Am I the only guy other than the webBikeWorld crew who uses a hand-operated air pump to fill my motorcycle tires?
There haven’t been very many comments sent in by readers with suggestions for new products to review.
I was scrounging around Rick’s garage and uncovered a pile of air pumps both large and small that have been featured in webBikeWorld reviews when I mentioned that I use a hand-operated floor pump also.
“Wanna try this one?” he asked, flashing the Zéfal Alaskan before my eyes.
“I’ve had this on the back burner for months but just haven’t gotten around to it.”
So we took a couple of photos and I was on my way. But not before Rick showed my his all-time favorite, the old Zéfal Plus shown below in blue.
That pump is a true two-stage unit the he said was about 20 years old.
It pumps air on both the up and down strokes, which is a pretty cool idea. The gaskets are worn out, so it leaks too much air and the Zéfal Alaskan was the only other two-stage pump he found to replace it.
The Zéfal Plus had a replacement air hose and valve adapter installed some time ago, which seemed to feel a lot sturdier than the valve adapter on the Zéfal Alaskan.
In fact, one of my biggest gripes with the Zéfal Alaskan has to do with its valve adapter, which is the business end of any air pump. The adapter on the Alasan seems like it was designed by someone who never tried it on a motorcycle or car tire.
It’s designed — or over-designed — to fit both a Schrader and Presta valve stem. You’ve probably seen a Schrader valve stem; it’s the type used on every car and motorcycle tire ever made that I’ve ever seen.
The Presta stem is a nasty little narrow thing used on Pro bicycle tires that are inflated to like 150 psi or something — I think there’s a rant somewhere on webBikeWorld about them. Basically, you want to avoid them at all costs.
So the “ASV”, or Auto Select Valves, on the Zéfal Alaskan adapter is designed to automatically adjust for either type of stem — but it doesn’t adjust for either very well. Or at least it doesn’t for the Schrader type…
I have a huge amount of trouble trying to get the Zéfal Alaskan valve adapter to seat correctly on any of the motorcycle or car tires I’ve tried.
Now maybe this one is defective, but it looks fine to me and it was a brand-new pump, with all the labels still attached.
If I mess with it enough, I can hold it on or get it to hold firmly enough on the valve stem, but it takes so much effort that it’s not worth it. The problem is compounded by the way-too-flexible lever handle on the adapter.
The handle is designed to be flipped up to lock the adapter on the tire valve and create the seal necessary to prevent air from leaking out when the pump is operated.
This handle is made of thin plastic, and it flexes so much that it feels like it’s going to break off. It’s a very poor design, in my opinion. You can’t tell whether it’s locking the adapter on the valve stem or not.
It should be made from metal or at least some type of stiff plastic that’s 4-5 times thicker than they’ve used.
Also, the entire adapter body is pretty large and not really optimal for fitting on a motorcycle tire valve stem, which is usually buried under spokes or cast wheel webbing.
The Zéfal Alaskan is available with either the digital readout gauge shown here, or an old-fashioned analog dial gauge. I can only find the dial gauge version on the Zéfal website, so apparently they have discontinued the digital version.
As a rule, I don’t use the air pressure gauges that are mounted directly on the pump anyway, instead relying on my trusty Accutire pressure gauge. The built-in gauges never seem accurate; either that or I can’t read them because of their too-crowded displays.
So the digital gauge of the Zéfal Alaskan does give a clear readout in tenths of a psi (00.0) or hundredths of a bar (0.00), which is a good thing, because Zéfal claims it can pump up to 230 psi (16 bar)!
Imagine a tiny analog dial with 230 gradations — you probably wouldn’t be able to read it within 5 psi or more!
One puzzling issue is that although Zefal claims it can pump up to 230 psi, the digital readout only has two digits.
I haven’t tried pumping anything over about 35 psi or so, so I’m not sure what happens when it gets up to 99 psi. No matter…
The digital readout uses three AAA batteries, but cross your fingers that you don’t ever have to change them.
I took it apart just to see, and instead of using some simple plastic clips or snaps to hold the batteries, you first have to unscrew four very tiny screws to remove the digital readout housing, then unscrew another tiny screw that holds the batteries.
