Like all humans who like to use pedals I live in fear of a menace whose name it is forbidden to mention on group rides, a terror that can strike on any road surface anywhere in the world. Yes, the ‘P’ word, the P-fairy (hmm, I never realised how wrong that sounds). P to the uncture. Flatties, unscheduled pressurizations, unplanned rubber ventilation, I’m afraid we can’t hide behind any of these names for this article, brace your good selves, I’m going to have to use the word can can’t put it off any longer, brace yourself (or look away if you’re a cyclist of a sensitive disposition) – p u n c t u r e.
Solid tyres, why do we want them?
I’m assuming you’ve ridden a bike before? Or do you enjoy repairing punctures in the dark, in the rain, with numb fingers (with an owl!) The prospect of a bicycle tyre that is not only puncture ‘resistant’ but for which punctures are a physical impossibility surely appeals to all bike riders? If you’re commuting to work punctures make you late, if you’re riding with friends punctures make them laugh at you. Well friends either laugh or are incredibly sympathetic, without actually offering to help with repairs.
Like a lot of cyclists I made the decision to abandon traditional pumps (I hate hand-pumps SO much) for puncture repair and instead use Co2 cannisters. However, I’m always slightly scared of using Co2, it’s a fear based on the fact that while nothing is likely to go horribly wrong, there’s every chance it could spectacularly. I feel a very similar fear when standing close to a large horse. But that’s my problem.
So leaving aside for a moment the finger-numbing filthy discomfort (and potential Co2 burns / explosions) that puncture repairs cause let’s pause to consider how much kit we have to lug about in case we get a puncture. Actually let’s not, it will be dull and we all know the score – ‘a friend’ buys a bike that weighs less than a kitten’s bobble hat, then hands a heavy bag of spares from the saddle ‘just in case’.
Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to worry about punctures?
So we’ve established that there are many things in life I enjoy more than punctures, so when I was at the SPIN Urban Cycling Show in early 2014 and spotted a company called Tannus who claimed to have perfected solid tyres I really wanted to believe they had cracked the code. So after witnessing Tannus building some momentum in the UK cycling scene I got in touch with the UK representative and asked if I could take a pair for a test ride. Very kindly they said ‘yeah, go for it’. So I really wanted to love these Tannus tyres and shout their praises from the rooftops (by which I mean VeloBalls), but solid tyres have been attempted by others before, and have always failed. So why would Tannus be any different?
The problem with solid tyres
Solid tyres certainly aren’t a new idea, in fact if you want to be pedantic (and please do, we love that) then you could point out that the solid tyres pre-date pneumatic tyres (ones what have’ air in them). So why didn’t our cycling forefathers stick with solid tyres? Why on earth did they go to all the trouble of developing tyres pumped full of air? Probably because their ‘fundamentals’ were suffering from the brutal ride that solid wheels / tyres traditionally caused. So to the relief of crotches and bottoms everywhere Dunlop developed pneumatic tyres and cyclists the world over forgot about solid rubber tyres. For at least the two and a half minutes. Ever since there has been a string of companies holding up their hands and proudly stating that they have solved the conundrum of creating solid tyres that didn’t suck.
In the past ‘innovative’ solid bike tires have either weighed a ton, fallen apart, had more rolling-resistance than steam traction engine wheels coated in a metric ton of super glue or (most alarmingly of all) tended to part ways with ones rims when cornering.
But it would appear that Tannus solid tires were different, a theory I developed after realising that their popularity was growing, without the inevitable backlash of frustrations their forebearers suffered.
So with a mixture of excitement and trepidation I loaded myself and my trusty (and slightly rusty) SingleSpeed onto a train and headed for E1 Cycles in London to get me some solid tyres. Actually when I initially went to mount my steed in order to head to the station I discovered I had a puncture…
Solid tires – how are they fitted?
I had 700 x 23 tyres ‘hard’ tyres fitted.
Between getting off the train in London and arriving at E1 cycles in the East End I suffered another TWO punctures, so when the friendly staff at E1 told me the Tannus Musai tyres would be fitted in a jiffy I was about as ready as a fellow can be to shout a hearty ‘huzzah’. Instead I thanked them and wandered off in search of coffee while they got to work.
