SILCA SuperPista Ultimate: The Long Term Review
It is a case study in design and materials spec and certainly expensive, but as we’ll explain (in the kind of detail only a true tech geek could love) the Silca SuperPista Ultimate is very likely worth every penny.
Transcendent product quality is uncommon for cycling product and getting more so by the day as companies go off shore not just for cheap labor but for product design as well. But I’ve now seen Silca’s SuperPista Ultimate Pump in publications like Wired and Men’s Journal and on sites like Lumberjac and Extravaganzi. Even further off the beaten path, I just heard them on NPR! After running the pump through a slew of wheel, tire and tire pressure testing in addition to simply pumping an uncommonly large fleet of personal bikes, I can tell you that beyond looking good enough for the guys at LuxuryLaunches.com, this pump was designed to do its thing very well for a long time.
Long before the SuperPista Ultimate (I’ll call it the “Super P”) was launched, I knew it would be a benchmark product.
Joshua Poertner took over Silca a couple of years ago and set about building products to his own set of standards. To understand what that means, you have to understand a little bit about the guy that owns Silca.
Full disclosure… I like the Josh and have depended on him for information good enough to keep me from looking like a complete idiot (arguably his greatest accomplishment)… I was the first journo to request a full factory and manufacturing visit at his old job (directing product development at Zipp) and I’ve been stealing his thoughts for years since then…
Josh is the brightest guy I’ve met in cycling. He’s a true geek with a depth and breadth of material and manufacturing process knowledge and creativity such that it should not fit in a normal sized head along with other functions like speech, eyesight or bowel control… Really, he should have died walking into traffic or drown in a bowl of soup by now but he’s a strangely normal guy.
Maybe one of Josh’s character flaws is that he’s focused on exceptional function to the point of obsession and it really doesn’t matter what the subject is… We’ve talked about watches and Porsche rebuilds from Singer, shock components from NASCAR to MotoGP and the conversation is almost always about the special details that make these things work. We once talked about brake pads for an hour without ever talking about the brakes he was actually working on that were the original reason for my call… Instead of carbon bike rim surfaces and pads, the call focused on a couple of the current suppliers to F1…
I honestly don’t think selling something ever occurs to Josh while he’s designing the product and specifying the materials.
Maybe that’s the keystone that the new Silca is built around. One of the first things that Josh said to me after telling me he was the new owner of Silca was “I just want to make things that live up to a brand with this kind of history and legacy”.
With that in legacy in mind, we should get to the pump and I guess the first part to note would be a quintessential legacy piece in the classic leather plunger washer.
Pumps back in the day used flat washers and, well, along with the cheap pump tubes they ran in, flat washers worked like crap.
Silca decided to make a cupped washer and it’s probably the thing that set their product apart from the rest of the field at the time.
Today, most other pumps use O rings… They’re cheaper and they work fairly well for a while, but they wear quickly relative to leather and they’re far less durable when you introduce grit inside the tube. Silca tried other products that were more modern, but old school won out strictly based on feel and performance.
Again with the legacy, Silca actually get the leather from the same supplier in Milan that’s been in use since 1946…
This is a full grain piece that is thick and durable and of the same basic saddle grade that Brooks use. If you want to keep a tally, these are multiple times the cost of the rubber used by most pump makers. They hold their shape and work with the lubrication to form an incredibly solid seal.
Of course the washers are running in a precision honed main pump tube that doesn’t have any operating flex and maintains a near perfectly consistent shape making the washer last a lot longer as well as keeping that solid seal…
The downfall of most of the older Silca pumps was a simple dent. These main pump tubes are precision honed 6066-t6 Aluminum with a 3mm wall thickness. Denting them is not simple.
Another key material is the bushing at the top of the pump that deals with the bulk of the friction. It’s from IGUS and the makeup is proprietary.
No other bike pump uses this part from this company and I don’t know anyone else using this level of product from any other manufacturer either. This bushing alone costs more than the gauge on the majority of bike pumps available.
It happens to be from the same gasket material used in Fox’s Float shocks and forks. Porsche use IGUS parts in their shocks and shift linkage as well. The material feels almost frictionless to the touch.
