A reliable tubeless inflator is a must-have for any modern mountain biker. There are two main styles on the market: the all-in tubeless inflator pumps, and more compact charge chambers that work in conjunction with any good track pump. But which style should you go for, and which option is the best? Read on to find out!

Never heard of tubeless? In our ultimate guide to MTB tubeless, we explain everything you need to know about tubeless setup, tires and much more!

There are two styles of tubeless inflator: the tubeless inflator pump (on the right) and the standalone charge chamber (on the left)

When it comes to marital harmony, there are few innovations that have brought such relief as the tubeless tire inflator. Anyone who has tried to mount a stubborn tire the night before a big ride will have experienced ‘the struggle’, that feeling of helplessness as you sweat furiously over a pump, swearing at your bruised knuckles and pulling sealant from your hair. But then someone invented the tubeless tire inflator and the world was well again.

How do tubeless tyre inflators work?

Tubeless tire inflators have a high-pressure cylinder that is charged with air from either an integrated floor pump or a separate pump, normally to a pressure of 140-200 psi depending on the model. The inflator is then connected to the tire and using a lever, the air is rapidly released, the rush of air forces the bead of the tire onto the rim and seals it tight. No swearing, no sweating, just an overwhelming sense of accomplishment: this is how you should feel after following our tubeless setup guide. There are a host of models for every budget, but the first decision boils down to the following two choices:

“I already own a good floor pump”

If you already have a nice floor standing pump, a sound investment would be a standalone ‘charge’ cylinder option. Affordable, basic and more transportable, the independent charge cylinders deliver maximum inflation for your money and are compact enough to leave in the boot of your car. However, a floor pump will still be needed to charge the chamber and set the final pressures.

“I don’t have a good floor pump”

If you don’t own a nice floor pump, or if you are a regular tire swapper, then a fully integrated option may be a good option for you. Specialist tubeless floor pumps integrate a standard floor pump with an additional high-pressure cylinder. All these pumps have a gauge for setting correct tire pressures and can be used as a regular pump too. However, the gauges on tubeless inflator pumps are not as easy to read and use as their ‘standard’ floor pump counterparts, as it often takes time for the pressures to equalize in the chamber. For maximum accuracy, we recommend using a dedicated pressure gauge for fine-tuning your tire pressure.

Good pumps feature a pressure gauge to allow you to continue inflating the tire to the correct pressure after it beads. However, gauges found on tubeless inflator pumps can be hard to use accurately.

What makes a good tubeless tire inflator?

The main function of the tubeless inflator is to deliver a large volume of air quickly enough to push even the most belligerent tire bead onto the rim, the faster the better. Both pumps and standalone inflators have a hard life so the build quality should be robust and durable enough to survive rattling around in the back of a van, or getting repeatedly kicked over in the garage. A dual pump head that works on Schrader and Presta valves is essential, and one that does not insist on winding out the valve core. A bleed valve allowing you to fine-tune pressures without having to detach the valve is also a welcome sight.

It is essential that the pump head can work with short valve stems. As rims become deeper pump heads have less stem to grab hold of.
Solid build quality is essential for surviving the rigours of a home mechanic’s garage, boot and life.
Weight is less of an issue here… In fact, a heavy base keeps the pump stable
A dual head that works with both Presta and Schrader valves is important

The testing process

To check out the function of each pump we exposed them to our workshop, where they were abused, kicked and generally mistreated. We tested on the dreaded combos of DH tires and wide rims, baggy tires and narrow rims and everything in between. Pump heads were challenged with long and short valve stems and occasionally trodden on. We set up a test lab and measured maximum flow rate to see how quickly the pump could deliver its charge (standardised at 160 psi for testing), the higher the number (litres/second) the faster the pump pressurised our test apparatus. We also counted the number of strokes required to charge the pump to its max charge pressure and counted how many strokes were required to inflate a control tire to 30 psi. Our final test found out to what pressure a full blast from each pump could inflate our control tire to. A good pump is a necessary but infrequent purchase and should be expected to last for many years, so we spent a lot of time checking the build quality.

For the standalone inflators, we also measured the maximum flow rate, as well as the number of strokes required to charge it to its maximum pressure, and the pressure left in the control tire after a full blast.

Each inflator had to be fully charged three times… That’s a lot of pumping!