After they had taken a look at the battered old Mavic Aksium wheels on my singlespeed (someone gave them to me because they found them behind their dustbin) the only questions I was asked was ‘would I like hard or soft’, and what colour would I like? I only mention how old my wheels are in the interests of transparency – this test ride is far-removed from those carried out by the glossy magazines. I’m testing these tires on a fairly battered old bike, which I think makes the conditions closer to those experienced by the majority of VeloBalls readers. The only carbon involved in this test was the exhaust fumes I unavoidably inhaled while cycling through London.
I realise that not including details of how the tires are actually fitted is a bit an omission on my part. The chaps in the shop looked a bit confused when I asked them how difficult they were to fit. I’m not putting too much gravity on this; I’m sure any skilled cycle mechanic would give a bit of a gallic shrug if I asked how tricky it was to true a wheel or any other bit of mechanical genius that I consider magical. A friend who has fitted some Tannus Musai by himself assures me that while there is definitely a knack, fitting the tyres was certainly within the reach of us mere mortals. As I’m being so hopelessly unhelpful when it comes to details of the installation process I’m going to point you at this video:
Having watched that video a few times I’d say that unless you particularly fancy a challenge it might be an idea to get an official Tannus supplier to do the fitting for you. If you live near London then Andrés at E1 assures me that he’ll be more than happy to help.
My ride from E1 to Liverpool St Station on my way home was less than a mile so my very first impressions aren’t that interesting. I arrived on Continental GP4000s tyres (well, the remains of them really) so switching to the Tannus was always going to be noticeable. But then I’m yet to find any tyre that rides as fast and comfortably as the GP4000s, but while they are fast and comfortable they do (in my experience) have as much resistance to puncturing as a balloon at a hedgehog’s birthday party.
(crap) photo of my SingleSpeed fitted with Tannus solid tyres, in a guard’s van, without an owl.
The test ride
This morning I took my SingleSpeed out for a jaunt around some of the rougher roads of Ipswich to give these tyres a proper test. The first thing that struck me was how firm the ride was; I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was harsh, but I was certainly feeling the ‘character’ of the road surface. Not unbearably so, and to be fair the harshness of the ride was not really too different to riding on fully-inflated Bontrager Hardcases.
I made a video review of the ride, you can watch it here:
When speaking to some friends who had tried previous incarnations of solid tyres (made by other manufacturers) the biggest complaint they had was rolling resistance. This meant that more effort had to be put into shoving the bicycle forward than with inflatable tyres. I wasn’t expecting the Tannus tyres to be entirely free of rolling resistance (no tyres ever are) but I was surprised at just how little they had. I’m not an expert in such things, but other (far cleverer) websites somehow figure the rolling resistance is 8% higher than with standard tyres (whatever ‘standard’ tyres are!).
Overall grip and control
Horror stories from the history of solid bike tyres include tales of slippage in some very alarming ways. Previous incarnations of non-pneumatic tyres didn’t hold the road very well, meaning that cornering, not just at speed, but at all, could be much more of an adventure than any cyclist would seek out. Sure most of us like taking risks on bikes, but they’re usually risks whereby you have a good idea of the risk you’re taking, and mechanical sympathy (taking the form of good maintenance) helps mitigate that risk. Going around a corner and having the tyres slip out from underneath you because the tyres aren’t gripping the road is a risk that can only be mitigated by changing tires (or not cycling in sub-zero conditions!). The road conditions for today’s test ride was most unfavourable – it has rained recently and the general December weather has made the roads greasy and coated with a layer of grit and detritus that can cause an unscheduled dismount for inexperienced riders. Despite the fact I was riding with a suitable amount of caution I was being far from cavalier, and I felt totally in control with these Tannus tyres.
Perhaps more alarming than ones bike parting company with oneself on a corner is having a tyre that isn’t securely fastened to the rim. There are reports by the owners of ye olde solid tyres of yesteryear that tell of occasions when they had to brake hard, only to have the wheel stop, but the tyre carry on turning! Fortunately I didn’t have to slam on the anchors for an emergency stop on my test ride, but having just watched that fitting video again I’m confident enough that if I did hit the brakes I’d stand a pretty good chance of stopping.
In the interests of addressing as many of the ‘old complaints’ as possible I’m going to mention one last control nightmare – losing the tyre entirely. Yup, in the the distant past some cyclists (riding other brands of solid tyre) have come a cropper when their tyres have popped out of the rim while they’re cycling! I’m no expert, just ‘some bloke with a crap bike’ but I’m not worried that these tires will leap out of rims. Quite the opposite; I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to remove them! Good job – the manufacturer claims they last about 9,000 miles.
