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Airless Tyre for Bikes?

An airless tyre, using memory alloys as the load bearing component, is the claim of the Los Angeles based SMART Tire Company. It’s been working with NASA to develop a tyre from the experience of an exploration vehicle used on the Moon.

The result is the SMART (Shape Memory Alloy Radial Technology) which has a non-pneumatic tyre shape comprising a mesh or radial bands, mainly of the memory alloy NiTinol. Memory alloys are capable of “undergoing phase transitions at the molecular level with significant reversible strain (up to 10%) an order of magnitude more than ordinary materials.” In other words, it can deform significantly and will always spring back into shape – SMART claims the result is has the elastic qualities of rubber yet is strong like titanium. The memory alloy can also be designed to soften with increased deflection, reducing the amount of energy transferred to the vehicle. Because the alloy is strong and load bearing, it doesn’t need air pressure to keep it in shape.

In production, the alloy mesh or radial bands will be encased in a rubber and polymer mix, which the maker claims will last much longer than a conventional carbon black tyre. Not only that but, says SMART the tyre can be retreaded and will produce less waste at the end of its life.

So will we see air-less motorcycle tyres? The company will be producing cycle tyres first, from the third quarter of 2024, with tyres for other vehicles following.

Jim Freeman, Chair of the BMF, wasn’t convinced…yet. “The first major technology change for tyres in decades? Interesting that, just like Mr Dunlop’s Pneumatic tyres in the 19th century, bicycles are to be the first users. I’m not convinced that this isn’t a solution looking for a problem, modern tyres are brilliant, as motorcyclists we’re always worried about grip more than anything else. Bicycles are less bothered , as are car drivers. In fact, most car drivers are more concerned about the grip they keep on their wallets, than anything else.”

Written by Peter Henshaw

Images courtesy of  SMART Tire Company