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Is Air Fōm Your Next Airless Bike Tire System?

October 30, 2018

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Is Air Fōm Your Next Airless Bike Tire System?

Made from a combination of polyethylene foams and thermoplastic polyurethane, Air Fōm is a two- to- three-part system that replaces traditional inner tubes and promises to eliminate flat bike tires for up to 3,100 miles.

 

Updated: November 12, 2018

Tired of flat tires on otherwise pleasant bike rides?

Launched during the 2018 Taipei Cycle Show, Air Fōm is an airless bike tire system that uses multi-layer foam inserts to mimic the lively, dynamic ride performance of an air-filled inner tube—but, without punctures or pumping.

After extensive testing, their website explains this involves a stiff core and an outer layer of supportive, energy-returning foam materials, which are bonded to the tire and rim using an adhesive agent. The website recommends that your local bike shop can easily handle this part in about 30 minutes.

Other advertised features include consistent stability across a wide range of temperatures, the ability to maintain structure under high impact, and the highest rebound energy and lowest weight of any airless foam system on the market. They say their proprietary technology also ensures your tire remains securely affixed between the bead and rim.

According to their website, Air Fōm will begin manufacturing during Q4 of 2018, with an estimated shipping window during January 2019. The lineup will gradually expand to a complete range of urban, commuter, trekking, mountain bike, and e-MTB models throughout the year.

In anticipation of its release, we zoomed into Air Fōm’s details and spoke with the company’s founder via email, to help keep you in-the-know.

Taking a Closer Look at Air Fōm’s Multi-Layer Construction

According to their patent application, the Air Fōm airless bike tire system comprises two-to-three foam layers, depending on your tire size and type.

Together, they explain these layers dampen impacts and provide durable wheel protection similar to the feeling of air pressure inside an inner tube. Which is why they dub the sensation “simulated pressure.”

Related: Bike Tire Functionality

But, outside of not have to worry about flats, the company also emphasizes these foams are constructed from cutting-edge, non-cross-linked materials. Compared to traditional inner tubes made from vulcanized (i.e., permanently hardened) butyl rubber, this means they’re entirely recyclable back to the original raw material, with no loss of properties.

Related: How The Bike Tire Manufacturing Process Works

Note: According to the Air Fōm website, it’s unclear whether or not this part of the equation is currently in place, as they’re “committed to providing [this] recycling pathway to dealers and distributors.”

Furthermore, the precision-molded foam is manufactured using only electrically generated heat and water. The water is continuously re-used, the foam isn’t painted or dyed in any way, and the process only releases steam and heat, which is why the manufacturer often emphasizes its eco-friendliness.

Let’s explore how this foam is arranged inside a tire.

Backbone Layer

Peterman explained to us that Air Fōm’s “Backbone and Foundation layers are formed from a product that is also fully recyclable and is found primarily in automotive structures to reduce weight. It is high strength, very lightweight, and easily and precisely molded.”

The system’s website specifies this involves ultra-high density ethylene copolymer and polyethylene foams (shown in white in the picture below). These provide a combination of stiffness, structural integrity, flexibility, compression resistance, and the ability to absorb large impacts without deforming. And as the foundation, it also provides the strength and mass needed to support the outer layer(s).

Together, the company explains this is the central element responsible for achieving the same structural air pressure as a traditional pneumatic inner tube system. In layman’s terms, it’s one of the primary reasons the concept is possible.

Foundation Layer

This layer (in grey below) is only found in sizes appropriate for mountain bikes. In smaller versions, it’s singularly combined with the backbone.

When present, though, the company explains the layer is made from a super lightweight material that’s critical for proper tire and rim sizing, cushioning riders from impacts, and performance of the Backbone and Energy layers.

Energy Layer

Peterman explained to us that this layer (in blue below) is “very much like BASF Infinergy, which is quite amazing in terms of weight, functionality, energy return (65%), temperature tolerance [between −30 C (-22°F) and +50 C (122°F)], and of course, it is fully recyclable.”

Formally, this layer was made from a class of materials known as styrene-butadiene-styrene, or SBS, a hard rubber—formally called a block copolymer—commonly used on athletic footwear, basketballs, and tire treads (to name just a few examples). Since it’s cross-linked (permanently hardened at the molecular level), though, he says they have since decided to move toward a material that’s more eco-friendly.

Together, this is said to offer improved comfort and safety, without worrying about excessive compression set. In other words, you can leave your bike untouched for months, and you won’t have to worry about flat spots, dents, or rebound loss when you decide to hop back on the saddle.

Air Fōm’s Foundation (grey), Backbone (white), and Energy (blue) layers, which come together (1) to form a torus, just like a traditional butyl rubber inner tube (2). Then, this is affixed to the tire and rim (3) using a special adhesive. Keep in mind that the final product released may appear different. Credit: Air Fōm International Inc.

Air Fōm’s Pricing, Specs, & Installation Process

Air Fōm inserts will be available in the following sizes:

  • Urban/commuter – 700 x 35c, 700 x 38c, 700 x 40c, 700 x 42c
  • Mountain bike/E-MTB – 5 x 2.35, 27.5 x 2.5, 29 x 2.35, 29 x 3.0

The manufacturer has yet to formally announce pricing, although founder Mark Peterman told us that it should cost less than $100 per bike installed (in the US).

