Graphene-Laced Bike Tires Are Both Stiffer and Softer
The big bicycle manufacturers are always trying to seize the next advance in materials science and electronics to build a lighter, stiffer, more efficient, more comfortable, better bike. The next major advance may be in the rubber of the tires—the only part of a bike that actually touches the road.
By adding layers of graphene (a one-atom-thick layer of carbon) to bike tires, Vittoria has developed new tires, called G+ or Graphene Plus, that they claim are superior in pretty much every facet. They are lighter than ordinary tires. They are longer-lasting and more puncture resistant. They dissipate heat more efficiently. They are stiffer when riding upright for improved rolling resistance, but soften in turns for better traction thanks to the honeycomb pattern of the graphene.
Graphene was first isolated in 2004, and companies began to heavily invest in its commercial applications after 2010 when Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in Physics for its creation. It is said to be 100 times stronger than the highest quality steel while remaining six times as flexible, and it conducts electricity like copper. Graphene is already widely used for electronics components such as semiconductors.
Vittoria is the only company currently manufacturing graphene tires on a large scale, and they are the ones providing the information about the graphene-enhanced rubber compound. Other major bike tire companies have experimented with graphene, but believe that other materials are better. For instance, the head of bicycle tire product development at Continental, Christian Wurmbäck, told Cycling Weekly that a carbon powder compound called Carbon Black is superior to graphene in tire manufacturing.
In the past we did some trials with graphene in the casing and tread of our tires. However, although the directionality of the compound brought some benefits to the casing, the development of our Carbon Black compounds is at a higher level, so there was no need to jump back on graphene.
Maybe so, but graphene could have many applications in bicycle design beyond tires. Vittoria has also added graphene to the carbon fiber in its rims, and engineers are looking for ways to incorporate the material into frames. Some even speculate that graphene could be woven into textiles to make smart clothing, for cyclists and for everyone else.