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Schwalbe has created a new inner tube that ditches butyl altogether in favor of a brand new thermoplastic material the company calls Aerothan. The Aerothan tube is made entirely in Germany, and according to Schwalbe, it’s lightweight, has low rolling resistance, and is completely recyclable. Those are tall promises for sure, but it’s clear from first glance that this inner tube is a different beast.
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The Aerothan tube is made from a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Schwalbe says this material helps reduce air loss, and it also reduces overall weight as compared to Schwalbe’s lightest butyl tubes. The Extralight tube, according to Schwalbe, weighs about 140 grams, while the Aerothan tube comes in right around 90 grams.
Schwalbe presents plenty of data about the Aerothan’s puncture protection as well. It’s important to note that the tube is available for road, MTB, and multi-purpose use, so Schwalbe tested for punctures that occur in all those types of riding conditions — think everything from a nail through the tread to a typical snake-bite flat.
And on top of that, Schwalbe claims the Aerothan tube improves ride quality and has some of the same ride characteristics of a tubeless system.
That’s all a lot of big claims. I have some samples here at VN HQ, and I’ll be testing them out over the coming weeks, so I’ll give you a sense of whether those claims check out.
One of the things I’m curious about is how the Aerothan is different from a Tubolito tube, which is also a polyurethane material used to create a lightweight tube. Schwalbe notes that the Aerothan is a brand new material and is especially heat-resistant, making these tubes suited to use with rim brakes. Then again, Tubolito also claims its tubes can be used with rim brakes, so I’ll have to dig in further to find the differences here.
Still, the weight and puncture protection of the Aerothan tube certainly seems promising.
The recycling conundrum
Schwalbe notes in its promotional material for the Aerothan that this TPU tube is 100% recyclable. That’s an admirable goal in the climate change era, but it’s also important to note that the term recyclable can be a bit too broad and problematic. The Aerothan, for its part, can indeed be recycled but cannot be recycled into another bicycle tube. Instead, it can be recycled into materials for other applications. That’s not bad, right?
It’s not. But it’s not great, either. Most plastics have a shelf life, especially once they have been recycled. The structure tends to break down over time, so after a certain amount of recycling, the plastic is still destined for the landfill where it will languish long after we’re gone.
This certainly isn’t an indictment specific to Schwalbe; the bicycle industry (and frankly, most manufacturing industries) will face a plastic reckoning sooner rather than later. Is the Aerothan a better solution than a butyl or latex tube? I’m no expert on the topic, but it is important to read more deeply into what the all-encompassing term “recyclable” actually means in a practical sense.
Why get excited?
While mountain bikers and gravel riders have embraced tubeless systems for its reliability, excellent ride quality, puncture protection, and other benefits, tubeless has not caught on as firmly on the road side. In fact, while WorldTour riders have raced on tubeless and even won stages at Grand Tours using tubeless set-ups, we saw some riders hedge back toward tube-and-clincher-tire setups this season. And most racers still ride tubular tires, since it’s possible to continue riding cautiously when they go flat.
If indeed racers are interested in hedging back toward tube and clincher tire setups, the Aerothan tubes can certainly provide some of the benefits of a tubeless setup like puncture protection and an exceptional ride feel, without having to commit to the tubeless system at all.
For the rest of us, it’s certainly much easier to stow this little guy in a seat pack or in a back pocket than your typical bulky, heavy, butyl tube. Is this the future of tubes? I’ll test out these bad boys and let you know.
The available models include:
- Aerothan Race (for road riding)
- Aerothan Endurance Race (for endurance road)
- Aerothan Allround (urban cycling and touring; gravel too, most likely)
- Aerothan MTB and MTB+
Pricing was not available at the time of publishing.