Thursday, November 17, 2016

Again With The Solid Tires? Really?

Two years ago I wrote that we appear to be in the midst of a flurry of airless tire "innovations," all of them apparently hoping nobody will notice that such things have been tried almost since forever, and never catch on for some very good reasons.

The two latest entries into the solid-tire death match apparently come from the same creators, even though they have totally different designs. One is the NEXO Tire, and the other is the Ever Tire. The NEXO Tire is designed to fit onto existing rims, while the Ever Tire is sold as a complete wheel package. Both systems have been rolled into one Kickstarter campaign.

The creators of course seem pretty excited about their innovations. From the Kickstarter ad: "What happens when you mix the A-Team, Batman and Uni-Kitty's magic horn? We don’t know either but we’re pretty sure they hate flat tires too. . . While trying not to overstate the awesomeness of our discoveries, we think we’re offering two solutions that rival the innovation of toilet paper (well… pretty close)."

Rivaling toilet paper? That is pretty radical awesomeness.

Apparently aware that solid rubber tires have been done to death, the creators of NEXO tires would like to convince us that their tires are different - and not truly even solid. And not actually rubber, either. 

The company insists they aren't "solid" tires - but they look pretty solid to me.  Those plastic pins are what hold the tire to the rim.
You see, the tires are molded in one piece from a "macromolecular material" which sounds to me like some kind of polymer foam. In fact, that's exactly what it is - and the distinction between a silicone polymer foam and foam rubber is what chemistry textbooks are for.

From their ad: "NEXO tire is formed by NEXELL with millions of cells filled with noble gas-N2, not only provides stable pressure, and take the guess work out of tire pressure." Yes, there may be tiny little cells full of nitrogen, but the overall effect is that of a solid but somewhat springy polymer. Notice that they mention tire pressure a couple of times. "Take the guess work out of tire pressure"? Well, yeah - since there's nothing to fill! 

On the whole, the NEXO actually looks A LOT like the Tannus tires that I wrote about two years ago. Those were also made by injecting a polymer foam into a mold - and like the NEXO tires, attached to the rim using little plastic pins. Also like the Tannus tires, the NEXO tires will be available in a variety of colors.

Then there are the Ever Tires. These ones do seem to be made with a different material than the NEXO tires - a solid material that has large holes molded into the structure to give the tires some semblance of "spring." The Ever Tires are apparently installed onto the rim at the factory, and therefore are only available as a complete wheel system, so if you wear out an Ever Tire, I suppose that means you have to replace the whole wheel. But don't worry. The company claims the tires will last at least 5,000 miles, and while some of us probably ride that many miles in a single year, I doubt anyone who would buy the Ever Tires will put that many miles on their bike in a lifetime.

They are available in a variety of sizes for different types of bikes.

No possible way those holes in the Ever Tire can mimic the cushioning of an actual air-filled tire. And even the makers are careful not to imply that they can.
From their ad:

Q: What kind of bike can I put the Ever Tires on?
A: You can put lipstick on a cat but that doesn't make it pretty. While you can put our tires on any bike these tires are not for the elitist. Avid mountain bikers or those looking for added cushion may find that while these tires are great at avoiding flats they are still not as soft as an air filled tire.

That's a ringing endorsement. And you can "put lipstick on a cat but that doesn't make it pretty?" What the hell is that even supposed to mean?

Here's another:

Q: Do Ever Tires handle differently than a regular tire?
A: In our testing we've found that most people can't tell a difference at all. If you're a serious road biker then these are not the tires for you. They run stiffer than your typical air filled tires.

So who are these testers who "can't tell a difference at all" when they're riding on these solid dead treads? Not "elitists," that's for sure.

Would they be good for commuters? Maybe if they don't get caught in the rain. The makers say, "We strongly recommend that when riding in wet conditions especially when cornering that you slow down." In other words, whatever rubber or polymer material these are molded from doesn't have such good grip on wet roads.

The makers also acknowledge that, like all other airless tires, these have more rolling resistance - but they point out multiple times that only an "elitist" would notice.

Here was an odd claim: "Most pneumatic tires have a reputation for being heavy but Nexo tires are revolutionizing opinions." Since when do pneumatic tires have a reputation for being heavy? Did they mean that airless tires have a reputation for being heavy? Because, yes, they do. The makers claim that the weight of their NEXO tires rivals that of heavy duty puncture-resistant tires with heavy duty tubes and liners. Maybe so. Then they go on to make the point that you'll also save the weight of carrying a pump. Gotcha.

