Q:

Are carbon-dioxide inflators a good alternative to bike pumps?

What's your take on carbon-dioxide canisters versus mini-pumps for carrying while road cycling? Erik Chanhassen, Minnesota

Mar 18, 2004
Outside
Outside Magazine

Ultraflate Inflator

A: Interesting question. As most readers know, bicyclists can inflate tires after those inevitable flats through two methods (well, three, if you count the time I saw Ahnold the Gubenator inflate a hot-water bottle to bursting on the "Tonight Show"). One is with a pump. Reliable, cost-effective, somewhat slow. The other is with a carbon-dioxide cartridge that fires gas through an attachment device and inflates the tube in seconds. Technically, these are called "inflators."

Let me say this: I have ridden in club rides where some riders had the gas-style units. If any of us had a flat, inevitably we waited for one of the gas people to get out his or her kit and do the inflating. It was just so much faster and easier than banging away with a pump. A typical inflator is the Innovations Ultraflate, available from Bike Nashbar for $24 (www.nashbar.com), including three gas cartridges.

That said, I don't use one for everyday riding. I've seen too many instances where I (or someone else) think the flat is fixed, but in fact there's still a hole in the inner tube. So that wastes a cartridge. And while the cartridges aren't a huge expense—they're typically around $2 a pop—they are, nonetheless, an expense.

Besides, air is free. I just think pumps are cheaper and more reliable in the long run, particularly on those rides from hell when you suffer three or four flats over the course of 30 or 40 miles. As for which pump, for road bikes I remain loyal to the super-reliable Zefal HPX Frame-Fit Pump ($25; www.zefal.com). Very hard to beat. Topeak's Road Master Blaster ($30; www.topeak.com) is another good one. For mountain bikes, Blackburn's AirStik ($25; www.blackburndesign.com) is pretty good, too.

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