Just in case you missed that day in science class, CO2 is a “colorless gas with a density about 53-percent higher than that of dry air,” say Wikipedia contributors.
But if you’re a cyclist weary of the sore arms and bulky shapes of standard bicycle tire pumps, CO2 tire inflators are like manna from heaven, especially if you like to travel light.
Scotsman John Boyd Dunlop is credited with inventing the first bicycle pump from a cylinder and an interior metal rod around 1887. Dunlop’s idea launched centuries of development that lead to the manual, electric, and most recently, CO2 bike tire inflators.
Want one? Consider our suggestions before you open your wallet, so you choose one that meets your unique needs.
Best Overall: Innovations Air Chuck Elite Inflator
What recommends this Innovations Air Chuck Elite product? For starters, all-metal alloy construction makes it “the lightest CO2 inflator on the market,” and since this product works with both Presta and Schrader valves, this inflator is ready to go when you are.
Single-handed “push-to-inflate” technology makes the process efficient and fast, and it’s easy to control the inflation rate. Included with this well-reviewed inflator are the essentials you need to get moving: one 16-gram and one 20-gram threaded steel CO2 cartridge and an instruction sheet that guides you through the inflation process.
There’s a lifetime warranty on this product as well.
LEZYNE Control Drive CO2 Inflator
Cyclists are crazy about this Lezyne inflator and not just because it comes in 2 colors (black or silver) and is priced competitively. Both Presta- and Schrader-valve compatible, the 16-gram CO2 cartridge that is included offers “instant inflation” when you need it most.
The inflation process is a breeze; attach the CO2 cartridge, slip it over the valve and open the over-sized pressure control knob. Enjoy the confidence only found in products crafted with durable materials – in this case, CNC-machined aluminum with brass internals.
What do owners like best? The oversized control knob makes dispensing CO2 fast and easy.
SPECIALIZED SWAT Mini inflator
For half the price of the Innovations Air Check inflator described, you can acquire this dynamo, and there’s no need to worry about getting a substandard product just because it’s affordable. This mini makes up in efficiency what it lacks in size, but this inflator will only work if your cycle’s valve type is Presta.
Add this inflator to your repair kit and hit the road, knowing that this tool’s 90-degree head and twin-style engagement features are ready to get you back in the saddle fast. Ideal for quick repairs on the fly, flow is easily controlled and stopped by threading the cartridge back into the head.
A handy plastic spacer safeguards the cartridge so it can’t accidentally be pierced before you’re ready to use it. The 2-year warranty makes this mini an affordable pick.
Pro Bike Tool CO2 Inflator
Thousands of cyclists give this Pro Bike Tool CO2 inflator two thumbs up when asked for reviews on prominent websites. It’s both Presta- and Schrader-valve compatible, works on road and mountain bikes and the insulated sleeve keeps the CO2 cartridge (sold separately) secure and protected.
Take just seconds to inflate your tire using the proprietary 1-turn valve system that works with 12-, 16-, 20- and 25-gram ‘threaded’ CO2 cartridges. Safe, secure and leak-free operation are this product’s hallmarks, yet the unit is so small and compact, it fits into a pocket.
Pro Bike’s refund and replacement policy to the rescue if you don’t agree with all of those happy owners.
Perhaps the first feature you will notice about this uniquely shaped inflator is the texturized outer surface that promises a secure grip when you interface the head with the cartridge and then hold it in place to inflate your tire.
Sold as a package that includes three, 16-gram threaded cartridges, you get a head start on putting together your emergency kit. To operate this CO2 bike tire inflator, just press down on the head to activate the valve function mechanism that enables you to deliver “an accurate controlled inflation.”
Construction is as tough as it looks: CNC machining ensures precision and aluminum construction fashioned with other durable metal parts stand ready to remedy any tire-related inflation issue that arises when you ride.
Portland Design Works CO2 Inflator
This distinctly designed CO2 inflator has both a unique look and clever name: It’s called the “Shiny Object” model and you may not run into another of its ilk because it features a stitched leather sleeve that is vegetable-tanned and dyed using natural oils and waxes.
In sum, this inflator is as attractive as it is efficient. A 16-gram CO2 cartridge is included with the head and this product is compatible with either Presta or Schrader valves. In fact, this Portland Design Works tool works with all threaded CO2 cartridges.
The control knob helps you regulate the speed of the CO2 release and “indestructible” alloy construction comes with a lifetime warranty against defects. Sound good? Priced comparatively, you probably won’t find an inflator that looks this cool.
Topeak Air Booster
This sexy gold Topeak Air Booster may not sport a stitched leather sleeve that makes you feel like you’ve just wrangled steer on a ranch, but it has plenty of fans, as evidenced by the fact that it sells out fast on popular websites.
This inflator comes with a 16-gram CO2 cartridge plus a protective sleeve. It meets and competes with all of the items on this list in terms of price. Lightweight CNC aluminum construction and small size recommend this easy-to-pack tool and it interfaces with both Schrader and Presta valves.
Owners agree that the feature they like best is the high degree of control one has over the airflow as the tire is filled, a statement not made by all of the products on this list
Briskmore CO2 Inflator
If affordability is atop your “must-have” list, this Briskmore inflator could be the product that lands in your shopping cart.
Crafted of aluminum alloy, this inflator is Presta- and Schrader-valve compatible and while a CO2 cartridge isn’t included, you may not care since this product is designed to revive the tires on mountain and road bikes – even in the snow.
Small, tidy, and classic, this Briskmore inflator head works with all sizes of threaded cartridges (12-,16-, 20- and 25-grams), though the protective insulated rubber foam sleeve that comes with the unit only accommodates a 16-gram unit.
