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Schwalbe has released the Aerothan tube, made from a thermoplastic material that's completely different to that used for most standard tubes. Available in various sizes for road, gravel and mountain bike markets, it's an extremely lightweight tube that is claimed to be more puncture resistant than butyl tubes and to improve rolling resistance, but might not be possible to repair.
How can you test an inner tube? It was a question that was raised immediately when the new Aerothan tube came in for testing. It is a valid question, so I came up with a plan to attempt to test it fairly and compare it to a traditional butyl tube.
The Aerothan is a thermoplastic tube and Schwalbe has been working with chemical company BASF for over five years, developing and refining the material. It is available in eight different sizes, designed for road, mountain biking and gravel/trekking. All versions are claimed to be incredibly light, with the SV20E road version, which is designed for 23-28mm tyres, just 43g on my scales.
To put that into perspective, a standard tube for the same size will be 100-120g and a lightweight butyl tube around 80-100g. There are also some incredibly light butyl tubes such as the Continental Supersonic at just over 50g, but they are fragile and usually classed as race-only items.
Thermoplastic style tubes are not new and there are a few other companies making similar types, including Tubolito with the Tubo, which Neil reviewed a few months ago.
All the Aerothan tubes are only available with a single valve length of 40mm, so valve extenders will be needed for deep rims. The valve core is removable, so both types of extender could work, although the valve stem is plastic so extra care is required if changing the valve core or installing an extender.
Schwalbe claims the new Aerothan offer increased puncture resistance over a standard butyl tube, which would be impressive given the weight. Another popular option for racers are latex tubes; these are usually lighter, but also offer an improved ride quality and lower rolling resistance. The downside to latex tubes is that they do lose air far quicker, usually around 10 per cent lost within the first 24 hours, so checking and adding air is required before every ride.
The Aerothan is also considerably lighter than a tubeless setup when you factor in the heavier tubeless tyre, sealant and valve stem, and the claims for improved ride quality and extra puncture resistance are very similar to the benefits of going tubeless – if they prove to be true.
To find out, I used a 10km loop on a local road that has a mix of surface conditions but is mostly flat. Initially I rode a bike with standard butyl inner tubes, then after completing the loop I went to swap the tubes, before another lap of the circuit.
Unfortunately, in my haste I caught one of the tubes in the bead when inflating, and punctured it, creating a small hole. This my error, no fault of the tube, and almost certainly would have happened to either a butyl or latex tube. It did mean I could fast forward to Step 2, testing the puncture repair.
Repairing is apparently possible using Schwalbe glueless patches. The tube needs to be clean and dry before applying. However, when inflating with the repaired tube, the patch blew off well below riding pressure. I tried a second patch, this time pushing harder to ensure the glue had worked. It pumped up OK to my riding pressure of 80psi and I went to complete another lap.
Immediately, the difference in ride quality was noticeable, giving a smoother ride and muting road imperfections. Things didn't go so well with the repair, though, and less than 3km into the loop the patch failed again. Given that it was the front wheel and I had lost all confidence, I replaced it with a butyl tube and headed home unimpressed.
I later tried a third patch, this time pushing the glueless patch harder and then leaving it for 30 minutes to see if it needed time to set. This isn't practical for a roadside repair, but I wanted to see if it would work. Again, it was inflated to 80psi, and within five minutes the patch had failed.
I continued with the testing, though, now with just the single tube and on to step 3.
For this, the tube was inflated to 120psi and left for two nights to test its air-holding ability; over that time it lost no pressure, which is a big benefit over latex tubes for everyday use.
I continued to use the Aerothan in just the rear at my usual pressure of 80psi, and the performance – the comfort in particular – was brilliant. Around where I ride the hedges are being cut now it is autumn, and the risk of punctures is a little higher than normal. Okay, it might be more luck than anything else, but I did not suffer a puncture. I also tried to ride small, rougher lanes to see how it might cope and again it was fine. At times I would bounce on the wheels, look behind me and check to see if there was a slow puncture, as sometimes the ride just seemed too comfortable, or rather, significantly more comfortable than I am used to. It was almost exactly the same feeling as when I first used latex tubes, as they also improve the ride comfort.
While the material itself may be very tough, it can still be punctured, even if accidentally as I did, and given that the repair is not safe or strong enough, it essentially would mean that you still need to carry spare tubes and not rely upon the ability to fix it. I can imagine other people doing what I did, which is then £25 wasted. Schwalbe claims the glueless patch is the correct way to repair it, but this was not the case for me. I also tried using a Tubolito tube repair patch that I had, but this, too, failed.
