Ensuring your tyres are set to the right pressure can feel like a chore, but it’s a relatively simple adjustment that can have a huge effect out on the trail. To read about some of the ins and outs of setting the right tyre pressure for your bike, and why it’s so important on modern mountain bikes, check out our tyre pressure guide here.
As part of that feature, I’ve been testing a variety of different tyre pressure gauges over the past 12 months. These are standalone pressure gauges that I’ve found to be much more accurate than the in-built gauges that come on most floor pumps, and are compact enough to carry with you in your riding pack. Two of the gauges were analogue, and four had digital displays, but all of them are designed to help you accurately measure the pressure inside your tyres, so you can maximise your bike’s performance.
How Accurate Are These Things?
I sweated this question for a while, conjuring up some kooky ideas of how I could lab test gauges to come up with their accuracy across a range of pressures. But, at the risk of being a total hypocrite, the reality is that a gauge’s numerical accuracy isn’t actually that important. Repeatability however, is much more important. As long as that gauge gives you a number that is measurable and repeatable, and that allows you to benchmark and experiment from there, the number itself is almost irrelevant.
The only time accuracy matters is if you’re taking recommendations from someone else. Depending on how that person measures their own tyre pressure, be it with a different gauge or pump, that number may be different to what your gauge presents. As such, always take recommendations – including mine – with a pinch of salt.
Because I’m a bit nerdy [Ed – a bit?!] though, I did end up checking each tested gauge’s pressure readings against all the others in the group test. To do this, I drilled a secondary hole in an old tubeless rim, fitted a second valve, and then tested each gauge at 25 psi, 20 psi and 15 psi, with a different gauge fitted to the second valve.
With this comparative method, most of the gauges came out pretty similar across the various pressure levels tested. That is to say that even if the recorded pressures are a little out from the most accurate pressure reading device in the world, what’s available on the market for the consumer is going to be pretty similar across the board.
From my findings, the most accurate of the lot were the EVT, Fabric and Lezyne gauges, which all read identical pressures. However, the Oxford gauge was extremely close, with only a small discrepancy at the very low end of the scale. And despite being the cheapest, the Schwalbe gauge was only 1-2% off the others. Interestingly, the only gauge that consistently under-read was the Topeak gauge, which read 2 psi less at all three recorded pressures. This seemed a little unusual to me, as I’ve got on very well with the Topeak Smart Gauge in the past. The only factor I can think of that may have influenced the result was whether the Topeak gauge had taken on more sealant than the other gauges – something that can happen over time and will affect the displayed pressure. Cleaning out some dried sealant from the head of the gauge helped to bring the discrepancy down to 1 psi, but I suspect there’s a bit more sealant hiding deeper inside the gauge that’s causing the issue.
Accuracy aside, there are a number of factors that separate these gauges and how easy they are to use on the trail. Each gauge performs its job a little differently, so let’s take a look at each of the six gauges on test.
1. EVT Bleedin’ Gauge
- Range: 0-30 psi
- Price: $110 USD
- From: Efficient Velo Tools
Pros: Accuracy, ease of use, robust construction
Cons: Limited range, only reads psi, expensive
Overall: This is a superb piece of kit from a small US company that offers the same gauge in five different pressure ranges, including the 0-30 psi gauge tested. With an easy-to-read dial and a threaded bleed valve for fine-tuning pressure, it’s a doddle to use. It’s also rebuildable – you can replace the gauge, the urethane washer, and the cotton filter, making it the only gauge here that can be repaired if tubeless sealant gets inside. Overall it is a solid and extremely high quality pressure gauge, which is made for those who appreciate the finer, and more analogue-y things in life. It is expensive, but it’s also beautifully made and an absolute joy to use. Read the full review here.
2. Fabric Accubar Pressure Gauge
- Range: 0-40 psi
- Price: £34.99
- From: Cycling Sports Group
Pros: Value for money, accuracy, versatility
Cons: Limited range, very occasionally can de-core valves during removal
Overall: Fabric’s first standalone pressure gauge has been very well executed. With a 0-40 psi range and a large analogue dial that provides an easy-to-ready display, this isn’t designed for road bikers, but rather for those who own mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes. It is highly accurate and easy to use, and it can also be used inline with a floor or mini-pump. Unfortunately the valve de-coring issue marks it down, but if you make sure your valves are tightened up correctly, this is an excellent option. Read the full review here.
3. Lezyne Digital Check Drive
- Range: 0-350 psi
- Price: £45
- From: Upgrade Bikes
Pros: Compact size, high quality construction, accuracy
Cons: On the expensive side, only reads to the nearest whole psi
Overall: Though the company has been making pumps for over ten years, this is Lezyne’s first tyre pressure gauge. Using the same mechanism found in the Lezyne Digital Shock Drive, the Digital Check Drive will also measure up to 350 psi, and provides a large reading via a vertical display. It’s a very neat and well-made pressure gauge, which has proven accurate too. It is one of the more expensive gauges on test, and some may be bothered that the display only reads to the nearest whole psi, but for ease of use and repeatability, this is an excellent choice. Read the full review here.
