valve and a design that allows one-handed operation – this leaves a hand spare to hold the wheel or pinch and pull the tyre as needed (in the case of tubeless).
Following the last point, the best inflators offer a simple friction fit with the valve (and can be used with or without the valve core in place). A valve head that needs to be locked or threaded in place is at best more of a fiddle and slower to use.
It’s also worth noting that there are big differences in the available airflow rate (volume of air at a given pressure) which will impact how easily stubborn tubeless tyres seat. And gauge accuracy should be considered for those looking to inflate and ride (as opposed to then using a separate gauge to dial in pressures).
DIY vs bought Presta tyre inflators
Walk into any automotive or hardware store and you’ll likely find a number of tyre inflators. What you won’t likely find is a tyre inflator intended for direct fit with bicycle-specific Presta valves.
There are a number of ways to tackle this, and the best option will depend on your frugality, frequency of use, and whether you want/need a gauge (and how important the accuracy is). You’ll also want to consider whether you’ll need to inflate Presta valves, Schrader valves (including your car), or both. Also, if you often find yourself working on fussy tubeless combinations then an important element will be airflow efficiency – not all inflators are equal in this regard.
Generally speaking, the DIY options will be best for those on a tight budget or who perhaps only see themselves needing the compressor in rare circumstances. Meanwhile, a few cycling-specific production options tend to consider bicycle-specific usage and therefore offer one-handed use and speed.
At the very cheapest end of the scale is using a brass Presta to Schrader adapter that’s threaded onto the valve and then used with any automotive (Schrader) inflator. This is slow going and will also limit your ability to burst air into a tubeless tyre with the valve core removed. Pass.
Next is finding yourself a Presta valve head that simply screws into an automotive inflator. Silca, Arundel, and PrestaCycle have examples of these, and they all work as expected. For speed of use, I like the “push on” (friction fit) type heads versus those that thread or lock onto the valve. These are actually a perfectly fine option if you own an automotive-style tyre inflator.
If you don’t want a pressure gauge, then you have two paths. Firstly you can use an automotive-style mini inflator. PrestaCycle and Efficient Velo Tools (EVT) offer such tools ready to go with a Presta head, and these may inspire homemade versions, too. Alternatively, you can use the hose and head of a track pump on the end of a blowgun (secured by a hose clamp, although such clamps aren’t intended for high pressure and so use at your own risk). This works quite well but, of course, lacks a pressure gauge.
There are DIY options with a gauge, too. Here you’d use an automotive tyre inflator and either use the above-mentioned screw-in Presta head or replace the hose entirely with one from a floor pump (pictured in the sliding gallery above). For well over a decade I used this option without knowing what I was missing, but a couple of years ago I moved to a premium bicycle-specific inflator and I wish I’d done so sooner.
This leads me onto a few dedicated options that are undeniably the fastest and most efficient way to get a burst of air through a Presta (and in some cases Schrader) valve. For comparison, I’ve also included a few DIY options. How they were all tested is covered at the bottom of this article.
The best bicycle-specific inflators with pressure gauges
Made in the USA, EVT specialises in high-end workshop tools with an old-world feel that are built to last. Premium tyre inflators and gauges make up a large part of the company’s tool range. Don’t let the industrial design fool you – this thing is highly functional.
EVT’s 3-in-1 inflator offers both Presta and Schrader valve inflation. The Presta head is made in-house by EVT and is simply the nicest inflator/pump head I’ve ever used (and I’ve used most). It’s the real star of the show here and is simply *chef’s kiss*. Sadly EVT only offers its custom-moulded polyurethane seal heads with its gauges and inflators – they’re not available separately.
The otherwise simple design provides a serious burst of air for seating tubeless, equal to the Prestacycle Pro and a noticeable step above both the Park Tool and Arundel.
The gauge is small which can make it tricky to read an exact pressure, but it is dead-on accurate. Meanwhile, the trigger offers finite control.
