Bontrager Flash Charger TLR review$119.99

A game-changing innovation for tubeless tires

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Tubeless and tubeless-compatible rim and tire systems have advanced by leaps and bounds, yet there are certain rim and tire combinations that still elicit puddles of sealant and expletive-laced tantrums when attempting to seat with a floor pump.

In those instances, many home mechanics resort to using CO2 canisters or an air compressor to get that reassuring “snap” that indicates the bead is firmly seated. Bontrager’s new Flash Charger TLR combines the blow-hard ability of an air compressor with the portability of a floor pump. The Flash Charger TLR is a game changer.

  • Pros: Supremely capable, human-powered air compressor
  • Cons: Flimsy plastic handle and pump head

How it works

To pressurize the auxiliary chamber, the user flips the red lever into the down position. It takes approximately 45 pumps to reach the maximum pressure of 160psi. With the pump head firmly seated on the valve, the user pulls up on the lever, releasing the air from the pressurize chamber and seating the tire.

The red lever controls air flow into the chamber: the red lever controls air flow into the chamber
The red lever controls air flow into the chamber: the red lever controls air flow into the chamber

We experimented with as many tire and rim combinations as possible, including notoriously stubborn combinations such as non-tubeless compatible tires on UST rims and new tires that still had pinched beads from being folded in their packaging. We even successfully used this floor pump to seat fat bike tires. In all cases the Flash Charger TLR proved up to the challenge.

It’s worth noting that with some high-volume tires (as well as fat bike tires) we did have to add a few more pumps after we released air from the pressurized chamber to get the bead to snap into place evenly around the entire circumference of the rim — a minor detail, as the pump had already done the hard work for us.

While many companies offer ‘mountain bike specific’ floor pumps with a high-volume chamber, so the user can inflate meaty mountain bike tires with fewer pumps, and a detailed, low-pressure gauge to aid in fine tuning tire pressure, the addition of a pressurized chamber to make seating virtually any tubeless tire and rim combination a breeze is truly a game-changing innovation that resets the playing field.

A home mechanic could purchase an air compressor for the same price as this human-powered pump. However, the Flash Charger TLR is much quieter, takes up less space, and is extremely portable.

In short, all other pump manufacturers have a lot of catching up to do. The Flash Charger TLR is what every MTB-specific floor pump should be. That’s not to say this pump is limited to mountain bike usage. Branding the Charger TLR pump as specific to off-road tubeless applications is selling it short — it’s also quite effective at seating stubborn tubeless road and cyclocross tires.

Really, really good, but just short of greatness

While it successfully seated every rim and tire combination we threw at it, the Flash Charger TLR is not without areas for improvement.

For one, insubstantial plastic parts are featured quite prominently on a pump costing US$119. The Flash Charger TLR has a stamped metal base and a thick metal chamber to withstand the maximum recommended 160psi, but the plastic lever on the pump head feels quite thin. (The head works well with both Presta and Schrader valves.) Likewise the plastic handle flexes on the downstroke. Neither feels robust, and we question the durability over many years.

Bontrager’s own US$109 Super Charger is a prime example of the construction we expect from a high-end pump — it features an alloy base, cylinder and handle.

While the cost of innovation certainly factors into the materials used for the Flash Charger TLR, we would like to see a more rugged, premium version suitable for the rigors of use by race mechanics (and persnickety tech editors).

The location of the gauge is good. a more detailed gauge, especially with low-pressure settings, would make it better: the location of the gauge is good. a more detailed gauge, especially with low-pressure settings, would make it better
The location of the gauge is good. a more detailed gauge, especially with low-pressure settings, would make it better: the location of the gauge is good. a more detailed gauge, especially with low-pressure settings, would make it better

Another potential negative to be mindful of is when connecting the pump, the barrel fills with the air from within the tire. Due to the generous volume of the barrel, it means attempting to top-up or check the pressure on a road tire leads to a low starting point and more pumping required.

Last but not least, the gauge could use improvement. It gives readings from 0-220psi. The result is that it is quite difficult to fine tune tire pressure within ± one or two PSI — a critical factor for many mountain and cyclocross racers. A second, low-pressure gauge would be a welcome addition.

Verdict

Despite misgivings about its construction, this pump functioned flawlessly through the test period. Bontrager’s Flash Charger TLR floor pump is incredibly capable and packs the punch of an air compressor in a lighter, more portable package.

Josh Patterson

Tech Editor, US
Josh has been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1998. Being stubborn, endurance racing was a natural fit. Josh bankrolled his two-wheeled addiction by wrenching at various bike shops across the US for 10 years and even tried his hand at frame building. These days Josh spends most of his time riding the trails around his home in Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Age: 35
  • Height: 170cm / 5'7"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 72cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Mountain, cyclocross, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Anywhere with rock- and root-infested technical singletrack. He also enjoys unnecessarily long gravel races.
  • Current Bikes: Trek Remedy 29 9.9, Yeti ASRc, Specialized CruX, Spot singlespeed, Trek District 9
  • Dream Bike: Evil The Following, a custom Moots 27.5+ for bikepacking adventures
  • Beer of Choice: PBR
  • Location: Fort Collins, CO, USA

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