Co2 cartridges always save the day when in a pinch whether it is road biking mountain biking or any other cycling form CO2 cartridges are always handy against pinch flats and if you dont wanna carry a pump or you have a foot pump and you dont have a mini pump and questions like co2 better for bike tires always pop up there is info available on the internet already but the data is either inaccurate or a presumption or a theory
but no source answers the question hands-on, I did extensive research around the topic. In this article, I will explain everything about CO2 cartridges (myths, common perceptions, wrong comparisons, usability)
To kick things off let’s discuss what are CO2 cartridges
What are CO2 cartridges :
Co2 cartridges are made of aluminum mostly and they contain CO2 and CO2 doesn’t have any liquid form you will see this on the internet a lot, that CO2 cartridges are in liquid form well no actually CO2, when put in a container at high pressure, turns into a solid (dry ice), not a liquid Co2, of course, can be converted into a what seems like a liquid form but is a gaseous form at 5.13 atm pressure
so the CO2 in the cartridges is in both solid and gaseous form there’s no liquid phase or liquid and when you open the cap of the bottle or screw it on a bike valve the atmospheric pressure drops to 1atm which converts it into a gaseous state almost instantly.
1 atm is the regular air pressure on earth and at this pressure, CO2 turns into a gaseous form the reason, So the myth around CO2 in liquid form is not true at all.
The next most important question that people usually have and the wrong answers and examples given is “is carbon good for bike tires”
Is CO2 good for bike tubes and tires :
Bike tires (tubeless or non-tubeless both) and tubes are made of butyl rubber or in some cases tubes are made of latex and carbon reacts with the rubber, there are certain myths and counterarguments around this topic like if CO2 damages rubber than BB guns or pellet guns should be affected the most because they use CO2 more than any biker
Now there are two types of plastics or plastic polymers
Thermosets when heated and molded into a form cannot be re-used or recycled and vice versa and the pellet guns or BB guns are made of that same material at least the inner parts of it like the whirl spring and the pressure cylinder are made of thermoset plastic with which CO2 doesn’t even react in the first place
and bike tires are made up of thermoplastic materials with which carbon reacts and you can find tons of experiments on those online (Example source)
So CO2 does react with the rubber but there are certain things and certain factors that come into the equation and the damage done by the CO2 when we use CO2 cartridge is low and we dont usually see it
And those factors are the pressure and concentration of the CO2, if both are high and you give it an ample amount of time even you can visibly see the deformity of the rubber
And this effect of CO2 on the rubber is called rubber corrosion, and the people who say to take the example of pellet guns are completely wrong, when you inject a CO2 cartridge in a tire although the effect is minimal as long as the CO2 remains in the tires it will keep affecting the tires
until you completely drain the tires and refill them with normal air.
CO2 Cartridges Vs CO2 in air Effects on tires Clarified:
For CO2 to react with the rubber for visible damage there are two conditions
Most people say that CO2 doesn’t damage the tires on the basis of its presence in the atmosphere if CO2 is already present in the atmosphere then why doesn’t it affect the tires the reasons are simple as I have mentioned above
For CO2 to react it should meet the two conditions Concentration (quantity) and pressure at which it is flowing through the given rubber or tire and both of these conditions are met when you pump your tires with CO2 cartridges
CO2 is already stored at high pressure and in ample amounts as well the concentration of CO2 in the air is 1% nitrogen 78 and oxygen 28 and when you pump air into your tires the most amount of gasses in it are oxygen and nitrogen and there’s a very little amount of CO2 circling in your tires which leaves the tires eventually but causing some damage as well (which is minimal and takes a long time 3-4 years to show its effects on tires)
but in a cartridge, there’s a very high amount of CO2 and that’s the only thing going in there to add on top of it it’s going in there at very high pressure as well.
How CO2 acts or reacts with tires :
When we inject CO2 into any tire or any other thing rubber tubes through anything CO2 cartridges or anything CO2 reacts with the rubber first and it causes the rubber polymers to stretch and then leave afterward
When we fill our tires with cartridges certain pressure is built that’s enough to get you home carbon diffuse and reacts with the rubber polymers causing them to expand that in the case can have different effects like the bubbling phenomena in tires where the casing gets damaged and the gas leaks and eventually breaks the inner threads in the tires (TPI)
and that can cause the tires to show bubbles on the sidewalls which doesn’t happen right away or with one or two cartridges depending on the tire quality of course.
Should you use CO2 cartridges in your bike tires :
I have painted such a scary picture that I think that people will stop using cartridges in their bike tires but the situation is usually not dire just to be on the safe side these effects can happen and they do happen
Even if the damage may not be visible to you when not used multiple times but the point is that CO2effects the tires, and the myths or counter-arguments like CO2 in the air or pellet guns are wrong and you should always keep in mind that you should always be careful when using CO2 cartridges or trying to fill your tires with CO2
But yes, you can use CO2 cartridges in your tires but do not rely on them frequently use your bike pump and use normal air as you would normally use
How often you should use CO2 cartridges in your bike tires :
Frequent use of CO2 is bad for your tires or tubes but occasional use is just fine, but being dependent on CO2 is not good it will degrade or damage your tires faster.
Having said that by occasional use I mean once a month or longer than that but if you are just inflating your tires with CO2 for every chance you get it will damage your tires.
And after every use make sure that you deflate your tires and get rid of the carbon from your tires before inflating with a pump and it should reduce the damage to at least some extent, Don’t leave your bike as it is, and come back to tomorrow because it will deflate on it own.
What’s the Best gas to inflate your tires with :
Carbon is the worst type of gas you can put in your tires that being said nitrogen is the best one if you really want to feel special but normal air is just fine because it already has an ample amount of nitrogen and oxygen in it and you dont necessarily need nitrogen in tires.
The maximum effect you would see with that is tires will lose pressure slower but I also did a whole article on Nitrogen in bike tires | Myths and Educational perspective Explained as well if you are interested in reading more about that
Also if you had like to play around with your tires with a bit of a safer gas HELIUM IN BIKE TIRES |Does It Make A Difference Explained like helium I did an article on that as well
While using CO2 cartridges is fine but they are harmful to your tires and whenever you are using them make sure that you use them properly as I have described yes carbon is harmful to bike tires and it does indeed induces in tires.
So make sure that you limit your self from using it and dont over do things.