So you mate the smoothness of the leather washer moving inside a precision honed main tube with a plunger running through a bushing that costs more than the gauge on most pumps… What could you possibly need to add to make this all work easier and last longer?
Well of course you would make the plunger rod from 7005 Aluminum and center-less grind it to a super smooth 20mm and then you would send the rods off to be Teflon Impregnated / Hard anodized (7005 Alu likes the slick treatment)…
Every moving / pumping component of the Super P was carefully selected, not only to move very easily, but do so for a very long time.
Another critical component that is specific to the SuperPista Ultimate is this check valve (it lets air through to the gauge and hose but not back into the pump cylinder). There isn’t another cycling pump valve with even a quarter of the mass and complexity of this unit.
There’s a lot going on here and none of it resembles what you see on any other current bike pump.
The main bulk of material is 6066-t6 aluminum (1).
Legacy again??? The Brass pin (2) is the same pin that’s been used by Silca since 1946. Like the Leather plunger washer, this brass pin is also coming from the original supplier. It’s made in the same factory in Italy by the grandchildren of the man who ran the shop and made the first pins right after WWII.
When you pump air into the gauge and hose (the down stroke), the pin is compressed downward (3) through the steel guide (4) and at the end of the stroke, the 302 Stainless Spring (made to spec in Indianapolis…) returns the pin in place.
There’s actually a function to the chamber space (5) just below the seal of the pin in that this area can trap dirt and moisture before it gets to the gauge… There’s another area that can trap contaminants in the brass elbow before the gauge.
Pretty much all other floor pumps eschew the mechanics and metal of the Super Pista and instead the “check valve” consists of a simple rubber ball or flap over a small hole. Over time the flap or ball degrades and that makes for a pump that will break down and be both less accurate and less efficient as the seal allows air back away from your gauge (and tire) back into the pump cylinder.
Silca do have some rubber, but it’s in the form of O rings (6) that will last for the better part of 25 years of normal use. And they’re not simple “rubber”… They’re Dupont’s Viton material which will resist not only virtually any of the chemicals involved in lubricating the cylinder but are also highly heat resistant (heat is what kills a lot of lesser pump seals and check valve balls because they heat up a lot with more friction trying to pump things at 100+ psi).
Finally of you might hear a plastic on plastic “CLACK” as you bottom out the plunger on your current pump. You don’t hear that smack with the Super P of course because there’s a Urethane bump stop at the top of the check valve that damps the impact (7).
Instead all you hear is the tiny “click” as the pin springs into place shutting a check valve (a valve that, stand alone, likely cost more to make then your current pump).
Once the air is compressed and passes through the check valve it passes into the “surf board” where it splits to both the hose and gauge.
Silca’s gauge is also fairly non-standard.
For starters, Silca work with a +/- 1% gauge accuracy… The industry standards are +/- 5%.
So at 100 psi, the Silca unit starts life within 1 pound of the gauge reading.
While that 1% is at the top of the industry, the number is perhaps less important than how they can make the claim. Silca’s gauges are individually calibrated and serial numbered at the gauge factory. I know of no other pump maker doing this for every single gauge… In fact there are gauges used on pumps that cost less than just the assembly and calibration of Silca’s unit.
Silca also run a test ahead of final assembly at their own facility before shipping. They pressurize all the gauges and test them at 100 psi. If the gauge doesn’t pass their second check, it’s returned to the gauge maker.
Part of the reason for this isn’t necessarily about the 1% accuracy at the start of a pumps life. All gauges will lose accuracy over time. Even gauges made like Silca’s, using metal gears and springs and a metal membrane to move the needle. All of these parts are made to high spec not just to start life at 1% but to maintain far greater accuracy with wear and use.
Accuracy is getting to be of greater and greater importance as we’re seeing a lot larger tire sections used commonly rather than just for special events. Still, it was at a fairly special event that gauge accuracy came to light while Josh was working to make a carbon wheel tough enough to roll through Paris Roubaix. Tire pressures are hugely important at the cobbled classic and the CSC team was having issues that people were having a hard time explaining. It turned out that the team had a pump that was just 2 years old and it was off 9 PSI at just 72 psi.
