Opinion: Just say no to CO2

If you’re not racing, just inflate the old fashioned way

Opinion
Fixing flats the old fashioned, with a hand pump, is a small step you can take to improve the planet (and keep some cash in your wallet.)

Fixing flats the old fashioned, with a hand pump, is a small step you can take to improve the planet (and keep some cash in your wallet.)

Just say not to CO2

It’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere. That means scarves, varying states of compliance with New Year’s resolutions, and an excessive number of tire punctures. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. I really like scarves, they look pretty dashing and help me keep warm when I’m by the side of the road inflating my tire as cars chortle past me in their happy little smug cocoons. It seems that at this time of year, when it’s time to pull the road bike out from the shed, call your friends, and start logging miles towards the spring, barely a single ride goes by without someone getting a puncture.

No cyclist likes punctures. No cyclist likes fixing punctures. So it’s very tempting to do whatever you can to get yourself back on the road again. I understand that desire, it’s why I run tires my friends often refer to as boat anchors and use approximately a gallon of sealant to boot. I am also lighting fast with a tubeless plug, which can often make the difference between re-inflating and just topping off a tire. But one thing I don’t do, won’t do, and hope never to do, is use canisters of CO2 on a training ride.

Using CO2 when time isn't of the essence is wasteful.

Using CO2 when time isn’t of the essence is wasteful.

CO2, my friends, should be reserved strictly for race days, and even then, only races where you really want to win or set a personal best time. I know, it saves you a minute or two when you fix your punctures, but I’m here to tell you it’s not worth it. Sure, it’s easier than flailing away with a mini pump, but you’re a cyclist, you could do with an arm workout anyway. So get a proper frame pump and get to work. At least you won’t get cold that way.

Still not convinced that you need to ditch the CO2 and use your pump to get pumped? Let me lay out my case for you. Firstly, CO2 is hugely wasteful. Every time you puncture you are throwing away a 50g steel container. Genuine Innovations website notes that the cartridges can be recycled, but this process takes energy, as does shipping around a product which really doesn’t need to exist. A metric ton of cartridges (20,000 50g cartridges), shipped by road, generate 60-150g of CO2 per mile, if we ship those cartridges coast to coast (estimating a distance of 3,000 miles and using a conservative estimate of 100g CO2 per mile) we generate 300,000g of CO2. So even if the cartridges use captured emissions (which they do in the case of Genuine Innovations), a relatively conservative shipping estimate (which assumes they are made in the USA and travel across once).

A lightweight pump is almost as light as a CO2 and can fix flats for many years to come.

A lightweight pump is almost as light as a CO2 cartridge and inflator and can fix flats for many years to come.

CO2 is also not that efficient in terms of performance, either. My Lezyne Road Drive pump weighs 82g including the Duct Tape I have wrapped around it for emergencies. The nearest CO2 I could find weighs 50g, so unless you only carry one CO2 cartridge you’ll be carrying more weight. Okay, so it takes longer to inflate a tire with a pump, but my 200g frame pump can inflate a road tire in under 90 seconds, and I have never scared off a dog with a CO2, or frozen my hand to a frame pump.

Once I am done using the pump, I put it back on my bike and forget about it. I don’t have to remember to drop in at the bike shop and replace it, at a cost of several dollars, with another hunk of steel that will fill one tire, for one day, before I have to re-inflate it anyway because the CO2 leaks out of the tube much faster than air will. Nor do the TSA steal my frame pump when I fly and leave me at an important event with no way to fix a puncture, or require dashing around Reykjavik looking for CO2 as some of my friends did before a gravel race in Iceland this year.

My pump also provides enough air for multiple flat repairs. Sure, if you only ride on nice roads for a short amount of time it might seem unlikely that you’ll get more than one flat. But visit Southern California in goathead season, or the UK when hedges are being trimmed, you’ll soon come to appreciate the security that comes from carrying a pump and a patch kit on all our rides. Even if you were to somehow carry half a dozen CO2s, I have found a much higher rate of failure with inflator chucks than pumps (and very few of them are rebuildable, unlike my Lezyne pump).

Goatheads often travel in herds. So one CO2 probably won't cut it. Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

Goatheads often travel in herds, so one CO2 probably won’t cut it. Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

There is a time and a place for CO2 cartridges, and that is in off-road races. But even in competitive gravel events, I still carry a pump. I think I used one CO2 at Dirty Kanza, but the thirty seconds it saved me were pretty meaningless after a dozen hours of chasing the guys who rode away from me in the five or more minutes I spent cramming Dynaplugs into a terminally-slashed tire. I used my pump the next four times I need air. I will accept that a deft tire plug and CO2 fix could see you off your bike for less than a minute, and possibly back with the group you were in. But any time the tire comes off the rim your race is over, and when you’re not racing there’s really no excuse for all that waste.

