How to setup a home air compressor for use with tubeless bicycle tires

August 11, 2020

How to setup a home air compressor for use with tubeless bicycle tires

Tubeless tires have become an essential for modern cyclocross, gravel, and mountain bikes. While some tubeless tires can be seated using a floor pump, using an air compressor is the "easy button" method. 

It's now possible to get a full home workshop compressor setup for working on bicycles for about $200, making it within range of the home mechanic. In addition to their usefulness on tubeless bicycle tires, owning an air compressor has many other household uses, and adding one to your home workshop is more realistic and useful than ever. 

In this article I'll share with you a shopping list to create your own home compressor setup, and step-by-step instructions for how to use it for bikes. 

Why you want one

Modern bicycles increasingly use tubeless tires. Sometimes, when installing tubeless tires, the beads can be seated using a floor pump. It varies quite a bit based on the tire, rim tape, and rim. More stubborn tires or tricky rims need more consistent, higher-pressure air to seat the beads. Bike shops and pro mechanics use compressors for this purpose, and so should you. 

Which air compressor to buy

Let's go shopping! Here's what to look for: 

  • The air compressor itself:
    For bicycle use, small capacity 2 or 3 gallon models work fine. Shops might want a larger capacity model, so the motor runs to refill the air tank less often, and you can work on many wheels in a row.

    I use this one https://www.lowes.com/pd/Kobalt-3-Gallon-Single-Stage-Portable-Electric-Hot-Dog-Air-Compressor/1000258241 from Lowe's.

  • Pneumatic lines:
    A starter kit like this one includes both the air line and all the 1/4" I/M fittings required to get things hooked up. 1/4" I/M is a common size used on smaller compressors for home use. It's nice to get the hose that coils up automatically to keep things organized in your shop. You can buy the lines, fittings, and accessories separately, but this kit is super economical and has everything in one box.

  • If your kit didn't come with them, you might need a set of I/M 1/4" male and female couplers. These allow you to "quick release" your air tools from the air line, so you can change tools for different jobs. 

  • Prestaflator inflation tool for bikes - this is the "magic" part that converts the air pressure fitting into a presta or schrader valve that works on your bikes.

There are certainly others that would work from many other brands. To keep it  compatible, look for equipment with the 1/4" I/M type connector to ensure everything matches up. This connector is used on many compressors, air lines, pneumatic power tools, and most importantly, it's also the connector used on the Prestaflator inflator tools. 

Getting ready

It should go without saying that you should wear eye and ear protection before using power tools. Please do so.

  1. Turn off the compressor
  2. Install a male 1/4" I/M fitting into one end of the new air hose (if it didn't come with one already installed). Install some plumber's tape on the threaded interface to help it stay airtight before you screw them together. Plumber's tape comes in the "starter" kit mentioned above if that's what you purchased, if not, purchase separately.
  3. Plug the end of the air hose with the new 1/4" male fitting into the compressor. Compressors typically have a "pull/push" fitting, you pull back a retaining ring, shove the connector in, and then release the ring. 
  4. Install a female 1/4" I/M fitting into the other end of the air hose, again using some plumber's tape to get a tight seal.
  5. Your new Prestaflator Inflator has a 1/4" I/M fitting already on it; plug it in to the newly-installed female end of the air hose.
  6. Plug the compressor into the wall outlet and turn it on, the motor will run as the tank begins to fill. 
  7. Check for leaks on your newly-installed connectors, and adjust your fittings if needed.
  8. When the motor stops, the compressor is full and ready for use. 
  9. Point your inflator in a safe direction and squeeze the trigger to test it.  

How to use the compressor for tubeless bicycle tires

Consult the owner's manual for your specific compressor, but generally compressors have some features in common. You'll usually find a regulator to control the PSI output - turn it to an appropriate PSI for bikes - you might start with 40 PSI to begin and go higher if needed later. 

Open the presta valve and hit it with the compressor. With a little luck, your tubeless tire beads will jump right into place with a satisfying "pop", but if not, check this article for some additional steps to take. 

In addition to seating tubeless tires at installation time, you can of course use a compressor for your daily "top-up" inflation needs. Some of the Prestaflator inflation tools have a built-in pressure gauge you can use. If your inflator doesn't have the gauge, use the regulator on your compressor instead. 

Other uses for air compressors

Once you've got your compressor setup, you can easily remove the Prestaflator Inflator using the quick-release I/M fitting to install other tools. Compressors have a variety of uses beyond bicycles, including: 

  • quick cleanup of dust with a blower tip (a blower tip is included with the "starter kit" mentioned above)
  • airbrushing artwork
  • inflating car tires
  • powering pneumatic tools like an nail or staple gun for construction or remodeling projects
  • inflating pool toys

Compressors are quite noisy and can bleed air slowly over time, which means the motor will turn on to refill the tank periodically. So you'll want to turn it off when not in use. Be a good neighbor! 

I hope this article helps you get the most out of a home compressor setup. Hit me up @RideCX and let me know your own tips. 

 

 





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