- by Michael Bachman
- Published: 25 March 2013
Changing a punctured tyre on the side of the road when out riding with mates is an opportunity to either have a break from the day’s efforts, or laugh at the machinations involved with changing a tube; trying desperately to find the source of the leak, and then pump up the tyre again with a device that is seemingly at odds with its intent. Do this on some freezing winter morning, with rain, and it’s no longer a laughing matter. “Puncture proof tyres”, you think to yourself, “that’s what I need. Why haven’t they been invented?”
‘Puncture proof’ or ‘airless tyres’ seem to be one of those inventions that emerge from hibernation periodically to be hailed as one of those eureka moments: “At last, we have perfected it”. These ‘innovations’ seem to disappear shortly after and recede back into hibernation yet again. The reality is that the idea is sound and, for certain cycling groups, particularly commuters, should be a seriously viable option. But mention them to many cyclists and you are greeted with a roll of the eyes, a groan of despair or tales of what a disaster they were when they last came to prominence.
When the ‘safety bicycle’ was invented by JK Starley back in 1885, the solid wheels meant that acceptance of the new machine was not as it could have been. John Boyd Dunlop then revolutionised the wheel through the invention of the pneumatic tyre. Whilst Robert Thomson preceded Dunlop by 40 years with his ‘vulcanised pneumatic tyre’, cost was a major impediment, and Dunlop succeeded where Thomson wasn’t able to, and therefore enjoyed the accolades. Since then, aside from ongoing continuous improvement, the pneumatic tyre remains essentially the same as it has always been: practical, cheap, brilliantly simple, but yet still prone to punctures from the many roadside hazards.
The Tannus range
Tannus claim to have solved the problems keeping solid tyres off the market for over a hundred years. They sell a range of tyres in different sizes, hardnesses and colours. The tyres I was supplied with were the Tannus ‘Musai’, and I tried the H1 (hard @ 133psi) and S1 (soft @ 101psi) models, both in the 700 x 23c configuration (though they’re also now available in a 28C size). The other tyres in Tannus’s range are the ‘Thoroki’, available in 26” x 1.75”, 26″ x 1 3/8” and 700 x 32c, and the ‘Nymph’ in 20” x 1 1/8”, 20″ x 1.25” or 16” x 1.25”. There’s something in there for all of the family. The Tannus range is produced by Midas Tires in Korea who are holders of 3 patents related to the airless tyres. The entire range of sizes is available in a hard or soft option, as well as 13 very vivid colours with such inspiring names as Volcano, Melon or Pink Lady to name but a few.
The test bike I used for this review was a 2011 Kona Honky Inc, a double disc drop bar road bike with a steel frame. This doubled as a part time commuter, and a recreational road bike the rest of the time.
The first thing that you notice with these tyres is that the packaging is big. I have become so used to folding tyres that to see a box that big was a surprise. Supplied with each tyre is a fitting tool, two sets of clips and some instructions. Here is one of the first snags that make these tyres a bit more awkward that what I’m generally used to. In order to fit the tyres correctly, you need to know the internal width of the rim so that the correct clips can be supplied. This is not a step that can be treated with an Aussie “ah, she’ll be right mate, that’s close enough”; this is the only mechanism that secures the tyre firmly on the rim, so it needs to be done properly. Each of the retainer clip sizes are a different colour which aids in ensuring that the correct units are fitted.
Once you are certain about the internal rim width, the old tyre can be removed and then you follow the supplied instructions, or view one of many instructional videos found on the web. The steps for installing the tyres are clear, quite well written, and, most importantly, accurate.
Fitting the tyres
Fitting the tyres was, in my experience, a considerable task. Inserting the coloured retainers into the tyre and getting the tyre on the rim was, if anything, a bit fiddly, but presented no major issues. After that, however, it got more than a bit difficult as the tyre was not yet properly seated on the rim. Luckily, I have a fairly solid build and my local gym instructor has been working on developing my upper body strength, because it required all of that to get all of those clips to seat into the bead seat hook. The first tyre took around 35 minutes to install but, with some technique improvements, the second tyre went on a bit quicker, but not much.
Those who are inexperienced at tyre changing or are of slight build may want to get some assistance in fitting these tyres. Some of the retailers that sell these tyres have been fitting them for customers and, if this is available , my advice is to accept the offer or even actively seek it. Once fitted, the tyres sat well on the rims and rotated well with no apparent ‘out of round’ issues. The missing valve stem was a curiosity, we get so used to something being there.
The weight of the tyres was within 5 grams of the quoted weight from the Tannus website, being 375g each. The clips added another 11g per wheel when assembled. When you consider that a similar tubed setup on a road bike comes to ~ 700g (that’s tyres & tubes at ~500g and a mini pump or CO2 system, plus repair kit at ~200g), the overall weight penalty is an un-noticeable 50 – 120g. As such, weight cannot be realistically used as a reason not to give the Tannus tyres a go.
Two things become quickly apparent when riding with these tyres. The first is that when standing to accelerate, either from lights or spinning along, the bike responds instantly. The second is how the tyres respond to everything else, particularly road indentations and surfaces.
My first ride was my regular commute route that I cover on Friday mornings. It typically covers 50 – 55km and involves only 200m of elevation gain, but those hills are between 4 – 6% gradient. Aside from the different response to the small road undulations and typical suburban bitumen repairs, it felt like I was riding tired, or my ‘tank’ was running a bit low. My usual commute speed of 27 – 28km/hr average was down to about 25. I didn’t think much about it and surmised that it had just been a long week. Subsequent rides proved however that these tyres are in fact slower, and whilst some of this may be due to the softer front tyre that I was running, it was more likely due to the material compound used by Midas. This was confirmed in feedback from the company where they suggested that their tyres are only “1 -2 km/hr slower” than a pneumatic tyre, but they point out that their tyre is primarily aimed at commuting where speed is not such an issue, the slowing effect is less noticeable, and the benefit of not getting punctures offsets this minor speed impost.
