Wednesday, December 29, 2010

All About Compressors

Anyone who has ever worked at a bike shop or even an automotive repair shop knows that one of the coolest tools there is the compressor.   Before tubeless tires, compressors were merely labor saving devices, superfluous to the participant of an activity where you are trying to get some exercise.    I, like all other riders I know, just used a pump to inflate my tires.

Then came tubeless tires, and their finicky inflation requirements.  Some people claim they can fill a tubeless tire with a pump, but I certainly cannot.    At first, I just journeyed to a bike shop or a gas station that had some free air.   Later, I took the intermediate step of purchasing an 11 gallon air tank that I could refill from time to time.

Finally, I broke down and bought an awesome, 10 gallon, 3 horsepower compressor at harbor freight for only $100.    I have since added the 11 gallon tank for 21 total gallons.   Allow me to explain:

What You Need To Know About Compressors

There are two key measures to any compressor, the horsepower and the reserve capacity.   If you merely wish to inflate a tube, you don't need much of either.   You just sit there and wait until it reaches the pressure you desire.   Any $20 roadside inflator will accomplish that.   If you are getting into tubeless, especially road tubeless, such an inflator is worthless.

What you need is a significant amount of horsepower, reserve capacity, or both.    If you have a decent motor in the 1-2 horsepower range or higher, the compressor should inflate your tire with no problem.    If you have a sufficiently large tank of several gallons or more, you can pre-inflate it with enough air to fill inflate your tubeless tire.    This is what I did when I owned a tank, but no compressor.  At the time, I didn't know about Harbor Freight and bought a tank from Home Depot, which cost a third of what a decent compressor was selling for.

Ideally you have both a good motor and a decent tank.  I would say 1-2 horse and 3-5 gallons should be sufficient for almost any tubeless tire inflation.   The only time the horsepower really comes into play is when you have a pinned rim that won't seal quickly.   In that case, you might find yourself running your compressor and shaking the rim for a few minutes, like I did.   Otherwise, it is only a factor in how much time it will take to re-fill the tank.

What Made Me Get A Compressor, And Why I Can't Live Without It Now

I was getting by, filling up my 10 gallon tank at the local gas station from time to time.   Then fall came around and I was about to pay someone $100 to blow out my sprinkler system in my yard. (If you live in a colder climate, you have to do this before winter to prevent the water from freezing and damaging your in-ground sprinkler system.)   About the same time, I realized that I could buy a nice compressor at Harbor Freight for that much, and avoid paying the sprinkler guy the same amount every year.  The ability to rapidly inflate tubeless road bicycle tires was just icing on the cake.

I later realized that the compressor was useful for all sorts of other tasks.    I can drive an impact wrench when I change the wheels on our cars between summer and winter tires (I love the sounds zzzzing!-zing!).  I use compressed air to clean dust out of my computer and keyboard.  Compressed air is also great for drying my bicycle chains after de-greasing.   And of course, I can quickly inflate bicycle tires, car tires, and basketballs.  Nevertheless, I still use a good hand pump with a gauge to achieve the correct pressure on my road bikes.

So take your time and shop around for a decent compressor.   If you check places like Harbor Freight, Craiglist, Amazon, or even your local used tool store, you will probably find one that meets your needs for under $100.   Properly maintained, they should last a lifetime.

Only later will you wonder how you ever got along without one.


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