Goodbye punctures: BigRep 3D prints airless bicycle tire

In a project tipped to be a “world-first,” large-format 3D printing provider BigRep has made a full-scale, functional, airless bicycle tire.

Made as a custom modification for a Specialized Globe Centrum Sport bike, the tire showcases the abilities of BigRep’s new PRO FLEX material, taking cues from the wider maker community that commonly uses TPU-based filaments to make RC model car tires.

According to BigRep Product Designer Marco Mattia Cristofori, the mind behind the project and test rider of the Centrum, the 3D printed tires gave a “very smooth ride.”

Design without limits

The airless bicycle tire was FFF 3D printed as a single piece on the BigRep ONE 3D printer, which has a volume of 1005 mm x 1005 mm x 1005 mm (X x Y x Z). No exact details have been given about the tire’s dimensions, however the Centrum bike it was made for typically takes 26 x 1.5-inch tires.

Without an inner tube, the tire resists deflation from punctures – the bane of many cyclists lives. The PRO FLEX material it is made from is springy and durable, with excellent damping behaviour, high temperature resistance and low temperature impact resistance.

Ahead of the prototype bicycle tire, Cristofori also designed the 3D printed BigRep wheel rim. In contrast to the tire, the wheel rim was made on the BigRep STUDIO 3D printer, with a print volume of 500 mm x 1000 mm x 500 mm, in high temperature resistant PRO HT filament.

Explaining his idea for the wheel rim, Cristofori says, “With 3D printing you can prototype organic forms, like with our Terra chair,”

“It allows you to envision more complex shapes, because you don’t really have any limits.”

Marco Mattia Cristofori's 3D printed wheel rim. Photo via BigRep
Marco Mattia Cristofori’s 3D printed wheel rim. Photo via BigRep

A smooth ride for airless tires

Though the BigRep tire may be a first for cycles, the airless tire concept has been gaining traction in automotive.

Michelin first introduced its idea for an airless, 3D printed, tire at the 2017 International Mobility summit in Montreal, Canada, combined with a “Print&Go” station that would allow roadside reprinting of the tread.

The VISION concept tire. Photo via Jimmy Hamelin/Michelin.
The VISION concept 3D printed, airless tire. Photo via Jimmy Hamelin/Michelin.

At the time of the event Mostapha El-Oulhani, designer and head of the VISION tire project at Michelin, explained that the concept may not be as far fetched as it might seem; “We wanted VISION to be realistic since no purpose is served by designing objects or services that we know pertinently are unrealistic,”

“On the contrary, VISION is possible since it is based on R&D know-how and we can already see the future applications, on which the Group is now working. It’s a promise that is within reach.”

Then, at the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show, competitor Goodyear seemed to respond to Michelin’s VISION with the Oxygene concept.

Goodyear's Oxygene moss tire concept. Image via Goodyear
Goodyear’s Oxygene moss tire concept. Image via Goodyear

A 3D printed tire that would provide a home for air-cleansing moss, Oxygene was a concept created by Goodyear to inspire greener thinking in the automotive industry.

At present, BigRep is not seeking commercial production of its airless tire. For more insight into the company’s direction, read our interview with BigRep CEO and co-founder René Gurka.

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Featured image shows the BigRep 3D printed airless bicycle tire. Screengrab via BigRep GmbH on YouTube