Pneumatic Tyres Versus Solid Tyre: An End-Users Perspective
A critical part of a wheelchair, by definition, is the rear wheels and a critical part of the rear wheels is the type of tyre used. There are pros and cons for different tyre types. Rachel asked me to write about my experience with pneumatic and solid tyres, so here goes.
In my earlier years as a wheelchair user I used pneumatic tyres. One of the things that was a party spoiler was flat tyres. I had a bag that used to hang off the back of my chair, and it always had a spare tube and some tyre levers in it. But it was a hassle, for myself and my friends, and after a while I got sick of flat tyres. Plus, I had started travelling and just wanted the security and convenience of no flats. So, at some stage, I switched to solid tyres.
I rolled on solid tyres for a lot of years. I got used to them, and they worked well. They were hard work when I needed to change them, but I felt secure with them. I was playing wheelchair basketball at the time and was using high pressure pneumatic tyres on my sports chair. The difference in roll resistance was significant, but for everyday use I just preferred the security that solids gave me. Then, about 12 years ago, a range of puncture resistant tyres became available in Australia. They claimed to be able to resist punctures from thumb tacks, and a few of my friends were using them so I decided to give them a go.
When I changed to these pneumatic tyres and pushed my chair again it was like a new chair, it was so much easier to push! I was really shocked at the difference. Research that compares pneumatic and solid tyres confirms the significant difference in performance between the two.
One paper which supports this is “The ergonomics of different tyres and tyre pressure during wheelchair propulsion” by BONITA J. SAWATZKY and Co. in Nov 2004 which found that “Choosing solid tyres instead of pneumatics puts those using the wheelchair at potential risk. Pneumatic tyres showed no statistically significant difference in rolling resistance until pressures had decreased to 50% of the recommended value. The performance of the solid tyre was worse than that of the pneumatic tyres even when they were inflated at 25% of the recommended pressure.”
I have been using them ever since, and they have proved to be sufficiently puncture resistant for my use. Even though they are more expensive than non-puncture resistant tyres they have proven to be longer lasting which makes them a better economical option. I have had only one puncture in all the time I have used them. Being brutally honest with you, I am not the role model wheelchair user when it comes to doing maintenance. For maintenance on pneumatic tyres I have a rechargeable cordless compressor which I use regularly to make sure there is sufficient air in the tyres. Changing tubes and tyres is not on my list of things I want to do on any day, besides which I suck at it. I have pinched more tubes than I would care to mention. So, any new tyres/tubes I need are now supplied and fitted by my local bike shop. If you live close to a good wheelchair dealer, they should also be able to do this. In saying this, for a vast number of wheelchair users, changing a tube and tyre is a quick and easy process.
Depending on a wheelchair user’s environment and daily activities, puncture resistant tyres may not be required. In this case economical tyres might be a better solution.
On the other hand, some people will require more puncture-proof resistance than any pneumatic tyre can provide. For example, people living in rural areas that come into contact with “three cornered jacks” or working in environments where there are nails and the like. In these cases, the compromise in performance can be justified and solid tyres may be the best option. And, for a lot of users, the absolute confidence solid tyres give them is worth the loss in performance.
Some final thoughts, overall solid tyres are heavier than pneumatic tyres. There are different types of solid and pneumatic tyres and, in my experience, it has been worth spending a little more on good, quality tyres. The increased life of better-quality tyres usually means it is more economical in the long run. I would also not recommend solid inserts in pneumatic tyres. They are heavy and do not perform as well as other options.