In addition to commuting, I was also determined to see what this tyre was like on a typical recreational ride which included some climbing and descending on a typical suburban short hill of ~ 4km at an average of 5.5%. Starting with the climb, the speed penalty was even more apparent; my average speed was over 3km/hr slower and I was having to work considerably harder. The tyres however did their job and, other than being slower, worked quite well. Then came the downhill.
I approached the descent with some trepidation as I prefer my body to remain unscathed and unmarked after a ride, so I took it much easier than normal. Braking for the first sharp corner went well, with the grip level quite high, and this filled me with some confidence. There was no squirm, no tracking to one side or following ruts. The grip around the next corner was somewhat different though; this was a tight bend signposted at 25 km/hr (recommended), which I was taking at 40 km/hr (though I normal ride it at 45 – 50km/hr on the same bike). While there was reasonable grip, it felt as though the tyre was understeering or walking across the road. I don’t know if this was related to the tyre ‘inflation’, the material grip properties, or how this solid tyre responds to the road surface and load application. Needless to say, in order to feel comfortable I had to approach the remaining corners about 30 – 40% slower than I normally would. At this reduced pace, the grip levels were fine, with no more noticeable understeering effect.
On subsequent rides I started to get used to their road response and the lines and speeds with which I needed to tackle corners safely. I did not get an opportunity to rides these tyres in wet conditions, so can offer no comment on their wet grip capabilities.
One thing I did though, after my initial two rides, was to closely inspect the tyres. I did this for a couple of reasons: one was to ensure that the tyres were still properly secured, and the other was to check on their general condition after being used. I noticed that several of the retainers weren’t seated fully under the bead hook on one side, despite post fitment inspection seemingly showing that they were installed correctly. A few minutes with the supplied tool, and all was good again.
To give a better idea of these tyres compared to standard pneumatic tyres, I compared the Musais to a pair of Rubino 23c tyres that I had sitting around. The widths of the two tyres were very similar (< 3% difference) at just under 23mm, but the height above the bead seat was a different story. The Rubino was 19.5mm above the rim wall, while the Musais were only 14.2mm – a 35% difference! The Musais showed a noticeably ‘squarer’ profile that results in a larger/wider contact patch on the road which was likely a significant contributor towards the higher observed rolling resistance. This profile may also be behind the cornering effect noted earlier. After 265 kms of use, there was some sign of wear on the tyres, with the rear tyre obviously showing slightly more. Feedback from the distributor indicated that they believe the tyres to have a useable lifespan of up to 10,000km, and I think this is realistic, given their solid construction.
One situation I encountered during the test was a broken rear spoke (the wheel had done over 6,500 km) and I had to deal with the problem of removing the tyre. There are, apparently, two ways of doing this, but sadly both methods mean that the tyre is probably not going to be useable again. I tried to prise the tyre from the rim using the supplied tool, as per the instructions (both written and in the youtube clips), but to no avail. I therefore had to resort to the ‘cut’ method. Either way, the retaining clips tended to rip through the lower rib of the tyre, meaning that they are no longer effective in securing the tyre to the rim. That said, I can vouch unequivocally for the strength of those 30 odd retaining clips on the rim; the Tannus tyres will not come off easily.
At $77 each plus shipping, they are not a cheap alternative to the wide range of pneumatic tyres that are available, but when you consider that they can last the same distance as two sets, in terms of cost they are close. Whether they are a suitable replacement is up to the individual to evaluate. When you factor in the guarantee of no punctures, they start to stack up; how much is the reliability of your commuter worth? The altered road response that you get with these tyres does take some getting used to though; after a few rides, however, the memory banks have adjusted accordingly.
The ability to choose from multiple common tyre sizes and a couple of ‘base pressures’, along with the myriad of effervescent colours (13 in all) to really coordinate, means that there is generally a tyre to suit most applications and bikes that are ridden, particularly as commuters.
My preference would be the softer tyre configuration (S1), as this has a better ‘response’ to the road imperfections, and more closely mimics the pneumatic tyre feel that I’m accustomed to. I also feel that the Tannus tyres are better suited for use in a purely commuter based role rather than general open road/recreational riding. At the current level of development, the Tannus tyres are not capable enough for recreational riding/training. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t be ideal candidates for those that opt to tour on some inhospitable roads in remote areas, since the benefit of not having to worry about punctures would be significant. However, there are many well proven touring tyres that have established reputations, so this may be a hard obstacle to overcome.
The increased resilience of the Tannus tyres over the traditional pneumatic tyre also means that these tyres are realistically better suited to the more robust style wheelsets where there are greater spoke counts and sturdier rims, rather than the typical lightweight minimally spoked road wheel that tends to be found on many road bikes.
We have become so used to how well the pneumatic tyre performs its task that we have come to accept the punctures are a necessary by-product or acceptable trade off. It is certainly easy to dismiss new versions of old ideas, though I am glad to have had the chance to try these first before making my judgement.
Find more about the Tannus tyre range, as well as get access to the comprehensive supporting documentation, online at www.tannus.com
Some Australian bike shops now stocking the Tannus and to find out where to get hold of this, visit www.tannus.com.au