CO2 systems such as the Dynaplug Air can be race savers, but if you're no trying to beat the clock, or your competitors, save them for race day.

CO2 systems such as the Dynaplug Air can be race savers, but if you’re no trying to beat the clock, or your competitors, stick with a pump.

There is already enough waste associated with our collective bicycle habit. Between gel wrappers, discarded inner tubes, broken carbon parts and overpackaged everything, our love of the outdoors sometimes harms the places we like to play.

In the case of CO2 cartridges, the negligible practical benefits seem to be far outweighed by the practical costs. And besides, carrying a proper frame pump and two tubes on your bike lets people know that you’re out for a long day, and if you get out for a few long days this winter you’ll be saving time from faster legs, not faster puncture changes.

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Comments:

  • Peter says:

    Oh for Christ’s sake … let’s save the planet, on tiny CO2 cartridge at a time.

    I’m sorry, but after spending years fixing flats using mini pumps that require 150+ strokes to get a tire even inflated enough to ride, at times in 100 degree heat, CO2 is a godsend that I’m not giving up. I wish there were still 12 gram threadless applicators being manufactured. Moving to 16 gram threaded is costly and unnecessary.

  • dan says:

    Buy 16 gram threaded in bulk for $1 each.

  • Max Brenes says:

    I would agree with you, but I just setup some Schwalbe gravel tires, tubeless, and I don’t think a hand pump would help inflate these tires if they, for some reason go entirely flat on a trail. The casing is not as supple, and requires a quick shot of air in order to seat back up on the rim.

  • Gary C Griffin says:

    ebay $1.20 a cart if you buy 30

  • Really says:

    How much to ship a metric ton of coors light?

  • Art says:

    I believe this is sound advice- use a pump not a CO2 cartridge. You may use a cartridge or two a year but there are millions of yous out there and it all adds up. If you’re using tubeless, take a cartridge you can use if you can’t seat the tire with your pump but try your pump first.

  • Steve says:

    Right on — couldn’t agree more with the author — one CO2 cartridge at a time adds up fast with a world of cyclists!

  • PoorInRichfield says:

    While I’m not necessarily on the “save the planet” bandwagon, I have struggled with using CO2 for fixing flats. For one, I found that in warmer weather that one’s tire that has been repaired with a CO2 may go flat again before you get home as the tire warms-up. Therefore, safety pup would carry at least 2 cartridges. Then there’s the issue of multiple flats. I flatted on my rear tire, fixed with a CO2, then shortly thereafter flatted on the front tire. Lucky for me that I had a second CO2, but a pump wouldn’t care how many flats I had and eliminates the whole “save the planet” issue.

  • Kris says:

    Went CO2 a few years ago, and never had it sit real well with me. But, at the moment it’s only 1 cartridge a year. However, reading the article, I will be fitting my pump back onto the bike and saving the CO2 for the mtb (as 29×2.6″ tires takes a ton of pumping).

  • Peter says:

    I carry one cartridge in the inflator and 2-3 more in my tool bag. I also carry two inner tubes. I’ve never been stranded in decades of cycling. Yeah, tires leak CO2, but not that fast in my experience. Always plenty of pressure to get home on. But I don’t ride 200 miles at a time, so maybe your experiences differ. Just throw the empty cartridges in the recycling bin. They’re metal.

  • Ron says:

    Opinion piece, so fair enough. Here is my opinion. I carry both a pump and CO2. I use what the situation warrants.

    I’m ALL about caring about the planet and the environment. Dude, I haven’t driven a car more than 5-10 times a year since 2002. I *maybe* use 4 C02s a year. I compost. I recycle. I garden. I’ve flown once in the past decade. I don’t patronize fast food restaurants. Don’t buy heavily packaged garbage, don’t consume like crazy. I don’t blabber about it publicly, but yeah, I do a heckofa lot more for the planet than the average meat chugging American.

    So, a bit silly to make this about environmentalism. Just sayin’.

  • Randal says:

    Used to carry just my Lezyne pump only on road rides (similar to the pump pictured) but then had a rash of flats and started carrying CO2 as a backup. With the pump, it takes 200 pumps to make the tire ridable, and around 400 to get any real pressure. However, 1 – 16g cylinder gets me right back to decent pressure. So no, I won’t go pump only again. The other thing I learned the hard way using my Lezyne pump (or any that screw on to the stem) is that you might just get the tire up to decent pressure, unscrew the pump, and the valve core comes out with the pump hose! Now I tighten the valve core on every tube I take with me. Your riding buddies should too since they just might have to borrow your pump!

  • Bob says:

    I have a better idea. You say no to CO2 and leave me the h*** alone. Works for me.

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