The mesh-like tyre has a lot less tread contact patch, than a rubber one would (Photo: SMART)
- Flat tyres are a deeply annoying, and continual, problem for cyclists
- Using true space travel technology, a new tyre company might have found the solution to preventing all punctures
- These airless tyres use a very special metal construction
The cycling industry likes to market space age technology solutions, for normal riding problems.
An obsession with strength and low mass, has made carbon-fibre and titanium the wonder materials for cyclists. Of course, advanced carbon-fibre and titanium both owe much of their initial development, to aviation and space travel.
Light and incredibly strong carbon-fibre frames and wheels are our dividend, but what if a space age technology could solve cycling’s oldest issue: the flat tyre. You could have a R200 000 bike, rolling R40 000 wheels, but a simple rubber tyre puncture, will render it all immobile.
The idea of a solid foam tyre is nothing new. But they are heavy, harsh to ride and can provide odd road or trail surface feedback.
In the lunar vehicle realm, conventional rubber tyres won’t work. The solution for moon buggies and the new Mars exploration vehicles, has been to use sophisticated metal structures, formed into tension-coil shapes, to mimic much of the traditional rubber tyre’s properties, without the risk of puncturing. And that technology has now been updated and applied to cycling.
The SMART tire company believes they have created a true airless tyre breakthrough. Their initial sample tyre looks like an intricate mesh structure, which it is.
These see through tyres could have incredible aero properties. (Photo: SMART)
Real NASA tech – for your bicycle
SMART is part of a NASA start-up company initiative, supporting tech companies to innovative. Their work has centred on the idea of ‘shape memory alloy’ technology, which is ideal for creating the intricate coil structure to make an airless tyre.
The series of interconnected springs are made from an alloy nickel-titanium. SMART has not made any weight claims for the tyre, but says it is within benchmark range of a rubber equivalent. Its first prototype airless cycling tyres are for road riding but the company has committed to making mountain bike versions, too.
Issues? The question of debris and mud ingestion, through the mesh -type structure, could be problematic. Conventional rubber tyres can also vary their compression characteristic and respond to terrain depending, by deforming – this is especially important in mountain biking. With a fixed compression and rebound structure, as part of the SMART airless tyre’s metal construction, these advanced Metl tyres could feel oddly limited, in real world riding conditions.
Metal is also notoriously slippery when applied as a traction interface to wet tar or rock surfaces, but SMART’s engineers are preparing a syntenic rubber coating for the tread of its airless tyres, to solve this issue. The promise is to have these Metl tyres brought to market, by next year.