Review by James Parchman[This Airman Sparrow Compact Air Compressor Review was originally published in the June 2008 issue of Rider magazine]
Packed in the must-carry bag of every well-prepared rider should be a tire inflation device. Not so long ago, gasoline stations were located on every corner, complete with attendants who checked air pressure in tires, and filled, or even repaired, a leaker. Since these seem unlikely to reappear, it makes sense to bring along your own air supply.
There are many options for inflating motorcycle tires, some requiring a lot more work than others. A manually (meaning you) powered air pump, which quickly fills a lightweight dirt bike tire, will most likely leave you exceedingly hot and breathless before sufficiently inflating a flat rear tire on your loaded Stratoliner. Disposable aerosol cans and tubes are another option, but you’ve got just one shot at getting it right. Air pumps that operate from engine compression require removal of a spark plug, a lengthy process on some machines. Since frequent air pressure checks are the best path to long tire life, a DC-powered air compressor is our preferred choice, doing double duty, at home and on the road.
Portable air compressors range in size from smaller than a paperback Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to larger than a 12-pack of brewskis, and sell for less than $20 to upward of $100. Important considerations are packability, ample inflation output and ease of connection.
We tested the Airman Sparrow, a portable compressor that is both sized and priced at the lower end of the spectrum, but which gives up little to its larger and more expensive competitors. The Sparrow is a compact (5.75 x 4.75 x 2.5 inches) and lightweight (1.5 pounds), hard plastic unit that stores easily in a duffle, side case or under the seat of many motorcycles. Two power connection options are available for this 150-psi compressor. One cleverly fits both a cigarette lighter and Powerlet (BMW) female plug. The other incorporates alligator clamps, allowing attachment to various types of batteries. No dangling cords either; when not in use, the Sparrow’s 10 1/2-foot power cord tucks inside its housing, while its 10-inch air hose wraps around its case. The Sparrow has a built-in air gauge, which we found to be as accurate as our favorite pocket model.
Small compressors inflate more slowly than the gas station variety; it takes about a minute after coupling the air valves and switching power on for a usual 1-3 psi top-off. Inflating a full-sized tire from 0-32 psi required slightly more than five minutes. We were able to seat a front tire on a Honda ST1100 in about 10 minutes. Some DC compressors get hot and extremely noisy during operation; we did not find this to be the case with the Sparrow.
The Sparrow is produced by Active Tools A/S (www.activetools.dk), a Danish company claiming title as being the world’s largest producer of 12-volt air compressors. It is widely available in the USA, at around $25, a good value. We’ve owned an Airman Sparrow for several years, and found that the newest model has received some positive tweaking on a basic and well conceptualized design.
For more information contact Innovation Village, 2460 Atwood Road, Suite B, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27103; (336) 724-0270; www.innovationvillage.com