After thorough testing, trial and error, discussions and complex equations, we found our results:

Pump Price (£) Flow rate (l/s) *on our test setup One-shot pressure (29” enduro wheel) Strokes to 160 psi pressure Stability Build quality
Blackburn Chamber 150 2.3 28 psi 51 **** ***
Bontrager TRL Flash Charger 99.99 3.53 28 psi 44 *** ***
Crank Brothers Klic Floor + Burst tank 179.99 3.36 31 psi 48 **** *****
Lezyne Digital Pressure Overdrive 139.99 4.7 40 psi 52 **** *****
Lifeline Airblast 70 3.3 12 psi 18 (240 psi) ** *
Topeak JoeBlow Booster 139.99 2.8 24 psi 45 ***** ****

Inflator Price (£) Flow rate (l/s) *on our test setup One-shot pressure (29” enduro wheel) Strokes to 160 psi pressure Stability Build quality
Airshot 49.00 4.7 27 psi 50 * *****
Birzman Pump Upr 49.99 1.07 30 psi 65 **** ****
Bontrager TRL Flash Can 49.99 2.5 31 psi 61 **** ***
MilKit Booster 42.99 2.25 11 psi 49 ** *
Topeak Tubibooster X 64.99 3.1 25 psi 44 **** ****

The best tubeless inflator pump: Lezyne Digital Pressure Overdrive

Overall, the best performing tubeless inflator pump in this test is the Lezyne Digital Pressure Overdrive. It impressed us with its chart-topping flow rate and one-shot pressure, as well as its elegant looks and solid build quality. However, due to its screw-on pump head, you have to be careful not to take the valve core out when removing the pump head from the valve.

The best tubeless inflator pump in test: Lezyne Digital Pressure Overdrive
The Lezyne’s digital pressure gauge is accurate, but you need to wait for the pressure to equalise before taking a reading
The threaded pump head works with both Presta and Schrader valves, matches the pumps elegant looks

Once again, the Lezyne Digital Pressure Overdrive impressed us with its great performance and build quality, taking our coveted ‘Best in Test’ badge. Costing £139.99 it’s certainly not cheap, but we reckon this pump will stand the test of time. Check out our full review of the Lezyne Digital Pressure Overdrive here.

Price: £139.99
Manufacturers’ website: ride.lezyne.com

The best standalone tubeless inflator: the Airshot

In the standalone inflator test field, one option really stood out from the rest. Delivering a test-winning flow rate, combined with a light, affordable package the OG Airshot is still the top dog in its field. While it was definitely the least stable, the Airshot scores with its great build quality, portability and ease of use.

The best standalone tubeless inflator in test: the Airshot
Despite its small size and light weight, the Airshot feels very well built
The threaded inflator head ensures a secure fit to your Presta valve

The Airshot was amongst the first tubeless inflators to be brought to the market. It has stood the test of time, and proven that its original design still outperforms the current competition. Check out our full review of the Airshot here.

Price: £40
Manufacturers’ website: airshotltd.com

More recommendations

Bontrager TLR Flash Charger review – a great value option

Flying in under the radar is the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger. With no flashy details, largely plastic construction and no frills, the Bontrager could be classed as the underdog in this test. However, this budget option puts up a fight!

Bontrager TLR Flash Charger £99.99

The Bontrager TLR Flash Charger is a tale of two halves. On first impressions, it seemed like the cheap and flimsy feeling plastic used was really going to let it down. When pumping hard to inflate the chamber, we noticed loud knocking at the top and bottom of the stroke, combined with a very un-dampened, jarring feeling. It takes a while for the gauge to settle and it was also slightly inaccurate, reading 10% off compared to our trusty digital pressure gauge. The TLR Flash Charger performed well in our tests, proving our initial reservations wrong. With a high flow rate of 3.53 l/s and a one-shot pressure of 28 psi, the most affordable tubeless inflator pump in our test was punching with the big dogs.

If you can look past the plastic finish, slow gauge and slightly flimsy feel of the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger, you will be rewarded with a well-performing pump that undercuts the competition by a large margin.

Price: £99.99
For more info visit trekbikes.com

Crank Brothers Klic Floor + Burst tank – a tubeless inflator from the future

With its shiny metal build, magnetic connectors and fully hidden hose, the Crank Brothers Klic Floor + Burst Tank is a tubeless inflator from the future. But does its performance justify the somewhat complicated high-tech system?

