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If you are fortunate enough to have an air compressor in your shop or garage, you know how useful it can be for all sorts of things. With a long enough air hose and the right air tool, you can loosen lug nuts, paint furniture, blow gunk out of your cassette and even clean gutters. But all of that, of course, is mere justification for the luxury purchase of a machine which will effortlessly inflate your bike tires for you. While just about any cheap accessory kit will include a basic Schrader valve inflator, I’m willing to bet that you have Presta valves on your wheelsets – in which case you basically have two choices: the Prestaflator and Problem Solvers’ Air-Bob. I tested both.
Problem Solvers Air-Bob ($95 MSRP)
The Air-Bob is a solid tool that looks like it can take a shop-level beating (that is, consistent drops onto concrete.) It is a metal cylinder with an NPT fitting for your hose on one end, a universal pump head (which will accept Presta and Schraeder valves) on the other end and a trigger, pressure gauge and bleed valve in between. Being compact and light, it is easily used with one hand. A nice touch is that the inflator head rotates 360 degrees, meaning that once you have the trigger in hand, you don’t need to adjust your grip or twist your air hose around, no matter where the valve happens to be oriented on the wheel. The gauge on our unit is relatively accurate (I compared it to both the Prestaflator’s gauge and a hand-held digital gauge) and reads quickly once you start the air flow into the tire. The bleeder button is a decided bonus and is well-located so that you can easily alternate between adding and bleeding pressure.
The Air-Bob isn’t perfect. Like most “universal” parts, the universal inflator head isn’t; one deep-section rim I had left only a short length of the tire valve accessible, and while I could inflate it with our trusty Silca floor pump and the Prestaflator (which has a Silca-like head,) the Air-Bob’s head wouldn’t fit. The trigger is not as precise at regulating variable air pressure as the Prestaflator’s, and the gauge lost accuracy as pressures got below 30 psi, which is a bummer because that’s exactly where you’ll want the precision if you’re using it for cyclocross on tubulars. The biggest downside is the price: at $95 retail, it’s more than twice the price of the Prestaflator, and close to the price of some air compressors!
For more info: problemsolversbike.com
Prestaflator (MSRP $40; $55 as tested with optional accessories )
The Prestaflator takes a very different design approach than the Air-Bob. Rather than a single fitting for one-handed use, the Prestaflator has its inflator head on the end of its own short hose, attached to a pistol-like grip holding the trigger and gauge. The trigger is large and can vary the air pressure quite nicely, which is great if you have a beefy shop compressor with a PSI that can blow holes in your tubes. The separate hose means that you can swap the inflator heads (the company sells a Schraeder fitting ($10), a low pressure blower tip ($5) and other accessories) and use the same gauge and trigger for other odd jobs around the shop without having to remove the tool.
But the Prestaflator cannot be used with one hand—it is a two-hand operation only (one hand to hold the head onto the valve, and the other working the trigger) making it more of a hassle if your shop, like mine, is short on places to lean a bike while topping off the pressure before a ride. On our review unit, this problem was exacerbated by a kink that developed in the Prestaflator’s short hose, as it limited the range of positions available between our hands. And there is no bleed valve on the Prestaflator, so if you overshoot your pressure, you have to pop off the head, guess how much air to let out, and then repeat the whole process. Prestaflator says the lack of a bleed valve is a good thing, as the presta valve remains sealed without the bleeder and permits the inflator to be removed from the valve without losing any air pressure from the tire. (In my brief testing, the Air-Bob did not lose more than 1 PSI during a normal removal.) Also worth noting, should you ride a road bike out of boredom in the off-season, both the Prestaflator and the Air-Bob can inflate a road tire to 90 psi with no problems, but I found the Prestaflator noticeably slower getting there. The Prestaflator’s biggest advantage is cost. You can buy a (Presta-only) Prestaflator from either a local bike shop or direct for $39.95—less than half the retail price of the Air-Bob. Though I found the Air-Bob for significantly less than retail at on-line sources, there was still a significant price difference. I preferred the one-handed operation of the Air-Bob, and appreciated its bombproof construction and design. But if you don’t mind using two hands, the Prestaflator is the better value.
For more info: prestaflator.com