What Is It Wednesday: Airless Tires

Ok so airless tires aren’t a completely new thing since solid tires have been around for a while. But I recently came across some new concepts, in particular the Ever Tires and Nexo brands. Essentially they took a solid tire, and punched some holes or gas infused them to make it lighter than a traditional solid tire, making it more accessible for people who like the idea of a solid tire but not necessarily the cost or the heftiness (real word, I swear). Before we get too much into these new-fangled airless tires, let’s take a look at how a traditional bike tire (and tube) works so we can see the difference and decide whether it’s worth it or not.

So if you read last week’s What Is It Wednesday on bike anatomy you already know that the tires attach to the rim of the bike wheel and are inflated to their correct PSI (pounds per square inch) via a valve – simple enough. These types (tubular) of tires have inner tubes, which is what you’re actually inflating. The tube itself  wraps around the rim just under the tire that can be glued to the rim. The pros with this type of setup boil down to being cheaper per unit, on the lower end you’re looking at $6-$15 per tube. The downside is that if something punctures your tire and inner tube, it’s going to go flat and hopefully it’s not too far of a walk back.

Credit: Nashbar

Now there’s also tubular tires that aren’t 100% air filled, they come partially filled with a gel. Slime Smart Tubes is one such example. Inside the tube it contains a gel that when the tire and tube get punctured, the gel (or slime as they call it) will leak out and harden upon contact with the air. Pretty neat. Pros on this one definitely have to be the fact that you won’t get a flat right away if your tire and tube are punctured. Cons, well I’ve heard from others that you can feel the additional weight rolling around the tire which may or may not bother you. The other biggest con I’ve heard is that once it is punctured and you go to change your tire and tube out it can be quite the mess. These will set you back anywhere between $10 – $30 a tube depending on the size and type needed. They have lightweight ones and extra thick ones depending on your tire type.

Credit: Slime Smart Tubes

So we’re getting closer to the airless tires I started this post with, and as I said tubeless tires aren’t exactly new. Tubeless tires function almost exactly the same as a tubular tire except for one small fact – you guessed right, there’s no tube involved. Instead the tire is sealed to the rim and you inflate the tire itself. The diagram below shows a side by side comparison. Pros here are no need for tubes – yay! Also they seem to roll easier on the ground since the tire can give a little to conform better without the tube being in the way. Cons, there’s definitely more setup involved and you have to be more mindful of maintenance because these can still get a flat, they’re not impenetrable.. Price ranges wildly depending on the size and style you need: $30-$100+/tire.

Credit:Deer Valley

Now to these tubeless AND airless tires. Phew… it took a minute to get here but it’s worth it. Ok, so what if you didn’t have to worry about fixing a flat, dealing with tubes, or even having to inflate your tires – it might save you some time, right? Well, that’s what a few companies including Ever Tires and Nexo are hoping. The idea is that because there’s nothing to inflate, it can never go flat. These companies have slightly different designs so let’s start with Ever Tires.

Ever Tires use a polymer blend to create a solid but not solid tire. Their tires have holes that reduce weight and add some cushion to the ride. One of my chief concerns with these tires is how to maintain the tire with all of those holes. If I’m riding off-road, I can only imagine the mud build-up that might occur, which will make the tires roll unevenly. I’d be interested to see first hand how easy it is to CLEAN between all those little holes. One positive note is they are rated for 3000+ miles (5000+ if you use their rim set). One downside, which I’d like to know more about, is these would not be ideal for indoor trainers because of the heat generated from the friction. I use my indoor trainer often, so it would be a hassle to have to change the back wheel out, maybe they’ll refine their materials to withstand use on an indoor trainer, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Credit: Ever Tires

The other airless tire I wanted to gander at was the Nexo tire. This is another airless tire that requires no inflation and is rated for 5000 km. The tire is made up of a proprietary compound and a portion of their interior is filled with a stable gas that reduces the weight (ballgate anyone?). To keep the tires centered on the rim, they use a bolt system. While I LOVE the look of the Ever Tires, I have to admit that the Nexos seem like a more practical option as far as maintenance. The concept of the tire being partially filled with gas is interesting because of how it’s done, the gas impregnates the material versus being inflated and then sealed. So even if the tire gets punctured, only a minimal amount of the gas would be lost, therefore no flat. The Nexos may or may not be suitable for indoor trainers – their website says to keep away from heat sources but nothing is specifically said about trainers. I’ll try to follow up with them on this.

Credit: Nexo

So there we have it folks. We’ve learned a lot about tires today! I hope to get an opportunity to review the Nexo and Ever Tires and if I do I will definitely post a follow up to this. If you’re interested in learning more about the Nexo and Ever Tires, they have a KickStarter up now, which I’ve linked.

Know any great topics you’d like to see covered on What Is It Wednesday, comment below or send me a message. 

 Disclaimer: None of these companies sponsor me or pay for my opinions. Any links added to this article were done for informational purposes only and to credit image source.