Crank Brothers Klic Floor + Burst Tank £179.99

With the Klic Floor + Burst Tank inflator, Crank Brothers have gone all-out to stand out from the crowd. The pump features elegant metal construction, a solid base and great attention to detail. An accurate gauge, well-dampened stroke and easy-to-use levers all bode well for this inflator pump. While the hidden hose, magnetic connectors and detachable Burst Tank do put this pump in a league of its own, they can also make for complications. It took us a few tries to fully sus-out the features, and make sure all the connections were securely in place. In our lab tests, the Crank Brothers Klic Floor + Burst Tank inflator scored reasonably well, with a 3.36 l/s flow rate and a one-shot pressure of 31 psi.

If you are after a tubeless inflator pump that draws attention wherever you take it, the Crank Brothers Klic Floor + Burst Tank is for you: it wouldn’t look out of place next to the flashiest superbike. The option to remove the chamber and use it as a ‘standard’ floor pump is nice, and if you can get used to the connection process it delivers good performance.

Price: £179.99
For more info visit crankbrothers.com

Topeak JoeBlow Booster – a reliable heavyweight

The Topeak JoeBlow Booster does not mess about. Its stable, heavy construction and oversized features scream ‘bombproof’. As well as being solid, the JoeBlow Booster also knows its place. It’s a tubeless inflator, nothing more and nothing less. Can Topeak convince with their simple, rugged design?

Topeak JoeBlow Booster £139.99

There’s nothing particularly flashy about this tubeless inflator pump. It’s well-built, and even the plastic parts feel robust. The wide handle is comfortable to use, and the stroke is smooth and pretty well dampened. The large, easy-to-read gauge proved to be accurate in our tests, however, it does need a little while to settle before you can take a reading. The Presta + Schrader Smarthead is a great feature, allowing you to use the pump on both types of valves without having any faff. We also liked the twist-to-release lever, which matches the overall robust feel of the pump. The Topeak JoeBlow Booster performed averagely in our lab, recording a peak flow of 2.8 l/s in our test scenario and a one-shot pressure of 24 psi. While these numbers weren’t outstanding, we were impressed by the JoeBlow’s reliability, bomb-proof build and useful features.

If you are looking for a tubeless inflator pump to last, Topeak’s JoeBlow Booster is definitely worth looking into. While it didn’t top the charts in our lab tests, it impressed us with real-world practicality and a durable build.

Price: £139.99
For more info visit topeak.com

Bontrager TRL Flash Can review – the no-frills option

Similar to its inflator pump sibling, the Bontrager TRL Flash Can flies under the radar with no frills and basic looks. How does it stack up against its competitors? Find out here.

Bontrager TRL Flash Can £49.99

The Bontrager TRL Flash Can is no lightweight. Its heavy metal base makes it the most stable inflator in the test, great for workshop use. The long hose makes for easy use and can also be neatly stored. The carry handle on top is also a nice touch, as is the red pressure-release lever, which has a positive action and is easy to use. The inflator head, which is compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves, rounds up a well-thought-out package. In our lab tests, the Bontrager TRL Flash Can impressed with solid scores: a 2.5 l/s flow rate and one-shot pressure of 31 psi.

If you are looking for a solid standalone tubeless inflator for workshop or garage use, the Bontrager TRL Flash Can is a great option that won’t disappoint and proves that you don’t need the flashiest features for good performance.

Price: £49.99
For more info visit trekbikes.com

Topeak Tubibooster X review – built to survive nuclear fallout

One word to describe the Topeak Tubibooster X: Overkill. The industrial-looking silver tank is rated to over 1700 psi, it’s heavy and the metal fittings are overbuilt. If any of the inflators in this test could survive nuclear fallout, it would be the Tubibooster X.

Topeak Tubibooster X £64.99

The Topeak Tubibooster X is the most expensive standalone tubeless inflator in this test. It’s also rated to withstand the highest pressure, 124 bar to be exact. That’s over 1700 psi, a pressure which is impossible to reach with a floor pump. The unattainably high maximum pressure and heavy metal tank made us feel very confident charging the Tubibooster X to a ‘mere’ 160 psi for our tests. The inflator head is made of plastic and looks pretty basic. It works with both Presta and Schrader valves, providing you unscrew the end cap and flip the double-sided insert to work with its corresponding valve type. In our lab tests, the Tubibooster X scored with a great flow rate of 3.1 l/s and a one-shot pressure of 27 psi. It’s both easy to use and stable, and we were 100% confident pressurising it to 160 psi and beyond.

If you are looking for a standalone tubeless inflator that delivers both great performance and apocalypse-surviving durability, the Topeak Tubibooster X is the best option for you.

