Airless Mountain Bike Tire? No Tubes, No Pumps, No Problem!

Britek’s Energy Return Wheel was originally developed for vehicles as a way to increase both performance and fuel efficiency by creating a “slingshot” effect as the wheel rolled. Using rubber or alloy structures in place of an air chamber, the tire could more effectively “bounce forward” coming out of compression, thus increasing acceleration and saving gas.

Now, they’re turning their attention to bicycle tires.

We’re digging the concept, particularly if it’s lightweight, but see three challenges to making it universally acceptable. The first is tread selection, which is easy enough to overcome by offering several patterns for various conditions. The other two are reportedly already solved with planned updates: A thin sidewall would keep mud, rocks and other trail debris from ending up inside the tires, and adjustable tension lets you mimic air pressure changes to get the deformation to your liking.

UPDATE: Comments from one of the test riders posted at bottom.

We’re waiting to hear back from them on weights and other details, like how it’ll mount to the rim, but there’s a couple of renderings after the break to keep you occupied…

Britek Energy Return Wheel airless bicycle tire

Britek Energy Return Wheel airless bicycle tire

Chris from Big Kahuna bike shop in Denver, CO, has parking lot tested various iterations of them and had this to say:

“The wheels in our videos are early prototypes and they’re pretty firm. The round treads turned pretty good, but the more square ones were a little disconcerting as there’s not much compliance yet. They’re also kind of heavy, but it’s an interesting concept that has potential. Still up in the air if it’ll be a performance based product or a commuter thing.”

More as we get it.


RHP - 10/26/12 - 10:34am

Wow, that is really neat. I’d bet it is VERY useful in winter climes as well! Yes, I live in a place hit hard by winter :)

PP - 10/26/12 - 10:41am

This actually looks really innovative, but the other issue I see is that in the video I couldn’t see any evidence of “squish” at all, it is like he is riding with 100psi in his tires, which really won’t grip at all.
Interesting to see if the concept goes anywhere though.


off-roadie - 10/26/12 - 10:48am

I’d love to try them. I wonder what kind of prices they are thinking…

Rich - 10/26/12 - 10:49am

If this works in the real world, it’s true innovation (unlike the gazillion headset and bottom bracket ‘standards’ that have appeared over the last few years…)

nsp234 - 10/26/12 - 10:50am

Would be great if you could just change that thread ring to switch treads and replace worn ones. Should be possible, if you watch that cross section pic.

Marc - 10/26/12 - 10:50am

interesting, but a mud collector.

Jason - 10/26/12 - 10:52am

I’m with PP; looks like riding super high pressure. For tread options, all they’ve done is take the tread section off of other tires (Maxxis crossmark and WTB Weirfolf from what I can see i the video) Before i saw the video I was thinking of it more in a commuter context. Most mtn bikers are fine withe changing a flat but the majority of commuters don’t want to mess with it or don’t have time or their flat stuff is god knows where in their bag. Commuting is also much less concerned with achieving a particular pressure. Also FWIW, the trail Dakota Ridge just on the edge of Denver. I was hoping to see much more of what those tires are capable of.

Ricky Bob - 10/26/12 - 11:05am

This is just a solution looking for a problem. Its not even a good solution though. Like everyone has already said, this thing does not conform to the trail. Might as well run plastic tires. I bet it will be uber expensive too, if it ever gets to market.

Run tubeless = Never get flats.

theendinfrench - 10/26/12 - 11:08am

In the UK those would surely fill with mud and end up weighing a ton!?!
Better suited to Urban use?

Ricky Bob - 10/26/12 - 11:12am

Oh and as for the “Slingshot effect”… you might fool the people who buy bikes at REI with that snake oil but it sounds like infomercial garbage to me. AND…There is no science behind this product. Otherwise their video would have had someone talking about the technology instead of an incredibly boring and long product demonstration.

ChrisC - 10/26/12 - 11:13am

Did any of you people (PP, Jason, Ricky Bob, theendinfrench) read the article before commenting?

1) It’s a concept

2) A planned update should solve the problems of adjustable “pressure” and accumulation of debris

Seriously, take the 20 seconds out of your day to read and think before saying something that’s blatantly contradicted by the very article you’re commenting on.

Gerardo Martinez Cabello - 10/26/12 - 11:14am

Reinventando la rueda!!!! Cuantas veces no hemos hablado entre nosotros sobre esto, desde luego que hay que chequearla, yon quiero y ademas creo que sera el futuro proximo. Por favor que alguien me envie 2 para mi Scalpe 29.

Mike C - 10/26/12 - 11:16am

Sounds like a forerunner to Neal Stephenson’s fictional “Smartwheel” technology…

ChrisC - 10/26/12 - 11:18am

I’d worry more about whether how this could handle lateral deformation to cope with side-loads during cornering.

