Air up, air down, air all around…
Though it’s not uncommon for serious off-road vehicles to have onboard air compressors to adjust tyre pressure to adapt to varying terrain, until now mountain bikers have had to stop and add or remove pressure manually. The fatbike fans at Belgium’s WhiteCrow Tech aims to change this.
The company’s patented Dynamic Traction Control concept consists of two major parts that allow the rider to pressurise or de-pressurise their tyres at the flip of a bar-mounted lever. The first component is a hub-mounted pump, which uses the rotation of the wheel to de-pressurise the tyre. The second is a (Schwalbe Procore-like) inner tyre chamber. The reason that the pump is used to de-pressurise (effectively suck air out of) the tyre is to take advantage of a higher-pressure tyre’s low rolling resistance when additional energy is needed to operate the pump and to make re-inflation quick and easy, especially when one goes too low. Using an inner chamber provides a relatively large, low-pressure storage space, which means that less energy is required to pump and the system needs not be engineered with high-pressure fittings or tubing. Because no air is drawn from the atmosphere, there’s also little chance of filling one’s tyres with water on rainy days.
The primary market for DTC appears to be fatbikes, which are particularly sensitive to tyre pressure. Variable tyre pressure could, in theory, make bikes of the plump persuasion more viable all-around machines, with less drag on the road or smoother trails but improved traction when the going gets rough or the snow deep. In and of itself, a Procore-like system should allow for especially low tyre pressures without burping or pinch flats, so there could be quite a bit of traction on offer here.
A few downsides do stick out, however. As currently conceived, DTC would require two pumping hubs – which would add a good deal of complexity to the the sort of bike that often does without suspension. There’s cost as wel l- no numbers have been put forth, but the Procore system alone is not inexpensive. For his part, Xavier Serret, WhiteCrow’s Chief Riding Officer, compares the system to gears: singlespeeds are clearly lighter, simpler, and cheaper than geared bikes, but most agree that the added range and fun is worth the cost. As with gears and suspension, the rider would hypothetically have the option to run the system on one or both ends of the bike, as preferences and local conditions dictate.
At this point, WhiteCrow has already invested nearly two years’ worth of research and development in the Dynamic Traction Control system. Some hiccups in the prototyping process have drained the company’s accounts and left it without rideable pumps. As a result, the company is seeking industry partners to help take the idea forward.
The system clearly has a number of potential drawbacks – but it remains an interesting one. And without rideable prototypes it may be hard to convince partners or consumers of its value. Are there any visionaries out there who are willing to help Serret and company take the idea forward?