29 January 2013

A Woman's Life In Pumps

When I first started to take long bike rides as a teenager, most portable pumps looked something like this:

Now, if you're doing a period-correct restoration of a French 10-speed, this is the pump you want.  As pumps of that time went, it wasn't bad.  However, hoses that screw onto the pump body almost always leak air.  Even worse, the hoses screwed onto the valves, which leaked even more air, especially if they were Schraeder valves.

Silca Impero. It was available in a wide range of sizes--and, most important(!), a rainbow of colors.

Other pumps available at the time had press-on fittings.  If you've ever seen a Silca Impero or Zefal Competition (Think of the HP or HPX without the thumb-lock fitting.), those worked fine, as long as you had Presta valves and the rubber ring inside the pump fitting wasn't worn or cracked:  the connection depended on the tightness of that seal.

Zefal Competition:  Pour la gloire!

Not long after I first became a dedicated cyclist, Zefal came out with its HP pump.

Zefal HP from 1970's or 1980's

I think it's one of the more attractive pumps that's ever been made.  More important (yes, really!), they were solidly built and had a thumb lock that could be switched between Presta and Schrader valves, and gave an all-but-airtight connection with either one.  

Some years later, Zefal improved upon it with their HPX pump.  It was the same as the HP, except that the handle had a cam that could be twisted to lock out the spring, which allowed more of the force you used to actually go into pumping the tire.  

Zefal HPX from 1980's or later

The only problem with them (as far as some of us are concerned, anyway) was that they were all black.  Now, some black components and accessories look good on certain bikes.  The Zefal HPX was one of those accessories. However, if you had a bike with anything like a classic or vintage look, the HPX seemed out of place.  

For a time, they were offered in white and a couple of other colors, but not in silver or chrome.

Topeak came out with a frame pump--the Master Blaster--that was functionally all but a clone of the HPX.  It was also made in a tasteful muted silver with gray handles.  I have a couple of them.  They seem well-built, although perhaps not quite as well-built as the Zefals.

Topeak Master Blaster

I wrecked one of mine in a clumsy moment.  So, when I looked for a replacement, I found out that Zefal is making--in France, where all Zefal pumps have been made--the "HPX Classic."

The Zefal HPX Classic

Mechanically, it's exactly the same as the HPX.  However, as you can see, it would look more appropriate on vintage- or vintage-inspired bikes than the HPX or even the Topeak.  It's sort of a modern take on the old "Tricolore" Zefal Competition.

I've used the new pump once:  It pumps as easily as the HPX,and far more easily on high-pressure tires than any mini-pump I've tried.  (For the record, I still carry a mini-pump when I commute, as I can easily stow it in a bag when I park my bike. Also, it pumps enough air for me to ride to the next bike shop or gas station.)  Plus, it looks just right on my Mercians.

Getting the HPX classic is a bit like reuniting with an old friend.  And, if you don't like the logo, it's easily erased with nail polish remover.


  1. I had a pump with a hose back in the 70's. I remember I had to replace the hose several times, which you could do. If you pumped too fast the hose would get hot and melt just enough to cause a leak.

    I also had a Zefal HP back in the mid to late 80's when I was trying to get back in to riding. That was a great frame pump.

    And now I have two Topeak Master Blasters. I love a good frame pump (or Farm Dog Repelers as I like to call them).

  2. I love the look of vintage pumps, but to be frank, I've been won over by the functionality of modern pumps, especially the "Road Morph" style. I love the ones that act as a mini-floor pump with hose and especially built-in pressure gauge. I want a good tour-worthy pump, one that can fully inflate a tube on the road. Yeah, they ain't as handsome as a classic pump, so I'll just compensate and shellac the heck outta everything else on the bike. ;-)

  3. Doug--I melted a hose on a pump in the way you describe. You could inflate tires with those pumps. It just took forevere and wore out your arms.

    Adventure!--I agree about vintage pump. One nice thing about the Zefal HPX Classic is that it is a good modern pump with something like a vintage look. The Topeak Master Blaster looks nice, too.

    Back in the day, someone made a frame pump that opened into a floor pump. I don't remember who made it, but it was clunky and, frankly, didn't work very well either as a frame or floor pump. I haven't tried one of the new "Morph" pumps you describe. Maybe, if I ever take another fully-loaded tour, I just might.