MAY 09, 2018 11:27 AM PDT

Watch: 3D-Printed Airless Bike Tires Offer Smooth Ride

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Strong and flexible airless bike tires can serve cyclists in a variety of ways. The new 3D-printed tires from BigRep, for example, never need to be inflated and can be formatted to serve a biker’s terrain.

"The main goal of the design was to inspire and explore the endless possibilities of large scale 3D-printing," Maik Dobberack of BigRep said. BigRep is a Berlin-based technology startup with global branches that makes the world's largest 3D printers.

BigRep's 3D-printed airless bicycle tire, credit: BigRep

BigRep made a major contribution to the 3D-printing space in 2014, the same year the company was founded, when it released the BigRep ONE 3D printer. Founders Marcel Tasler and Lukas Oehmigen both have a background in visual art and were driven to take this method of fabrication to new heights – and widths. The BigRep can print life-sized furniture, large sculptures or any structure up to just over 3 cubic feet in size. The machine has a build area of 45 by 39 by 46 inches and can create objects out of nine types of filament including sandstone and wood.

Big Rep’s new PRO FLEX filament was used in the airless, customizable tires, and the company is proud of its properties, including high temperature resistance and “excellent damping behavior and dynamic properties.” The material's damping behavior describes its ability to dissipate and withstand energetic disturbances, which is understandably important for bicycle tires or skateboard wheels -- another possible application.

BigRep’s Chief Technology Officer Moshe Aknin said:

Printing elastomers is clearly one of the biggest challenges in the [fused filament fabrication additive manufacturing] industry, so we are proud to have found an industrial-grade solution. In terms of applications with PRO FLEX, we see high potential for 3D-printing in fields like footwear, custom vibration dampers and seals, due to its high chemical resistance.

Automotive applications for the filament such as door handles, gear knobs, and cable sheathing are also cited by BigRep. Ski tips are another potential athletic use of PROFLEX.

The new bike tires were taken for a test-ride in Berlin in May 2018. Marco Mattia Cristofori designed and tested out the new invention and described the ride as "very smooth.” The 3D printer can be used to design versatile treads and internal patterns for the tires to suit road cycling, mountain biking or even diverse weather conditions. While the initial trial was successful, the tires are still characterized by the company as an in-house design not yet headed for mass-production or consumer purchase. BigRep has also created 3D-printed custom wheel rims, also designed by Cristofori.

“With 3D-printing you can prototype organic forms … It allows you to envision more complex shapes, because you don’t really have any limits,” Cristofori said.

Michelin also unveiled a 3D-printed tire that doesn’t need inflation in 2017. It was printed from recyclable material and had embedded sensors to monitor the tires’ condition and wear. These tires are not on the market yet, either.

See BigRep’s new tire in action below.




About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech and conservation.
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