Tires may seem incredibly simple compared to the complicated engineering that goes into building and adjusting a wheelchair, but that simplicity is only an illusion. You can see the importance of the tires when you consider the incredible variety of materials, pressure ratings, sizes, thicknesses, compositions, durability standards. Changing even one specification can completely change tire performance.
With so much riding on those thin hoops of rubber, it’s easy to imagine that the difference between pneumatics and solids is like night and day. The materials and manufacturing techniques are different, the performance is different, and they excel in very different environments. We’ll describe some of the biggest distinctions in this quick guide.
Durability of the Tires
Durability is the main selling point of solid tires. They will never go flat or lose pressure like pneumatics, and can last years and years without much wear. Solid tires have no trouble rolling over nails, glass, and sharp rocks – great for people who have to travel through littered parking lots, and nature lovers who like to explore off road. Be aware that some solid tires have a thinner lining than others do – if the lining ever happens to erode, the spongy core will absorb water.
Pneumatic tires are not particularly durable but they are not flimsy, either. Flat tires were once the main threat to pneumatics but advancements in the mobility industry have helped to mitigate that risk. Strong materials and puncture-proof inserts help pneumatics stay rolling longer. Self-healing membranes close up any leaks, and spray-in repair foam can allow you to finish out the day on your tires even if one goes flat.
Quality of the Ride
Pneumatic tires offer the smoother ride, at least until manufacturers of solid tires create a model with better shock absorption. Pneumatic tires also offer flexibility. Whether you want greater rolling resistance or less resistance, you can adjust the air pressure to fit your preferences even when you’re away from home.
The biggest complaint about solid tires has to be the high rolling resistance and rough ride. Newer solids are helping to solve these issues but you have to be prepared to test drive several models to find one that fits your needs. You cannot adjust solids but those who do not particularly enjoy air pressure maintenance might find the compromise acceptable.
Both types of tires have distinct advantages and disadvantages when it comes to actual practicality. Pneumatic tires are light, easy to attach and replace. They’re the perfect complement to your lightweight wheelchair. Solids are much heavier and retailers get dozens of complaints about how difficult they are to attach and remove at home. On the other hand, solids are more practical in terms of maintenance.
Sometimes it makes sense to have one set of both. Many athletes prefer to equip their practice chair with solids, especially for marathon training, to avoid the possibility of ending up stranded in case of a flat. Some frequent travelers like to keep a separate wheelchair for flights and solid tires make a good choice for those situations because most airlines do not allow inflated objects in the cargo hold.
Is experimenting with a new type of tire worth the effort? A wheelchair is nothing without good tires. Tires affect everything from rolling resistance to shock absorption, posture to pushing comfort. They are the foundation of your equipment. If you can’t find the solid or pneumatic you want now, wait a few years and see what kind of innovations the market has to offer. Never give up on your search for the ideal wheels – your body will thank you.