It’s true that you can struggle through motorcycle ownership while owning nothing to replace the air your tires will inevitably lose over time. You can limp to a gas station or your favorite tire shop and use their compressed air. A bicycle pump would certainly carry you through a trip or a power outage.
But owning an air compressor, especially if you also own a garage where you store your motorcycles, is a much better plan. While travel compressors have their place, I’m talking about the kind that need wheels, here.
An air compressor is useful for all kinds of things other than topping up your tires. Once you have a compressor, a galaxy of applications become your domain.
What Else Do I Use a Compressor For?
Beyond using compressed air to power pneumatic tools or fill tires, your air compressor will help you clean grit out of engine parts (like spark plug holes). You can cram the pointy end of a pistol-grip blow gun under your old handlebar grips, blow your old grips right off the bike, and new ones back on. Also, (carefully) pressurize your brake caliper to remove stuck pistons during a rebuild. Compressed air dries surfaces or crevices in a snap, which makes finding leaks easier.
What About Air Tools?
If air tools are your ultimate fantasy, keep in mind that they demand a certain flow rate. Some need a higher flow rate than others. A high-flow-rate compressor will also help you seat a tire bead. That’s something to consider even if you’re levering your own tires on with irons.
If you’re going to try to power a pneumatic impact wrench, note the flow rate of your compressor. Lower flow rate means it will only power a short trigger pull before it needs to catch up. Things like pneumatic brake bleeders, airbrushes, and tire changers all need high, constant flow. In those cases the bigger the compressor, the better.
The tool you’re shopping for will have a CFM (cubic feet per minute) rating, which measures flow rate. So will an air compressor. The numbers should match (or your compressor’s CFM should be higher than the tool’s).
Depending on the size of your garage, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on a given compressor’s decibel rating. If it is loud AF, you are not going to want to turn it on near you.
There are oilless compressors on the market these days that are surprisingly quiet. I own a small one that I can stand next to, while it’s running, and have a normal-volume conversation. I have a larger compressor that I roll outside and close the garage door before turning it on, because it will deafen me.
Remember to bleed your compressor regularly to get all the cruft out of the bowels of the tank. Especially if it hae a steel tank, bleeding the air and any accumulated water from moisture in the air will keep your compressor working great for years to come.
What are some surprising tasks you’ve successfully used your air compressor to accomplish?