It all just works brilliantly. Even the Schrader adapter head that holds the Presta head in place is the nicest I’ve ever used. However, do keep in mind this tool was built for use in a professional bicycle workshop and so, like the Park Tool inflator, the Schrader head struggles to reach concealed valves on some car wheels.
This inflator is exceptional, but there’s no ignoring what’s an extremely high asking price for something that looks like it was cobbled together with a handful of high-quality fittings (all made in the USA). That pill is even tougher to swallow when you consider the tool lacks a bleed valve and that the gauge is unprotected in the event of accidental drops. All of that aside, this is my favourite inflator to use.
Highs: One-handed operation, custom Presta valve head is simply flawless, wonderful to use, great airflow, entirely rebuildable with (mostly) industry standard parts, built to last.
Lows: No protection from accidental drops, small gauge, no bleed valve, price, BYO hose fitting.
Price: US$169 / AU$299
Park Tool INF-2 Shop Inflator
A staple in many bike shops around the world, Park Tool’s INF-2 inflator offers a swivel push-on head design that makes quick work with either Presta or Schrader valves.
The well-protected gauge (0-160 psi) is large and well placed for easy viewing, and my sample was impressively on-point for accuracy. The release trigger behind it is comfortable to squeeze for inflation, and there’s a large bleed button in case you add too much air.
The unique ergonomics and the general feel in hand are fantastic and best on test. I really like that there are multiple ways you can hang this tool up, and the blue colouring makes it hard to miss. And importantly, it offers decent airflow for tubeless seating, although it’s more restricted than what EVT and PrestaCycle achieve.
It’s worth noting that this inflator was the only one tested to use 3/8″ BSP fittings and not the more common and smaller 1/4″ size. This isn’t such an issue, but I’ve certainly found 1/4″ parts easier to source.
There’s a lot to like here but unfortunately it’s let down by the fit and sealing at the valve seals. The proprietary seal heads are soft and fast-wearing, and don’t always form a secure seal with Presta valves. Thankfully these seals are cheap and easy to replace, but the EVT (and to a lesser extent the Arundel) inflators prove that things can be better.
Highs: Easy to use, one-handed operation, impressive unique design, accurate and large gauge, made to take a beating, rebuildable.
Lows: Inconsistent sealing with Presta valves, head design won’t work on many car tyres, average airflow.
Price: US$135 / AU$290
PrestaCycle Prestaflator Pro Digital
PrestaCycle was perhaps the first company to sell a cycling-specific inflator for bicycle use. Now over a decade later and the company’s range is full of gauge-equipped inflators ranging from US$40 to US$80. The company provided its top-tier Pro Digital inflator for testing.
There’s no ignoring that this inflator shares the same form factor as countless commonly available automotive inflators, but it is worth noting that this one was built with far higher working pressures in mind. As a result, there are more metal components, the hose is reinforced, and overall the build quality feels higher than the cheaper hardware-store-bought inflators I’ve used over the years.
It’s also worth noting that PrestaCycle offers a huge range of replacement and service parts for its inflators – something that you don’t often get with more generic options.
The burst of air for seating tubeless is great; in fact it’s on par with the EVT 3-in-1 as the equal best gauge-equipped inflator and it’s measurably better than the generic automotive inflators that share the same form factor as this.
The digital gauge is spot-on accurate, and being backlit means it’s easy to read in a dimly lit garage. And the inflator comes with a small handful of interchangeable heads for both Presta and Schrader use (the latter also have the clearance to fit with car wheels).
PrestaCycle recently moved to a harder rubber gasket in its inflator heads for improved durability, but it’s this feature that also caused me dramas. That material is less malleable to easily slip over valves and I found it somewhat fussy to form a perfect seal. That increased durability comes at a cost – this inflator is more of a two-handed operation than a quick push-and-go thing.
