Even as bicycle tires trend towards tubeless for mountain, road, and now cyclocross, seating tires still remains a barrier to entry for some. Depending on the tubeless set up, getting the tires to seal up and seat on the rim can be a challenge without an air compressor at your disposal.
Enter the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger floor pump. Thanks to its built in high-volume air chamber, the pump is capable of seating tubeless tires without the need for a compressor or electricity. We just got our hands on the new pump and immediately started deflating and unseating tubeless tires around the office to test the pump’s capabilities.
How well does it work? Find out next…
At first you might mistake the Flash Charger for a normal pump – which is fine. It is a normal pump, at least when the red charging handle is in pump mode. Equipped with a sturdy 3 arm base and a standard Auto-Select head for presta or schrader valves, the Flash Charger will function like any other Bontrager pump up to 160 psi.
The secret sauce is in the giant air chamber located along side the silver pump barrel which carries a bright red Charge handle. Set to Inflate, the pump functions normally. Flip the lever to Charge though, and you begin to pressurize the holding chamber.
While you may think this would take all day, just 43 strokes will get you to the green/red Charging zone border. Realistically, you’ll need to go into the red for many tires. The instructions note “the upper end of the ‘Charged’ section may be the most effective,” so going into the red shouldn’t be a problem.
From there, simply make sure the Auto-Select head is properly on the valve (presta valve is open), and release the charging handle. The held air will rush into the tire, popping the bead into place. Alternately, Bontrager points out that you can remove the valve core and seat the tire before adding sealant which may be more effective on certain set ups. Then the tire can be deflated without breaking the bead, and sealant can be added through the open valve then re-inflated.
If the Charging process doesn’t completely seat the bead, the pump will already be in ‘inflation’ mode so you can continue pumping manually until the bead pops into place. If the Charging process leaves too much air in the tire, you can use the big red bleed valve to adjust the final pressure.
So just how well does it work? Honestly, it works pretty well. The holding chamber gets up to pressure surprisingly fast, but most tires we’ve tried do need the gauge to be in the red instead of the green. Having tried the Flash Charger on a few tires now, the pump has successfully seated the 26×2.35″ Maxxis Ardent tire on a Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR rim (above) as well as a Bontrager CX3 cyclocross TLR tire on Bontrager Affinity Elite Disc TLR wheels (more on that set up soon). The pump left about 35 psi in the mountain bike tire, and about 65 psi in the cyclocross tire, and seated both beads without issue. As far as sealant and use, the mountain bike set up was fairly dry after being set up months ago, while the cross set up is basically brand new with fresh sealant.
Considering the retail of the pump is set at $119.99 which is more than some basic air compressors (though you also need to factor in the price of high flow presta valve adapters or a presta-flator), the TLR Flash Charger is an interesting product. It carries the benefits of working as a standard floor pump, not needing electricity, including the ability to pump road tires to high pressures, and being quite a bit more portable, but air compressors with a 5+ gallon tank will still probably win in the tubeless set up department, especially for things like fat bikes. We have to hand it to Bontrager though for creating a unique pump that works as advertised and provides a human powered alternative to seating all manners of tubeless tires.
We’ll continue to test out the Flash Charger on other Tubeless systems and tires, but based on our initial impressions the pump should be a hit.