Published by Lyn on 11 April 2016
Richard Peace looks at puncture-proof tyre options following the recent launch of Gecko's cellular rubber puncture-proof tyres.
I'd guess that out of the few dozen times I've found myself doing a roadside repair over the past 20 years' cycling, at least half have been punctures.
This might not seem a big enough problem to start thinking about puncture-proof tyres – especially given the advent of modern puncture guards such as Schwalbe's Smartguard – however, truly puncture-proof solid or cellular tyres that make it physically impossible to ever have a puncture hold great allure. Swapping an inner tube or mending a puncture as the light fades in a cold wind is no one's idea of fun. What's more, you could ditch the pump and spare tube and never worry about forgetting them again if you run on puncture-proof.
2015 saw South Korean company Tannus launch a tyre made of foamed polymer which was the first totally puncture-proof tyre to be well-received by reviewers; prior to that, all attempts were universally lambasted for being harsh and unforgiving and with worries about them staying on the rim.
Now Gecko Rubber from the UK have produced their own version of puncture-proof tyres, made from a cellular rubber compound (based on traditional thermoset rubber compounds similar to those being used in conventional pneumatic tyres). They claim to have a softer and grippier ride than Tannus and to be "70% less damaging to the environment than a leading puncture resistant alternative."
What conclusions have I come to having had test rides on both Tannus and Gecko tyres?
Their new puncture-proof breed of tyres do mean a harsher ride than pneumatics; it's simply a matter of physics that cannot be overcome, as pneumatics dispel the 'shock' of sharp bumps throughout the whole of the air filled chamber, but puncture-proof tyres take the force of the shock in the immediate area.
Having said that, riding a tyre like Gecko for several weeks convinced me they are acceptably comfortable and safe, despite feeling a little deader than pneumatics and quite a bit harsher over potholes.
It's important to be happy with the fitting process if you intend to do your own maintenance, both for initial fitting and if you need to remove and refit for any kind of spoke or wheel repair. Tannus tyres are undeniably harder than all pneumatics to get onto the rim; indeed I had to resort to the makers to fit them.
Although I haven't tried fitting Geckos, they feel softer and logic says they should be easier. In both cases it is important to make sure your rim width is compatible with the clip fitting system provided by Tannus or Gecko.
So will they revolutionise touring? Probably not in their current form, as for long day rides it's comfort and speed that are the most important tyre qualities (punctureless tyres are estimated to roll up to 10% less efficiently than pneumatics).
The one exception I would look at is electric bike touring on good surfaces, and France's usually high quality road surfaces would be ideal. With electric power available higher rolling resistance is less of an issue.
However they look ideal for short runs; on a hack town bike used over short distances they would be ideal, as they would on city hire bikes. It's these situations where you are most likely to really not want a puncture, going to that appointment or wanting to get your daily jobs done as quick as you can. Gecko say they have used their tyres on rental bikes in public use without a single complaint or problem for a several month trial period.
Conclusion: Whilst they won't suit every rider or every situation, the future definitely looks rosy for punctureless tyres.
Richard Peace is founder of Excellent Books, specialists in cycle publishing. He is author of Cycling Southern France (UK, US), Cycling Northern France (UK, US), and Electric Bicycles: The Complete Guide (UK, US). He is a regular contributor to A to B magazine, Bike Europe and writes for Eurobike Show Daily.