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Cycling and Flat Tires:  CO2 or Air?

One thing is certain…  Ride long enough and you will get a flat tire.  Ride far enough, it’s inescapable.  It doesn’t matter how often you change tires or how good your flat protection is.  You. Will. Flat.  

There are three periods there because just one won’t do.

The question is, how do you choose to pump it up after you’re patched up?  This is a personal choice and there are benefits and faults with each.  

I have been afflicted with… let me count them… four or five flats in five years, or an average of one flat every 7,000-8,750 miles.  They’re not common but they do happen enough that you have to be prepared for the inevitable – and the lighter, faster, more expensive equipment you ride, the easier it is to flat.

This is my tool kit that fits perfectly in my center-back pocket:

Open it up, and I have almost everything I could need to keep my bike rolling:

In that little baggie at the top are two MissingLinks, one for a 9 sp (my rain bike) and one for a 10 (The Venge).  Tire levers, inner tube… in the lower half I have plastic gloves, a spoke wrench, a pack of stick on patches, and my tire pump.  I also typically carry $20-50 in there as well, just in case.  Not necessary when I’m stuck on the hamster wheel.

If you’re a noob to cycling, you’re like, “Dude, you can’t fit a tire pump in that bag, dude!” [ED two dudes for emphasis, that’s not a type-o]

Ah, but you can:

The Air Kiss is a premium CO2 pump.  It will fill a 700C x 23-24 mm tire (tyre for the Brits) in about a second to a cool 100 psi (one must pick the proper CO2 canister for one’s weight – the heavier you are, the more CO2 you need). Speed, efficiency, awesome, and in a tiny, lightweight package.  

The ultra small CO2 pumps are not without their flaws though.  First, I only carry one CO2 canister (two on longer rides or big trips).  Once that’s gone, I’m SOL ($#!+ Outta Luck).  This can be a problem if the pump is misused as most of the CO2 can be leaked out in an instant.  The smart thing to do is use the pump at least three times before you actually need it.  This will help you to avoid making a mistake.  Second, CO2 is said to leak out of a tube a little faster than straight up air.  I have no idea if this is a wives tale or not, nor has it mattered.  I do, however, empty the tube and pump it up with a stand up pump once I’ve reached my destination… just in case.  Worse, if you happen to be unlucky enough to get two flats on one ride and you only have one CO2 canister with you….  Well, you’ll get to find out exactly how far you can carry your bike.

As a noob I purchased a Serfas Grifter air pump that can be mounted to a bike frame:

Notice, this little bad boy has a built in pressure gauge and a hose (rather than one of those doohickies that attaches directly to your valve stem).  This is, as far as I’m concerned, the perfect frame pump.  It’s light, can push a great volume of air for its size.  The hose and foot pedal are the serious advantages for this style of pump.  Too often with direct-to-valve stem pumps, if one is not careful as the pumping becomes more labored, one can snap the valve stem off whilst, and at the same time, trying to pump up the tube/tire/tyre.  The Grifter takes all of those worries away, though a special presta adapter may be necessary (they’re cheap, common, and available at any decent bike shop).

There are only two negative issues with the old fashioned air pumps:  Weight and Style.  Call it what you want, vanity, ignorance, pig headed dumbassedness….  I’m not defiling this piece of art with a frickin’ frame pump:

My friends, I would have to kick my own ass for putting a frame pump on that bike.  In some cases, the Velominati Rules must be followed.  This is one of those cases.  Now, I could carry the Serfas pump in my back pocket but my pockets tend to fill up rather quickly with my phone, my on board fuel and arm/knee warmers when shedding them is necessary.

On the plus side of air pumps, you never run out of air if you initially miss the cause of the leak.  Now, I’m rarely, if ever, out on my own where I can’t get by with the CO2 setup.  In fact, I usually ride with enough friends that we have an ample supply of canisters.  

This would be a very different post if I were a commuter or into randonneuring.  If I didn’t have a pile of friends to rely on (and who can clearly rely on me), there’s no way I’d chance a CO2 canister rig.  In that case, the only way to go would be a frame pump… Of course, I surely wouldn’t be riding a Venge for either of those anyway, so the gangly frame pump would be just fine.  Or maybe, ignoring a rule or two could be accepted.  Or not.

Sound off down below.

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