CO2 cartridges or a pump?

I’m probably flirting with danger here, but it’s been awhile since I’ve flatted.

Even so, I try to be ready if it should happen. My seat bag has a spare tube, a patch kit, and what I would most likely use in the event of a flat — a CO2 inflator and several CO2 cartridges.

The CO2 is convenient, but it’s not a panacea. When I have flatted in the past, I’ve found it’s not easy to get the right amount of air into the tire. I’ve resorted to a series of short bursts on the inflator trigger, and try to determine by feeling the tire whether it’s got enough pressure. When I first started using it, at a time when flats were much more frequent, I sometimes wasted a cartridge and needed two to fill the tire. And sometimes, I only managed to inflate the tire enough to make it home.

Another concern is the cost. The cartridges run about $3.50 each, so if one or two are wasted by fumbling around, the tire repair is suddenly costly. I usually carry four in my seat bag, so I can give one or two to another biker who might be flatted with no air.

Then there’s the environmental issue. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Do I really need to contribute to the Earth’s problems?

What’s the alternative? A pump. The choice is between a frame-mounted pump and a mini-pump that can mount to a frame or even fit in your jersey pocket.

A Zefal frame-mounted pump.
A Zefal frame-mounted pump.
A Blackburn mini pump.
A Blackburn mini pump. It's actually less than one-half the length of the Zefal.

The issue with the pumps is also one of convenience, and efficiency, too. I’ve had occasion to use a mini-pump, and I’m not crazy about them. They have trouble supplying enough air pressure, especially to a road tire that may take over 125 psi. But I like the convenience of the CO2 inflator, and I’m not sure if another gizmo fastened to my bike frame would be worth the bother.

For now, I’ll continue to go with the cartridges and inflator. I’ve had enough experience with them that I’m confident I won’t waste them in future situations. And for every day that I go without a flat, cost becomes less of an issue. But I’d sure like to hear your opinion. Inflator or pump?

(Since this post last July, I’ve resolved the issue to my satisfaction.  Here’s what I decided.)


  1. says

    I use a pump — in fact, I have the one in the second picture. It’s kind of a pain, but it does work. It’s just a lot of pumping. I’ve been meaning to get some fancy CO2 stuff, but I have not yet been able to bring myself to spend the money.

    The biggest pain I have when I get a flat is that it’s very nearly impossible to get any tire seated on my rims. I hate those rims!

  2. says

    I bought a pump because my first experience with a flat (since I was a teen) was someone else’s flat. I watched them struggle with the CO2, get an inadequate inflate, and have to walk his bike home.

    Several flats later I’m still glad I have the pump. It takes some effort, but I don’t have disposable cartridges to throw away. ANd it works….everytime….and its cheap in the long run. I used to hook it to the frame but it became a pain, so now I put it in saddle bags. It goes where my bags go.

  3. Eric F says

    I carry both. The Blackburn easily inflated my coworker’s tires to 110 psi. He was quite surprised… so was I. The CO2 is my backup…or, if feeling smug…what I’ll use to add bubbly to my beverage while my co-commuter labors with the pump!

  4. says

    I have a Blackburn pump similar to the second picture you have there. It clips to the frame and has got me going again after several punctures.

    However it can only manage 60-65 PSI I think. But when you consider the pump is called “Mountain Air” and I guess designed for MTB’s then thats good enough. I actually inflate my tyres to 80psi which is the max for my tyres. But at least if I get a flat, 65 psi isnt so bad.

    But when I get a road bike I’m sure to be asking the same question as you.

  5. anakcu says

    I can’t find a way to fit a pump on my GF Caliber 29 so I use CO2 as a last resort. But when I was looking into picking one up I balked at the bike shop price for cartridges. I wound up buying a Planet Bike inflator that takes threadless cartridges. These cartridges are about $0.50 each at any K-Mart or Walmart, where they are sold mainly for pellet guns. Two 12g cartridges work great for filling up a large volume tire, which would take a very long time with a compact pump.

  6. says

    I just bought some CO2 cartridges for emergencies with my road bike. But generally I carry a mini-pump. I find that one that telescopes works best. They are still not as good as a floor pump and it’s a workout to get a tire up to pressure.

