A while back, I documented my dalliances with tubeless tires and my transition over to them. As with many new technologies, sometimes an investment in new tools is needed for the best chances of success. One of the tools I went with for my tubeless experiment, and perhaps the costliest of them all, is Bontrager’s TLR Flash Charger 2.0 track pump. I went over its use a little in a previous post, but today I’ll give you a more in-depth look of this thing.
- Dual-chamber design
- “Charge” setting stores a 160 psi burst of air for seating tubeless tires onto wheels
- “Inflate” setting works like a normal track pump
- Digital pressure gauge, max reading 160 psi, blue backlight, powered by one CR2032 battery
- Pressure display switchable between psi and bar
- Valve chuck compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves
- Inflation accessories for balls and inflatables stored in handle
- Solid metal tripod base and overall construction
- Retail price: US$155
One look at this thing tells you this really isn’t your typical plastic floor pump. That impression is reinforced when you hold it and lift it off the ground. The Flash Charger is reassuringly heavy. I’ve had a Giyo GF-42G for a few years now, and that looks and feels like a toy compared to this honker. Carelessly swinging it around overhead, the Flash Charger could double as some sort of blunt trauma melee weapon which wouldn’t break in half at the first strike.
The Flash Charger has to do the basic boring floor pump jobs first, so let’s talk about those. If you have basketballs, footballs, or an inflatable you or your kid(s) use by the pool, Bontrager has you covered. The needle and cone adapters for inflating those are included, and they live in a neat gray caddy that hides away inside the handle. This comes out a little too readily for my liking, but it’s the best way I’ve seen so far to have these adapters easily on hand and not lose them or forget where they are.
The Flash Charger 2.0 comes with a digital pressure gauge, an upgrade from the now-discontinued original. Bontrager thoughtfully bestowed the gauge resolution down to 0.1 psi, which is great for low-pressure, high-volume applications such as fat bikes, mountain bikes, and cyclocross. On the barrel of the pump just above the gauge is a bleed valve button, and the gauge can be used to fine-tune the pressure this way. The blue backlight is annoying, but that’s a personal nitpick. The way you use the lone button also takes a bit of getting used to. You press and hold it in to turn it on, then once you are done you press it again until the gauge says “OFF” – then leave it. If you press the button again while it says “OFF” it will switch units from psi to bar.
The special sauce of the Flash Charger 2.0 is in its dual-barrel construction. One barrel is for inflation, while the other is for holding up to 160 psi of air. This can then be released in a single burst to instantaneously push tubeless tire beads against their wheel rims and seat them. Bontrager touts that this does away with the need for an air compressor, and they were one of the first to market with this concept with the original Flash Charger.
You charge up the secondary barrel by flipping this shorter switch on the left to the “Charge” position. On the other side of the barrel, the longer switch on the right should be set to “Fill Tank,” then pump away. It’ll take me about 60 strokes to get the barrel charged to 160 psi, which says quite a bit about how much air this pump moves and how efficiently it does so.
Once pressurized, press the valve chuck onto the wheel’s valve and lock it in. On a Presta valve application, I had greater chances of successfully seating a tubeless tire if I removed the valve core beforehand. Then flip that big red lever on the right to “Release Pressure.”
Having had tire blowouts at home before, I was a little scared of this part of the operation because high-pressure tire blowouts sound remarkably like gunshots. But no, this was more uneventful than I thought. The Flash Charger itself exhibited no signs of creaking, straining, or other funny noises – just the whoosh of a lot of air once the big red lever is flicked open. You will slowly lose a bit of that charged-up air inside the pump if you wait around for too long before you release it, though. That lack of drama was reassuring because I had to repeat this charging and releasing of 160 psi air multiple times to get my tires to seat properly.
If there is one weakness to this pump, perhaps it’s in the valve chuck. Like many modern pumps, it will automatically accept both Presta and Schrader valves, which is a huge usability advantage over the Giyo GF-42G. On that pump, you need to basically disassemble the valve chuck, flip around two pieces according to which valve you’re inflating, and rebuild it. On this, I just push it on and flip the lever up.
Unfortunately the valve chuck’s ultimate grip on the valve leaves something to be desired. This is especially apparent on my 35 mm Stan’s tubeless Presta valves, which admittedly might be on the short side. The valve chuck has trouble staying on those by itself, needing a helping hand especially when I reinflate my tubeless tires to about 73 psi. Without assistance, the valve chuck literally blows off the valve at 63-65 psi. It does work better on the valves on inner tubes; my indoor training wheel has a Continental inner tube with a 45 mm Presta valve, and it holds on well enough on that as I pump it up to 100 psi. Your mileage may vary, perhaps, with the valves you use this pump with.
There’s no getting around it – $155 (PhP7,955) is a luxurious price for a track pump, especially when Chris Sports can now sell you a similar Beto tubeless track pump for a fraction of the price. That said, Bontrager’s TLR Flash Charger 2.0 does feel like a high-quality item, going quite a ways into justifying its cost by its sheer solidity and well-throught-out features (that higher-resolution digital pressure gauge is hard to beat). It’s easier to rationalize its purchase as a home mechanic’s shop tool expected to last years. I’m fairly confident this will last me quite a while – and that may be money well spent.