Inside-Out Sports Local site

Product reviews

Our experiences and opinions after testing the newest triathlon products out there.

Specialized & Blackburn Air Pumps

  • Price: Specialized Air Tool Sport Floor Pump: $42.99
    Blackburn Air Tower 3 Floor Pump: $44.99
  • Reviewed by: Cid Cardoso, Jr.
  • Reviewed on: November 5, 2012
  • Category:

Practically every household that includes a cyclist or triathlete has a floor pump sitting in the garage.  As we all know, air leaks out slowly from bike tires with time. A clincher tire with a butyl tube will lose 2-3 lbs of pressure per day. A lighter weight butyl tube (often called “race”) will lose around 5 lbs per day while a latex tube may lose as much as 15 lbs per day. As a result, most experts recommend that tires are pumped prior to every ride, which for most of us is every two to five days. I personally do not pump my tires every single time I hop on my bike (about 3 times per week), but I do pump them up at least once per week.  At this rate, most of us will be pumping our tires up more than 50 times per year; therefore a good floor pump is a must. Unfortunately, not all floor pumps are reliable. Yes, they will all work, at least initially and at least to a certain degree. However, having a floor pump that does not easily and accurately pump air into our tires can be an enraging pre-riding experience.

Specialized and Blackburn are two leading floor pump manufacturers. The Specialized Air Tool and Blackburn Air Tower lines have had a significant presence in bike shops’ shelves for years. The Air Tool Sport and the Air Tower 3 are both priced in the low forties and are known and marketed as value priced pumps with most of the features of the higher priced models. Both models use a heavy duty steel barrel, which is far more durable than plastic ones used in other model/brands, and both use their own version of ergonomically designed handles. The Specialized model sits on a 3-sided base, while the Blackburn sits on the standard two prong base. The 3-sided base does increase stability some but it also increases the overall “volume” taken up by the pump, which can be an issue when trying to fit it under the car seat or in a transition bag. The main visible difference between the two though, is where the gauge is mounted. The Specialized Air Tool places the gauge in the usual place at the base of the barrel. The Blackburn Air Tower 3 however, has moved the gauge to the top of the barrel, in order to make it easier to see. Blessed with good eye sight, the 3inch gauge on the base of the Specialized was not a problem for me, especially after the first time use when I knew the position of the needle in the 120 psi mark. But for those with poorer eye sight and who want to see the gauge every time the tires are being pumped, having the gauge 20 inches closer can be a significant improvement.

When it comes to performance, I found the Specialized to be superior. This was primarily because its “SwitchHitter” head technology (which works  in both Presta and Schrader tubes) works much better than Blackburn’s “AnyValve” head (also made to work on both types of tubes). The locking mechanism and internal gaskets and seals of the Specialized make the head not only easier to secure on the valve (important for novices), but also a lot less likely to come loose and “fly away” than the Blackburn, especially at higher pressures.  The Specialized Air Tool Pump also seems to pump more air per stroke, which kind of makes sense since its volume per stroke capacity is listed at 360 cubic cm while the Blackburn is listed as 325. That would not be that big a deal since using two extra strokes to get my tires pumped does not bother me but the strokes themselves of the Specialized pump also feel sturdier and more efficient.

Regarding durability, the Specialized also came out on top in our tests. Probably the biggest problem with the Blackburn is its head and how the seal with the tube valve deteriorates over time. Unlike the Specialized, in which the seal is designed to only grip tightly the valve when the rear lever is engaged, the Blackburn seal appears to make more contact with the valve as soon as the head slides around it.  This friction between the metal of the valve and the rubber-like compound of the seal causes wear on the seal, which results in an increasingly poorer fit. I believe Blackburn recognizes this as a problem issue as they have supplied bike shops with replacement heads to fix customers’ pumps. Replacing the head is an easy, although temporary, fix to a potentially annoying problem. It is important to note that the Blackburn Air Tower 3 comes with a lifetime warranty (1), which offers customers’ peace of mind and tells us that they stand behind their product, regardless of a few shortcomings. Specialized Bicycle Components also offers a “limited” lifetime warranty on its Air Tool Sport Pump, although they are more careful to specify that this is only valid for the original owner (2). Like Blackburn pumps internal replacement parts can also be obtained either through the manufacturer directly or the local shop.

Both the Specialized Air Tool Sport Floor Pump and the Blackburn Air Tower 3 Floor Pump are good options for customers looking for value floor pumps.  I guess between the two we have a situation a little like that Honda commercial: do you want a great product or are you just concerned with a really good warranty? If you want a great product first, it may be worth searching out a dealer who sells the Specialized Air Tool Pump. Otherwise go with the Blackburn Air Tower 3 Pump, which gets the job done and has a great warranty.

1) If your Blackburn product is found to be defective in materials or workmanship, Blackburn warranties most of our products for the lifetime of the product, and we will, at our sole discretion, either repair or replace it free of charge. Blackburn reserves the right to request the return of any product submitted for warranty consideration
2) Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. warrants products distributed under its equipment category for the lifetime of the original owner against defects in workmanship or materials. This warranty applies to products after January 1, 2004, is not transferable, and does not apply if the product has been in a crash, abused or if the claimed defect is from improper assembly or from other than normal wear and tear. Our responsibility under this Limited Warranty is to repair or replace the product, at our option.