Mini pumps are lightweight and take up little space but they vary hugely in quality and usability. Some work almost as well as frame pumps while others are, let's be honest, pretty lousy.
Bear in mind that when you need to use a mini pump out on the road, nine times out of 10 you're already teetering on the edge of a bad mood. You've just had a puncture, you've had to take your wheel off and check for a thorn in your tyre, and if it's winter you're probably also getting cold.
What you need in this situation is a pump that'll get you back on the road quickly. What you definitely don't need is something that looks and performs like it fell out of a Christmas cracker.
You might be tempted to go for the smallest and lightest mini pump you can find on the basis that it'll be the easiest to carry around. After all, you won't use a mini pump on the vast majority of rides, right? That thinking is faultless right up to the point that you actually get a flat.
Some mini pumps are so small that you'll spend an age trying to inflate your tyre enough to ride home never mind getting up to recommended pressure, and many are simply flimsy and don't last long.
Something else to beware of is that with a head that's integrated into the main body of the pump (as opposed to at the end of a hose) you can put a lot of pressure on the valve as you inflate. It's quite easy to damage a slim Presta valve as you pump – and perhaps even snap it – if you aren't able to hold the barrel steady.
The barrel is often made from some form of plastic although aluminium alloy is also used. The Pro Bike Tool Mini Bike Pump that we reviewed has an alloy construction, for example. You'll occasionally see a pump with a carbon-fibre barrel, such as Lezyne's Carbon Road Drive.
A pump with a short barrel might be lighter and easier to carry than a longer one, but the volume of air pumped per stroke will be lower so it's a question of balancing your priorities.
Most mini pump handles are plastic but aluminium alloy and – very occasionally – carbon-fibre are also used. Some pumps have a handle that pivots outwards to form a T shape in order to spread the pressure more evenly across your palm.
Most mini pump pistons are made from aluminium but they're not all equally strong. Check the piston is robust enough that it won't buckle when you're pushing hard to get high air pressure in your tyre. Some pumps, such as the Topeak Roadie DAX, deliver air on the pull stroke as well as the push for quicker inflation.
Some mini pumps have a hose but most don't – the head is positioned directly on the end of the barrel instead. A hose usually has a head that screws on to a valve whereas other mini pumps are pushed on and normally have a thumb lock lever to keep them in place.
A hose can make pumping up an inner tube easier and helps avoid damage to the valve stem, but it also adds complexity to the design, along with a slight increase in weight and price.
A few mini pumps have a pressure gauge – some markedly better than others. Reviewer Shaun Audane was surprised by the accuracy of the gauge on the Topeak Roadie DA that he tested (also available without a gauge). A gauge can be handy, especially if you're touring, say, and you're not going to have access to a floor pump between rides, but it would still be quite a long way down our list of important features.
Many pumps fit both Presta (road bike-style) and Schrader (car-type) valves.
Some have a twin head with different ports for each, but swappable heads are more common, where you unscrew a cap and turn over an internal adaptor. You'll occasionally come across a pump with a smart head that pushes on to either type of valve, while Birzman's Apogee head (below) has a collar that threads on to both.
Beware, though, that some pumps work with just one style. Lezyne's Road Drive (from £45), for example, is Presta only.
You might choose to carry your mini pump in a rear pocket or you might prefer to use the bracket which usually attaches to your frame via the bottle cage mounts. The vast majority of brackets are plastic although some are made from aluminium alloy. Lezyne, for example, sells an alloy mount for its Road Drive pumps after market and the Carbon Road Drive (£59.99 here) comes with a carbon-fibre mount.
The pump just snaps into place on many mounts, although Velcro or rubber straps offer extra security.
CO2 cartridge compatibility
Some mini pumps can be used as CO2 inflators. For instance, you can attach a threaded CO2 cartridge to Topeak's Hybridrocket RX for rapid inflation, and use it as a standard mini pump if you're out of gas.
At 297mm, the L-for-Long version of this mini-pump isn't terribly mini, but it works well. It comes with its own bracket and it's very shiny and beautifully made with some well thought out little details. Both ends of the CNC-ed aluminium pump are protected by rubber caps to stop road gunk getting inside and the connecting hose screws securely inside the handle. Works with Presta valves only.
This is a super-compact little pump that's designed for high volume tyres. It extends to nearly twice its size in use, and takes little effort to work. The barrel is CNC-machined aluminium, with an anodised finish and laser-etched graphics, while the reversible locking head fits both Presta and Schrader valves. It even has a retractable hose. It measures just 180mm when compressed and weighs just 118g. It's good for pressures up to 80psi.
The Birzman Infinite Road + CO2 pump is a 2-in-1 pump and CO2 inflator to get you back on the road in the minimum of time. Made from precision CNCed aluminium alloy, the body is sleek but meaty enough for the job. The hose is tucked away neatly within the body and kept securely in place with a rubber cap. Since we reviewed it, Birzman has updated this pump with its Apogee head that easily fits both Presta and Schrader valves.
The BBB Samurai Telescopic Mini Pump does a good job of inflating a punctured tyre, it's nice to use and it looks good with a smart design. The 6061-T6 aluminium construction gives it a reassuringly solid feel and there's a hose inside with a screw-on valve head called the TwistHead, which is compatible with Presta and Schrader valves. It's a dual function pump that can be switched between high volume (for big tyres and mountain bikes) and high pressure (skinny road tyres). Measuring 210mm, it's not the shortest pump but it does sit in a jersey pocket well.
The Topeak Roadie DAX pump combines a larger chamber than most with a useful Dual Action stroke that's always pumping, whether you're pulling or pushing. Measuring nearly 26cm, it extends out of the top of a rear pocket but the long stroke improves ease of use. Construction is stiff and strong, with a black-anodised aluminium barrel and a head that is just long enough for a full-fingered hold. With a fixed head instead of a flexible hose, you must take care not to work so hard you rip your valve clean off. However, avoiding a hose – along with making the DAX Presta only – keeps complexity and weight down.
The Unich High Pressure Long Mini Pump has a retro look and a screw-attachment hose that'll get your tyres up to triple-figure pressures at the side of the road pretty simply, should you require it. A smart little anodised fitting at the valve end of the hose allows the Unich to be used with both Presta and Schrader. The shiny finish looks smart (although it does scratch easily) and the anodised finished parts come in a choice of colours.
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Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, 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 winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.