    When using either the cartridges or a minipump the bottom line is they just get enough air to get you by until you can get to a real pump.

    Interestingly, before coming to your site today I just wrote a post on tools for flat tires and the importance of carrying them.

  7. says

    I’ve used both and like CO2 much better. I found the frame pumps too hard to use while CO2 is much easier to use and store. Environmental concerns? Sure, but the amount of CO2 from one of those cartridges is almost insignificant compared to CO2 discharged from cars and energy plants.

    Some bike shops give you a discount on new cartridges if you bring your old one in for recycling.

    Here’s a tip: before re-inflating your tire with CO2 make sure the presta valve is open first. :-)

  8. says

    Neither. I don’t get flats. *ducks*

    Seriously, I have both a mini-pump and CO2 on hand when I’m on the mountain bike, and CO2 when I’m on the roadie. I just don’t have room anywhere for the pump on the roadie (stripped down crit bike), so I have to minimize what I carry.

    I’ve only had need for either the one time, and didn’t have either on me then. Now I make sure I’m prepared.

  9. Black Pearl says

    Personally I use carry and use the Zefal HD in picture one.

    I have tried the mini pumps but find the bigger the pump the easier and faster it is to use.

    Strange as it may seem of all the times I have used the pump only once was it on my flat, I usually wind up helping someone who has gone through all their CO2 carts.

    My flats usually happen at the start line when the floor pump pulls the little metal screw plug from the stem while removing the chuck after filling the tire.

  10. Dana says

    CO2 only! Don’t need to be wasting energy pumping up a tire that could be used to catch back up with the group!

  11. says

    On my two road bikes I carry a pump. On my classic Bianchi I have a frame pump mounted on the seat tube and on the current “go fast” bike I have a pump mounted to the water bottle cage. However when I race that bike I lose the pump and use CO2.

    On my commuter I only carry CO2 because I am trying to minimize how much junk I am carrying and I don’t want to leave anything on the frame that can be stolen.

    My question to you is why are you inflating your tires to 125? 100 psi should be more than enough. You won’t lose any speed and the ride will be more comfortable.

    • Mark says

      Did you seriously just say that you will not lose any speed with lower air pressure? Obviously it will be a more comfortable ride at 100psi, but just as obvious you will lose speed at lower air pressures….

  12. says

    I carry CO2 only on my “fast” road bike. I like keeping the weight down. The CO2 pump also works as a regular pump, though I don’t think it could get the pressure very high at all.

    On my commuter touring bike, I carry a mini pump and CO2…mostly I plan to use the pump if I flat, but if I’m running late to work CO2 will be a faster solution.

    Mountain bike I carry mini pump only, I’m not in that big a hurry when I’m in the woods.

    For a good mini pump, check out the Topeak Rozad Morph. It folds out to work like a floor pump, pumps to high pressure, and is quite small (and it has a gauge). I haven’t heard one negative thing about them. The pump I carry is a cheaper knockoff.

  13. says

    I carry CO2 with me at all times and when I’m on longer rides that I have my hydration pack with me it has a mini pump storage and I’ll carry a mini pump in that as well. If I have the mini pump I’ll use it over the CO2.

  14. rainycamp says

    Thanks all for your contributions. Mention flats and that seems to start a discussion among cyclists!
    Anakcu, thanks for the tip about the pellet gun cartridges.
    Bryan, it sounds like you speak from experience–about the unopened presta valve.
    Dvicci, just one flat? You’ll catch up to the rest of us.
    Dana, that’s the best reason yet for using CO2.
    Charles, I was just passing along a complaint about mini pumps I’ve heard elsewhere. I inflate my road tires to 100-105 lbs.

  15. arlynasch says

    One tube, one cartridge, a mini-nozzle for it and a cell phone to call the ‘Team Van’. Leave the rest at the bike shop…

    Better yet, ride Conti tires and never flat.

  16. jaxgtr says

    I like the CO2, but have recently gotten the Road Morph for mental security as I ride further away from town, I don’t want to get stuck without some type of pump.

