Originally invented by NASA for use on lunar and Mars rover missions, there’s a new kind of bicycle tire that’s elastic like rubber yet strong like titanium. It exhibits perfect shape memory without ever going flat. Essentially, it’s the tire of dreams.
Made in gold, silver, and metallic blue, METL tires are made from advanced, lightweight materials known as NiTinol+.
They’re the first-ever consumer application of the alloy tire technology NASA will use to get future rover missions out on rough terrain without a hiccup (or puncture). And they’re being developed as a partnership with the startup SMART Tire Company.
“Cyclists will not be able to wait to get their hands on these cool-looking, space-age tires that don’t go flat,” says Earl Cole, former Survivor: Fiji champion and CEO of SMART, in a statement.
“The unique combination of these advanced materials, coupled with a next generation, eco-friendly design make for a revolutionary product.”
SMART was founded in 2020 by Cole and blockchain engineer Brian Yennie. Together with former NASA engineering intern Calvin Young, the SMART team has consulted with inventors at NASA Glenn Research Center to bring the power of shape memory alloy tire technology to the general public.
Thanks to their ability to undergo phase transitions at the molecular level under strain, these alloys are unlike any other material, exhibiting thirty times the recoverable strain of ordinary steel.
In other words, according to Darrell Etherington at TechCrunch, NASA’s key development has been in “creating an alloy that can return to their shape at the molecular level, meaning they can deform to adapt to uneven terrain, including obstacles like gravel and potholes, and return to their shape without losing structural integrity over time.”
What’s more, SMART’s METL tires are good for the planet, utilizing long-lasting materials that reduce rubber waste. The ultimate plan? For these tires to become established as the premier high-tech component for the modern cyclist across road, gravel, mountain, and e-bike applications.
“Shape memory alloys look extremely promising in revolutionizing the entire terrestrial tire industry,” says Santo Padula, Materials Science Engineer at NASA, “and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
METL tires will be available for the cycling community in early 2022 before hopefully reaching the car industry and beyond. And SMART has also partnered with the leading micro-mobility provider, Spin, to develop SMA tires for e-scooters.
Bicycle tires that are immune to punctures even on the most pot-holed roads? Hands up if you can’t wait to take this new tech out for a spin.