How to Choose Airless Bike Tires
Airless bicycle tires promise better durability than rubber pneumatic tires—and no flats. Whether or not they’re the right for you depends on multiple criteria, which we’ll outline here.
As bicycle ridership increases and eco-friendliness moves to the top of more cyclists’ minds, airless bike tires have soared in popularity in the last several years.
After all, manufacturers advertise that their airless bike tires eliminate flats and last longer. Not to mention the fact that when their life cycle ends, some of their proprietary foams can be recycled.
How do airless bicycle tires work, though? And how do they differ from traditional rubber tires? Should you invest in a set? If so, which brand should you choose?
This article will quickly answer your questions, so you can make a more informed purchase when the time comes.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is an Airless Bike Tire?
These beads then fit snugly into grooves on the inside lip of bike wheels, which holds everything in place once the inner tube—or the tire itself, in the case of tubeless versions—is filled with air.
Because air is a crucial component in the process, traditional bike tires are formally referred to as “pneumatic,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “of, relating to, or using gas (such as air or wind).”
Comparatively, airless bike tires are made from proprietary foams extruded into different shapes. While their specific designs vary (more soon), none require inflation, hence the moniker “airless.”
Let’s take a closer look at the materials used in the airless bike tire manufacturing process.
What Are Airless Bike Tires Made From?
Air Fom’s Materials
After speaking with the company and reading through their website, we learned that Air Fom’s airless tires are made from “ultra-high density ethylene copolymer and polyethylene foams.”
The UFP Technologies website explains that this type of foam “is a durable, lightweight, resilient, closed-cell material” that’s also flexible. Furthermore, they say it offers “excellent vibration dampening and insulation properties,” superb strength and tear resistance, and excellent shock absorption and vibration dampening.
Tannus’s airless bike tires are manufactured from a patented polymer nanofoam they’ve named “Aither.”
Other than to explain it’s “a micro closed-cell polymer resin material similar to what’s used in running shoes,” the Tannus website provides no additional insight into Aither’s formulation.
Although Tannus and Air Fom both fall under the “airless bike tires” classification and both are made from foam, they work very differently from one another. We’ll explore this in greater detail next.
What’s the Difference Between Airless Bike Tires & Tire Inserts?
Tannus is the only manufacturer that currently offers standalone airless bicycle tires in their Portal, Shield, Slick, Razorblade, and Mini-Velo models. Made from extruded Aither, they’re held to rims using individual clips and don’t require that you use a traditional rubber tire on top.
Tannus also manufactures Armour, a single piece of curved foam that fits between your inner tube and tire. Colloquially known as an “insert,” it promises to provide reinforced sidewall and underside protection, increased vibration dampening, and minimized rolling resistance.
Although it features a two or three-piece design (depending on model), Air Fom’s system also falls under the “insert” banner – albeit one that removes the need for an inner tube.
Air Fom’s system is also wholly airless, although you’ll need to bond with an adhesive to your rubber tire and existing wheel.
Are there more meaningful differences between Air Fom and Tannus? We’ll answer this question next.
How Can You Choose the Best Airless Bike Tires?
Given their design differences, Tannus and Air Fom’s systems occupy different niches within the cycling universe, each geared toward different types of cyclists.
As a result, your unique combination of needs and preferences will help determine which airless option might deliver the most value for your money.
Here are the vital questions you need to ask yourself:
Do You Want to Use Your Existing Tires?
If your primary goal is to ditch your pneumatic tires altogether, Tannus is currently your only option.
You can still go airless with Air Fom — it just adheres underneath your current set of rubber.
What’s Your Budget?
If you pay MSRP, you’ll spend $120 to $160 to outfit your bike with a set of Tannus airless tires, whereas Air Fom tells us their system costs less than $100, installed.
Speaking of which ….
Is Do-It-Yourself Tire Replacement a Requirement?
Air Fom recommends professional installation, whereas you can install Tannus’s clip-based system in the comfort of your home.
Pro tip: Doing so will probably take much longer than installing traditional bike tires, though, if online video reviews are any indication.
What About Sizing, Weight, & Pressure Preferences?
While Tannus offers a broader range of styles, Air Fom is currently the only airless system available for 29″ mountain bike tires. On the other hand, only Tannus manufactures 16” kid’s tires.
