Engineering a Run-Flat Bicycle Tire from Tennis Balls [VIDEO]

See this creative engineer improve on the wheel by fabricating a run-flat bicycle tire from tennis balls!

Since the invention of the bicycle in 1817, engineers have been searching for ways to improve it. Among the key improvements was the pneumatic tire in 1888. This not only improved the bike but also improved a much older invention…the wheel.

19th-century drawing of people in fancy clothes and top hats learning to ride a bicycle. They're in a big, empty room and riding in a circle.

For the record, the wheel is an all-time, top-5 human invention. Here’s my list.

All-time top inventions by humankind

  • Wheel
  • Lever
  • Electric power generation/distribution
  • Nintendo 64
  • The internet
  • Honorable mention: 1987 Ferrari F40 (prove me wrong)

Some would lump “fire” into this list, but I would argue that’s more a discovery than an invention. Also, the jury is still out if the internet is a net positive for humanity.

Engineers have been working to improve the wheel since day one

Person repairing a bike on a workbench. They're taking the gears off of the wheel.

  • Make it rounder.
  • Make the surface smoother.
  • Make it lighter.
  • Make it softer.
  • Use two together with an axle.
  • Add bearings to the axle.
  • Use four together with two axles.
  • Make it softer without getting flat tires.
  • Add steering.
  • And so on.

The crafty engineer in this video strives to solve several of those objectives in a single go. He wanted to make his wheel softer, smoother, and lighter, without going flat.

His solution is so creative that you’ll wish it was your own.

The problem:

Anyone who has ever ridden a bicycle, especially one with light-weight tires, has had a puncture. They come easily from a nail, a piece of glass, or even a thorn. Fixing them on the side of the road is a painful process, requiring tools, goo and time. It seems silly that a tiny puncture should cause an entire wheel to go flat.

The Hypothesis:

A bicycle with a flat tire.

What if the tire was made of many small cells, that could be punctured independently without the entire wheel failing? What if they had a little structure of their own, so they could all go flat and the wheel would still function? What if the wheel was made from everyday, household materials?

Can a functional bicycle tire be constructed from tennis balls?

The Solution:

The engineer began by forming sockets to hold each of the balls snugly. This was harder than it would seem and required the fabrication of a special tool to wedge each ball into place. This tool might be the best invention of the video.

Once he placed all the balls into their respective sockets, he drilled the original bike rim and attached each set with a post and a nut. Finally, he covered the surface with a tire tread to even out the lumps and provide traction on a smooth surface.

Final Judgment:

I would love to see version two of this invention. I think the key issue is how the tennis balls are mounted within the rings. He gained structure and a rigid mounting surface by placing them inside the rings, but I think this comes at the cost of the ride’s smoothness and traction.

In my opinion, version two could have mounting posts coming directly from within the tennis balls. The balls could be filled with material to add strength and rigidity. This could put the inventor back in the same position as V1, with heavy-stiff tires.

Version three could have an inner and outer rim stitched together to allow the tennis balls to be mounted without punctures or sockets.

Needless to say, I think this is an awesome solution to an everyday problem!

To learn more, check out The Q Science videos on YouTube.

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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.