We've just been knocking about the streets and lanes of Bath on a bike with solid tyres. They're from a new company called Gecko Rubber who are based just down the road from us, in Wiltshire, where they make them in their own facility.
Solid tyres, on the face of things, have some advantages. You don't ever need to pump them up, and you can't puncture them. The downside has tended to be that you don't get the same levels of comfort or of grip as you do with a pneumatic tyre.
Partly that's down to what they're made from: most of the solid tyres on the market are made from one sort of plastic or another. But the chaps from Gecko, who have a long background within the tyre industry, have spent quite a few years mucking about with rubber compounds, until they came up with the one they're using for these tyres. So these are real rubber, with a cellular contstruction that traps air bubbles to give the tyres better grip and comfort. Because they're just rubber they're easy to recycle, unlike normal tyres which are a mix of rubber, textiles and wire.
Fitting the tyres is a bit different to a pneumatic: the Geckos have plastic clips that locate into the bead of the rim, and metal pegs that fit in some of the spoke holes to further guard against the tyre slipping on the rim. Fitting them is something you'll probably be wanting your bike shop to do. Once they're on, though, they're on: you won't be pulling them off to change a flat halfway to work. The only sign that you're running a solid tyre is the lack of an inner tube valve.
The solid design means you have to fit them to the right size of rim as they don't expand to accommodate different sizes. The tyres that are available for launch will be in 26" and 700c wheel sizes, to fit a 19mm rim. 20" tyres will be next. Gecko are aiming to distribute the tyres through independent bike dealers who will fit them as well; the price is £55 per tyre, fitted.
We went out for a 10km loop around Bath on the Gecko tyres, fitted to the rather nice Riese und Müller city bike you can see above. And our first impressions of them are pretty positive.
If you're rolling around on the flat at no great pace – and that will cover a fair proportion of e-bike riding – then most of the time they were functionally more or less identical to a pneumatic tyre. There's a bit more rolling resistance, but with a motor that's not really an issue. Solid tyres – like the Nuvinci hub that this bike uses – are a technology that will probably sit well with e-bikes in the future. Assuming they ride and grip the same, the ease of maintenance will easily outweigh the slightly draggier performance.
Do they ride and grip the same? Well, not quite. What we noticed on our test ride was that the tyres struggle a bit on poor surfaces compared to a pneumatic tyre. It's not so much a comfort issue – our bike had a suspension fork and seatpost, anyway – but the fact that they don't hold their line quite as well, tending to wander when they hit rough edges or off-camber bits. Under heavy turns they were a bit vague and prone to understeer, but since I was on a bike I'd never ridden before I can't say how much of that was down to the tyres. It was noticeable at both ends of the bike though, not just the front. Richard from Gecko suggested it might also be down to the fact that the tyres were new and yet to fully bed in.
That may or may not be the case; we'd need a longer test to find out and that's something we're certainly going to do, as we weren't able to try out the wet performance of the tyres on our test ride either. We'll be getting a set fitted to a bike that we've ridden a lot and know well, to compare how they get on against pneumatic tyres. Look out for a review of the tyres on ebiketips soon. In the meantime head over to Gecko Rubber's website for more information on the tyres, which will be launching soon.