Not for "elitists," road cyclists, mountain bikers, commuters who get caught in the rain. Not for anyone capable of noticing a harsh ride or who values "cushioning." All in all, these are probably the perfect tires for that bike that dwells in basement or garage its whole lifetime.


  1. Hoo boy, not a single line of their spiel is worth a nickel.

    For some reason, these have really gotten a lot of press, it seems like I see their Kickstarter link everywhere I turn.
    Actual quality aside, it seems particularly wasteful to have to throw away an entire wheelset at ~5000 miles. Though one has to believe, as you note, that the type of person that would use these are probably never going to see 5k miles in their life.


    1. They really ARE getting a lot of press, despite the obvious and well-known issues with "airless" tires, which these don't really seem to address any better than all the others.

  2. "As a cat, I am highly offended by the remarks in the Ever Tire ad."

    I didn't type that. My beloved housepet did. She knows that only silly humans like me wear lipstick. ;-)

    Seriously, though: I find it ironic that you posted this the day after your article about Hi-Lo hubs. Both are ideas that seem to get resurrected after the previous generation of cyclists is "over" them.

    Even though there is no practical benefit to hi-lo hubs, I just might buy a pair and build them for fun. They would look cool, and be no better, but no worse, than my standard high- and low-flange hubs. On the other hand, I wouldn't spend my money on any solid tire.

    1. Heavy, dead, solid tires with higher rolling resistance are a big step down from nice supple-casing pneumatic tires. While the HiLo hubs don't actually improve on "normal" hubs, they also aren't any worse -- but they do at least have that aesthetic benefit going for them.

    2. Well they cannot puncture, they do have that for them. Having punctured 5 times in the last month, it is appealing. Until i remember those i tried a few year back were absolute dogs***.

    3. @Le Belge: no, they cannot puncture, but they do have a failure mode that is specific to solid tires. Things that would puncture and deflate a pneumatic tire will still go through a foam tire; they just won't collapse on the spot. The puncture does form a gap in the foam which allows for dirt, small rocks, glass, etc. to get lodged into the tire. After many miles and the accumulation of much road debris, the tries tires start to break down. Chunks of foam tend to fall out. I remember once that so much foam had come off of one of my airless tires that the wheel was now out-of-round and it made a horrible thumping sound as I rode along (to the bike shop for new tires).

  3. Snake oil salesmen are alive and well, give us your money. Kickstarter is a goldmine for dubious inventions and inventors.

  4. I too scoff at the breathless wonderfulness of such "new" inventions, but let me tell you, if you live in Goat Head Land, and if you are a neophyte rider, and if you yet are determined to get out and ride a bike now and again, or if despite the odds, you like to commute a few miles to work and back, let me tell you that there certainly are worse alternatives. Try riding a cheap, thick, stiff mtb tire, with a thick liner, and with a 1/2" thick "thorn proof" tube filled with 4 oz of Slime -- believe me, a decent solid tire will actually feel -- well, it will feel better than that hellish combination.

    I rode a friend's bike with aftermarket solids, and let me tell you, it wasn't as bad as a pneumatic dressed up desperately with all the thorn proofing available!

    1. I suppose I should consider myself lucky I don't live in goathead country. Those things must be awful!

  5. "The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last"!-Willy Wonka

  6. I have a bunch of friends on goathead country, traditional MTB tubeless, with Stans (or fill in the blank sealant) seems to make it a non issue. Far better than Slime tubes in terms of speed of sealing, lack of a greater mess later, etc.

    Or am I missing something?

    Is the neophyte cyclist descriptor imply a lack of exposure to tubeless as an option?

    I'd say the same for roadies, who are sick of changing tubes though, your wheelbarrow has been tubeless for 40+ years! =:D

  7. Modern sealants make things possible that were impossible before, at least with goatheads. But they don't prevent all flats. BTW, Orange Seal is the new Stan's -- in my experience, it's better than the already good Stan's. It dries up slightly slower; when it dries it creates a film on the casing instead of boogers; and it seems to seal bigger holes more easily.

    I run paper thin (360 grams!) 700C X 50 Furious Freds tubeless on my dirt bike here in Goatheadland, ABQ, NM, with Orange Seal, but even Orange Seal doesn't prevent all flats; occasionally you'll have to stop and pump and spin, and you do have to replace the sealant at regular and shortish (2 or 3 months, depending on weather and leakage, through thorn holes -- you can see the many shiny spots on the tread where the sealant has leaked out and done its job). Sealant won't cure all thorn woes, as will solid tires.

