Bike Tires That Can Survive The Himalayas

Vittoria's graphene-laced tires can take a beating while staying thin. Brian Klutch

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When you’re mountain biking in extreme conditions, you want tires that are light enough for nimble handling, sticky enough to grip rocky and rooty trails, and tough enough to last. Most can’t do it all: Beefy tires have bite, but they’re sluggish; light tires are nimble, but they wear out quickly or puncture.

Vittoria’s new Mezcal and Morsa tires eliminate that trade-off once and for all. They are infinitely tough and elegantly maneuverable.

Here’s why. Graphene, in its most basic form, is a sheet of pure carbon just a single atom thick. It is half the density of aluminum, which means it’s light and extremely elastic.

Vittoria uses graphene that is two to eight atoms thick—nearly invisible. By adding it to mountain-bike tires, Vittoria achieves the dream combo of characteristics—light, sticky, and tough—that rubber can’t on its own. In fact, adding graphene to rubber creates a tire that changes depending on how you ride. When riding on a straightaway, the tire stays relatively hard. When braking or cornering, it softens.

Vittoria uses graphene that is two to eight atoms thick–nearly invisible.

Examining how graphene responds to accelerating and turning corners, Vittoria constructed them in a way that allows the top and bottom layers to react differently during use.

Vittoria can’t say exactly how many miles to expect from these tires—that depends on trial conditions and how hard you ride. Leading up to and on a recent trip through Nepal, I put hundreds of miles on the Morsa and the Mezcal. Fellow bikers’ tires lost pressure on a daily basis; they’d spin out on a slippery rock.

On descents, the tires gripped on rock and dirt alike—letting me ride faster downhill than I ever have. Quite a few of my fellow riders ended up throwing their tires in the post-trip trash heap. After my 13-day trip, my Morsa and Mezcals were dusty but barely worn, and should still last me for several months more of regular rides.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2016 issue of Popular Science, under the title “Bike Tires That Can Survive the Himalayas.”