For decades, hand pumps were the only option available to cyclists who needed to air up a flat tire while on a ride. But in 1989, Genuine Innovations invented the first bicycle CO2 tire inflator, and the world of on-the-go tire inflation evolved.
Both bicycle air inflation options have advantages and disadvantages. So which should you carry when out for a ride? A hand pump or CO2 tire inflator? Let’s look at the pros and cons of each:
A more portable version of the traditional T-shape standing bicycle pump, manual hand pumps come in a variety of shapes, sizes and price points. Most attach to a bracket mounted on your bicycle frame, while others come in a “mini” size that can fit into a seat bag or pocket.
- Unlimited air: The largest benefit of manual hand pumps is that they ensure you are never stuck without an air source. As long as your arms can pump, you will have air for your tires.
- Simple to operate: Attach to the valve stem and start pumping!
- Slower: How long do you want to stand on the side of the trail pumping air into your tire?
- May not reach full psi: Road bike tires can hold pressures up to 110 psi. Can you achieve that with your hand pump? Or are you stuck at 40 psi and limping home?
- Requires a lot of elbow grease: On the way back from a very long ride, how interested are you in an unnecessary upper-body workout?
- Doesn’t work for tubeless: In order to seat the bead of a tubeless tire, you need a strong burst of air and a fast fill. Most hand pumps will not work for tubeless bicycle setups.
CO2 Tire Inflator
CO2 inflation units consist of two primary parts: The first is the inflator head that attaches to the valve stem of your tire and dispenses the air. CO2 inflator heads come in a variety of flavors, from compact and minimal to a full cupped device. The second part is the CO2 cartridge itself, which are available in different sizes (typically 16 gram, 20 gram and 25 gram), as well as threaded or non-threaded options (learn more about CO2 inflators here). Cyclists who ride with CO2 inflators typically carry the inflator head, plus 2 or 3 cartridges of air (depending on length of ride and potential for flats).
- Smaller: Most CO2 inflator systems (head plus cartridges) are very compact.
- Lighter: In general, CO2 inflators are lighter than a good hand pump.
- Faster inflation time: CO2 inflators will air up your tire in a minute, which is much faster than a hand pump can achieve. That is why many people prefer CO2 inflators for races because they are lightweight and get them back into the game quickly.
- Less effort: All you have to do is attach the inflator head to the valve stem, trigger the CO2 to dispense and wait 30 seconds to a minute for a fully inflated tire.
- Consumable resource: Hopefully you don’t get multiple flat tires on a ride, but sometimes Lady Luck just isn’t on your side. If you use up all your CO2 cartridges while on the trail, then you are out of air. CO2 inflators don’t offer a back-up solution.
- Ongoing expense: Hand pumps are a one-time expense. And while CO2 cartridges are not that expensive, you will have to continue to purchase them after consumption.
The “one hit wonder” myth: Another common disadvantage we hear mentioned is that you can’t regulate your CO2 air. Meaning once you’ve pierced the CO2 cartridge, air starts to dispense, whether you are ready or not. Let’s debunk that myth now! If this is happening to you, then you are using the wrong CO2 inflator. Good CO2 inflators offer technology that allows you to control the flow of CO2. For example, Genuine Innovations offers push-to-inflate, twist-to-inflate and trigger-controlled technology. With Genuine Innovations' inflators, you are in control and decide when and how much CO2 to dispense.
Maybe you don’t have to choose. Carrying both a hand pump and a CO2 inflator allows you to conquer any situation that might arise. If you can’t decide which option is best for you, consider combining both units for the ultimate flat tire solution.
One thing we want to mention is that regardless of the air source you select, both are useless without something to inflate. So don’t forget to include a patch kit, tubeless plugs or a spare tube in your bike bag that will actually fix the flat tire problem before you attempt to air up your tire.