A saving grace is that the threaded collar affixed to the hose is a threaded Schrader variant, and so swapping in a different-brand Presta head is an option if the stock valve heads prove problematic.
PrestaCycle also offers a number of lower-cost inflators with a similar form factor but with simpler analogue gauges. The general highs and lows are likely applicable to those, too.
Highs: Modular valve head design, sturdy build, great airflow, good backlit gauge, easy spare parts sourcing, also works on car wheels.
Lows: Hard valve head gasket makes for inconsistent sealing, two-handed operation.
Price: US$80 / AU$140
Arundel Shop Inflator
Previously reviewed on CyclingTips, Arundel’s Shop Inflator is Presta-only and aims to be a shop-quality option without breaking the bank.
There’s a lot to like here. Arundel uses a stepped gasket for the Presta head that slips onto valves easily, seals reliably, and pulls off without fuss. The ergonomics are decent, and the large gauge is easy to read.
However, there are a few big compromises here. Firstly the measured airflow on this was the worst tested and so it’s not the best option if you’re trying to overcome problematic tubeless fitments. Secondly, the 90º metal tube that holds the pump head can unwind itself. And lastly, the gauge on my sample reads slightly low (77 psi shown at an actual 80 psi).
Despite such issues, I still quite liked using this inflator as that valve head is a good one and allows for easy one-handed inflating. This inflator really is proof that the valve head typically makes or breaks such a tool.
Note: The pump head used on this tool (the Woodsman) is also sold separately to be a direct fit with a Schrader head. Arundel also recently added a hose-based Schrader inflator to its range which may be worth considering if you want to fill both car and bicycle tyres (Presta adapter needed) – however, this option will require two hands for operation.
Highs: Great push-on valve design, one-handed operation, large gauge, simple design can take a knock, well priced.
Lows: Surprisingly poor airflow, the 90º tube can unwind, gauge accuracy.
Automotive tyre inflators with gauge (require Presta adaptors or similar)
Wurth Digital tyre inflator
Here’s a professional-level automotive inflator, perhaps the type you’d find at fancy petrol stations. While branded Wurth, it’s also commonly sold under various industry brand names and offers a well-protected digital gauge and a long hose that swivels.
The quality offered here is great, and you can either simply add a Presta adapter or more permanently affix a floor pump hose to it.
However much like the cheaper Ozito/generic digital inflator discussed below, this one also lacks unimpeded airflow. In fact, it offered the second-worst burst of air on test (behind the Arundel) and for that, it’s not the best choice for tubeless inflation needs.
Highs: Quality build, accurate digital gauge, long-reach hose has its perks, great for car tyres.
Lows: Requires a Presta adaptor or similar, two-handed operation, cumbersome to store, poor airflow.
Price: Approx US$150 / AU$200
Ozito Digital tyre inflator
In Australia we have a monopoly hardware chain called Bunnings – Ozito is one of its house tool brands.
Ozito’s digital inflator is the same generic item sold by countless sellers online and by other brands around the world. It’s extremely similar in form factor to the tested Presta Cycle Digital but there are some obvious differences.
Firstly, the Schrader valve head isn’t all that positive in its seal, while the air bleed button and trigger don’t inspire as much confidence as the PrestaCycle tool. And the burst of air offered is measurably less than the PrestaCycle, too (however it still edges out the Arundel Shop Inflator which firmly holds the wooden spoon).
Still, overall, the inflator does the job. The back-lit gauge of my sample was within 2% accuracy. And while the valve head isn’t great, it’s relatively easy to do a DIY conversion on. If you’re willing to adapt a floor pump hose to fit and want a digital gauge, then something like this will do the job.
Highs: Accurate gauge, cheap.
Lows: Requires a Presta adaptor or hose modification, two-handed operation, poor airflow, low-quality Schrader valve head.