Furthermore, depending on model and composition, Tannus airless tires simulate pressures between 80 and 115 PSI. Air Fom ranges between 45 and 65 PSI—meaningfully lower, depending on your riding preferences.
In addition to lower simulated pressure, Air Fom’s 280g to 320g weight is also lower than most of Tannus’s lineup (310g to 800g).
How Often Do You Ride?
With their 5,000-mile guarantee, Tannus promises their airless tires will last longer than the 5,000 km (3,100 miles) advertised by Air Fom.
If you live in an especially hot or cold climate, Air Fom indicates their ultra-high density ethylene copolymer and polyethylene foams “maintain their physical properties across temperatures from -30 degrees to +50 degrees Celsius (-22 to +122 F).
Furthermore, if you don’t frequently ride (i.e., your bike sits for long periods between uses), Air Fom indicates their formulation won’t dent (known as “compression set”) where it makes contact with the ground.
Are You Eco-Conscious?
Perhaps more than any other criteria I’ve listed, this one requires the most give-and-take on your part.
For example, the Aither foam used in Tannus’s airless tires isn’t recyclable. However, Tannus also advertises their tires last about 30 percent longer than Air Fom, and they don’t require the use of a traditional non-recyclable rubber tire on top.
Finally, Air Fom’s tires are “precision-molded using only electrically generated heat and water,” which they advertise is more eco-friendly than many other methods.
Which Airless Bike Tire System Offers Broader Availability?
Last, but certainly not least, Air Fom’s airless systems seem to offer limited availability. The company doesn’t sell them on their website, they don’t list retailers where they’re available, and I didn’t locate any third-party retailers advertising Air Fom as of this writing.
Also, I currently travel the Western US via RV, and many bike shop employees I’ve talked with have never heard of the Air Fom system.
Comparatively, customers can purchase Tannus airless bike tires directly on the manufacturer’s website, as well as multiple third-party online retailers. I’ve even visited several bike shops during our travels that carried at least a limited selection of Tannus tires.
Before wrapping everything up, here’s a quick table outlining all of the details we’ve discussed:
|Pricing||> $100 per bike, including installation||$60–$80 per tire|
|Material(s)||Ultra-high density ethylene copolymer/polyethylene foams||Aither, a nanofoam micro closed-cell polymer|
|# of Models||5||7|
|Sizes||700C, 27.5”, 29”||16”–27.5”, 700C|
|Compositions||Soft, Medium, Firm||Soft (riders below 120 lbs), Regular (120-200 lbs), Hard (200+ lbs)|
|Lifespan||3,100mi / 5,000km||5,000mi / 8,000km|
|Simulated Pressure||45-65 PSI||80–115 PSI|
|Professional Installation Recommended?||Y||N|
|Notes||-22 to +122 F temperature resistance, no compression set||Available in 5 colors|
What’s the Bottom Line About Choosing an Airless Bike Tire?
Deciding whether or not you should switch to a set of airless bike tires in the first place involves balancing a variety of criteria:
- No more worrying about flat tires
- Potentially save money by not spending extra money on replacement inner tubes
- Lighten your load: you don’t have to carry an inner tube while you ride
- Airless bike tires can last much longer than pneumatic tires
- Airless bike tires come with higher upfront costs
- Traditional tire/tube combinations are lighter than many airless models
- Airless tire installation is more labor-intensive
- Tannus tires are non-recyclable, and Air Fom’s inserts require a specialized recycling pathway set up by the company
- Airless bike tires aren’t widely available at local bike shops, so you might have to order online
- The foams used in airless bike tires creates higher rolling resistance, which can increase your riding effort
- Many online reviewers report harsher ride quality and less natural suspension using airless bicycle tires
Together, if your primary goal is flat-free cycling and longevity, airless bike tires might be worth checking out. On the other hand, if you want to reduce instances of flat tires while also improving performance, you might want to investigate a tubeless tire setup.
From there, based on their sizes available and the ability to simulate lower pressures, Air Fom’s inserts might work best if you want an airless solution for your mountain bike. Tannus could be ideal if you’re going to ditch the rubber altogether and also focus more on higher-performance road applications.
What are your thoughts? Share them with the world by leaving a comment below!
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