The tyres I had fitted weigh near as dammit exactly the same amount as Bonrager Hardcases, once you take into account the tube. Impressive. The low weight is probably due to the fact these tyres aren’t made of rubber at all, in fact they’re made from a type of foam, er, sort of, that Tannus call ‘Aither’.
No getting around it, these Tannus tyres ain’t cheap. You could almost buy four of the (almost) bombproof Schwalbe Marathon Plus puncture resistant tyres for the price of two Tannus Musai. I’ve been using Bontrager Hardcase tyres on my bikes for a few years, and despite the fact they’re not the most comfortable tyre in the world, I could buy six or seven for the same amount as a couple of pairs of these solid tyres. But according to the official stats the Musai tyres should outlive the competitors tyres many times over.
I’m intrigued with regards to the price Tannus has set for this product – if a company is introducing a radical new product to a sceptical market (and cyclists are notoriously sceptical) then there’s a big temptation to sell at a narrow profit-margin to get the product established. At the other end of the scale is companies like Apple who set their prices high and sort of impress and wow the market by claiming the high price is because their output should be considered as premium product. I have no idea how much profit Tannus makes on each tyre, but knowing a little bit about manufacturing processes (ha, I really do!) I wouldn’t expect the cost per unit to be exceptionally high. However, the high price could well reflect the research costs Tannus have incurred in the 25 years they have been researching the materials used in these tyres. It’s worth noting that tyres aren’t the only product Tannus make, among a wide product range are some extremely safety-aware products like the padding used inside American Football helmets.
I’m digressing, and I’m resorting to pointless conjecture – let’s get to the summary!
Solid tyres are more than just not getting punctures, they’re about not having to check tyre pressures, making your bike ready to go with zero preparation. If you are a regular commuter preparation is no big deal, checking tyre pressures is as much a part of your routine as making your packed lunch, or packing dry underpants in case of severe rain. But when I want to jump on my bike to nip into town not having to check the tyres for either pressure or punctures is pretty cool.
It seems a little foolish to claim to be able to make a solid-gold summary after just one ride, so sorry if you’ve just read through all of the above 2,500+ words and were expecting a definitive answer. I can only give you one man’s subjective opinion, which I guess all reviews are really, but here’s how I now view Tannus Musai tyres and how they fit into my cycling life (I’ll try and keep this brief, honestly):
Solid tyres on my singlespeed
I never use my SingleSpeed for any journey longer than ten miles, partly because of the stupid 52/18 ratio I have, but also because if I’m going on a ‘leisure bimble’ I’d much rather use gears. So for all the journeys I make on the bike I have these tires fitted to I’m quite happy to put up with a slightly bumpier ride than I’m used to, I consider that a very small price to pay for not having to fix any punctures. To be fair I’ve had very few punctures with the Bontrager Hardcases I’ve been riding, but no punctures is a much more exciting prospect than ‘very few’ punctures.
Every cyclist has to make compromises with their equipment in some way, even a rider with a limitless budget will forced to make a compromise at some point. The ride-comfort concession when using solid tyres is so miniscule it seems pretty much a no-brainer.
Solid tyres on a lightweight bike
Okay, so I’m fooling myself a bit here, my aluminium framed geared bike is no featherweight at about 11kg, but I wanted a clear way to differentiate between my commuting ‘getting around town’ bike and the bike I use for longer rides and sportives. So will I be rushing out to buy a pair of solid tyres for my ‘nice’ bike? Hmm, probably not. For now I’m going to stick with using the Bontrager Hardshells as my winter tyres – when I’m using gears on a long ride that tiny amount of extra rolling resistance the Musai give could start to feel like a lot of extra rolling resistance after fifty or sixty miles. That being said, I’m not ruling it out entirely. It could only take a couple of roadside puncture repairs in freezing conditions to make me consider putting solid tyres on my lightweight bike a lot more favourably. But will I ever use solid tyres in place of my favourite summer tyres? I very much doubt it.
The real summary
I’m really looking forward to the next time I take my SingleSpeed to London; I’m going to be wearing a big smile on my face knowing that I’ll be able to ride those awful, pitted, violently undulating glass-strewn roads with total impunity from the puncture fairy.
Where to buy Tannus tyres
As always we’d recommend making your local bike shop your first stop in any serious search for bike gear, but if they don’t stock these solid tyres here are some other places you can buy them:
P.S. Yeah I know we’ve jumped between using the correct spelling ‘tyres’ in this article, and the spelling favoured by our American friends ‘tires’, and we would explain this choice if we felt like it. But we don’t, so ner ner ner ner ner.
