tires July 21, 2017

Are Airless Tires a Possibility?

We’ve all been there – stranded with a flat, a sidewall bubble in a brand-new tire, or a tire with a mysterious, slow leak that we can’t seem to locate; and the resounding thought seems to be, “There’s got to be a better way! Why do we have to deal with the seemingly old-fashioned notion of air-filled tires? Non-pneumatic (or airless) tires would be so nice!

Airless tires are not unheard of; they are commonly used on golf carts, trailers, lawn mowers, mining equipment, heavy construction equipment, some military vehicles, and even some bicycles. But why don’t we have them for on-road passenger vehicles? The most common issues with current airless tires are:

  • Heat dissipation – the airless tires in production today are not good at dissipating heat. Because most of their applications are vehicles that don’t drive fast, it’s not an issue; but stick that tire on a highway vehicle and it will fail very quickly.
  • Noise the current air-filled tire industry often has a focus on noise reduction technology because nobody likes a noisy ride! Unfortunately, airless tires are nowhere near quiet enough for the average vehicle driver.
  • Rolling resistance – current airless tires have a higher rolling resistance than standard air-filled options, making them much less fuel efficient. To learn more about rolling resistance and fuel efficiency in pneumatic tires, click here
  • Less suspension current options offer less suspension than similarly sized air-filled counterparts, which means they offer a much bumpier, less comfortable ride.

But don’t get discouraged yet! Major tire companies have been developing prototypes for years to solve these issues and come up with viable, air-free tire solutions. Here are the 2 biggest developments in the works right now:

Michelin Tweel – this tire’s name is a clever combination of “tire + wheel” and describes its construction perfectly. It is comprised of a thin rubber tread band reinforced with a composite plastic belt. The tread is supported by V-shaped polyurethane spokes that are connected to a small, inner aluminum wheel. It was tested on Audis, and while the handling was promising, drivers reported excessive noise at high speeds. While they are still working on fixing issues for on-road vehicles, the Michelin X Tweel is available in multiple styles for golf carts, skid steer loaders, and other construction vehicles.

Bridgestone Airless Tire Concept this was Bridgestone’s answer to the Michelin Tweel. Similar in construction, it has a thin rubber tread supported by flexible thermoplastic spokes connected to an aluminum center wheel. Rather than the spokes being V-shaped like on the Tweel, this tire has inner and outer spokes that run in opposite directions to provide vertical support without twisting. The company claims that high-speed noise and vibrations are not issues with this tire, but there are other concerns. Before this concept tire can become a practical solution for everyday use, they need to stop debris from getting trapped in the spokes. Bridgestone also stresses the environmental benefits of their tire, using all readily recyclable materials in its design.

Hopefully, airless tires will be the way of the future! We could say goodbye to the pesky maintenance, unexpected flats, and accidents that come with pneumatic tires. We’d also love to see the environmental benefits of fully recyclable tires, rather than immense quantity of used tires that fill landscapes worldwide right now. The general time-frame estimates for how long it will be until we will see these kinds of tires hit the market is around 10 years. Until then, Wiygul Automotive Clinic can get you fitted with the best set of tires for your vehicle and driving preferences. Stop in to any of our convenient locations and our tire experts will get you a new set of tires in no time!

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