3D-printed airless bike tires deliver a 'smooth ride'

Dump the air pump. These 3D-printed flexible bicycle tires could be the future of riding.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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This 3D-printed bike tire doesn't need to be inflated.

BigRep video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

In New Mexico, we have a plant called a goathead whose spiked seeds love to destroy bike tires. That's why the promise of newer, better bicycle tire technology always intrigues me. BigRep, a Berlin maker of super-sized 3D printers , has introduced what it's calling a "world-first 3D-printed airless bicycle tire."

The tire looks a bit like some airless automotive prototypes where you can see right through to the other side. BigRep's Maik Dobberack tells me the idea is to be able to customize the tires according to your needs. So you might print a tire with a different internal pattern or tread to accommodate mountain riding versus road riding, or to handle different weather conditions.

Test bicyclist Marco Mattia Cristofori, who also designed the tires, took them for a spin around Berlin and reported a "very smooth ride."

As with many cool, forward-thinking things, though, you can't actually have these tires right now. 

"The main goal of the design was to inspire and explore the endless possibilities of large scale 3D printing," Dobberack says. He describes the tires as an "in-house industrial application design" that isn't meant for large-scale production at this time.

The prototype tires are designed to test BigRep's new Pro Flex filament. The filament's flexible nature is what makes it work for the bike tires. BigRep says Pro Flex can be used for rapid prototyping for a variety of objects, including skateboard wheels, ski tips and automotive gear knobs.

This isn't BigRep's first foray into things that roll. The company recently created a 3D-printed custom wheel rim for a car, and a group of engineers used a BigRep machine to print out a functional bicycle frame.

BigRep's prototype tire could be a harbinger of things to come for cyclists. I may wake up one morning in New Mexico, check the weather and then print out a couple of bike tires designed to handle monsoon rains and defy goathead punctures at the same time. 

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