Price: Approx US$30 / AU$40
The best bicycle-specific inflators without a pressure gauge
Gauges are great for dialling in your pressures, but sometimes you just want unhindered airflow and care-free durability in a workshop environment (inflators often find themselves on the ground). For this, a simple inflator without a gauge is hard to beat.
Below are two very differently priced bicycle-specific Presta inflators.
EVT Presta-Only inflator
OK, so EVT’s Presta-Only inflator is extremely expensive given it doesn’t have a gauge. It’s even more expensive given it’s Presta-only. And then there’s the fact that some of the tool is simply made with off-the-shelf USA-made parts.
But holy … I actually truly love this thing. EVT’s push-on Presta head is the absolute benchmark in the industry – I’d like to think I’ve tried most of the options out there and nothing comes close to this in a balance of easy-on-easy-off while still holding a perfect seal. Bravo.
Then there’s the airflow offered by the simple direct-path design. If you can’t seat a tubeless tyre with this, then you can’t blame the inflator.
And finally, it’s built to take a beating. Fill it with sealant. Chuck it on the floor. Step on it. It’ll survive. Yep, there’s no gauge, yep it’s expensive, and yep, it’s awesome.
Highs: One-handed design, benchmark valve head design, built to outlast cockroaches, unbeatable airflow.
Lows: Presta-only (but that’s also part of the charm), not for those that want a gauge, ultra price for such a simple product, BYO hose fitting.
Price: US$83 / AU$145
PrestaCycle Prestaflator Mini
Want to spend under US$40, don’t need a gauge, and want an undeniable blast of air? Well, the PrestaCycle Prestaflator Mini is tough to beat.
With no hose or gauge to slow the flow of air this simple tool is on equal footing with the EVT Presta-Only inflator in terms of tubeless bead popping.
However, at less than half the price of the EVT, there are limitations. I found the ergonomics uncomfortably pointy when locking it into a quick connector. And that “more durable” seal head suffers the same issues as the company’s Digital Pro inflator due to its hard material. Finally, most of the tool is built to withstand abuse except for the fragile-feeling valve head collar.
Overall this thing is good for the money, but those looking for a professional equivalent should spend the extra on the EVT. Alternatively, it is possible to make your own (albeit more cumbersome) version of this and PrestaCycle sell a range of Presta heads to make that work.
Highs: One-handed design, benchmark air-flow.
Lows: Presta-only (but that’s also part of the charm), valve head can cause an inconsistent seal, not for those that want a gauge, not entirely bombproof.
Price: US$37 / AU$60
How they were tested
Almost all tested inflators were in the workshop for well over six months. Ease of use, comfort in the hand, care-free ownership, and durability were all key elements sought during the test period.
Over the past couple of years I’d also received feedback from many industry mechanics about what they do and don’t like about popular market options. Positives and negatives mentioned by others were put to test.
Ease of use is obviously subjective, but an inflator that pushes on with one hand and holds a reliable seal with the valve is undeniably easier to use than an inflator that requires two hands and doesn’t always seal.
Gauge accuracy was verified with a custom inline Kappius digital gauge. It’s the same gauge used in previous pump tests such as the best mini pumps (which still makes me wince in pain at the sight of small pumps).
Airflow was tested in two ways. The first was based on perceived flow during use – some of the inflators truly snap a tyre bead into place or can be used to blow your floors clean. By contrast, others feel like they’re trying to blow through a straw. This was verified with a digital anemometer (a tool that measures wind speed) in conjunction with a fixed length of pipe to control the channel and placement distance. The measured test may not be an exact science, but the results directly correlated with my subjective feelings of each inflator’s efficiency.
Note: the photos show various different couplings fitted to the tested inflators. Wherever possible these were standardised for airflow testing.
That’s a wrap on this shootout. Let me know in the comments what you’ve had good experiences with. For more general information, including how to connect an inflator to your compressor, be sure to check out our guide to air compressors. And for those wanting tubeless tips and tricks then check out our Endless FAQ.Read More