Price: £64.99
For more info visit topeak.com

The rest of the competition

Blackburn Chamber review – a solid pump with great aesthetics

The Blackburn Chamber looks sick! With its mini-handlebar and grips, charging this tubeless inflator almost feels like riding the local pump track. But how does it perform?

Blackburn Chamber £150

While the Blackburn Chamber impressed us with a stable base, solid build and nice finishing touches, it was let down by a sticky gauge in our tests. On one occasion, the gauge failed to register any pressure in our test tire. Overall, the build quality is solid, with only slight side-to-side play through the main pump shaft. The pump delivers a smooth stroke, and the pressure release lever is sturdy and has a positive action. In our tests, the Blackburn Chamber scored a relatively low 2.3 l/s flow rate. Its one-shot pressure was average, sitting at 28 psi.

Overall, the Blackburn Chamber is a solid pump. It’s stable, looks good and the overall build is sturdy. However, considering its high price, we were left disappointed by the erratic gauge and mediocre performance.

Price: £150
For more info visit blackburndesign.com

Lifeline Airblast – not for MTB use

The Lifeline Airblast looks more like a standard floor pump than a tubeless inflator… And that’s because it strikes a middle ground, with a very small charge chamber. Can this minimal design perform?

Lifeline Airblast £70

Other than its low capacity (it only takes 18 strokes to pressurise the tiny chamber to 240 psi), we also noticed the Lifeline’s somewhat flimsy plastic construction. The pump body feels wobbly and flexy, and the gauge proved inaccurate. The pump head is the opposite, with a bombproof construction and solid metal lever.

Unfortunately, we can’t recommend the Lifeline Airblast for use with MTB tires, and can only imagine it working with low-volume road tires. However, due to its poor overall construction and inaccurate gauge, we find it hard to recommend at all.

Price: £70

Birzman Pump Up review – can flashy looks perform?

On first impression, the Birzman Pump Up standalone tubeless inflator stood out with its sleek metal and plastic construction, and high-end looks. However, our hands-on testing also revealed its flaws…

Customers should immediately stop using Birzman Pump Up Tubeless Inflators of either version; BM17-PUMP-UP and BM20-PUMP-UP.
Birzman has initiated a safety recall of all Pump Up Tubeless Inflators sold since 2017.

Birzman Pump Up £49.99

Birzman have nailed the aesthetics of their Pump Up tubeless inflator. The sleek metal body, plastic end caps and flashy inflator head all look amazing. We are also fans of the long hose, which is neatly stored when not in use. In fact, there isn’t much to dislike about the Pump Up inflator, until you try to inflate a tire with it…

The inflator head is where things start to come undone for the Birzman Pump Up. The inflator relies on a basic twist design to release the pressure, which is both slow and hard to use, as well as creating a very small line between full flow and very slow air release. Therefore, the Birzman scored poorly in our flow rate test, clocking 1.07 l/s. The large chamber did perform well in our one-shot test though, scoring 30 psi.

The Birzman Pump Up looks great and scores with its sleek aesthetic. However, in practice, the basic and poorly designed head is very hard to use efficiently.

Price: £49.99
For more info visit birzman.com

MilKit Booster review – hydration and inflation?

The Swiss-engineered MilKit Booster is a very portable tubeless inflator, which also doubles as a water bottle when not in use. How does it perform? Find out here!

MilKit Booster £42.99

The MilKit Booster is made up of two parts: the metal cylinder (which looks exactly like a bottle by a famous Swiss brand), and a plastic inflator head which threads on top. The kit also comes with a standard bottle cap, should you want to use it as a bottle between your tubeless setups. A simple Presta valve protrudes from the top of the inflator head and looks like it could easily be damaged in a knock or fall – we recommend using a valve cap to protect it. The MilKit Booster uses a simple push-to-release system to release its pressure. While the air is released quickly (scoring 2.25 l/s in our tests), we found it hard to guarantee an air-tight seal to the valve and lost a lot of air out the side of the system, resulting in a poor one-shot pressure of 11 psi. On one occasion, we also noticed the Booster leaking air from the threads connecting the metal bottle to the plastic inflator head, so make sure you really tighten the head before use.

Unfortunately, we did not get on well with the MilKit Booster. We like the concept, however, in practice the system is not as easy to use as advertised, and the leaky plastic threads on the inflator head are worrying.

Price: £42.99
For more info visit milkit.bike

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Words: Finlay Anderson, Trev Worsey Photos: Finlay Anderson