01 February 2016

Letting The Air Out

Tubeless tires for bicycles have been available for about two decades.  I have never used them myself, but I understand how they are useful for some riders, particularly mountain bikers.  While most road cyclists' flats are the result of punctures from road debris, mountain bikers are more likely to incur pinch flats that result from riding tires at low pressures, which causes the tube to be squeezed between the ground and the rim. If I were to become an active mountain bike rider again, I just might try tubeless tires.

I once tried another product created with the aim of preventing flat tires. 

Imagine a (say, 27 inch or 700C) donut made from the kind of rubber used to make tire casings.  That "donut" is solid; it does not have a hollow core into which air can be pumped, let alone one that can accommodate a tube. 

As you can imagine, installing such a tire was not easy:  It didn't even have the "stretch" of a tight-fitting tubed tire with a particularly stiff bead.  (I thought it was difficult to put those old Specialized Turbo tires on Weinmann concave rims until I tried installing one of the solid tires I mentioned!)  Removing it wasn't easy, either. 

That tire--the Zeus LCM--was available for a few years from the late 1970's to the mid-1980's.  Frank, the proprietor of Highland Park (NJ) Cyclery, stocked a few only because a few customers wanted them.  He also kept a pair of wheels fitted with those tires so would-be customers could try them before committing.  During the time I was working at HPC, he allowed me to borrow them for a few of rides.

If I thought those tires were hard in my hands, they were even harder on the road. They felt like they were made of cement!  Believe it or not, I actually did a half-century, in addition to riding to and from work for a few days, on them.  Never before had I ridden so slowly and felt so banged-up after riding:  The Zeus tires lacked the buoyance of pneumatic tires.  I found myself wondering whether I had just experienced what riding on a "boneshaker" must have felt like!

By the way, those Zeus tires were made in the US and bore no relationship to the Basque/Spanish bicycle and bicycle component manufacturer. Ironically, the only items on Zeus bikes that weren't made by the company were--you guessed it--the tires (and, in the case of clinchers, tubes). 

Around the same time those Zeus tires were on the market, a few similar products were being made.  Also, at least one other company made and marketed a solid foam inner tube, and another made a closed-cell foam inner tube with a hollow core which, as Retrogrouch pointed out, was like a big elastomer.  They were even heavier, slower and harsher-riding than the Zeus donuts.

Those products apparently disappeared around the mid-to-late 1980s.  

Sometimes it seems that if an idea is silly, impractical or bad enough, its time will come, or come again.  (That could make Victor Hugo turn in his grave!)   So, would you be surprised to find out that someone is making closed-cell foam tire inserts  again?  For me, the only surprise is that one of the most respected tire makers--Hutchinson--is behind it.  They don't sell that insert alone, but as part of their "Serenity" tire, which is like one of their city tires (I forget the name of it ) with a tough casing. 

From the Tannus website

Knowing that, you also probably won't be surprised to know that another company--Tannus--is reviving the idea of the Zeus tire.  Like the Zeus, it's a fully-molded solid tire that come in an array of neon colors that would have sent even Valley Girls running and hiding.

As George Santayana said, those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.  The pneumatic tire is one of the most important inventions in the history of the human race, and certainly the most important bicycle-related inventions.  Without that chamber of air floating and cushioning the bike and its riders, the bicycle, most likely, still couldn't be faster than a horse, even with Eddy Mercx pedaling.



  1. I've seen Worksman offer solid tires as an option, so Worksman being Worksman, they've probably have been doing it forever! ;-) I think bikes in an industrial setting (flat, shortish distances across a factory, lots of debris that could cause punctures) is really the only practical application for these tires.

    I did see one of the older ones on an otherwise lovely Raleigh Sports:

    1. Urban--How could I have forgotten about the Worksman bikes? They are indeed among the few vehicles on which airless or solid tires make any sense.

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