This is one of those things you might not know if you don’t frequent bike shops (I didn’t) but apparently those tiny emergency hand pumps are not the only way to pump up your bike tires if you get a flat on the road. CO2 cartridge bike pumps are a thing, and I’d say they’re a hack.
After all, a CO2 cartridge is just carbon dioxide compressed into a very small space. Your tire doesn’t care what’s inside it; ambient air is fine, but CO2 works just as well. So all you need is a way to get the compressed CO2 from the cartridge into your tire, and bike gear companies have made a variety of tiny gadgets to do exactly that.
A minimalist CO2 tire inflator is just a little fitting that connects the cartridge to your bike’s air valve. But a few features can help make the device more convenient to use:
An on/off switch, so you can stop the flow of CO2 when the tire is full
A pressure gauge, so you know how much CO2 has gone into the tire
A casing or sleeve to protect your hand from the cartridge, because the cartridge will suddenly become very cold when it expels its contents
The devices cost about $30, and cartridges are around $1 each if you buy them in bulk. While they fill tires quickly and without requiring you to stand around pumping, they also have some down sides.
For one thing, you’re throwing away a cartridge every time you have a flat tire, so that’s not the most environmentally friendly. You also have to make sure you are stocking up on cartridges, and you have to make sure to bring enough for your trip. What if you pack two cartridges but have a bad day and get three flats? So if you’re going this route, make sure to be well-stocked.