The task of converting to tubeless can leave you feeling deflated — the best tubeless track pumps and inflators make the process totally stress-free
The best big air blasters to help you get your tubeless tyres seated and sealed. The task of converting to tubeless can leave you feeling deflated — these dedicated tubeless inflators promise to make the process totally stress-free. Seating tubeless tyres can be a breeze but it can also descend into a dark nightmarish hell of inexorable sweaty toil, especially if you happen to stumble on a tyre and rim combination that just doesn’t work together. To make the whole process easier and seat really stubborn tyres you may want to invest in a tubeless pump or inflator.
An inflator is simply an air tank that you charge with a high-pressure floor pump and then by flicking a switch direct a big blast of into the tyre. This seats the bead on the rim and partially inflates the tyre. A booster or charger pump, is simply a high-pressure floor pump with one of these secondary tanks attached. What one offers the best blast? We have four tanks and six pumps on test.
Best tubeless track pumps and inflators
- Topeak JoeBlow Booster – BEST TUBELESS TRACK PUMP
- Blackburn Chamber
- Bontrager TLR Flash Charger
- LifeLine AirBlast
- Airshot – BEST INFLATOR/TANK
- Specialized Air Tool Blast
- Giant Control Tank
How we tested
When testing the pumps and air tanks we wanted to know how many strokes it took to fully charge the air chamber, did the blast of air seat our test tyre (which for the purpose of this test is a two-year old Continental fitted to a narrow Shimano rim) and how much pressure did the pump/tank get into the tyre. We also looked at the ergonomics, like handle comfort, valve fittings and hose length. We then factored in the price to pick winners in both categories.
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Topeak JoeBlow Booster
We gave the Topeak Joe Blow Booster top marks when we first tested it two years ago but it has gone up £20 since then. It’s essentially a standard JoeBlow floor pump with a secondary air chamber bolted on. There is a bezel on the gauge, which you turn to select either Charge or Inflate. It took 40strokes to boost the chamber to 160psi.
The Joe Blow Booster has a really long 150cm hose, which means you can easily charge tyres with the bike in the workstand and it also wraps neatly round the handle, keeping the pump closed for carrying or storing. On the end of the hose is Topeak’s latest SmartHead with the removable DX3 connector and an air bleed button for precise pressure setting. The head easily slots onto Presta or Schrader valves and is secured by a solid metal locking lever.
We’ve had a Topeak Joe Blow Booster on the go for about two years now and we’ve never had a tyre we couldn’t seat; it worked first time seating our awkward Continental test tyre. It’s also relatively easy to charge, has a comfortable handle and feels extremely stable even when you’re going hell for leather.
Overall the Topeak Joe Blow Booster is a bit more than average price but it’s really well built with a large print gauge and one of the best smart heads on test.
The unique feature of the Blackburn’s new Chamber pump is the handle, it’s effectively a mini handlebar fitted with a couple of rubber grips. Blackburn says that you can actually fit your grips of choice because the 22.2mm diameter is identical to regular bar and in theory you can also fit a wider bar too, due to the centre clamp being 31.8mm.
The Chamber has one of the longest hoses on test, which means you an easily inflate a tyre with the bike in a work stand or around a corner if you’re worried about the tyre blowing off. With the handle at full extension, the pump is also one of the tallest too, so it’s not going to suit short users but it only took 37 strokes to get the pressure up to 160psi. It does have an easy to read gauge and an ‘Anyvalve’ pump head works for both Presta and Scharder valves. There’s a thumb lock to hold it securely in place and you can drain any built-up pressure via an air bleed button.
The Charge Switch is marked easy to operate the big blast of air seated our test tyre first time. Once charged there’s about 20psi in the tyre (and chamber) so tweaking the tyre pressure only required a couple of extra strokes.
In use the Chamber is really solid and the customisable features are a really nice touch but for tall riders only.
