We first showed you airless tire technology several months ago, thinking it would take a while for the technology to make it to market. We were wrong, but it might not impact motorcyclists for a long time, if ever.
Michelin has opened a plant in South Carolina that builds tires that don’t use the pneumatic technology that’s been around since the 19th century. Instead, they get their flexibility from a network of polyurethane spokes that bend to conform with terrain. Basically, the tire and the wheel have been combined into one unit, dubbed the Tweel.
The tires get their grip from an outer layer of rubber that can be replaced without throwing out the whole tire. The tire should have good grip – the rubber treads supposedly use radial technology.
For now, Michelin is only building the tire for lawn equipment, which makes sense. That’s an application that needs a lot of grip, but doesn’t need much in the way of high-speed performance. It’s hard to say at this point whether the Tweel, or similar technology, would ever be useful to motorcyclists, as our demands on tires are much tougher than the requirements of a four-wheeled vehicle.
However, the idea of a tire that will never go flat is certainly appealing. While the off-road community uses mousse technology to get around the problem of flat tires, the technique doesn’t really work on the street, and it would be interesting to see if Michelin or another manufacturer (Bridgestone is working on something similar to the Tweel) comes out with an airless tire for roadgoing motorcycles.