Tires. Simplified.

Ever wondered what you need to know in order to make a well informed decision on a wheelchair tire? What kind of tires are out there and how do they work? What tread works best in rain, or in snow? How do you interpret what tread does what and which is best for you? What type of tire is better; Air, rubber or foam? We have put together a wheelchair tire cheat sheet that will help you make an informed decision on what tire best suits your needs.

01. Tire Tread:

Wheelchair Tire tread varies enormously and it can be difficult to interpret what a tread pattern is designed for without knowing a few basic rules.

_Bigger_ taller knobs are considered an aggressive tread and tend to dig deeper for a better grip_(1)

1A. Directional Tread:

i.   Directional patterns (a ‘V’ type pattern) are designed to roll in one direction to increase speed

ii.  The direction of the ‘v’ can be reversed to boost grip

iii. Other tires are uni-directional (this could be a diamond pattern or straight lines.)

1B. Knobby Tread:

i.   Tread knobs provide traction in rough terrain, designed to dig into wet surfaces to grabbing wet rocks or roots.

ii.  Bigger/ taller knobs create an aggressive tread and dig deeper for a better grip. These toothy tires run slower on hard packed surfaces with the knobs sapping the speed and reducing rolling resistance.

iii. Low-profile knobs are recommended for the wheelchair user prefer speed and spend more time on hard packed surfaces.

1C. Knob Spacing:

i.   A tread pattern with tightly packed knobs will roll faster in dry conditions; but will easily become tightly packed with mud.

ii.  Widely-spaced treads grip better in the wet and are also better at shedding dirt.

iii. In wet conditions you want wider spaced knobs that allow a passage for water while still providing a tacky grip.

iv.  It is also important to note that for the best traction in rough terrain a wider tire is preferable; in the city on hard packed surfaces a narrow high pressure tire gives you maneuverability and speed in tight spaces.


02. Tire Pressure:

The pressure in your tires help determine the softness of the ride, speed and maneuverability of your chair.

i.   The right amount of pressure (not to hard, not to soft) can offer a softer ride over bumpy surfaces and provide that tactile grip which is important on wet surfaces

ii.  The greater the pressure the less resistance and the firmer the ride, which can be very bumpy and hard on your body. (For some individuals the bumpier the ride the more likely there will be skin break down because of the friction.) However on flat surfaces this can allow for greater speed.

iii. Pneumatic (air) tires give you the softest ride because the air pressure softens into hard edges allowing for a smoother ride and providing more traction on all surfaces.

iv.  Tire pressure does effect energy cost of wheelchair propulsion but not until they are deflated to more than 50% of the recommended inflation.

03. Types of Tires:

There are three different types of tires and many variations within each type. Each comes with benefits and draw backs. Here is a basic outline to simplify what you need to know about each type.

3A. Pneumatic Tires (Air Tires)

_the most effective on tougher terrains_

i.   Pneumatic tires require a tube filled with air to fill in the pressure between the tire and the wheel.

ii.  These tires, while requiring the most maintenance, are the most effective on tougher terrain allowing for a slight compression in the tire when going over uneven surfaces.

iii. Pneumatic tires are widely used on most manual and power chairs because they are generally lighter, shock absorbing and offer good traction on most terrain types.

iv.  There three main widths of pneumatic tires that are used for manual chairs.

1.   You have the super wide tire, which is usually knobby best used for off-roading. They are generally filled with 60 Psi for better traction

2.   You have the mid-sized tire with 60psi for greater traction on a variety of surfaces, but not designed for speed.

3.   The narrow high pressure pneumatic tires work great on hard surfaces like pavement or packed dirt, and are great for speed and maneuverability. They are the easiest to get stuck in snow or mud, as the narrow base quickly digs into the softer snow or mud causing you to spin out.

v.   Pneumatic tires require a fair amount of maintenance and upkeep.

1.   Be aware of the of the air levels and make sure that you top up your tires up to a few times a month depending on the type of tire. Always top up tires that haven’t been used in a while.

2.   Other concerns are flat tires. You have to be careful of running over jagged rocks, glass and other debris like nails or thumbtacks that can pierce the inside tube.

3.   If you wheel on low or flat tires you comprise the sidewalls of the tire causing them to crack.

4.   Tires need to be replaced when the tread is worn down or cracked.

vi.  With proper care and maintenance these tires can last as long as the tread does, which varies by tire.

3B. Urethane Tires

_ fully puncture proof and low maintenance._(1)

i.   Urethane Tires are filled with a solid Urethane Rubber. Designed to be fully puncture proof and low maintenance.

ii.  You can have the whole tire as urethane and you can also buy a solid tube insert to use with a pneumatic tire.

iii. These tires do not have the same give as pneumatic tires making them less effective on rougher terrain. Also because they are a solid tire they tend to weigh much more.

iv.  It is still important to watch for tread wear and split tires.

v.   These tires are very difficult to install as they must be stretched to the rim.

vi.  The new High density urethane tire uses a combination of technology, compounding and design to create a tire that performs well in almost all types of terrain. Because of the new features created by the honey comb and new formula, shock is distributed through the tire as if it was almost air. It still weighs much more than a standard pneumatic tire.

vii. Urethane tires are recommend for indoor use only; great for sports; not recommended for everyday use as they can cause skin breakdown on some individuals due to the bumpy ride

3C. Foam Filled Tires

_...more grip then a urethane tire and are used more often outside._(1)

i.  Foam filling is a two part component system, where the air in a tire is displaced and the entire cavity is filled with a soft polyurethane rubber. Once the polyurethane is cured it creates a soft, resilient rubber core with flexing characteristics similar to that of an inflated tire.

ii.  Foam tires have more grip then a urethane tire and are used more often outside.

iii. Foam filled tires are 100% maintenance free.

iv.  They are designed to take up to 400lbs of weight making them a good choice for power chairs or scooters.

v.   The new duel density foam filled tire is filled with a soft polyurethane inner core combined with a standard urethane to make a softer ride much like a pneumatic tire. Making them the next best thing.

vi.  Duel Density tires are flat free and come in a non-marking black tire


Wheelin' Mobility can help you find the tire that is right for you. We can tell you what is new in the market and what the best recommended tire is for your chair. Give us a call, we are here to help.