Bontrager TLR Flash Charger
Launched a couple of years ago, the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger was one of the first booster pumps and remains unchanged. It combines a high-pressure alloy pump with a secondary chamber and charging the tyre is done by flicking down the large red switch on the top of the pump – it’s intuitive and easy to operate.
It has a decent length 105cm hose and comes with a top-mounted gauge, which is close to the user but the numbers are quite small, so are not that easy to read. The handle is not the most comfortable either, when it flexes for the final few charging strokes, and there’s also a slightly cheap metallic feel to the pumping action, almost as if plunger is scraping along the inside. The best thing about the Flash Charger is the Auto-select head – it fits both Presta and Schrader valves and clamps solidly to the valve stem.
The Flash Charger produces a good blast of air and seated our test tyre first time. Due to the slightly smaller charging chamber the pressure in the tyre averaged around 30psi, which does mean you have to bleed off air rather than add strokes. There’s a release valve on the side but this only bleeds off air in the hose and main chamber.
If you’re fitting tubeless tyres only occasionally the Flash Charger is easy to use and great value; the original and still one of the best.
LifeLine’s AirBlast Tubeless track pump is the cheapest on test but it also has one of the smallest secondary chambers, which means it’s it only takes 18strokes to charge the pump to 240psi. However, it does become progressively harder the closer you get to maximum pressure and there’s a noticeable amount of flex in the handle and shaft at this point.
The AirBlast comes with an ‘auto select’ head for Presta or Schrader valves but this is a bit of misnomer because you have to dismantle part of it to access the secondary adapter, it doesn’t just slot onto both valve types like the Topeak or Blackburn pumps.
The AirBlast has a 130cm hose that hooks round the handle to hold the pump closed for storage or portage. There’s also a gauge with large, easy-to-read numbers but the scale is way too small, making it difficult to achieve accurate tyre pressures – you really need to buy a pressure to do this properly.
Due to the tiny chamber the AirBlast was the only pump that didn’t seat our test tyre fully. The tyre inflated but there was always a bit of bead below the rim edge. The good news is all you needed was couple of quick strokes to get this last bit of bead to pop into place.
At £70, the AirBlast is great value and if you just fit tubeless tyres two or three times a year it’s definitely worth a punt.
The Airshot is secondary air chamber that’s charged using a high-pressure track pump. It was one of the first tanks on the market and we’ve tested it a couple of times previously in MBR. In only features a 50cm hose with a simple Presta fitting on the end but a Schrader adapter is available for £2.99. Airshot also sells a Valve Core Adapter, which slots into the valve stem allowing for increased air flow, handy for the hard-to-seat tubeless tyres. Our test sample actually came with this adapter fitted, as well as the £5.99 Bottle Sock, which stops scuffs and minor dents.
Charging the Airshot to 140psi (the recommended pressure) took 53 strokes but it does offer a really powerful blast of air that seated our test tyre first time. You can top the tyre by leaving the track pump attached but we only needed a couple strokes as the pressure usually settled at 22-23psi.
Compared to the inflators from Specialized and Giant, which have stands, handles and smart heads, the Airshot is pretty basic but it has some really nice details – like the Presta charge valve, which means you don’t have to swap your pump internals, simple valve core adapter and it’s a quarter of the weight. It’d be nice to have some form of stand or feature to attach the Airshot to a floor pump, but if you want a portable inflator that packs a punch this is the best out there.
Specialized AirTool Blast
When booster pumps first made an appearance a couple of years ago Specialized has its own version with a secondary chamber attached but it’s since ditched that in favour of a stand-alone high-pressure air tank called the Air Tool Blast (ATB?). It’s roughly the same volume as the Giant Control Tank tested here but stands vertically and has a slightly shorter hose. The locking lever on the Auto Switch head is kinked slightly but essential it’s identically to the one on the Giant –both units are probably made by the same company.