2016/03/08 at 3:30 am
In reply to tlnelsn. After about 100 miles on a 23mm Tannus on the rear, Vittoria on the front, there have been zero control problems in sharp turns at speed. The manufacturer does recommends avoiding wheel lock which might create a flat spot. As for any danger of the tire disingaging from the wheel, forget about that. I mounted them myself and will eventualy have to cut them off with a very sharp knife.
Rolling resistance? I have the impression that 5% more than a pneumatic is closer to reality than the stated 8%. But that’s for a 23mm. Wider the tire, more the RR differential, or so I was told by the salesperson.
These tires are ideal for commuting, expecially on city streets, where a flat makes the difference in getting to work on time or being 15 minutes late, with greasy hands.
If you’re a racing dude, train on these, switch to pneumatic for the race.
2015/08/20 at 6:57 pm
In reply to tlnelsn. The truth is I’m just not that sort of cyclist. My days of leaning fast into corners are a distant memory. Braking I noticed no difference, I have done man miles on these tyres through heavy traffic (including London) and nothing terrifying happened when I had to take evasive action.
If you’re asking are these tyres any good for riding fast and hard, well I’d have to admit that I simply don’t know.
2015/08/20 at 5:33 pm
“Despite the fact I was riding with a suitable amount of caution I was being far from cavalier, and I felt totally in control with these Tannus tyres.”
That’s all? Not much of a evaluation. How about trying to corner at various speeds, quick turn or emergency turn (you get right hooked (left hooked in the UK) whilst entering an intersection)? Braking? If you had to hit the brakes hard and locked the rear wheel, how do they hold the road and does it create a flat spot on the tyre/tire?
Very disappointed in your evaluation of grip and control.
2014/12/19 at 12:26 pm
Good review. I’ve bought a pair (same model, same size and colour as the ones reviewed here). I won’t lie, when I read about the Tannus tyre in Cycle Active (I think) I immediately thought “oh here we go again”, and did the very thing I hate to see done, started bemoaning them without even trying them. The reason for this is I’ve ridden solid foam tyres from another, more established UK company before and removed them after a couple of hundred miles. Then did it again on another bike (this time a Dutch shopper with roller brakes and hub gears after a puncture which is virtually impossible for a mere mortal to fix as a roadside repair). I’m not always trusting of magazine reviews and having been burned twice by the concept of “micro foam”, I was sceptical. My other problem is I’m also very curious which within a matter of a few days and a blog post by someone not hating them got the better of me and I submitted my order.
I’ve been cycling on them since 24th November 2014 and have to date (19th December) done 251 miles on them.
I am using them on a single speed (freewheel) cheap and cheerful road bike I use for short distance commuting (i.e. 4 – 10 mile at a time journeys).
Here are my thoughts on the matter.
Firstly, and I can’t stress this enough. Get someone else to fit them. Anyone else, maybe someone you don’t like or just a bike shop that are up for a laugh. I fitted them myself and knew about it for a couple of days afterwards. Give your self a good 3 hours for the pair.. no seriously, 3 hours. Each tyre comes with a number of nylon beads which are used to very securely fasten the tyre to the wheel rim. They come in three sizes and the advice is to measure the rim and pick the right one. The easy option is to hold one in a pair of pliers lengthways inside the rim and turn it around 90 degrees to see if it will fit. If you can lift it out it’s too small and if you can’t turn it the full 90 degrees, it’s too big. Once you’ve done this you’ll need to put one in each hole on the wheel rim side of the tyre. They need to be the right way up, i.e. the tapered edges need to go faced down (i.e the flat side of the bead pointing away from the rim). There are something like 38 of them to go in (from memory). The best idea is to push them so they’re flush with the other side of the hole, put the tyre over the wheel rim, get a cable tie or some velcro and secure the top of the tyre to the rim then work (will require some stretching) the tyre around the rim with the edge with the nylon beads flush with the tyre pushed into the rim. Once you’ve done this, use the “pushing in” tool (a thick nylon based tyre iron) to push the nylon bead the rest of the way through the tyre (so it’s under the clincher at the other side) then with all your body weight, push as hard as hell with the fitting tool so that the other side of the bead clips into the other clincher. You’ll be broken after a few, take break and repeat. When you’re finished inspect the wheel. You’ll notice the coloured bead sticking out above the rim of any that have failed to clip in properly. Just go back over them with the pushing in tool and pop them in.