Trust me, this is a real pain.
Fortunately, the LCD readout must not use much power and so far the factory installed batteries have been fine. But since I never use the readout anyway, if the batteries ran down, I wouldn’t bother replacing them.
The digital readout doesn’t seem very accurate anyway. I compared it to my Accutire gauge and a Roadgear digital air pressure gauge, both of which read nearly identical. The Zéfal Alaskan digital gauge reads about 3 psi high at 35 psi.
Another problem I have with the Zéfal Alaskan is the pump itself.
It seems very stiff and it’s hard to move the handle up and down through its strokes — much harder than my basic single tube Blackburn floor pump.
This issue is compounded by the problem with fitting the adapter to the tire valve stem. If the adapter isn’t a perfect fit to the tire’s valve, backpressure builds up in the tubes of the air pump, making it difficult or impossible to move the handle up and down.
The 3-foot long air hose on the Zéfal Alaskan can be removed by unscrewing it from the base.
I thought I could possibly find a replacement hose and adapter like Rick has for his Zéfal Plus that might solve the most annoying problem, the difficulty in fitting the adapter to the tire’s valve stem.
But the threaded connector on the Zéfal Alaskan seems to be non-standard, so I couldn’t find a suitable replacement.
The wide base on the Zefal Alaskan works well to hold the pump upright and steady, and the wide “T” shaped handle is made from firm rubber to make it comfortable to use.
Overall, the pump seems sturdy and well made, other than the flimsy locking handle on the valve adapter.
So in the end, I have to say that for me, the Zéfal Alaskan has too many design flaws. It is very hard to get the valve adapter to seat correctly and the pump is stiff and very difficult to operate.
The pump just doesn’t work as well as the single-tube floor air pumps I’ve tried — the inexpensive types with the small and simple valve adapters.
Which brings up another problem: the Zéfal Alaskan has a list price of $99.99. Sure, it can be found for as low as $75.00 or so, but for me, that’s a lot of money for something that I really can’t use.
I’d like to like the Zéfal Alaskan, really I would! The idea of getting air pressure on both the up and down strokes is a good one, but not in this implementation, in my opinion.
If any webBikeWorld readers have experience with this pump that is different than mine, I’d love to hear it.
From “S.W.” (July 2016): “Thanks for the fact-based review. I’m trying to find a replacement check valve for my old blue pump, that has served for motorcycle and auto tires as well as bikes for over thirty years, and it seems the Alaska is not worth the money as a replacement — don’t need the aggro.
Damn shame, because the double-action blue is such a delight. The kind of item that deserves an engineering award and a place in MOMA, in my view.
I have recently acquired an electric pump for blowing out lines, etc., but don’t want to use that on bike tires anyway. Too easy to over-pressurize . . .”
From “T” (10/08): “No, you’re not the only one using a hand-operated air pump to fill motorcycle tires. I also use it on our cars and anything else that has a Schrader valve on it and needs to be inflated.
Anyone who thinks they need something more than that has serious physical limitations (which in that case shouldn’t be operating a motorcycle) or likes to spend more money than they need to.
That said, I too find that with my cheapo floor pump with an analog gauge (bought from a bicycle store), the PSI reads lower than it really is when I fill my motorcycle tires and usually follow up with a separate tire pressure gauge just to be sure.
It’s more accurate with my bicycles, perhaps because they typically have higher PSI capacity tires (90-120 psi). Regardless, there’s no excuse not to have one. You can pick one up at any Target or WalMart store.”
From “M.H.” (10/08): “Do not despair, you’re not alone, I too use a floor pump for my tires. I have a Topeak Joe Blow Sport Floor Pump (review), which I’ve had for several years. Costs around $30, built in analog gauge, and best of all you can get parts for it.
No, wait, best of all, it’s yellow 😉 I’ve used it on bicycles, motorcycles, cars and trucks, works fine.
Speaking of Zéfal, I had Zéfal HP frame pumps on my bicycles for years. Not very good pumps, expensive and hard to use.”