BigRep, a German manufacturer of 3D printing machines, has created the first 3D printed airless tire. The tire is created using their PRO FLEX material, a TPU filement.
Although it’s interesting that a tire can now be produced on a 3D printer, it seems unlikely that this will be a good substitute for the other choices currently available. Pnuematic tires are, of course, still the prefered option for performance. Airless tires do have the advantage of being more reliable, meaning they may make a good choice for city bikes and bike-share services.
Companies such as Tannus and Greentyre have been making airless tires for years. Their types use a closed cell foam core and now have performance approaching that of pneumatic tires. Tannus manufacture a 700c, 23 mm wide, tire with a quoted weight of 380g. This somewhat heavier than a racing tire setup, for example, a Continental Grand Prix Supersonic tire and tube is just 200g. However, comparison with an ultra-light race tire with minimal puncture protection or tread isn’t really fair. Perhaps a fairer comparison would be with a Schwalbe Marathon Racer, which, even with an ultralight tube, is 450g. So, compared to pneumatic tires with decent puncture protection, airless tires are very competitive. They also mean you don’t need to carry a spare tube and a pump. Accurate rolling resistance data is harder to come by, but Tannus claim their tires actually have 15% lower rolling resistance than equivelent pneumatic tires. Grip is also claimed to be comparable.
Whether the 3D printed tyre is able to rival the performnce of established airless tires is yet to be proven.