CO2 vs. Hand Pump: What’s the best way to fix a flat

Pros and cons on both sides make this a decision based on riding style

Gear Tech
Whether you choose to run a CO2 system or a hand pump, both are rendered absolutely useless without something to inflate. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

There are solid arguments on both sides of the CO2-vs-hand pump debate (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery

Editor’s Note: This article is courtesy of the team at Art’s Cyclery. The original post can be found here.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a dedicated roadie, mountain biker, ‘cross racer, or all-around, pure bred race machine, this debate seems to be relatively universal: should you use CO2 or a hand pump? As with all great debates, there are pros and cons to both sides, so the most helpful piece of information becomes context. Context, meaning, are you a racer? Do you ride double centuries frequently? What exactly does your average ride look like and where does it take you? After answering those questions and understanding your place in the grander cycling context, we can then begin to make educated decisions on which inflation method best suits your needs.

One thing to be mindful of, regardless of whether you choose to run a CO2 system or a hand pump, is that both are rendered absolutely useless without something to inflate. So whether you’re running tubeless or not, it’s always important to have the proper patch kit and/or spare tubes handy to allow you to actually fix your problem. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get down to the brass tacks of this debate.

For road or XC mountain bike racing, the best option is a single use CO2 system. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

For road or XC mountain bike racing, the best option is a single use CO2 system (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery

If you are a road or XC mountain bike racer, then the major concerns of your setup are weight and time/speed. Having said that, the best option for you is a single use CO2 system such as Lezyne’s Trigger Drive, with its dedicated Presta valve head, or the Twin Kit, complete with tire levers and a patch kit. Should you get a flat, you’ll be able to fix it quickly with a CO2 system (providing your tube changing skills are up to snuff). Should worse come to worse and you get two or more flats, you’ll be out of the running for the race no matter how you slice it and having more CO2 cartridges or a hand pump won’t really make a difference.

If double centuries, gravel grinding, or everyday mountain bike rides are your jam, then you should be rolling with a hand pump. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

If double centuries, gravel grinding, or everyday mountain bike rides are your jam, then you should be rolling with a hand pump (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery

Are double centuries, gravel grinders, or everyday mountain bike rides your thing? Then weight or speed are not THE major concern of your ride, and you should be rolling with a hand pump. Most hand pumps these days just bolt directly to your frame via water bottle bosses, tuck away nicely, and offer INFINITE amounts of air in the instance that you get 2-3 flats on one of these long rides.

The Pressure Drive pumps offer enough volume to accommodate a slightly larger (up to 35c) tire, are still easy to inflate to high pressures, and still come in a small, durable, all aluminum package. If you’re only running Presta valves and skinny tires, the Blackburn Airstik SL is incredibly small, sleek, and uber functional. However, if you’re needing a pump that’ll work on high volume (read “large” or “mountain bike”) tires, consider either Birzman’s Apogee MTB Mini or Lezyne’s Alloy Drive M pump.

The Lezyne M-Caddy Sport Kit comes stocked with a pump, multi-tool, patch kit, tire levers, and M-Caddy bag to stuff it all into. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

The Lezyne M-Caddy Sport Kit comes stocked with a pump, multi-tool, patch kit, tire levers, and M-Caddy bag to stuff it all into (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery

However, if you’re the type of person that has a 14-week emergency stash of water and canned goods, then the proper answer to this question of “Should I use a CO2 or a hand pump?” is both. Carrying both a CO2 system and a hand pump allows you to beat almost any situation that may arise. This holds especially true since a complete CO2 system (like Lezyne’s Twin Speed Drive) can weigh as little as 69 grams and fit nearly anywhere. The weight and space factor seem to beg the question of “Why not carry a CO2?”

The caveat in running just a CO2 is that, unlike a hand pump, it doesn’t last forever, while a hand pump will deliver infinite amounts of air, but without the convenience of speed. There is also one more noteworthy option; Lezyne’s M-Caddy Sport Kit. It comes stocked with a pump, multi-tool, patch kit, tire levers, and M-Caddy bag to stuff it all into.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Arts Cyclery

This article was originally published on the Art's Cyclery Blog. Art's Cyclery is dedicated to offering free expert advice, how-to videos, and in-depth product reviews on ArtsCyclery.com to help riders make an educated decision when selecting cycling gear.


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  • lebikerboy says:

    I always found that mini hand pumps never seem
    to work after banging about in my backpack for a couple years.
    CO2 cartridges on the other with the proper inflator always work…

  • Peper says:

    The best way to avoid flats is to keep fresh rubber on your bike and this pack would be a great backup to that.
    CO2 is definitely the way to go. However Lenzyne makes a bag in this line called the Micro CAddy which has a big elastic/velcro stap that secures everything much better than the one pictured ( I’ve owned both:) ).

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