If there’s one thing to spark debate among cyclists it’s what do you do in the event of the inevitable puncture. Do you carry one spare inner tube or two, a CO2 canister or a quick repair patch ? Well now, the days of punctures may be over: time to ditch those ubiquitous pumps, spares and tyre levers. Solid, puncture-proof tyres from South Korean company, Tannus, are the latest thing, and taking Europe by storm after being fitted to over 200,000 bikes in Asia.
Of course, solid tyres aren’t exactly a new invention but have been around since before the introduction of the pneumatic tyre in 1887. What’s significant about Tannus tyres is that they claim to have addressed all of the common drawbacks with solid tyres, namely that compared with air-filled tyres they have tended to be too firm, too heavy and too unreliable.
Tannus have come up with a new material – a nanofoam called Aither, an ultra-light polymer which absorbs the piercing and impact of sharp objects and has a constant pressure. The tyres have been ten years in development with the polymer being previously used in injection-moulded Nike running shoes. As I’ve discovered after having ridden over 2,000 miles plus, Tannus tyres give a grippy, firm ride while being lighter than the conventional pairing of tyres and inner tubes.
The tyres look much like any other tyre, with a similar tread pattern. The review pair are a traditional black colour but with a subtle glittery appearance close-up. The more adventurous might like a pair in yellow, purple, pink or any of the twelve colours available. They come in different sizes to fit everything from Brompton-style bikes to commuter and road bikes. While the review tyres were a standard ‘classic’ tread, other versions come in three varieties of hardness.
Look closely on the left hand picture above and you may just spot the ends of the small plastic ‘pins’ used to attach the tyres to inside edge of the rims. The pins are inserted in holes across the base of the tyres and snap into place inside the wheel rims with the aid of a supplied plastic tool.
Or at least, this is the theory.
I found fitting the 32c x 700 tyres on my Dawes Galaxy to be a real headache, and this is the biggest issue with Tannus tyres in my view. I needed to order two additional sizes of pins as well as the three sizes supplied before I found the correct sizing for my rims. The inside width of my rims is 17.5mm which made fitting the tyres with smaller-sized pins a very fiddly job – so much so in fact that I was unable to fit them myself, even with advice over the phone from a Tannus stockist in London. In the end I had to send my wheels off to London to have the tyres fitted by machine. Not the best start.
Given that fitting the tyres isn’t straightforward, one issue just now is the lack of Tannus distributors in the UK. In 2015 there were twenty distributors, mainly in London and the South, and none in Scotland or Wales. However, in early 2016 there now only seem to be two distributors with a fitting service, both in London. While you can certainly order online, getting (free) assistance with fitting is a real bonus if you happen to live near a distributor. My advice is therefore to only buy them from a stockist who will also fit them by machine for you.
Once on my bike I’ve found the tyres straightforward and easy to use. The most obvious difference is the ride comfort. The 2015 model tyres (Aither 1.1) give a level of shock absorption and comfort equivalent to 100psi and they are noticeably firmer to ride than my Schwalbe Marathons (which I inflate to 65psi). There is certainly much less ‘bounce’ to the tyres although the manufacturers claim that nanofoam has similar flexibility to rubber. It took me a few weeks initially to get used to them and I now more consciously avoid rougher road surfaces since there’s less air to cushion the ride. But by the same token, I haven’t found them uncomfortable. I cycled 1000 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats on them last year and appreciated the reassurance that I was never going to get a puncture ! Once I was used to them, all was fine; it’s just a firmer ride. Those used to firmer tyres on road bikes might not notice as much of a difference than I do with my wider and softer touring bike tyres.
Some have suggested that solid tyres are slower than conventional tyres, given higher rolling resistance. I have to say that in my experience I haven’t noticed any difference in speed or grippiness.
The manufacturers claim an average lifespan of 6,000 miles, losing no more than 1mm of tread, with tyres lasting up to 10,000 miles. On a per-mileage basis there could be significant savings – not to mention the satisfaction of never having to change a puncture, particularly on cold mornings when a puncture’s the last thing you need on your morning commute. After at least 2,000 miles there’s no noticeable wear on my tyres.
I was surprised to find that the solid tyres are lighter than the tyre and inner tube combination. In fact, of the tyres sent to me to review each Tannus tyre weighs 680g compared with 830g for a single Schwalbe Marathon and inner tube – not counting the weight of a pump, spare inner tube and tyre levers. For those who count the grams, that’s a significant weight and space saving.
A pair of Tannus tyres currently sells for between £100 and £120 depending on the wheel size. That means I could buy three sets of my normal tyres for the price of a pair of Tannus tyres. However, when you consider that a typical set of air-filled tyres will last anything between 1,000 miles (for slick road bike tyres) and 3,000 miles (for chunkier touring bike tyres), then over a cost-per-mile basis there’s little difference.
While I could have swapped back to my Schwalbe Marathons after cycling LEJOG last year I decided to stick with the Tannus tyres. Once fitted, they’re maintenance-free. And that peace of mind counts for a lot.
Ease of use* 3
Features and design 9
Build quality 9
Value for money 8
* Rated low owing to my difficulties in fitting the tyres myself.
Puncture-proof tyres with an average lifespan of 6,000 miles, approximately three times as long as conventional tyres. Lighter weight than normal tyres and inner tubes combined, and no need to carry spare inner tubes, tyre levers or a pump. A range of 12 colours available and three varieties of hardness.
A relatively firm ride (equivalent to 100psi) which may not be an issue for many road cyclists but gives less comfort and shock absorption for commuter and touring bikes. Tyre fitting is fiddly and you may need (free) assistance from one of the two London-based UK distributors.
Road, commuting and touring cyclists looking to have guaranteed insurance against punctures, as well as a marginal weight saving.