Briskmore includes 3 additional spare washers with this patented design that inflates in seconds and offers owners a full refund or replacement if the unit disappoints.
Vibrelli Performance CO2 Inflator
Calling this product a “glueless puncture kit” that also happens to be Presta- and Schrader-valve compatible, Vibrelli’s machined aluminum alloy inflator is built to last and offers you complete control that is so fast, you’ll be back on those pedals ASAP.
An insulated CO2 cartridge sleeve with thumb guard protects fingers from the cold, and while you must purchase the CO2 canister separately, you get a lifetime warranty that covers corrosion and a variety of manufacturing defects.
That stated, plan to search high and low for one of these babies because they sell out very quickly. Start with the manufacturer’s website if you come up empty.
The Blaster CO2 Tire Inflator
Admit it: The brand name intrigues you because who doesn’t prefer a blast of air to a wimpy breeze?
Be careful with this tiny tool; it’s the smallest CO2 inflator on the market (roughly the size of a quarter, notes the maker) yet it welcomes all valve comers, Presta or Schrader, and no parts or adapters are necessary to get the job done.
Fabricated of CNC-machined stainless steel, aluminum alloy, and rubber (no plastic), The Blaster is one of the least complicated products on the market. Twist. Inflate. Have a blast. Literally.
SKS Air Buster CO2 Inflator
German engineering is legendary; consider luxury cars, sleek trains and the legendary Autobahn. But engineers are equally serious about producing small but essential items like CO2 bike inflators and the SKS Air Buster is a superstar.
Tiny, trim and crafted for the long hall, this inflator checks off all the right boxes: it’s compatible with Presta and Schrader valves, comes complete with a 16-gram CO2 cartridge and a frame mount and the precision air release screw dial does a great job of controlling air flow.
Competitively priced, you’re welcome to pay for this essential tool with Dollars or Euros if you are given an option. No language expertise required.
Zefal Fez Control CO2 Inflator
While this Zefal Fez inflator is not as frequently reviewed as others on this list, it remains a solid product that is dependable, offering quality construction and it comes with a 16-gram cartridge right out of the box.
Made in China to be compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves, this compact, lightweight product allows you to control the CO2 flow simply by adjusting the dedicated mechanism so you can hop back on your bike immediately and get on with your ride – and isn’t that the objective here?
How CO2 bike tire inflators work
For cyclists dependent upon bulky, not-always-dependable pumps to do fast inflation jobs on the go, the CO2 bike tire inflator morphed from “nice idea” to “can’t live without one” in a relatively short amount of time. These products work by pairing the inflator with a CO2 canister that is filled with compressed gas.
Affixed to the tire’s inner valve, CO2 gas is released when the unit’s controller is engaged, and the entire process takes no time at all to complete, say editors at Cycling Weekly, who remind us that “two things in life are certain: death and taxes. For cyclists, we’d add a third; punctures.”
Every bike tire inflator requires 2 components to function: The inflator head that is fastened to the tire’s valve stem and the CO2 canister that holds a specific amount of gas apportioned in grams.
Not every bike inflator brand offers the same air release trigger but commonalities include size, material, portability and efficiency, and since price differences on products on our list all fall within a $5 range, you can base your buying decision on getting the most bang for your buck.
Types of CO2 Inflators
There are two types of CO2 bike tire inflators: threaded and non-threaded. Threaded products are easy to identify because they feature traditional, circular threads that make it easy to screw the canister unit directly onto the tire’s inflation mechanism.
Non-threaded cartridges are the simplest types of inflators of all and require no thread screws. Inflate the tire by pushing or pressing the inflator head into the tire port. Both types have been around since around 1989 when Genuine Innovations pioneered the cycling industry’s first CO2 inflator.
How to pump up tires using a CO2 inflator and canister
Justin Loretz used both photos and words to describe the process of bike tire inflation using a CO2 canister for readers frequenting the Road.cc website. We’ve summed up the steps so you can ride rather than read:
- Open the tire valve. Don’t laugh. Plenty of bike riders forget to do this and waste a cartridge in the process.
- Clear that valve, especially if it’s new and sticky, by tapping the chuck back toward the stem.
- Be sure the air flow dial, trigger or switch is closed when connecting components or you could lose flow control.
- Either thread or push the head unit into the cartridge so the safety catch releases.
- Tighten up the connection to pierce the CO2 cartridge.
- Press the valve port into the stem firmly and keep holding it in place.
- Release the CO2 gas using the product’s trigger, dial or button.
- Don’t freak out if this your first time. The process is sudden, noisy and explosive.
- Inflate the tire to the desired pressure.
- Close the valve on the cartridge, separate it from the inflator head and close the tube valve.
Pros and cons of CO2 bike tire inflators
- CO2 inflator systems are small and compact so they fit into small places
- They are light years ahead of traditional hand pumps that require manual labor to do the job
- It’s faster to inflate a tire with a CO2 system. Most take care of the problem in under a minute
- These tools are ideal for racers whose timed rides depend on the least amount of repair time
- CO2 inflators like those on this list are affordable, ranging in price between $12 and $28 each.
- Long trips may require lugging multiple canisters and a backup inflator in case small heads go missing or tanks are tapped out
- Inflators may be a one-time investment but cartridges must be replaced once they are emptied.
- Not everyone gets the hang of regulating CO2 air as it’s being dispensed.
- Overly-cautious cyclists frequently bring both a CO2 tire inflator and a standard bicycle pump on rides, which can add to the weight of gear being hauled.