CO2 or a pump? — It never ends

I was chatting with a friend the other day who’s just getting into biking. He was telling me of his experience with his first flat. No pump, no CO2. He had a patch kit in his seatbag, but realized it was worthless unless he could fill his tire with air, so he wound up walking the bike home — three miles.

Do you prefer these?

“I saw these canisters of CO2 at the bike store,” he said. “Are they any good?”

Here we go again — the endless debate between CO2 and a pump.

Well, I told him, each has its advantages. CO2 takes up just a little space in your seatbag, and you don’t have to carry a pump. Just attach the inflator, stick it on the valve, and whoosh! you’re back in business. He liked that. He thought he’d try it.

But wait a minute, I said. There’s a problem with CO2, too. Sometimes, you misfire it and waste all the gas in the canister. Then, you can find yourself in the same predicament you were in last week.

Or this?

I told him of a recent A ride from our club, where a guy flatted along a major highway. One of the other guys had several CO2 cartridges — and managed to depressurize all of them. Without inflating the tire. Luckily, another rider in the group carried a pump, and stood by to watch the antics — then stepped in and saved the day.

“It took me probably 10 minutes to pump up a tire to 70 psi,” said guest poster Don Blount in an email awhile ago. “That’s longer than it took to change the tube.”

I’ve been there. It doesn’t take me that long to pump a tire up to 70, or even 90 psi. But those last 10 pounds to 100, to make it roadworthy again — I should be doing some strength work at the gym.

But Don also said he blew a tube with one cartridge, and when he went to use another one on another tube — it was a dud. He thinks he might just suck it up and go back to the frame pump.

At least that’ll get the tire inflated. With a cartridge — I’m guessing 50-50 odds.

My friend went back to the bike store and got a frame pump.


  1. tracywilkins says

    Common sense tells me to get a pump, but I’ve actually had real good luck with cartridges. Knocking on wood here, but I’ve never had any problems with one yet…and I’m on my 2nd box of 12.

    I do always carry three at a time…just in case.

  2. Jeff H says

    Get a Lezyne Pressure Drive – it’s tiny, mounts under the water bottle cage or fits in a jersey pocket, and pumps amazingly well for something so tiny. Fantastic product and I’m not the only one who thinks so…Bicycling, several others also give it rave reviews.

  3. Ramon H says

    I bought a frame pump (one with a gauge) with my road bike. I believe my team mates have gotten much more use out of that pump than I ever have. The reasons, as always: they run out of CO2, they misfire their CO2, they thought they had CO2 but are now out, their pump does not have a gauge. Come to think of it, maybe I should start charging for everytime some stranded cyclist borrows it *grin*

  4. Don says

    I still haven’t gone back to a frame pump. I switched to better tires. So far so good, no flats since that change (knock wood).

  5. says

    I have the simple “crack pipe” style CO2 inflator that requires threaded cartridges. I honestly have NEVER wasted a CO2. Regardless, I carry 2 cartridges just in case. I think the bigger problem for most folks is NERVES — they rarely change their own flat (let’s face it — in a group ride, someone will usually grab the tire from you!), and when they do, they’re nervous about wasting the CO2. It turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  6. says

    I hear the horror stories of CO2, misfires, frozen digits, blown tubes. Yet I’ve never a problem (be kind cycling gods). A single 16g CO2 has been enough to get the tire between 90 and 100psi with some CO2 to spare. I’m a firm believer that whatever method you choose practice BEFORE getting on the road is the key.

    With all that said, as mentioned above, I keep 2 16g cartridges in my seat bag at all times just in case…

  7. says

    I actually carry both. I figure that my small pump will at least let me roll on the tire, and if I can get a little extra pressure in with the CO2, then that’s even better. I’ve never had to change a tube during a race, but I have been pretty far from home on a ride when I’ve flatted. I always carry my cell phone, too, but that doesn’t mean that someone on the other end will pick up!

  8. says

    On my zippy road bike, I carry a bag with a multi-tool, three CO2 carts, a chuck, three tire irons and a tube and patch kit. One thing to remember is that if you get into a situation where you have to patch a tube on the road (a second flat in the same ride in my case) is that you’ll have to blow some air into the dead tube so you can find the hole to patch it. Doing this with your mouth while then trying to listen over traffic noise for the hole and finding it before the paltry amount of air you’ve blown into the tube all runs out can be a challenge, especially under the pressure of several ride buddies waiting for you… On all of my other bikes, I carry a Topeak Road Morph (compact, has a gauge), spare tube, multi-tool, irons, and patch kit.

  9. says

    My philosophy, especially given that I do a lot of solo riding, is belt and suspenders

    So far, I’ve had more reliability problems with my frame pump than I have with my CO2. I think this has something to do with how I keep the frame pump strapped next to the bottle cage where it can be rattled while I’m wearing pants and cyclecommuting (which did in 2 pumps) or exposed to road spray while I’m riding in the rain (which did in 1 pump) or just yanked off while I’ve got it locked outdoors (which did in 1 pump). Whereas the CO2 pump sits in my trunk bag or panniers and generally doesn’t get exposed to theft, pant legs, or weather.

    Also, CO2 inflater design matters. My Genuine Innovations inflater screws on to the valve and contains a certain amount of safety interlocks that make it such that you have to intentionally misfire it. A simple lightweight “crackpipe” styled inflater is smaller and lighter but gives up some of those interlocks.

  10. John Z says

    I switched back to a mini-pump from CO2. I didn’t have a problem with CO2, but the cartridges are not very environmental friendly. A frame pump is better but with compact bikes, you may need to use a mini pump. The best minis (that I’ve used) are the Silca and Lezyne.

  11. says

    Why don’t you just use a dual pump? CO2 at one end, manual pump at the other.

    I’ve just gone through this dilemma at the moment and I’ve settled on the dual pump. It’s great, not that I’ve ever had to use it (touch wood) on the road.

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