The Frame Pump

Much of what informs my personal sense of cycling aesthetics comes from what I see the PROs do. I’m not perfect in my adherence—I won’t ride a 53cm frame with a 14cm stem no matter how much weight it will allow me to put on the front wheel—but watching what the big boys do has changed me as a cyclist, there’s no doubt.

However, there remains an element of my idealized image of a cyclist that comes not from the PROs, but of the amateurs who guided me when I wasn’t even good enough to be a Cat. IV. The touches were small but uniform in consistency. All the guys who schooled me four days a week had a tubular strapped under their saddle with a Christophe toe strap. They all had the original Avocet cycle computer with the wire wrapped perfectly around the front brake cable before zip tying the wire down the back of the fork blade with three (not four, not two) zip ties.

Those touches were all S.O.P. But the one that really got me, the one you couldn’t just decide to emulate one Saturday afternoon (because it required planning ahead by months and months), was the frame pump. Now anyone can go out and purchase a frame pump (and certainly the Zéfal HP was the most mechanically sound frame pump ever made), but to do the frame pump correctly, you had to do two things. First, you had to order a frame that actually had a pump peg brazed to the back of the head tube. Second, you had to order a Silca frame pump and it had to be painted with your frame when you purchased it. There were some builders, such as Medici, that would do matching frame pumps for their frames and even offered frame pumps painted to match fades. My friend Jimmy, who worked at a vegetarian market/restaurant called the Squash Blossom had a green and yellow fade Medici that was to me the absolute epitome of journeyman self-sufficiency.

With its matching yellow to green fade Silca frame pump and Campy head (the Silca heads were shit; I know), Jimmy’s bike was so straightforward in execution it couldn’t be defeated by circumstances. Unless he got run over by some redneck’s pickup (and that was always a chance on the country roads outside of Memphis), he could flat and he needed only two items to get home. With his 36-hole Ambrosio rims laced to Campy Nuovo Record hubs via 14-gauge DT spokes, he was never going to suffer a broken spoke or a rim knocked so far out of true from hitting a dead ex-mammal that a wheel wouldn’t be rideable.

The irony of this journeyman cool, the style of the lifer amateur, was that in training races—which constituted anything you either rode to or didn’t include a trophy presentation on an actual podium—the guys I looked up to wouldn’t bother to pull off the frame pump or tubular. They’d add another toe strap to make sure the frame pump wouldn’t come off, but as some of these races didn’t include much in the way of neutral support, they would roll out as if it was just another group ride.

That nonchalance came from a place I learned to revere. They were casual not because they were cool, but because humility permitted nothing like pride. The student of cycling knows that speed isn’t made in a single day, but after months of repetition.


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  1. Doug P

    I still have my campy’s a little rusty, like me. I have never had a matching frame pump, so I settled for basic black. I still have the habit putting a toe strap (Binda Extra I wish!) around my seat bag. Sadly, no clement criterium cottons go there these days. Many’s the time my riding companions would lose their bags when they didn’t have a toe strap there. Some things never change…like having the label of the tire on the right side aligned with the valve hole. When I’m climbing the California or the French Alps, the fear/respect instilled in me when I follow a rider is in inverse proportion to how much they are carrying in their back pockets.

  2. Dave G

    You make me feel bad for not taking better care of my frame pump on my Medici. I just take for granted that wonderful red white and blue fade every time we get out. I must admit to keeping the twin Conti Sprinters in a bag, not just strapped under the seat, although it has been so many thousands of miles since last flatting, I sometimes wonder why I carry two. Memories of those worried rides home without a spare left, remind me of why. Thanks for your prose.

  3. Bikelink

    Since rediscovering the frame pump, I’m sold and now seem to be the only one using one these days (topeak, kept on with it’s own springiness and a velcro strap that comes with it..pumps up tires faster and higher than little pumps and never runs out of gas). I love the mention of training races. I also pride myself on NOT stripping down my bike to save grams, leaving on the frame pump and seatpack, though the repeating loops of a local training race would allow for leaving everything by the roadside where some folks watch.

  4. cwcushman

    I was pretty excited when I discovered that my Masi Gran Criterium had a pump peg. I do a lot of miles by myself and it is always nice having a large pump to deal with the inventible flat. it also makes me pretty popular on training rides.