It’s with that in mind that Silca are offering a second gauge that holds that tight accuracy even at lower pressures…
Silca sell both 0-160 and 0-60 psi gauges stand alone and the swap is really simple (two hex screws and a minute). They also sell a pump with both gauges… The 0-60 psi for cross or mountain is actually accurate to a crazy .5 psi…
The thing about the hose being able to withstand 12000 PSI of course has nothing to do with cycling. This is one area where Silca could have tried to make a proprietary part, but there was an existing part that made a lot of sense…
The two things you want from a pump hose are zero expansion (expansion = wasted energy as you pump and potentially less accuracy) and durability inside and out.
The expansion and a portion of the durability come from the braided steel fibers that wrap around the PTFE tube that the air passes through.
The PTFE tube is corrosion and moisture resistant and heat resistant. The steel is expansion resistant, heat resistant and with its extruded red urethane outside layer, this will bend without breaking for a very very very long time.
As for taking heat and pressure and resisting chemicals, Silca are not the first company to use this product for two wheeled application… I’ve used it multiple times in the past, most recently on this Italian bike.
This is race tech used commonly in both auto and moto brake lines where incredible heat and pressure are applied. Thankfully the tech here (while multiple times the cost of simple rubber) is relatively affordable versus designing a special part that would have probably cost more in order to reach a lesser specification.
To extend the longevity of this hose and to make for easier handling of what is certainly a stiffer hose than the floppy rubber on your current pump, Silca have added rotational fittings at both the pump base and at the Air Chuck.
These allow you to twist and turn the hose without binding and they greatly enhance the life of the hose…
The hose is actually warranted for 25 YEARS as a non-wear item for this pump despite being a very common failure part on loads of other pumps.
Another common wear part for loads of other pumps is the Air chuck itself…
This is the part that I’ve received the most questions about despite its operating on a VERY old design principle.
This little guy (below) is at the heart. I call it the “dome of the chuck” and it’s a gasket made of “we’re not telling you”.
Suffice it to say that this material is a full synthetic that’s currently used in the oil drilling industry and is used to seal around drilling pipe sections (the working bits that take crap-loads of abuse).
Basically you just shove the Air Chuck over your valve stem (threads and all, don’t be shy). And you start pumping.
The question I get is usually in the form of a statement along the lines of “That chuck is gonna come flying off like a damn bullet at high pressures!”.
Here’s why for bike purposes that’s not at all likely (though someone out there could “myth-buster” pressurize it to do something stupid…).
The Dome of the Chuck sits inside a pressurized bell… Silca made the Air chuck with some extra volume inside specifically for this purpose….
When you pressurize the area inside the Air Chuck, it acts on the dome to force the gasket material to squeeze tightly all the way around the section of the valve stem inside the chuck…
The higher the pressure, the tighter the squeeze and at Bike pressures, it should hold quite well.
Of course over time, this gasket can get worn down. And it’s very easily replaced. You simply unscrew the bottom of the chuck and pop out the old one and pop in the new (with some force).
I can say that I thought the gasket in this unit would be torn to shreds inside after a lot of use, but it frankly looks like it’s been used a dozen times. The material is soft to the point that it seems like it should have come apart months ago but it’s in great shape.
Operation is simple. There are no levers to operate (or break off) and the chuck is damn solid. You just press it on, pump and pull it off (pulling it off is probably the hardest part).
Silca do sell a lever chuck that’s made exactly as you might expect based on this pump… It’s called the Hiro and it feels like it should belong in an auto shop. In the case you need to inflate disc wheels etc. you can give one a try…
The other two touch points that you’ll interact with are also made with silly detail that go well beyond “borderline” obsessive…
The unit’s base is just silly heavy for its purpose. 800 grams.
The base is cast Zinc for weight and durability and because it takes finishing well.
Its PVD coated and then epoxy dipped.
The thing about a lot of floor pump bases is that they tend to have a lot less surface area than this. They’re usually thicker than this and no place near as flat. All of that is generally because it can be done with cheaper material that’s easier to mass produce in one shot.
Cast zinc can retain its durability despite being fairly thin. Silca build on this by also molding in a cleat friendly dip on both sides.