Joshua Murdock - 10/26/12 - 11:20am

Dakota Ridge is the ultimate proving ground! I agree.

Singletrackroadie - 10/26/12 - 11:23am

Great idea and if it works, I will buy it. Like all things innovative. Take time to get right, prices will drop and will be copied over time.

WannaBeSTi - 10/26/12 - 11:24am

More important than giving them credit for the tire technology is the Impreza 2.5 RS 4-Door the guy puts his bike on. Man, I miss Scooby RS 4-door.

Troy, can I have my car back?

Ricky Bob - 10/26/12 - 11:38am

(Chris must get his bikes at REI)

coop - 10/26/12 - 11:41am

Great concept would love to see some pro riders on it for real world testing. Im sure the price will be off the hook like most good things that come to cycling, but if it can be made to work who knows, there is a lot off things they must solve though before it could be taken serous by people that realy ride and race.

cat 1 doper - 10/26/12 - 11:51am

Why does the guy grab his phone like he is a grabbing a rattle snake? He pauses his hand out and then grabs it like a snake charmer.

wallymann - 10/26/12 - 12:06pm

too cool, a bike-version of michelin’s tweel concept –

taking this even further, i think the airless “carcass” should be more integral to the rim and designed to work together. a rider selects the rim and carcass stiffness they want for front/rear wheels and bolts them together.

then separately chooses an add-on tread-layer with pattern based on his choosing. not sure if the tread layer could be easily swapped out for varying ride conditions (i think it could) or maybe more firmly attached with some light adhesive that would still allow removal when the tread is worn out.

Chipollini - 10/26/12 - 12:25pm

PP are you from Chico?

martin - 10/26/12 - 12:37pm

In deep mud this tire will be full of it.

Sancho - 10/26/12 - 12:50pm

ricky bob is the typical crotchety bike mechanic with a computer.

kyle - 10/26/12 - 1:01pm

he was always riding upwards, it makes me wonder about their downhill performance.

Kyle - 10/26/12 - 1:07pm

It probably didn’t make for a good video to have the buy blitzing by.

I think its a great concept. I have been a huge fan of Michellin Tweel and hope this comes to market for various applications.

James S - 10/26/12 - 1:28pm

If these things already existed, you could market the awesome new idea of a pneumatic tube and tire combo – it would be lighter, less expensive, easily changed out for different trail conditions, and you could adjust the ride quality by adding or removing air pressure! Hooray!

Topmounter - 10/26/12 - 1:32pm

+1 read first

The demonstration video would be worthless if they added the “thin sidewall” to keep mud and dirt out (yes, it was mentioned in the third paragraph of the article).

All the normal caveats apply, but I like what they’re trying to do.

Mindless - 10/26/12 - 2:40pm

Must be a lot of fun in mud.

Mindless - 10/26/12 - 2:42pm

I would rather somebody come up with expanding solid foam to fill a regular tire. Fill it up, ride, peel it out when needed.

read people - 10/26/12 - 2:56pm

For the people that said mud will collect. If you actually were smart enough to read the text, they plan to put a thin sidewall to prevent debris from entering the tire.

yesplease - 10/26/12 - 3:45pm

Haha you guys are worse than 13 year olds on youtube. Read the article then post smart a$$ comments.

Kieselguhr Kid - 10/26/12 - 4:38pm

I don’t really see how does this returns energy any more or less than a pneumatic tire.
The air in a pneumatic tire already acts like a spring making the wheel “bounce forward” as the tire decompresses at the back of the contact patch. The only catch is that, just as in this airless design, the same force is required to compress the tire at the front of the contact patch and, just as in an airless design, there are losses to friction and heat when bending the materials the tire is made out of.

Rob - 10/26/12 - 4:39pm

There are more videos of the MTB wheels on their YouTube channel

bubba - 10/26/12 - 5:24pm

i think Kieselguhr hit it on the head. replacing one spring with another. in reading the company website discussion, the only apparent difference is the whole outside of the “tire” moves, rather than deflecting locally. is that better, i doubt it. probably heavy and expensive if they had any product to sell…they don’t.

MMyers - 10/26/12 - 9:40pm

It wouldn’t take much material to cover the holes in the sides and alleviate all of the “filling with mud” concerns.

Phil - 10/26/12 - 9:49pm

@Kieselguhr… not entirely true though. In conventional tires air displacement would affect the whole radius of the tire to a certain degree (minus the compliance of the rubber structure), whereas in this design every specific area of the tire would give back the force that compressed it in the first place… well still not sure how much difference this would make.

DaleC - 10/26/12 - 9:50pm

I applaud people who at least TRY to innovate.