    FWIW, you don't need tubeless to benefit from good sealants. I use OS in tubes under Compass Elk Passes, 175 grams each (559 X labeled 32/actual 28); these would be absolutely impossible around here without sealant. And they are the best road tires I've ever used; better than Michelin Pro Races and Conti GPs and even the old 559 X 1" Turbo. Thank God for modern sealants!

    But as good as these sealants are, they doesn't banish all flats, and I can see a use for solid tires (ugh!) for the very casual rider who doesn't want to get his hands dirty.

  8. Haven't used OS, but am thinking of switching, actually.

    Sold and used Stans for years. They recently made some sort of change, which they won't admit to (the seriously annoying part of this) that has impacted all sorts of aspects of bike tiredom.

    This testimonial only furthers that thought....

    1. I've had really good luck with tubeless. I'm running Schwalbe G-1's 700x35c on Velocity A23's with Caffe Latex sealant. I Can't say how well Caffe Latex works because I haven't had a puncture since I put them on in June. The whole wheelset weighs exactly to the ounce the same as the Pasela 28c/cxp22 set they replaced (admittedly not a lightweight combo). They're faster and more comfortable too, probably owing to the 127tpi threadcount and the fact that I can run them at 40 psi with no fear of snakebite flats. I think this is what Jan Heine et al have been shouting about for the last few years. These things may cause me to have to turn in my retrogrouch card.

  9. I've been gradually replacing Stans-ified tubes with Orange-Seal-ified ones, thanks to our record breaking crop of goatheads this year. I just came home via a dirt shortcut on my gofast road bike and picked up a thorn in the front tire that wouldn't seal quickly: stopped and pumped, rode: it continued to leak. Got home, pumped it up again and spun it: it finally sealed. This tube has Stan's. Orange Seal would probably have caught the leak before the tire noticeably deflated. One more tube to swap out.

    My Stan's is all at least a year old, so perhaps I missed the formula change.

  10. Might be less apparent inside a tube.

    Formerly dry tires now weep clear fluid constantly at the sidewalls. Had total sidewall break down on a Schwalbe Ice Spiker that had run Stans for two years without a hitch.

    Surly, Conti, Specialized, Schwalbe, etc. Not brand specific. I was told when I asked (and mentioned my Ice Spikers) that "yeah, we have heard of Schwalbes having issues".

    Mute when I mentioned at least 5 other brands though.

    Fluid no longer has chunks either. The "Race" formula does though, but it 30% more $.

    Someone posited that the Race, is actually, the original, and the "original" of now, is in fact a new, low viscosity, high consumption designed, imposter.

    Yeah, screw it, shop is now going to stock OS....

  11. Bought two solids and I love them. They were absolute hell to fit, thought they had sent two sizes too small but hey an hours workout in the dry... I also get a good workout running them 'cos pushing a wheelchair is hard work. I am never tipping my passenger out to fix a flat...

  12. I purchased Tannus tires for the Brompton, which were impossible to install despite following video/written directions and consulting with the vendor. I found that the rubber between the pins and rim was so thin that it teared in several during my attempts, which is something that wouldn't have beeen observable had installation been successful. I returned them despite a 'no return' policy, received a refund and then filed a detailed complaint with the CPSC. They aren't suitable for any bicycle intended to be operated safely.

  13. I laughed too when looking the Kickstarter video. Just look at those holes in the sides! No mudguard will protect the rider when riding over a puddle, and they will be full of dirt and mud. Do they think someone who doesn't want to fill air in their tires will be OK with cleaning all those holes?

    I would like to post a question to the readers: what about those reinforced tires? I understand the Schwalbe Marathon and Continental Gatorskin have a built-in barrier that reduces foreign-object punctures by a wide margin. I think that is a better option that these new solid-but-full-of-holes tires.

  14. My experience with the really "bullet proof" reinforced tires is that they ride hardly better than solid tires. OTOH, there are decent-riding tires like the Schwalbe Kojak and Schwalbe Big Apple (and doubtless others, but I've used these extensively) with more modest protective belts that still roll pretty well. I live in Goathead Land, and the ~32 mm wide Kojak was noticeably more resistant to flats than, say, the similar Pasela, while I could ride the "Liteskin" model of the Big Apples into goathead patches and come out, often if not always, unscathed.

    In my experience, flats from things other than thorns are quite rare unless you ride on downtown streets scattered with glass shards and other sharp debris; and modern sealants, particularly Orange Seal, make thorns no more than an occasional problem, even with the lightest of most supple of tires like the Compass Extra Light models.