Getting a flat bicycle tire is a major bummer even when you’re well prepared. In the already troublesome process of taking things apart and digging into the tire to get the tube out, you end up smearing bike grease all over yourself. Keep in mind that this scenario only applies to those that happen to have repair kits on hand. Those who don’t will have to walk their bikes to wherever they’re going. The reality is that tire punctures are pretty much inevitable. Imagine if you could enjoy a smooth, comfortable ride with no air in your tires at all. Thanks to Tokyo tire manufacturer Bridgestone, that ideal might soon become a reality.
Bridgestone’s “Air Free Concept” builds on a car tire design they announced in 2011, which would eliminate the need for tires to be inflated with air. The tires have an open-walled design and contain several “spokes” that can support the weight of a bicycle and its rider. The spokes are made from synthetic thermoplastic resin: a strong yet highly flexible material that effectively absorbs shock. Plus, the resin is environmentally-friendly, as it is easily manipulated into complex shapes when heated to a high enough temperature. When these tires wear down, they can simply be heated and remolded into brand new ones.
The company seems to have made their tires as sustainable as possible, adding, “by pursuing extremely low rolling resistance and contributing to reductions in CO2 emissions through use of proprietary technologies, Bridgestone believes it is possible to achieve even higher levels of environmental friendliness and safety. Bridgestone is pursuing this technological development with the aim of achieving a ‘cradle to cradle’ process that proactively maximizes the cyclical use of resources from worn tires into new tires and the use of recyclable resources.”
With Bridgestone bike tires, you’ll never have to worry about a puncture again. Sounds great, right? After (hopefully) rolling those out in 2019, the company has plans to perfect a similar technology for smaller vehicles, like golf carts, before making full-sized car tires commercially available.
As stimulating as their psychedelic designs may be, Bridgestone isn’t the first company to introduce the concept of an air-free tire. In fact, non-pneumatic tires, usually made of closed-cell polyurethane foam, have been seen on lawnmowers and construction equipment like backhoes for years now. Similarly, Michelin began developing a tire and wheel hybrid, called the “Tweel” back in 2005.
Airless tires have the potential to improve fuel efficiency and vehicular safety drastically. Unfortunately, getting the tires to handle and maneuver safely at high speeds and in extreme weather will be the main obstacle in making this revolutionary piece of equipment an auto industry staple. The larger the vehicle, the rougher the ride will be and the more setbacks you’re likely to encounter. If we have to wait a couple more years for airless car tires to hit the market, we can at least find temporary solace in the fact that Bridgestone’s design already seems to be perfect for the cycling world.