  17. says

    I always keep some CO2 in my saddle bag just in case, but I prefer to not have to use them. I usually carry a top peak road morph pump, which is the most effective mini-pump I’ve used so far. It’s not as mini as some, but it can get up to high psi and includes it’s own gauge built into nozzle (slightly inaccurate , it moves in large increments, but good enough). The best part about the morph pump is the small tube and click out mini foot pad allow you to get better leverage like a floor pump.

  18. sean says

    I ride carrying 3-4 inner tubes, a patch kit, my topeak road morph g, and a CO2/Pump. I also carry 4 12g crossman CO2 cartagies. I never want to have to walk a bike home again after pushing one for 4 miles last summer.

  19. Gary says

    I carry both the CO2 and a frame pump. Sometimes you get more flats then the number of tubes you carry. So, you have to patch the tube.

    Finding where the leak is on a deflated tube can be a real problem so you have to inflate the tube with the frame pump to find the puncture.

    • B.P. says

      I only carry CO2 on my road bikes. I carry a spare tube, park patch kit and 4
      12gr. CO2. I also use a buytal rubber tube instead of the light weight latex tubes. Never needed anything else.

    • Sam says

      Further, sometimes the only way to find that grain-sized piece of glass stuck in the tire tread–that is, the cause of the flat–is to find the leak location in the tube and translate that to the tire, and the only way to find the leak location in the tube is with a frame pump.

  20. Tom Williams says

    I have no idea how to change a flat, bike repair for dummies did not build my confidence enough remove things from my two thousand dollar bike….I’m just not mechanical. But I have no problem calling for a ride!

  21. Rob Prado says

    Pump, hands down. I have a Zefal frame pump that fits my top tube and only takes about 80 strokes to get up to 120 psi. I’ve had it 10 years. It is a nice arm workout- by by 50 I feel the burn. I reckon I flat about thrice a year, at $3.50 per cartrige, I’ve paid for a pump in two years. Over 10 years with the same pump, I think I got my money’s worth out of it compared to the $150 (not counting the nozze) I’d have spent for CO2. Besides the expense, I have an aversion to co2 cartriges because of the waste and I find tlhem littered on the road way too much… next to the empty Goo packages ; ).

  22. pat barry says

    I buy a 15pack 12g crossman co2’s at academy
    It works out to about .50 each.. With my ultrainflate
    i have to use a dime as a spacer at bottom for the 12g size.

  23. Kingerz says

    I got a Lezyne pressure-drive pump, it is tiny and carries two CO2 carts and they inflate using a hose fitted inside the pump. Very quick – means your friends can get moving again faster or I can get home before dark on all those twilight rides. If I flat a third time, the mini pump will eventually get me enough air to ride home, or up to proper pressure if you have enough arm power for 150 strokes.

  24. says

    I think I am going to like the CO2’s…the one I am looking at even has a pressure gauge on it lol, it’s like 30 bucks and takes thread-less (pellet gun) cartridges. Environmental concerns really ppl??? The amount of c02 released by all the cartridges you will ever pump into your tire is nowhere near the amount you release out of your lungs everyday, which is nowhere near the amount we all release supposedly burning all our fossil fuels and such….which is nowhere near the amount of “poisonous” c02 released by ONE volcano yearly…..look at the bright side though, the plants will grow better, isn’t that environmentally friendly?

  25. says

    I usually carry both with me. CO2 cartridges are more expensive so I just bring it along for emergencies. Would prefer to use pump more even though it’s less convenient.

  26. Bike noobie gut good engineer says

    Environmental concerns of releasing the co2 are zero, as long as you recycle the cartridge. When you burn fossil fuels, you create co2, but using a cartridge does not create anything. Yes, you release your 16g of co2 into the air, but it came from the air to start with. When you buy a replacement, the manufacturer responds by filling another cartridge to rebuild his inventory. He extracts another 16g of co2 from the air, and the net effect on the planet is zero. Now if you don’t recycle the cartridges, that’s another story. FAR MORE co2 is created while manufacturing those cartridges than is in the cartridge to start with.

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