Get Pumped: Inflation Shootout
article & images by Nick Salazar
Nov 13, 2014  hits 96,940

Last month, I wrote a rather lengthy review about the new Silca lineup of inflation products. It was my first real in-depth piece specifically about inflation, and only TriRig's second inflation-related article since we reviewed the Birzman Zacoo Maha. Today, we dive into the deep end. This review will be a comprehensive shootout and guide, to help athletes better understand the world of available options for pump heads and the valves around which they close.

Why go to such depths for such a small part of the riding experience? Because, quite simply, most available options suck. They either fail to seal reliably, wear too quickly, aren't disc-compatible, aren't easily rebuildable/repairable, or all of the above. Most athletes simply accept this as a fact of life, and make to with whatever they have. To me, that's unacceptable. With careful equipment selection, you can get perfect performance out of your pumping solution. Removing that little headache from the cycling experience - and truly sorting out your tire inflation - is just one of those Zen things that I think can improve your life. And to be clear, I'm not going to discuss all of the available options on the market. Just the ones I think are the best. This will still be a pretty detailed look at the top-tier pump heads, what valve extensions they work best with, and why they're on this list.

There are five pump heads in this review, and there's a lot to take in with each one. Below is a summary of their various characteristics:

  Silca 17-4 Head Birzman Snap-It Kuwahara Hirame KCNC Presta Head Silca HIRO
Engagement Type Push-on Threaded Lock Pressure Lock Pressure Lock Pressure Lock
Valve Compatibility Threaded, Barbed, Straight Threaded only Threaded, Barbed, Straight Threaded, Straight Threaded, Barbed, Straight
Disc Compatible? No No Yes Yes Yes
Install Friction High None None Moderate Low
User Rebuildable? Yes No Yes Partial Yes
Gasket Type/Material Durable Synthetic None (O-Ring) Natural Rubber Natural Rubber Durable Synthetic
Gasket Availability Easily-sourced Not replaceable Difficult to source Difficult to source Easily-sourced
Hose Attachment Schraeder Schraeder (short) Barbed Barbed w/locking nut Schraeder

Got all that? Fear not, we'll delve deeper into these things, and what they mean, on the following page. Hit the jump and let's go!


Tags » birzman,  hirame,  kcnc,  pumps,  silca

Silca HIRO 

  • The Silca HIRO is probably the most advanced pump head on the market, and comes with a $100 price tag to match.
  • The Silca HIRO uses beautiful materials and flawless construction.
  • A closeup of the HIRO's distinctive red back plate, machined to perfection.
  • Closeup of the HIRO's business end.
  • The HIRO fits very nicely in the hand, and has a very short throw lever. The lever can open to 90-degrees, but the gasket compression starts around here, at 20 degrees or so, depending on how much pre-load you have on the gasket.
  • The Silca HIRO is probably the most advanced pump head on the market, and comes with a $100 price tag to match.

KCNC Pump Head 

  • The KCNC pump head is a nice modern take on the latching disc chuck.
  • To get the best use out of the KCNC head, you need to drill out the front plate to allow it to accept larger-diameter barbed valves.
  • My one gripe (after modding the front plate) is that the KCNC head has a very long 90-degree throw, making it a little trickier to mount on some discs.
  • The KCNC has a nice locking nut that allows direct installation on a hose with no unsightly hose clamps.

Silca 17-4 Presta Head 

  • Silca's bombproof 17-4 Head.
  • Silca's bombproof 17-4 Head.
  • Silca's bombproof 17-4 Head.

Hirame Presta Head 

  • The Hirame is a legendary head with flawless performance. See the article for more detail.
  • The Hirame is a legendary head with flawless performance. See the article for more detail.
  • The Hirame is a legendary head with flawless performance. See the article for more detail.
  • The Hirame is a legendary head with flawless performance. See the article for more detail.

