As a truck driver, you have an unnaturally close relationship with tires. Heck, most truckers have at least 18 of them around them at most times during their freight-hauling day!
But what if you never had to worry about air pressure, blowouts, or swerving around a gator in the road ever again?
If you haven't met already, we'd like to introduce you to the tweel.
You heard us. Tweel. Part tire. Part wheel. No air. All awesome…in theory.
Basically, a tweel is an non-pneumatic tire and doesn't use a traditional wheel hub assembly. According to autoevolution.com, here's what a tweel is in words:
"A solid inner hub mounts to the axle and is surrounded by polyurethane spokes arrayed in a pattern of wedges. A shear band is stretched across the spokes, forming the outer edge of the tire. On it sits the tread, the part that comes in contact with the surface of the road."
In practicality, it looks like a low-profile tire on a really intricate aftermarket racing rim made of polyurethane spokes.
And it works! Sort of.
Though the technology is still a million miles away from your favorite tire shop, Michelin entered the airless tire market with its tweel prototype in 2006. Unlike a run-flat tire, a tweel isn't inflated at all. The spokes underneath the tread surface are firm yet flexible, which fill the shock-absorbing role of a traditional tire's pneumatic properties.
So…do they work? Well, here's the rundown:
- Increased safety and convenience of never having flat tires or blowouts.
- Excellent load bearing properties (some prototypes can handle as much as 3,850 pounds each)
- Performance can be tuned independently of each other
- Tread lasts two to three times longer than conventional tires
- Tread can be recapped, which means less environmental impact
- Tread patterns could eliminate hydroplaning
- You'll need ear plugs and a mouth guard. Initial tweel designs produce significant noise and vibrations at speeds above 50 m.p.h.
- Produces more friction compared to radial tires, which means worse fuel consumption.
Conclusion: Cool, but not ready yet
So, they might seem cool but tweels simply aren't viable for use in the freight hauling industry or by the general consumer today—unless you like driving less than 50 m.p.h.
However, there is one group of consumers that could currently use a bomb and bullet proof tire, no matter how loud it is on the highway – the U.S. military.
Since 2008, Resilient Technologies, LLC has been working on a multi-year, $18 million project with the U.S. Department of Defense and the University of Wisconsin–Madison to research and develop an airless tire specifically for use on heavy-grade military vehicles, such as Humvees.
As for the rest of us, the R&D folks at Michelin and other companies are still making advancements in tweel technology, so it could be a while before you can get your hands on one – or 18 – of these.