4. Oxford DigiGauge
- Range: 0-200 psi
- Price: £21.99
- From: Oxford Products
Pros: Value for money, ergonomic shape and size, accuracy
Cons: Less intuitive to use, bleed button is a little too discreet
Overall: Oxford Products makes several pumps and pressure gauges for both motorcycle and mountain bike use. The DigiGauge is apparently its most high-tech yet, but it still comes in at just over 20 quid, making it the second cheapest gauge on test. It has a compact shape that fits in the hand comfortably, and not only will it read to 0.1 psi, it can be changed to read bar, kPa and kg/m2 depending on your preferences. The bleed button could be easier to use though, and a larger LCD display would also be a nice improvement. Otherwise this is a great value pressure gauge. Read the full review here.
5. Schwalbe Airmax Pro
- Range: 0-160 psi
- Price: £17.99
- From: Schwalbe
Pros: Great value for money, lightweight and compact, accuracy
Cons: No bleed button, display is a little small
Overall: Of the six tyre pressure gauges, the Schwalbe Airmax Pro is one of the oldest here. It’s still a great little gauge though, and is easily the smallest, lightest, and cheapest pressure gauge on test. I would like to see a bleed valve on future versions, but for pure simplicity and accuracy that is pretty close to the best gauges here, the Airmax Pro is ace. Read the full review here.
6. Topeak Smart Gauge D2
- Range: 0-250 psi
- Price: £49.99
- From: Extra UK
Pros: Compact, easy to use, ergonomic
Cons: Was the least accurate of the lot, expensive
Overall: Like the Schwalbe Airmax Pro, Topeak’s Smart Gauge has been around the block a few times. It’s a great little digital pressure gauge with an easy-to-read display, the ability to fit both Presta and Schrader valves, and a ‘Tune’ function that display’s the live pressure reading as you’re bleeding air out of the tyre. I did find this one to under-read consistently by 2 psi compared to the other gauges on test, which I suspect is due to sealant having entered the gauge during the 18 months I’ve had it. I don’t believe this is really a fault of the gauge – it’s something that can happen to any tyre pressure gauge – and I had no such issues when it was new, or with a previous sample I tested many years ago. While I still rate the Smart Gauge, it is expensive, and there are some excellent alternatives from the competition for less money. Read the full review here.
In addition to the gauges on test, there are plenty of alternatives available on the market that are worth a look too. I have also used the BBB digital gauge, which as mentioned, is exactly the same as the Schwalbe Airmax Pro. I didn’t feel it was worth adding that gauge into the group test given they’re the same thing, but it is worth pointing out that the BBB BMP-90 gauge is cheaper with a retail price of £14.95.
I’ve also used the SKS Air Checker – a gauge that Sim tested and reviewed a couple of years ago. The Air Checker was originally scheduled to be in this group test, but SKS has very recently introduced a new version that will be in our possession soon, and added to this group test in due course. In the meantime, you can have a look at the £26.99 SKS Air Checker here.
So, having tested these six pressure gauges for some time now, which one would I choose?
For pure simplicity and value for money, the Schwalbe Airmax Pro is very hard to beat. It doesn’t have a bleed valve, which can make the process more finicky, but it does what it says on the tin and its accuracy will be good enough for most. The Oxford DigiGauge only costs a few quid more, and even if it is a little less intuitive to use and quite beepy, you will get more functionality including a bleed button.
At the other end of the pricing spectrum, the EVT Bleedin’ Gauge is pure machining extravagance. It’s beautifully crafted, and I do love the large analogue dial and the tactile bleed dial. If it fits your desired pressure range, I’d have no troubles recommending it. For the same reasons, I love the Fabric Accubar. But I also hated it briefly when it de-cored my valve. Maybe I’m just unlucky, and the other 98% of the time it’s been flawless, so the Accubar still gets a big thumbs up from me.
If you prefer a digital readout though, the Lezyne Digital Check Drive is also well made, simple to use, and has proved highly accurate too. Given the quality, usability, and versatility across a wider range of pressures, it’s an excellent gauge. It’s also a little cheaper than the Topeak Smart Gauge D2 – a gauge that has been a favourite of mine in the past. But given the stiff competition, I think the Smart Gauge needs to come down in price before I could recommend it over others tested here.
Irrespective of my preferences though, all of these gauges will help you to measure and quantify your current tyre pressure. And that can provide huge benefits on the trail. Given that most of these cost under £50, it’s no doubt one of the simplest but most useful tools you can add to your workshop arsenal. And there’ll be no need for you to ever squeeze a tyre again.
|Price:||£17.99 - $119 USD|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for Up to 18 months|