Are airless bike tires the answer for reliable commuting?

With no risk of punctures to stop you, will airless bike tires make your cycling commute more dependable?

Image shows an airless bike tire.
(Image credit: Tannus)

Airless bike tires might just be the answer to the cycling commuter’s worst problem. If you’re going to use your bike to get to and from work, you want your journeys to be reliable, but the thing most likely to stop that is getting a puncture. They have a tendency to occur in clusters and usually when it’s most inconvenient, you’re in a hurry, it’s cold, dark or wet.

So a technology that avoids the risk of having to a fix a bike puncture is of even more benefit to the commuter cyclist than the leisure rider. Fortunately it exists: airless bike tires (which sounds better than calling them solid tires) are a real alternative on a commuter bike.

Modern airless bike tires are made of a micro closed cell polymer resin (MCP) manipulated to make a solid foam-like material. It’s much like the material that running shoe soles are made of. With careful processing MCP can create a durable tire with most of the performance benefits of a standard pneumatic tire plus the crucial advantage of never puncturing.

Fitting airless bike tires also means that you can cut down on the amount of kit you need to carry with you; no need for a pump, spare tubes, puncture repair kit, tire levers.

A solid solution to punctures for the commuter?

A solid solution to punctures for the commuter?

Why aren't we all using airless bike tires?

Thanks to brands such as Tannus tires from South Korea and the UK’s own Greentyre pushing the development of airless bike tire technology, airless bike tires could well be an option for your next commuter bike tire purchase.

Airless bike tires have a reputation for being slow, heavy, difficult to fit, uncomfortable and lacking in grip — all key factors in choosing bike tires, and for most riders these far outweigh having to deal with the occasional puncture. But for a commuter travelling shorter distances, that might swing the other way and airless bike tires could be a viable option to reduce maintenance and downtime.

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Airless bike tires are available for a wide range of wheel sizes, including for small wheel folding bikes

Are airless bike tires easy to fit?

Tannus uses plastic pegs which pass through the bike tire and clip it into the beads on the wheel’s rim. Fitting the bike tires is slow but not particularly difficult. It’s a lot easier with two pairs of hands. Once on the rim, a special tool is used to clip the pegs into place in the bead. Getting the correct length peg is the key to setting up the bike tires properly.

Greentyre points out that an incorrect fit can cause additional rolling resistance and make an airless bike tire feel hard to ride and less responsive than a pneumatic. It says it’s important to know both the bike tire size and the width of the wheel rim in which its bike tire will be fitted.

Tannus tires are claimed to be lighter than most tire, tube and rim tape combinations and airless tire bands like Tannus have improved the grip offered by their tires to the point where they rival conventional tubed bike tires, so wet weather commuting isn’t an issue.

So airless bike tires are catching up, creating a viable alternative that can appeal to a wider spectrum of riders, but they are not looking to take over from pneumatic tires for the performance cyclist. They’re available for a wide range of wheel sizes including Bromptons and other commuter bikes.

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