A portable air inflator as an Editors’ Choice item?
Yes. This is for real. I love this tool.
Those already in the know about portable inflators might be like, “Duh, dude!” This review is not for y’all. It’s for everyone who’s thinking, “WTF is this guy talking about?”
Also, I am not an expert on portable air inflators—this is the first and only one I’ve ever owned—so I won’t be doing any performance comparisons or anything like that. This is more of a public service announcement: if you are a rider of bikes, you need one of these gadgets.
I’m not sure why I didn’t glom onto the concept of the cordless inflator the first time I saw a fellow mechanic using one in the pits of an XC World Cup in 2007. Perhaps because back then, hardly any were available, and they actually were a bit of a joke. But cordless tool tech has come a very long way in recent years. They’re making everything cordless now. DeWalt has a forced-air propane heater on its cordless system, Milwaukee has a flippin’ drill press on theirs, and, not to be outdone, Makita has an 18-volt coffee machine.
Personally, I’m invested in the Makita LXT 18-volt system (next purchase, coffee machine!) so I went with the Makita inflator, model DMP180. The brand has added two more models since this one came out. One is a bigger, beefier version of this one, also on the 18-volt platform, and the other is on Makita’s new 40-volt XGT platform. But I’m perfectly happy with this one because it’s strong enough for all my bike and moto needs and small enough to bring anywhere.
Which is one of my biggest reasons for having this tool totally replace floor pumps. Seriously, if anyone needs a floor pump, hit me up. I have a shitload of them, and I will never touch one ever again.
But you’ll have to show up at my house to pick it up, because floor pumps are a stupid pain in the ass to ship. They’re also a pain to travel with. And even to just have around. I feel like I’m constantly tripping over a floor pump in the shop or trying to find a good place to store it.
This little guy goes right in the top drawer of my toolbox next to my cordless drills. When I go for a ride, I just throw it in my ride bag and I’m all set. I can also throw it in my bike bag when I travel. You know, I think I’ll actually get a second one just for my ride bag. Hang on a sec while I get onto Amazon…
So, yeah, floor pumps are no longer allowed in my shop. Except the Lezyne Shock Digital Drive floor pump. That thing rules—but its days are numbered. As soon as Lezyne makes one of these inflators that can go to 300 psi, that pump is going right onto eBay.
This inflator goes up to 120 psi, which I do actually get close to because I use it to air up suspension forks. See? The Lezyne floor pump is already halfway out the door. And forget about traditional shock pumps. I mean, I still have one, but it’s basically relegated to my ride bag at this point.
I even use the inflator to top up my tires in the shop, where I have a really nice air compressor that might even be more accessible. The digital pressure gauge on the inflator is accurate and has a 0.5 psi resolution. It’s easier to read and more accurate than the gauge on my compressor inflator tool, so I prefer using the Makita for setting tire pressure.
It also has a feature where you can set the pressure, then hold down the trigger, and the inflator will stop pumping at that pressure. In reality, though, it doesn’t work that well, because presta valves suck. Especially when they’re clogged with sealant. If the inflator is too fast for the valve, pressure will build up in the hose and give a falsely high reading, which will cause the inflator to stop short of the desired pressure. Reserve’s valves flow much better and will allow you to use this feature. But I don’t really need it anyway—I’m happy to pay attention for the seconds it takes to reach the pressure I want. Also, the tool doesn’t have a switch lock, so you can’t walk away from it anyway.
Other manufacturer’s inflators do have switch locks, but that’s not a feature I require for my general use. I have used it to top off car and truck tires, but that’s not my main use. This is also why I’m not really tempted to “upgrade” from the DMP180 to the bigger DMP181.
That model does, however, have a pressure release valve, which can come in handy. It also has three speed settings, so for presta valves, you could potentially put the Makita on the lowest speed and use the automatic stop feature. At the lowest speed, pressure might not build up in the line. But the DMP181 is bigger, making it slightly less portable.
Speaking of speed, I have had success installing tubeless tires with this tool, but that’s because most tires and rims fit together well enough these days that floor pumps also work on lots of setups. If this were 2007, there’s no way in hell it’d work.
And this brings me to my final point. An inflator like this definitely does not replace an air compressor. The compressor is an essential tool that gets used for much more than inflating things in my shop. And while the inflator can install a tubeless tire, I’d only use it for that purpose if I had to. Basically this tool is a digital floor pump. It has the same capabilities, except it’s more convenient in every single way. It’s even more convenient now that I’ve replaced the generic head with a Specialized Smarthead—the one and only part on my floor pump that’s not useless to me at this point.
Now, who’s coming over to take all these floor pumps off my hands? I have a couple “really nice” Silca ones.