The Ultimate Wheel and Tire Combo?
February 1st, 2012 by Jason Giacchino
The rough and tumble world of off-roading is particularly hard on tires and rims. Pinch flats, torn carcasses and dented rims are all commonplace. Michelin hopes to change all of that. Enter the “tweel” ; a system of spoked polyurethane and rubber that intends to send both the wheel and tire to the old technology retirement home.
As the tweel uses no pressurized air, flats, leaks and blowouts are impossible. Even more impressive is that the tweel is just as flexible as a rubber tire. Supple spokes of polyurethane connected to a hub give the tweel a degree of shock absorption. They also make for a natural connection to the outer surface. But here’s where things get really interesting: the outer surface of the tweel can be wrapped in a band of airless tire tread so that traction is in no way compromised. This thin band of belt-reinforced rubber would be replaceable and likely cheaper than the carcass of a rubber tire.
Even NASA wants the tweel for the most extreme off-road vehicle ever: the Lunar Rover. We suspect some of that tech will trickle down to the off-road market with amazing results in the rock-crawling, sand-duning, and snow-riding segments. It sounds almost perfect right? Well, yeah.
The one major flaw with the tweel system is vibration at high speeds – especially on paved surfaces. Negatively affected straight-line handling also puts a damper on hopes for high-performance, road-going tweels is also negatively affected. This might not be that big of a deal for offroaders, but it presents a serious problem for adoption in cars.
The good news is that the whole concept is still in its infancy. Michelin is confident they can achieve a wide variety of ride and handling qualities by varying the length and thickness of the spokes within the tweel.
Despite its flaws, the tweel certainly shows promise even as a prototype. It’s a little early for predictions but we think it’s pretty cool tech that will likely find its way to market in the near future.
What do you guys think? Tell us your opinion on the tweel in the forum.