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Cycling Misadventures – C02 Cartridges

By Laurel-Lea Shannon


I’ve liked C02 cartridges ever since I was first introduced to them. At least I liked the idea of using them. Probably because I’ve never found a pump that actually worked well that was small enough to fit in my saddle bag. C02 cartridges are compact and effective—if you can get the inflator to work. My first adventure using a very basic inflator valve a couple of years ago ended with a bang when I blew up my only spare inner tube. It turned out the inflator required a very nimble touch. I was a long way from home but flagged down a truck for a lift back. Afterwards I practised using the inflator until I got the hang of how to control the airflow. But I always had a niggling feeling that by the time I got another flat out on the road I’d have forgotten how to handle the inflator gently enough to successfully inflate a tire. I only have room for one spare inner tube in my saddle bag. That means I’ve got one shot to get it right.

In June, Victoria, a cycling buddy, showed me her new C02 inflator. It was foolproof, designed with a handle and an easy-to-operate trigger, and it was small enough to easily fit into a saddle bag. “You can get it at our local bike store,” she said. “Get one.” Victoria had been with me on my first C02 cartridge adventure and knows that those tiny inflators, without a lot of practice, are an accident waiting to happen—easy to turn on but hard to turn off.

But did I get one? No.

Jump forward a few weeks and I’m in Quebec cycling for a few days during the worst heat wave of the summer. Before heading out on a hard-packed gravel trail that weaves through beautiful, hilly countryside I got that niggling feeling again. My partner had already had one flat earlier in the day. Remembering Victoria’s directive I decided to buy a foolproof C02 inflator in a well- equipped bike store in Magog. I told the bike mechanic exactly what I wanted and left the store, inflator in hand, feeling secure that in the event of a flat, I had a tool I could use.

A few hours later, and a long way from our B&B, my partner got a second flat and wasn’t carrying a pump. I pulled out my trusty new foolproof C02 inflator put it on the presta valve and . . .

It didn’t fit.

I had been sold a C02 inflator for a mountain bike! They look the same except one won’t work on a presta valve. I didn’t have an adaptor either, which would have allowed me to use the inflator. I almost howled with frustration. We were a long way from a bike shop. By that time I was hot and tired and grumpy — I won’t go into all the details. It was the kind of day that just when you thought nothing else could go wrong, it did. We had a total of three flats that day, and a few other misadventures, before finally staggering back to the B&B many hours later. On a positive note neither one of us got heat stroke. The next day we decided to tour the local vineyards, by car.

The day after I got home I went to my local bike shop and bought a C02 inflator, and tried it out in the store on a road bike, with a presta valve. I should have listened to Victoria the first time around.

The moral of the story?

1) It doesn’t matter what how well equipped your saddle bag is if you don’t know how to use the tools.

2) Don’t go on a cycling trip without the proper equipment. Make sure you know how to use it. If it’s been a long time since you’ve changed a flat, take the time to practise before your trip. It’s not like at home when, in a worst-case scenario, you can always call someone.

3) Make sure the person you’re cycling with is equipped to handle flat tires too. Don’t assume they have a pump or a spare tube. Find out when they last had a bike tune-up.

4) Carry two spare inner tubes for each bike.

5) Plan for the worst case scenario. It can happen.

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3 comments to Cycling Misadventures – C02 Cartridges

  • Phyllis Graham

    So what is the name of the fool-proof CO2 inflator recommended by Victoria ???? Thx

  • Nancy Lund

    In my club we use Topeak pumps to handle flat tires. I feel that ecologically this means a smaller footprint on our already stressed planet. The pump I have has a gauge on it which is really helpful! I understand the benefits of using CO 2 canisters, as it allows you to inflate tubes faster. However, once the canister is used, that’s it!
    Most of us carry 2 tubes as you reccommend.
    Here’s another hint ( you may know this trick): Put your spare tube in a bag with talcum powder and shake well. This makes putting the tube on your rim easier.o
    Although you don’t mention this, after checking the tire for the source of your flat, inflate your replacement tube with a small amount of air before putting it on the rim. Even if it’s too much, you can always adjust it as you work around the rim.
    Nancy- Benicia, CA

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