We define a balloonbike as an everyday or touring bicycle with particularly large volume tires. With tires widths between 50 and 60 mm it is possible to build a very comfortable bicycle without elaborate suspension technology. The voluminous air cushion of the tires is used as natural suspension. With approx. 2 bar a balloonbike rolls wonderfully easily and with a full suspension effect. A standard tire at a width of 37 mm must be inflated hard to 4 bar to achieve a comparably good rolling performance.
With Big Apple the trend towards wider tires started in 2001. They were meant as an alternative for the full suspension trekking bikes which were very popular in these days. Suitable bicycles for these wide tires were not yet available in these former days. However, the concept was convincing and a large number of bicycles were then developed especially for this concept.
As early as in the beginning of the 20th century, balloonbikes had already been very popular. They were designed to compensate for the worst unevenness´s on the many poor roads. But in these days tire technology was not very developed and the tires were heavy and sluggish. In contrast to that a Big Apple is clearly lighter and smoother.
In tests the German Sport University Cologne certified balloonbikes a similar comfort as a full suspension bike. On a test course approx. 25 percent less acceleration at the lumbar spine was measured with Big Apple tire equipment
(60-622, 2 bar) than on the same bicycle with standard tire equipment. Compared to that a full-suspension bike could reduce the acceleration at the lumbar spine by 33 percent.
In contrast to that the balloonbike is clearly cheaper, lighter and requires less maintenance. In addition, the “tire suspension” responds well, an advantage which is more important in everyday life than a long suspension travel. On a cobblestone test course the Big Apple tire equipment could reduce the vibration at the handlebars by approx. 36 percent, whereas two trekking suspension forks tested in parallel hardly responded to the inconvenient vibrations.
Of course, a balloonbike can also be combined with other suspension systems. A high-quality conventional suspension can further increase the suspension comfort, as certain damping effects complement one another.
Balloonbikes are meant to make cycling more comfortable in everyday life. On poor cycle lanes or coarse cobbles, the “tire suspension” principle works clearly better than a conventional suspension system.
If the regular comfort of your inflated tires is enough for you, you do not need a balloonbike. Especially ambitious cyclists will not necessarily be happy with them. Road racers for example ride very narrow tires, as they are lighter and allow faster acceleration. However, during a steady ride and constant speeds around 20 km/h wide tires roll more easily and are much more comfortable.
The suspension travel of the tire is, as a matter of fact, limited. Balloonbikes are certainly neither suitable as a substitute for full suspension mountain bikes.
This is, of course, possible in general. However, most of today’s normal trekking or city bikes will not offer enough clearance for a balloon tire. Please observe the following points, when you intend to assemble a balloonbike on your own.
Fitting dimensions. The frame or the fork must offer enough clearance for the tire. The exact dimensions of our extra wide tires are given in chapter “Tire Dimensions”. In most cases the tire height is of higher importance than the tire width.
Bottom bracket height. Using 60 mm tire equipment instead of the usual 37 mm tire equipment increases the overall height of the bicycle by two centimeters. For comfortable ground contact for the feet the bottom bracket should be lowered. Caution: Bicycles with lowered bottom bracket should not be fitted with narrow tires for safety reasons. The pedals could touch the ground in a bend.
Foot space. The feet should not touch the front wheel during pedaling. It is difficult in general to observe these conditions with large 28 inch wheels and small frame sizes. The wide tires will enlarge the outer circumference of the wheel. It is therefore easier to design a balloonbike at 26 or 27.5 inches for small to average size persons.
Steering geometry. Do not use a frame designed to be used with a suspension fork. As a rigid fork is significantly shorter, the steering characteristics could change unpleasantly.
Mudguard. The mudguard must provide enough space for the wide tires. Especially for the 60 mm BIG APPLE, SKS offer the extra wide mudguard P65.
Brake. If you have rim brakes, make sure they offer enough clearance for tires and mudguard. In some V-brakes the brake arms are not long enough.