New Cycling Tech: A Look at Self-Inflating Tyres and the 1X System by Matt Stephens

By Matt Stephens

Cycling technology is always evolving, with new innovations and advancements making their way into the sport every year. Two recent developments that have gained traction among professional teams are self-inflating tyres and the 1x system drivetrain. Although the latter has been around for a few years, it’s now being used on the road (and off) more than ever.

Self-inflating tyres, also known as “smart tyres,” have been in development for several years, but have recently gained popularity in pro cycling and were used in this years Paris Roubaix by the Jumbo Visma and DSM teams. These tyres are equipped with a small sensor that measures the pressure inside the tyre and adjusts it automatically via wireless controls on the handlebars. The main inflation system is situated in the hub with air travelling to the tyre via a tube tethered to a spoke.

The benefits of self-inflating tires are numerous. For one, they can help prevent flats by ensuring that the tyre pressure is always optimal, which is key in the cobbled classics. Overinflated or underinflated tyres can lead to a host of problems, including reduced grip, increased rolling resistance and a higher risk of punctures. By maintaining the ideal pressure at all times, the bike and rider become super optimal and the need for compromise reduced significantly.

Another advantage of self-inflating tyres is that they can adapt to different riding conditions. For example, if riding on rough terrain, the tyres can automatically adjust to a lower pressure to provide more cushioning and grip. On smoother roads, the pressure can be increased for greater speed and efficiency. This means that you no longer have to manually adjust the tyre pressure depending on the conditions. I can really see this technology extending out onto the gravel scene, for those really looking to hone their performance, although I do think some traditionalists won’t like it!

One of the leading companies in the self-inflating tyre market is Pirelli, which has developed a range of smart tyres for both road and off-road. These use a combination of sensors and electronics to monitor the pressure and temperature inside the tyre, and can adjust the pressure by up to 15% in real time. Other companies, such as Hutchinson and Schwalbe, have also entered this market, offering a range of options. The system used in Paris Roubaix this year was the ‘Scope Atmoz.’

Another recent development in cycling technology is the 1x system drivetrain. This refers to a single chainring setup that eliminates the need for a front derailleur, reducing weight and simplifying the gear system as well as reducing drag, making the bike more aerodynamic. Instead of having multiple chainrings at the front of the bike, the 1x system relies on a larger rear cassette with a wider range of gears. Both of my gravel bikes use this system and over time I’ve really got used to it and wouldn’t go back! Also, it offers me plenty of ‘emergency gears’ in case I’m not feeling too good…

A big advantage of 1x is that it simplifies the gear system. With fewer components to worry about, you can spend less time adjusting and tuning the bike and more time focusing on the ride. Also, there’s less to clean and get clogged up with mud! One of the leading companies in the 1x system market is SRAM, which has developed a range of drivetrain options for road and off-road. These systems use a larger rear cassette with up to 12 gears, which provides a super wide range of ratios, making it easier to climb pretty much anything, regardless of your fitness level. In fact I think that the 1x system is in part responsible for opening up even more varied terrain for everyone.

Whilst the 1x system is not without its drawbacks, such as a reduced range of gear ratios compared to traditional two or even three chainring setups, it has gained a strong following among pro cyclists for its simplicity, weight savings, aerodynamics and chain alignment optimisation, with none other than Wout Van Aert being a big fan. The Belgian all rounder used this system in this years Paris Roubaix and it’s a regular feature on his time trial bike set up.

I can see both of these technologies developing further, both are true game changers in my humble opinion!