Is there still a place for a tube like this? And would I recommend one or use one myself? This is where I am completely torn. If you had asked me the day after the first test I would have sworn no, but as I have continued to use it, the benefits have grown on me. It might be expensive for a tube, but for those looking to drop weight it offers better savings per gram than most other options.
It could also be a good option for a lightweight, very small spare, although disc brake riders might also look at the Tubolito S Tubo, which is half the weight again at just 23g and absolutely tiny. How reliable it would be I do not know, as although I own one and carry one mostly for events and big rides, I have not yet been unlucky enough to have to use it. The standard Tubolito Tubo that Neil reviewed is almost the same weight as the Aerothan, and available with three different valve sizes, with very similar claimed benefits.
Schwalbe really needs to find a viable repair solution to make the Aerothan tube a better option, even if the repair is only good as a 'get you home' type repair, but currently, in my experience, it is not even that. All that said, assuming you are far more careful than I was when installing and still carry a butyl spare tube, then the extra comfort it provides may be enough to make it worth it, and for those looking to save weight, it offers a good saving and for decent gram per £ cost.
Beautiful ride quality and very lightweight, but question marks over the ability to repair
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Schwalbe Aerothan inner tube
Size tested: 23-28mm
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Outstandingly light-weight, extremely robust: The tube revolution made of Aerothan
Aerothan is a material that completely redefines bicycle tubes: extremely light, with maximum puncture protection and designed for minimum rolling resistance.
The revolutionary new tube made of Aerothan achieves top values for elasticity, weight and puncture protection never seen before – and all that without rubber. For road bikes, mountain bikes and trekking bikes.
Of the Aerothan Race tube:
AEROTHAN TUBE RACE
For road riding with tubes, the Aerothan tube is the first choice. It offers low rolling resistance with dynamic, smooth riding characteristics. Compared to butyl tubes, a total weight reduction of 100g may be achieved for the entire bike. Aerothan Tube Race offers not only reliable puncture protection, but also safety when descending a mountain: Even when several emergency brakes are applied with rim brakes in short sequence, one can count on its heat resistance capacities.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
· Fully light-weight, right to the valve - about 40% less weight than a comparable Schwalbe extra light tube
· Puncture protection newly defined - the material itself prevents sudden air loss
· Minimal rolling resistance - maximum riding dynamics
· 100% recyclable
· Extremely heat resistant - certified for rim brakes · A stable ride - even with low air pressures
· Made in Germany
The construction is a little different to other thermoplastic tubes I have seen and used, and looks very good. No issues other than those inflicted by myself through the use.
Hard to argue against the claimed benefits and the extra comfort on offer is immediately noticeable and very effective. No punctures while riding in use, which may just be luck.
While the material might be strong and might be more puncture resistant, the inability to repair safely is a big compromise and ultimately means a single puncture could mean the tube can no longer be used.
Very light at 43g, lighter than all butyl tubes and all latex tubes. On a par with the Tubolite Tubo, although not quite as light as the Tubolite Tubo S version, but that is only suitable for disc brake road bikes.
Exceptional and very noticeable. Similar performance benefits to latex tubes, but without the need to inflate every ride.
Expensive compared to both butyl and latex tubes, although on a par with the other most common TPU tube from Tubolito.
Weight saving cost per gram is decent, although ultimately for a tube it is expensive.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Improved comfort was immediately noticeable and although not conclusive proof, I had no punctures in use.
The inability to repair is a big issue, though, and will limit its use for some riders or situations.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The extra comfort it provided.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Although it was my fault, the fact that I could not safely repair the tube was incredibly frustrating.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It is cheaper than its main rival, the Tubolito Tubo, which is £5 more but a few grams lighter. Compared to more standard butyl and latex tubes it is two or three times the price, and is over £10 more than even the Vittoria Competition latex tube, which is one of the most expensive tubes currently available.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, although very frustrating not to be able to repair it.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, though I would stress how important careful installation is, and that it might not be possible to repair it.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The performance seems to match the claimed benefits and I was very surprised by the improved comfort. That alone could make it a good option for some. Although the puncture was my own error, the inability to fix it was very frustrating and I think Schwalbe needs to have a viable repair option in place for the tubes when using them at road pressures.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is: Cannondale SystemSix
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, sportives, mtb,
Matt is an endurance nut who loves big rides and big events. He's a former full-time racer and 24hr event specialist, but now is also happy riding off-road on gravel bikes or XC mountain bikes and exploring the mountains and hills of Mid Wales.