Specialized says you have a 100–140psi operating range, which means you don’t have to fully charge the tank, although it still took 48 strokes to get to 140psi. Releasing the air involves toggling a lever on the side of the cannister and like the Control Tank it delivers a real blast of air. It seated our test tyre without breaking sweat and we even used it on a 2.8in plus tyre and it seated that first time too.
The Air Tool Blast is bit more money than the Giant unit but it’s lighter, has air release valve, a hook to hang it up and we actually prefer the vertical orientation simply because it takes up less space in a crowded workshop floor. It also put the perfect pressure (24psi) in our sample tyre, so the only thing we needed to do after seating the tyre was ride.
Giant Control Tank
Rather that standing up vertically, Giant’s new Control Tank sits horizontally on two rubber-coated feet. It’s a hefty unit due to the steel tank but there’s a handle for carrying and the 90cm hose neatly stashes out of the way on the side. This features an Auto Switch twin head that automatically adjusts to Presta or Schrader valves and locks in place using a solid plastic lever. Charging the unit is through the Schrader valve on the end, which is less fragile that a Presta but you may have to swap the internal grommets around if your current floor pump lacks a smart head.
Giant recommends charging the Control Tank to 160psi and because the chamber is pretty huge it took over 60strokes to do so, even with a high-pressure pump. To release the pent up air you then flip a switch on the body of the tank. The resulting boost easily seated our test tyre and it even bumped the pressure right up to 29psi. If you leave the floor pump attached you can add more pressure through the tank, although there’s no air release valve so reducing pressure is bit more convoluted.
Like the Specialized inflator, Giant’s Control Tank is a heavyweight unit that’s perfect for home or workshop use. It’s not as portable as the Airshot but, if you’re regularly seating stubborn tubeless tyres, the Control Tank is really capable and great value.
What to look for:
What type of pump/inflator you choose ultimately depends on what type of floor pump you currently own? If you don’t own a floor pump buying one of the booster pumps makes a lot of sense because it’s all in and one and you get a bit of deal buying the two things together
You will always pay more for a floor pump and secondary chamber combined into a single unit but bucking this trend is the Lifeline Airblast. It’s excellent value for money and if you only change two or three times a year (which we think is about average) it’s more than up to the task. It wasn’t 100% successful when seating tubeless test tyres but we only needed a couple of extra squirts of air to get the bead to pop into place.
ty to hold the pump together for carrying or storage. We’d expect these to be standard, especially for a pump that’s this expensive.
The Blackburn Chamber, Bontrager TLR Flash Charger and Topeak JoeBlow Booster were all pretty close when it came to performance – they all seated our test tyre and were easy to charge – but like most things we test at mbr the devil is in the detail. The marking on the Flash Charger gauge are hard to read and the pump action is a little rough. The Chamber is a really bombproof pump and the fact that you can fit your grips/bar of choice is just a bit of fun but it’s for taller user because the handle comes up way past you chin.
Like most Topeak products, the Joe Blow Booster is well thought out and crammed with features. It gets the job done but is also reliable – we have a two-year-old Joe Blow Booster and it’s still going strong. You won’t make a mistake buying any of the top three but the Topeak Joe Blow Booster just offers a bit more in terms of features, quality and reliability, which is why we’ve awarded it top marks.
There’s an obvious split between the tanks – the Airshot is lightweight and more portable, the Giant Control Tank and Specialized ATB are bigger home/workshop tanks. All of them get the job done but we felt the Airshot was the most versatile due to the way the valves are all set up for Presta and it’s the only unit to come with in-valve inflator, so if you have a real pig of tyre you can still get it seated.
This automatically works with the two main valve tyres – Presta and Schrader. It doesn’t unwind the removable valve core found in tubeless vales and offers a secure, leak free connection.
Handy for inflating your tyres when the bike is on the workstand. Also loops round the handle for storing or carrying the pump.
A lightweight cannister can be pre-charged and used to seat a tyre at the trail head.
To charge all the inflator you will need a high-pressure/low volume floor pump, one designed for road tyres.