Secondly, as per the instructions, there is a 60 mile breaking in period. Initially I thought they were a bit too harsh and I wasn’t convinced by feeling them that they’d be that grippy. After 60 miles they were noticeably less harsh and felt a lot more grippy to the touch (although riding them felt fairly grippy from the outset).
Having used foam tyres in the past I was prepared for the worst. I have to say from taking these out of the packaging it was obvious I was dealing with something of a far higher quality. The foam seems to be denser than other offerings from the past. The feel of the material is far more ‘rubbery’ than foam I’d seen in the past. Having done 300 miles on my last foam tyres and noticed a fair amount of wear already I’m not seeing much in the way of wear to the rear tyre on these after 251 miles so far.
For me the best thing is the fitting. Yes, they’re insane to fit by hand but when done they’re on and they’re not coming off in a hurry (we’ll get to this bit later). In the past I’d had hopped onto a dropped kerb to sort out a chain derailment knocking my old solid foam rear tyre at an angle and popping it off the wheel. This certainly will never be the case with these tyres. This is because the old generation of foam tyres simply relied on the elasticity of the tyre to keep them on the rims – which works in general but isn’t guaranteed to hold.
Now we come to the rolling resistance. This has always been of great concern as with the older generation foam tyres people were selling the rolling resistance was bad. Very bad. I was expecting the worse with these. I noticed in some reviews for the new Tannus tyres people are saying they felt like there was additional drag enough to reduce their speed by maybe 1 km/h. My theory is that the RR on solid foam tyres works differently to pneumatics in the sense that they get a lot worse a lot quicker with load / weight. Saying that, I’m 6 foot 5 inches, certainly not a lightweight chap, riding a fairly heavy framed bike and carrying laptop rucksack and other bits and bobs and these tyres have added some resistance but no where near what I was getting from other foam tyres in the past. I guess how this affects you will vary. I’ve just got used to it over the last few weeks (and I think the RR has improved as the tyres went through the breaking in period). I notice the review here suggests very little in noticeable rolling resistance.
I’m not doing great distances on the bike in one go, I have a geared road bike I use for much longer jaunts with a pair of 25mm gator skins which I’ve never punctured on, ever. I put the gator skins (23mm ones) on my single speed before trying the Tannus ones and had 3 punctures in a month (either coming to, or even worse, going home from work). So, the question is are these tyres for you? Well they’re certainly for a specific purpose, i.e. one where having to do puncture repairs is a big problem. The difference between bikes is I commute in the wet and on some dubious NCN route where thorns, glass etc is a big problem. I tend to use the roadie on good quality roads, more often than not in the dry. The difference in routes and the wet make a massive difference to the chance of getting a puncture and for me I’m very happy to take the slight performance hit for the reliability of being puncture free, guaranteed. It’s actually meant I can use more off road facilities than I was doing before for fear of punctures which has made for a far more enjoyable ride.
I have every intention to keep the tyres on now and am quite confident given the wear to them already that they should be good for the quotes 6000 miles (I’ll have to wait and see I guess).
So overall, I am over the moon with them. I think they appear to be very expensive but you have to remember these are a fit and forget, one time expense. When you start deducting the cost on new tubes (I’ve been through a few) and even new tyres if, say, glass cuts into traditional ones making it more likely for objects to get through then over time they don’t look too bad. You can spend £50 on a pair of Gatorskins which is half the price of these or a bit more for some Marathon Plus tyres which may well be as good as puncture proof for your route so it’s completely down to your own personal cost benefit analysis. Personally I think I’ve made the right choice with the Tannus.
The colours of the tyres are pretty vibrant too if you’re into that sort of thing. Mine are the blue ones, the same as in the review and they’re still bobby-dazzlers like from new.
I do have one outstanding concern. If a spoke breaks the repair is going to be a nightmare. Put them on a set of strong wheels just in case! The method Tannus give for removal shows the tire being pulled to one side to expose the nylon beads which are then cut with a pair of heavy duty scissors. I guess I’ll have to wait and see how easy this is but to refit the tyre you’re going to need a new set of beads (not supplied) and the pain of fitting them again. That’s if the tyre survives being removed. I have no idea how likely that is so am just hoping the wheels outlast the tyre at this point. Fingers crossed.
About the author
Andrew Culture is a professional writer and reviewer who has been writing about everything to do with bikes and cycling for many years. Andrew is also a musician and award-winning zine author.