  5. David Hendry

    A celeste Bianchi bought in 1985 came with a matching pump and water bottle.
    Alas injuries prevent me from using the bike anymore but it is in the hands of my stepson who is getting through his first couple of years of triathlon with the classic old road bike till he decide what form of carbon fiber to replace it with. At that time it reverts to my care even ifit is only to look at longingly from time to time and remember the good days.

  6. armybikerider

    It’s interesting, the various methods to this “madness” in which we participate.

    I remember 20-odd years ago….a local CAT 1/2 in the San Antonio area used to mount his pump along the left seat stay, upside down using the QR lever as the “pump peg.” He definately tried to be Euro cool and PRO, though I could never get my pump very secure that way. I used the cheap Zefal along the seat tube until I could afford the campy-headed Silca painted to match my (long gone) Motta under the top tube.

    It’s also interesting today what various groups consider PRO…….witness Velominati Rules #30 and 31.

  7. [email protected]

    Yeah, I lament the total disappearance of the pump peg from modern road bikes. Swoopy carbon frames with no real ‘corners’ to notch a pump into have really nailed the coffin shut. But I still have one on my Merckx ti, the only frame I have that came with a pump peg. I’m riding on a rolling support crew for a fundraiser century next week, and that’s the bike I’ll bring. Last year on that ride, I stopped to help a rider with a flat after he somehow blew through his two CO2 cartridges. Full-sized pump had him going in no time. If I ever get a custom frame, it’ll have a pump peg.

  8. James

    For me the best use for a frame pump was to keep farm dogs at bay on country roads in Wisconsin! Generally, the fact that I was waving a big stick would keep the dogs from chasing/biting. However, once on a ride with friends we passed this snarling behemoth that we sprinted past but one in the group was lagging behind and the cur was waiting for him. He had just bought a new Zefal which he cracked over the dogs head which transformed his new pump into a boomerang! The dog survived much better than his pump.

  9. slappy

    that seat stay pump placement I recall looking kids funny too. my Cooper has a peg but my leyzne is so effective and fits in my pocket that I’ve yet to find the right frame pump to put there. co2 is lame just like carbon, do you really need the most energy intensive expensive thing to enjoy riding? ok fine, keep me employed as a wrench, silly bike industry…

  10. randomactsofcycling

    Alas, the demise of the pump peg and the chain catcher! I’m building a steel frame and these are two features that are definitely in the drawings.
    But for now, it’s CO2 canisters and being careful not to freeze my fingers to the ‘pump’ hen I inflate.
    Can anyone tell me how to strap a latex inner tube to the seatpost and make it look cool?

  11. David Petersen

    For my customers, I’d compare the Zefal with the Silca on the triple-beam balance. Then I’d compare the plastic campy head with the steel one. Their decisions told me instantly who I was dealing with.

    Oh, and under the top tube was seriously not cool. Always down the seat tube. We had a team mate killed by his pump dropping into the front wheel, the pump could be easily knocked when reaching for a bottle. I’d give away tape, straps or velcro for top-tube hold-outs. And braze-ons? Didn’t that weaken the tubing?

    One bottle was usually enough. I was far more interested in cool than mileage.

  12. Mitch

    The metal campy head was better defense against chasing dogs … the plastic campy head seemed to fit better in some frames. Oh, you just made me remember the need to knead the Silca leather thing to get better pressure. Ah, nostalgia ….

  13. Bill H-D

    At our local Tuesday night race training ride (6 segments, 5 sprint points), we had a guy go down hard in an off-camber turn. No fault – perhaps just a bit too much speed and few too many wheels. Miraculously, he took nobody with him even though he was mid-pack. As we saw to him, I was the only one of twenty-seven or eight carrying a second bottle w/ clean water and a multitool to address the spokes he lost. On a 40 mile ride in 90+ degree heat, all these kids around me had shed as much weight as possible for our Tuesday night tune-up?

  14. Skip McKenzie

    Greetings, nice thread and some great memories. My Medici Pro Strada hangs on the rack and rides like a million bucks just like the day I brought it home from Pine street cycle in Seattle in March of 1982. The original Silca frame pump painted to match with it’s campy head still works like new and saved ride It’s the only road bike I own. Our other bike is the Bushnell tandem.

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