That said, I wonder what these weigh when they get packed full of red Georgia clay? An how they ride? …. I keed, I keed

DaleC - 10/26/12 - 10:02pm

What happens when the “thin sidewall covering” is punctured or tears? Tire fills with mud, sand, water, gravel etc. You then get to repair it, won’t that look just jazzy?

Also, could someone who paid attention better in physics class than I did tell me how this tire “returns” energy, rather than absorbing it and then dissipating it as heat, as every other shock absorbing device I have ever worked with performs? Also, how it would return more than a similarly compressed pneumatic tire?

Mindless - 10/27/12 - 1:00am

This whole “energy return” marketing drivel on their website make anybody with minimal knowledge of physics and engineering cry in despair.

Airless - 10/27/12 - 3:23am

The idea of airless tires is actually not that new. The main advantage of using them on vehicles is the low vertical stiffness, which is because the sidewall offers very little resistance to compression and in effect the hub hangs inside the tire tread(much like the spokes on bicycle wheels). This gives excellent compliance to small and large bumps, improving ride perception/comfort. It looks as if this is a poor application of this technology due to the high aspect ratio of bicycle tyres, so they place a lot of emphasis on the airless part. Can’t really see this working for mtb. But the industry has allready fooled every lycra cladden ballerina into becomming a weight weenie, so they may make it…

Kevin - 10/27/12 - 5:37am

Rubber shortages in world war 2 lead to some steel bike tires with springs between the rim and tire.

Bart boma - 10/27/12 - 10:47am

I drag a knee, so I’m gonna need some more sidewall

Aaron - 10/27/12 - 3:57pm

I wonder how durable it is on big hits, if you’d break your tire like breaking a spoke.

Ricky Bob - 10/27/12 - 5:14pm

I’m not a bike mechanic, just your (better than) average trail rider who can spot a POS “innovative” scam a mile away. Also, I’m not one of you bike rumor fanboys who think everything posted on this site is solid gold. I feel sorry for anyone who gets scammed into buying this crap… If it even makes it to market. That is all.

ERMAHGERD - 10/27/12 - 7:05pm

Ricky Bob = Hater

Innovation is process, and if inventors listened to fools like you there would be no innovation. Go back to Russia you commie.

Psi Squared - 10/27/12 - 11:27pm

ERW: please study the First Law of Thermodynamics. It tells you why your tires won’t “spring” you forward. Study the Second Law of Thermodynamics, too. While your at it, look up the definition for “hysteresis.” Your wheels don’t spring anyone forward with some mysteriously gained energy. Your wheels might have lower rolling resistance compared to traditional wheel and tire combo, but that’s it.

Nick - 10/27/12 - 11:56pm

An air filled tire does act as a spring, and probably with less hysteresis then a rubber spring. This is what happens when marketing trumps engineering.

The only plausible market for these would be for very cheap commuter bikes, bike share programs, and wheel chairs, where the lack of flats or air refilling make up for everything else being way, way worse.

Sark - 10/28/12 - 3:39am

Looks Fab!

But i am not the first here to ask: what about mud and crud?

Still..good luck!

nick_outdoors - 10/28/12 - 5:14am

@Ricky Bob where is the grudge coming from against people who enjoy trying something different in cycling? This is not replacing your favorite tires on the market.

When did REI start selling snake oil? Yeah, they don’t stock high end parts, focusing more on novice – intermediate rider. However, who does not want a 100% guarantee on any part from QBP, BTI, J&B, Seattle Bike Supply, and so on. Free insurance on my wheels, yes please.

Craig in OZ - 10/28/12 - 7:12pm

I am keen to try a set of these on my 29er commute, to ensure that the nasty road debris does not halt my fun.

Andrew - 10/29/12 - 5:58am

This looks very cool. Attempts to solve one of two inherent problems with bikes: flats and the crappy derailleur system. I just wish they had some more exciting video. The guy looked like he was towing an invisible trailer the whole time.

PepeLepau - 10/29/12 - 2:40pm

I think that it will not hold my stan’s sealant!! LOL.

I don’t think that an open tire will work on the trails, for the roadies will be phenomenal. Light and no flats!

amritananda sandy - 06/02/13 - 7:35am

Kindly Tell about the Indian Sellers of the ERW Bicycle. Waiting to start with the Right Thing.

wilfredo bonet - 07/27/13 - 7:47pm

Really curious about how much it would run for (cost ) and can the possibility of purchasing a pair ? ?

greison - 11/24/13 - 11:04pm

How i can buy ,

Anders - 12/20/13 - 6:48pm

Stop complaining and jumping to the conclusions. To proove the hypothesis, one should try it out in practice. Try and learn, redesign and make it work. This is the way the inovations are born!

Alan Burr - 07/04/14 - 8:18am

This idea could work, but also lot of problems to over come too?
Sounds like a problem that I have been working on for some time, a sealed drive for mountain bikes

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