We’re advised that each 700 x 40c insert weighs between about 240 and 280 g, with an equivalent resistance of 60 PSI. This, they say, is compared to the 140-160 g weight of a typical inner tube.

Pro tip: It might seem like splitting hairs, but road.cc reports that most road-oriented inner tubes fall somewhere between 100 and 110 g, which can reach much higher air pressures than Air Fōm.

Still, when combining the weight of a 110 g inner tube and a popular puncture-resistant tire like the Continental GP 4-Season (320 g), we can see that the Air Fōm system comes in meaningfully lighter.

These inserts are also rated to last at least 5,000 km (3,100 miles), and come with a one-year warranty.

The website points out that a professional mechanic at your local bike shop should install the Air Fōm system, although it will be affordable and shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. It explains they’ll:

  1. Apply a complete coat of the organic, environmentally friendly Bead Butter to the bead area, making sure to wipe away excess. They call this proprietary lubricant the “key to the Air Fōm technology and system” that “reduces friction between alloy and rubber by 80%,” and “lasts 30-45 minutes after application.” It’s not reactivated by water.
  2. Gently install the foam inserts and ensure they’re appropriately mated.
  3. Using standard tire levers, align the inserts in the rim and snap the bead into place.

What Do We Know About the Company Behind Air Fōm?

Air Fōm was founded in 2018 by Mark Peterman and is based out of Taichung City, Taiwan.

According to his LinkedIn bio, Mark is a 35-year veteran as a cyclist and athlete and has held industry positions like VP Sourcing – Asia for Cycling Sports Group, as well as California Division Leader and Product Manager for GT Bicycles.

Is Air Fōm Up Against Stiff Competition?

Although Air Fōm advertises that they offer the highest-technology airless insert you can purchase for your bike, it’s definitely not the only option currently available to consumers. Although it is the only system that doesn’t need any air whatsoever in order to function.

For example, perhaps the closest is Vittoria’s Air-Liner ($62 – $93), a mountain bike-only continuous loop of foam held in place with a zip tie and used in combination with air and tubeless sealant. Weight falls between 160 g and 220 g depending on size (anywhere between 1.9″ and 4″ widths accommodated) and is said to last 2,000 hours.

Stop-a-Flat Puncture Proof Tubes are made from Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA), an elastic material created using closed cell, high-pressure injection mold construction that leaves behind one continuous loop sized the same as inner tubes. Consequently, there are nine sizes available between 12” and 26”, which range in price between $18 and $35 a piece.

Available in 27.5 and 29” versions, the CushCore MTB-only tire suspension system ($75 – $150) uses a single foam insert that sits next to the rim and acts as a damper, leaving a ‘tunable’ air pocket above that effectively works like a spring.

Finally, Huck Norris Inserts ($70) are constructed from a thinner band of closed cell plastic foam that ‘floats’ between the widest parts of the tire. When used in combination with air and sealant, this is said to protect it and the rim against ground or obstacle impacts.

26”, 27.5, and 29” sizes are available and weigh between 75g and 130 g, each. Here’s a high-level overview:

Product Price Weight Sizes Adjustable Simulated Pressure? Professional Installation Recommended?
Air Fōm TBD 240 – 280 g 700 x 35c – 42c, 27.5 x 2.35 – 2.5, 29 x 2.35 – 3.0 Y Y
Air-Liner $62 – $93 160 – 220 g 1.9” – 4” widths, all sizes N (uses some real air pressure) N
Stop-a-Flat $18 – $35 N/A 12” – 26” N N
CushCore $75 – $150 250 – 260 g 26”, 27.5”, and 29” tires 2.1” – 2.6″ wide N (uses some real air pressure) N
Huck Norris $70 75 -130 g 27.5, 29”; 21 – 35 mm internal rim width N (uses some real air pressure) N

With these details in mind, in our email conversation, Founder Mark Peterman emphasized:

“We are not in competition with Air Liners, FTD, Huck Norris, etc. Those products are only for high performance MTB applications. Air Fom is for the rest of cycling world; urban, E share, share, cargo, commuting, trekking, e trekking, e MTB that want to completely eliminate flat tires but still have a very good ride quality.”

Rolling to a Conclusion About the Air Fōm Bike Tire Flat Prevention System

The bottom line is that Air Fōm is the only completely airless insert for bike tires, although at between 240 g and 280 g per tire, it’s also one of the heaviest.

However, the company clarified that their system is designed for non-performance applications, so this might not be a meaningful factor among their target riders. But, because it completely removes air from the equation, Air Fōm is also the only option that will offer simulated pressure upon its expected January 2019 release date, and—purportedly—help you leave the pump at home next time you venture out on a ride.

We’d like to thank Mark Peterman for his time and input, and we can’t wait to see what comes next from the company. We’ll be sure to update this article as soon as we know more.

Derek has more than two decades of experience as a cyclist. He currently travels full-time with his family via RV, enjoying the country's best biking destinations. A secular Buddhist, Derek frequently explores the intersection of cycling, mindfulness, and compassion in his writing. #rolloutblissout
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