Locking Head Comparisons 

  • Locking Head Comparisons
  • Locking Head Comparisons
  • See the two little grey O-rings on the HIRO (left)? Those help to eliminate slop in the head while the lever is open. The Hirame, by comparison, rattles a bit until you lock the lever. You can also add a couple similar O-rings in the same spot and dramatically reduce the slop, just like the HIRO. The price of this feature is that at higher preloads, the lever throw requires a little more force. So you can have a sloppy tool that's very easy to operate, or a very tightly-fitting tool that requires slightly more force to operate. Personally, I'll take the latter.
  • Locking Head Comparisons
  • Locking Head Comparisons
  • Locking Head Comparisons
  • Locking Head Comparisons
  • Locking Head Comparisons
  • Here are the three locking heads, each one at the very beginning of its throw. All three of these heads can open to 90-degrees, but only the KCNC  head (left)needs all 90 of those to compress its gasket. This can make it tricky to seat the KCNC head on some discs, depending on the geometry. The Hirame (center) and Silca HIRO (right) have virtually identical throw (they look different here because they are preloaded differently). Their throw begins at 20-30 degrees, depending on the preload (how far in the front cap is screwed down onto the gasket). Compared to the KCNC and Hirame, the Silca HIRO's two-stage gasket means it offers slightly more friction while seating the head onto the valve. The Hirame and KCNC are virtually frictionless on standard valves, and offer just a little resistance on barbed or stepped-diameter valves..
  • All three locking heads in the closed position.
  • This is the termination for the Silca HIRO (left), KCNC (center), and Hirame (right). The HIRO requires a Schrader chuck, while the other two can install directly into a hose. The KCNC head also has a nice locking nut to secure the pump head without the need for a hose clamp.
  • Head height comparison. From left to right: Hirame, Silca HIRO, KCNC. Despite the height difference, all of these will fit virtually any wheel, disc or otherwise.

Valves 

  • A variety of different valve extension types. From left to right: Silca's fixed-core extension, Corima's flexible extension, Zipp's barbed extension, and Zipp's removable core extension.
  • This is Silca's new fixed-core extension. It terminates in standard Presta threads, so it will work with thread-locking heads like the Birzman Snap-it. It also features a rubber gasket to help eliminate rattle inside deep-dish rims. It's probably my favorite of the bunch. And though it comes pre-sprayed with a thread locker, I still use plumber's tape to complete its seal on the original valve.
  • This is Silca's new fixed-core valve extension. It terminates in standard Presta threads, so it will work with thread-locking heads like the Birzman Snap-it. It also features a rubber gasket to help eliminate rattle inside deep-dish rims. It's probably my favorite of the bunch. And though it comes pre-sprayed with a thread locker, I still use plumber's tape to complete its seal on the original valve.
  • This is Silca's new fixed-core valve extension. It terminates in standard Presta threads, so it will work with thread-locking heads like the Birzman Snap-it. It also features a rubber gasket to help eliminate rattle inside deep-dish rims. It's probably my favorite of the bunch. And though it comes pre-sprayed with a thread locker, I still use plumber's tape to complete its seal on the original valve.
  • Zipp's barbed valve extension. This can work well with sloppier heads (like the one that probably came with your $15 pump), since the barb can bite into cheaper gaskets and help get a seal. But it doesn't like to play quite as nice with precision-formed gaskets, where it can tear up the rubber.
  • Zipp's removable-core valve extension. I generally don't like removable-core extensions, and prefer to keep the core nice and safe underneath. Proper installation of your extension eliminates any problems associated with an unavailable core.

Adapters 

  • Barbed Schrader chucks, which install straight into a pump hose and terminate in female Schrader threads, allowing the attachment of most standard Schrader heads (including the entire Silca lineup). The one on the right is from Silca, made of nickel-plated brass. The one on the left is from Prestacycle, and works just as well, but feels a little more flimsy.
  • While the Schrader chucks work for MOST Schrader heads, a little modification was required for my Birzman pump heads, because its threaded section is so short, and not long enough to seat against the internal washer of the Schrader chuck. So I modified  one of my Prestacycle chucks to make it much shorter, and then it would finally form a good seal with the Birzman Snap-It head. The advantage do doing this (rather than keeping the Birzman head on its stock connector) is that this hardware is much shorter than the stock one on my Birzman pump, and now I can fit this head on some discs.
  • The Silca Disc Adapter is actually an awesome little head, but only works well on ordinary Presta valves (barbed heads wreak havoc on the small internal gasket).
  • For size comparison, check out Silca's HIRO next to Silca's Disc Adapter. The Disc adapter is a much simpler tool, but not as robust as its big brother.
  • Although it's tiny, the Silca Disc Adapter's gasket has an intricate two-stage geometry that helps it seal on standard presta valve stems. But don't try to use it on a barbed valve extender, or you could easily chew up the gasket (as I learned the hard way).
  • Lezyne also makes a good disc adapter (left), but it only fits on Lezyne's proprietary hose connector.

Group Shots 

  • Group Shots
  • Group Shots
  • Group Shots
  • Group Shots
  • Group Shots
  • Group Shots

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