Being able to inflate a flat tyre is an absolute must to bring along with you on every ride, along with a multi-tool, and some tyre levers. If you’re kitting yourself out with some new gear for the first time, or you’re considering swapping from the best bike pumps to the best CO2 inflators and are a little unsure then worry not, I’m here to take you through all the pro’s and cons of each system and give you my suggestions for when you should be using one or the other.
This one is a pretty easy win for the CO2 inflator. Even the largest, with the largest MTB canisters, are smaller than the majority of mini-pumps. Even my go-to tiny mini pump, the Birzman Mini-Apogee, is larger than it’s CO2 equivalent. If you start taking more than one canister out with you though the tables can shift in favour of the mini pump, but only if you’re packing a very small model of mini pump.
If size is your number one priority then go for a CO2 inflator, but if you’re packing for a bikepacking trip then reliability should also be a major deciding factor.
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You might think that, as they are smaller, CO2 inflators are also lighter. You may be surprised then to learn that the difference in weight between the Birzman pump and CO2 inflators above is only half a gram different. If I included the protective sleeve for the canister the CO2 setup would weigh more.
A tiny mini pump isn’t ideal for gravel though, so let’s try that scenario. My ‘everyday carry’ mini pump, the Lifeline Performance MTB, comes in a hair over 120g, while a Silca Eolo III paired with a larger 20g canister tips the scales at just shy of 85g. Again, add in another canister as a failsafe and the scales tip in favour of the pump.
There’s no getting around this, a CO2 canister will inflate your tyres faster, and consequently you’re much more likely to be able to reseat a tubeless tyre if it has come unseated as a result of deflation, or if you’ve had to take it off the rim to boot a hole in the sidewall or some such scenario.
While a CO2 canister will inflate in a matter of seconds, even the best hand pumps can take an age….