Glass, Nails, Potholes... 'Flat-free' bike tires cannot pop

Glass is a non-factor. Ride over a nail even. The Acme tires cannot pop.

A new type of tire design, the Acme FlatFree Bicycle Wheels break the mold and use foam instead of air.

The result is a treaded rubber tire with foam inside made to mimic a tire inflated to 60 psi. The company uses Hutchison’s Serenity tube/tire combo as its base.

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Unstoppable! Acme’s Flat-free Wheelset

You may have seen these a couple years back when the “airless” tires grabbed buzz in the bike world and places like Popular Science magazine, where they won an award. But the product is just recently to market.

We got a pair to test and rode more than 100 miles on the foam.

The brand sells the wheels complete, ready to install on nearly any bike. They cost $299 for a set.

Right from the get-go we knew these wheels would add weight to our test bike. We weren’t prepared for how much: The front and rear wheels together weigh an astonishing 16 pounds.

The Acme FlatFrees are by no means performance tires. But they do accomplish what they set out to, which is never going flat. We rode through a pile of glass, over a metal shard on the road, and we bounced in and out of potholes to no ill effect.

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The Hutchison foam “tube” of the Acme Wheelset

“Invincible” is the best word to describe rolling through a city on these wheels. But another word to use would be “slow.”

On the road, spinning up to speed takes far more effort and time. It’s not just the weight, however, it’s more the physics of the foam reacting to the weight and forces of the bike and rider.

I figured the heavier wheelset would help me keep inertia up and require less work once I was moving. I was wrong.

Keeping my bike up to a moderate speed took more effort and energy than I’d ever experienced. Ironically, with all the extra required effort, it felt like I was riding with a flat tire already.

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Foam “tubes,” aluminum rims, steel spoke. Built and ready to shrug off the flats

But to take a step back, these tires were not designed for riders like me. And if Acme can get more people riding who otherwise wouldn’t, I’m all for it.

Acme sells the setup in 26-inch and 700c size wheels. They come laced to singlespeed or gear-compatible hubs. Shimano coaster brake and high-end hub configurations are possible as well.

For anyone paralyzed by the thought of a flat tire, this wheelset is for you. They might work great for kid bikes, slow cruiser models, or for rental fleets. For most riders, however, I don’t forecast a rush toward foam anytime soon.

T.C. Worley covers the bike industry for GearJunkie.

Posted by Scott - 01/11/2013 10:45 AM

“Run flat” tires for military vehicles etc. have depended on foam for a long time, but they’re usually inflated with air as well for just this reason. When in “run flat” mode the performance is highly degraded. The huge energy loss is due to the constant compression of the viscoelastic foam as you roll. Think of riding through an inch-thick foam mat on a solid tire and it’s (very) roughly the same effect. By contrast, air compression (and circulation) is much more efficient.

Posted by whicked wheels - 01/12/2013 02:39 PM

I’ve seen this in various forms since the ’70s; I doubt that was the first time it was tried. Funny how it gets invented, rejected, forgotten and reinvented.

Posted by Sir_Foggy - 01/27/2013 07:42 AM

“these tires were not designed for riders like me”

Then who would want these?

Those looking for a shitty ride?

Posted by Roger Richardson - 04/29/2013 01:09 PM

Bud Frankenthaler has won 5 Triathlons in 2009, 2010 and 2011 using Airless Bicycle Tires. www.airfreetires.com

Posted by Edward Aguilar - 05/17/2013 07:46 PM

Hi want to know about these tires live in Phoenix AZ just moved here got a
Fixer upper ,spent $250 then got a flat ,they told me at the bike shop welcome
To AZ ,cactus and thorns? Not to crazy about learning how to change tires, I want to enjoy riding ,read online about other tires that ,roll 1 inch when brake ,turning also an issue(reviews)can you tell me a place in Poenix

Posted by jillian - 06/10/2013 09:15 AM

how much does the 26 inch foam tire cost for two ????

Posted by John - 11/17/2013 03:02 AM

The Schwalbe “Almost Flat Proof” Tire looks pretty good ..

http://www.airfreetires.com/default.asp

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