Monday, December 7, 2015

Silca Bike Pumps - the news is mixed

After a long weekend of errand-running and off-road cycling, it is time to resume blogging.  So, Saturday I had a small bike gear maintenance task before me: While inflating road bike tires, the handle on my 13 year old Silca floor pump would ride back up if I didn't keep pressure on things.  It was easy to guess that it was the check valve, and it was simple to diagnose and repair.  There's an obvious bolt screwed into the bottom brass body of the pump, and as things should go with any quality tool, the bolt came out easily enough and there on the end of the check valve
, right on top of the o-ring, was a fleck of brass left over from when the pump was manufactured.  It is a rare thing when fixing an older piece of equipment that the problem is so up front and obvious.  After removing the fleck, adding a light coat of synthetic grease on the o-ring, and bolting things back together, the pump's as good as new.  All's good, right?  Maybe.

Out of curiosity I looked on line for Silca's current status.  They're still around, and what's more they've moved to America!  So, let's look at the line-up... hmm, some "trophy" pumps for $450, some artist's signature pumps for $800, hmm, where is the main line-up?  None.  Bottom line is that there isn't a line of reasonably priced pumps anymore.  Silca's gone all artisanal on the cycling world.

Now, on one hand I do appreciate finely crafted tools.  A good pump that will last decades but initially cost 2-4x as much as a cheap-but-functional plastic pump is a bargain, and a joy to use. But... we're talking $100, maybe $150 maximum here.  $450 is way out of line.  A $450 pump simply does not rattle around in the toolbox.  You don't loan it to a buddy a the trailhead and say "toss it in the back of the truck when you're done, nobody's gonna mess with it."  Your kids don't take it down the street to fix a friend's flat.  It's no longer a pump, it's ... a status symbol?  Art?  Whatever it is, it's not something that a grad student skimps for a month to buy.  It's not something that your favorite bike shop leaves by the front door for customers' use. It's not something that a young up-and-coming racer can afford.  Effectively, the affordable quality tool that was a Silca pump has been removed new production.  What a shame.

Now, there are two silver linings in this dark cloud.  First, reasonably priced repair parts are still available from this new Silca company.  Secondly, vintage Silca pumps are available on eBay in the $40-$80 range.  They may be a little scratched up, but they do last decades.  The older of my two pumps is fast approaching the 30 year mark.  And as just pointed out, any required parts are available.

Here's a list of relevant links:
the new Silca site
eBay Silca pumps
NPR asks What makes a bike pump worth $450?
Wired takes on the $450 pump too
finally, leave it to Popular Mechanics to give this a proper blue-collar sendup.

Look, I don't begrudge an over-the-top ultralux gizmo for a high-end professional's 50th birthday gift.  It is kind of cool.  But really, the world needs good quality workman's tools.  A pump that you can use, without having to rush in with furniture wax and touch-up paint afterward.

Final thought, it is sad to think that I have probably bought my last new Silca pump, ever.  While I do have two and will probably never use up either one, if some tragedy strikes, a lesser pump – or maybe one of those eBay beauties – will take its place.  I won't be giving a $450 pump as a gift.  Who wants a white elephant to feed and guard?  Again, the only remaining silver lining is that repair parts are available, and these things were built for hard use and easy repairs.

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