I have lost years off of my life setting up tires tubeless with just a floor pump. Pumping like a short-circuited oil derrick to create enough pressure to get a tire to seat is often tougher than the worst intervals. And when all that huffing and puffing results in nothing more than a still-flat tire, the frustration equals unhealthy points on the old blood pressure.
The trusty air compressor helps, but that’s not always an option in the field. So when the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger arrived promising simple, hand-powered tubeless setups—that’s TLR, for tubeless ready—I got to field-testing fast.
From the front, this thing looks like a standard pump, with a sturdy metal base, a thin, polished aluminum shaft, and a plastic handle—pretty standard stuff. But on the backside of the primary shaft is a secondary chamber the size of a rocket launcher, which has a Code Red-looking lever and a gauge that tops out at a whopping 160 PSI.
With the lever up, the Flash Charger works like any other pump: slip the head onto the valve stem and pump 'till you’ve reached your preferred pressure. There’s even a bleed valve for fine-tuning.
It’s with the lever down that this pump distinguishes itself. The switch isolates and closes off the larger, secondary chamber so that you can fill up the high-volume space to high pressure. Once it’s armed, with the pump head in place on your tire, a flick of the red lever unleashes a surge of air like a volcanic eruption—or at least an air compressor. The idea is that the burst of air will blast loose-fitting tire beads into the rim bed with ease.
From what I’ve seen so far, it works. I’ve now installed seven tubeless-ready fat tires and five standard bead tires (two 29+, two 29, and one 27.5) on a wide variety of rim types, all tubeless and all on the very first attempt. It takes a bit of effort to fill up the Flash Charger: around 40 pumps, the last few of which are a bit stiff. But every time I’ve topped it up and thrown that red lever, the tires have popped into place with that satisfying rubber-on-metal snap. Job done, blood pressure still low.
I can’t yet attest to the durability of the Flash Charger or how it will fare at pumping up countless tires. But I can say that setting up seven tires in a row with not so much as a single retry (much less a string of profanities about how nothing ever works as it should) has to be a new record, even including the air compressor.
Few products come along that genuinely excite me, and the TLR Flash Charger ($120) definitely has my attention. Nearly 50 mountain bikes pass through our offices each year for testing, and I have to convert about 90 percent of them to tubeless. In simplifying that process, this pump may not only make my life easier, it might just help me live longer.