This last component is probably the most photographed bike pump handle ever.
It’s turned Redwood.
The center and caps are investment cast stainless steel…
So this is a pretty handle, but as is the case with everything else on the SuperPista Ultimate, the handles shape and size went through a lot of think and rethink… It’s designed with a bit of bulge to fit naturally in the palms of your hands…
So far, the pumps are performing well, even under heavy team use.
Some of the biggest pump destroying teams around are track based. These are fairly large teams, centrally located at the track and doing a massive volume of pumping. Silca are working with pro teams like Bigla and Cannondale CX as well as several individual pro tour mechanics for obvious accuracy reasons, but possibly the best performance sampling comes from the Marion University Track.
Marion are pumping 25-30 sets of wheels a day during typical training and when they have a race weekend, they jump to 50-60 per morning over a couple days and they’re racing some place around 40 weekends a year. That volume makes for easy math and Silca find that the Gaskets are lasting 2500 – 3000 Inflations. So the big “wear” item on the Super P will, for most folks, last 10+ years.
Silca offer a 25 year warranty on the non-wear parts and frankly nothing on my heavily used (for an individual) SuperPista looks like it’s been used at all…
But let’s set aside the fact that this thing was made at a quality level suitable to think that your great-grandkids will eventually own it and understand that the function of the SuperPista after a year of use is beyond the sum of its exceptional parts list.
The first time I used the pump, I thought there was no air being compressed in the first several strokes… I could hear air moving but it didn’t feel like it was being compressed. The lack of friction at lower pressures while pumping is notable.
It’s also notable that the rest of the pumps in the house take from 3 to 6 extra pumps to get to 100 psi for the same 23 section tire (and rim, as rim size will dictate the volume / space being pumped too). The Silca takes 18 strokes to 100, so that’s 16% – 33% more pumping efficiency for the Super P on the number of strokes. And of course the force required for each stroke matters as much as the number of strokes.
The pump that takes 6 more strokes is made specifically to be easier to push at high pressures but it actually feels like a similar amount of force is being applied versus the Silca… It’s just moving a lot less air than the Silca… And it’s not as stable (it’s 30% lighter than the Silca with a much smaller platform and more eight at the top of the pump than the base, so it falls over easier when not in use). And the impact at the bottom of the stroke is harsher than the Silca. And the Air Chuck is harder to put on and take off than the Silca (not to mention I had to replace the other pumps air chuck after the first year).
Oh, and the gauge on this pump and the other two in the house are not as accurate as the Silca.
To check Accuracy, I used a (stupidly expensive) digital high pressure gauge from a company called Ashcroft, after I checked the tire pressures using the pump’s gauges versus one another and they didn’t agree. The 4 pumps in the house measured 93 psi to 105 psi on the Ashcroft when their gauges read 100. The SuperPista Ultimate read 100.2.
The worst part about that was that one of the pumps measured 4 psi different than itself after 4 inflations… The other two were also at least 1 psi different after 4 inflations. The Silca was within 0.2.
A lot of things could potentially cause this variation in the other pumps… It could be that the hose is expanding and the check valve doesn’t work right and all of the strokes are not pushing air consistently. It could be that the gauges are simply poorly made. It could be blow-by / leaking at the inflation head – air chuck. It could be that all of the seals or fittings (a lot more plastic than metal) linking all of the components together are leaking. It could be that the plunger doesn’t properly seal when you push down and air is escaping the main pump tube. The lack of accuracy and repeatability could be one or all of those things.
And there’s your answer as to why Silca put all of these materials together and spend the extra money to make a SuperPista Ultimate. The price is incidental here.
So all that brings us back to Josh saying “I just want to make things that live up to a brand with this kind of history and legacy”…
I have news for you Josh. Even considering time and technology changes and the fact that a few of the original parts are still used, Silca never made a product this nice – until now.
With this and the new Eolo and Impero, you’ve moved past living up to the name and are redefining it as something more than it was.
You can see all of Silca’s products at: SILCA.CC
• Buy the Silca Pump at Amazon
• Buy the Silca Superpista Digital Pump here
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