August 11, 2020
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.
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.
Let's go shopping! Here's what to buy:
Prestaflator inflation tool for bikes
This is the "magic" part that converts the fitting on an air compressor into a presta or schrader valve that works on your bikes. If you aren't sure which is best for you, I recommend the Prestaflator Professional, or Arundel Shop Inflator.
Arundel's Presta Shop Inflator
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 and Arundel inflator tools.
It should go without saying that you should wear eye and ear protection before using power tools. Please do so, then:
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. Higher PSI settings can help seat stubborn tubeless tires.
Open the presta valve and hit it with the inflator tool. 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.
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:
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!
Home users should consider a small, compact, and inexpensive air compressor if they plan to work on bicycle tires. Many of even the smallest compressors have plenty of volume and pressure to get your tubeless tires seated and to handle your day-to-day inflation needs. For home use, a "hot dog" or "pancake" (named for the shape of the tank) compressor with a 2-8 gallon tank is great.
Bicycle shops and teams who work on multiple bikes all day long will be better served by a larger volume compressor. Same applies to pro mechanics - time is money. While the fittings and capabilities will be the same, a larger tank means you can do more inflation between recharges. When an air compressor recharges, the motor runs to fill the tank, which is noisy. This is annoying in retail bike shops, so buying a compressor with a larger holding tank allows you to minimize that noise, charging it before or after hours when customers aren't around.
I recommend staying away from compressors with these characteristics:
Inflator heads range from basic to deluxe and sell for about $30 - $150, depending on features. These models all feature trigger control, so you can vary the amount of air dispensed, and use the common 1/4" I/M air compressor fitting. Some models work on both presta or schrader valves, while others only work on a single valve type. Check your bike(s) to make sure your air tool matches your valves.
The cheapest presta inflator adapters for air compressors start at $36.95. Prestacycle's Prestaflator Mini has no extraneous features, but offers an all-metal design that can be operated one-handed. It doesn't have a pressure gauge built-in.
If a built-in gauge is desired, the Prestacycle Prestaflator Eco adds a built-in pressure gauge for a couple extra dollars and works great for casual use.
Two popular mid-range inflator adapters for air compressors sell for about $60. These tools are an excellent balance of price and performance, great for most home mechanics.
If you only want to work on bikes with presta valves, check out the Arundel Shop Inflator. It has a reliable gauge and simple design that can be used one-handed, which is convenient.
Prestacycle's Prestaflator Professional inflator offers the ability to handle both schrader and presta valves, plus includes accessory tips, handy for inflating pool toys.
Deluxe, high-end presta valve inflator adapters offer additional features and functionality. They are ideal for heavy use, shops, teams, and enthusiast home mechanics who want to get the most out of their tools.
The two most popular inflators in the deluxe category are Prestacycle's Prestaflator Digital and Park Tool's INF-2. The Digital model from Prestacycle offers the same features as their professional model, but adds a built-in, backlit digital PSI gauge, which is nice to read in dark garages or basement workshops.
Sometimes you don't have access to electricity needed to operate an air compressor. In that circumstance, consider an alternative like the Airshot air tank. It can be filled using a basic floor pump, making it ideal for campgrounds, race parking lots, and other areas where you can't plug in a compressor. Airshot delivers a blast of compressed air to help seat your tubeless tires.
With the steps outlined in this article, I hope you're able to setup your home air compressor with ease. Let me know your feedback or questions using @RideCX on social media or call/text me directly (909) 283-3391 and I'll be happy to help.
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