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Why Airless Tires Kinda Suck

They really aren’t the answer – but why is everyone talking about them?

Here’s a question if normal road cars can beat some supercars in a traffic light drag race avoid crashes for you and even drive themselves why on earth are we still using tyres that are full of air they can get punches and can leave you stranded by the side of the motorway you pay hundreds of dollars for some new tyres and they could be instantly rendered completely

Useless by a nail some glass or even clipping a curb in the wrong way and we’ve been promised a road version of these sci-fi space tyres that nasa are using but that was nearly 10 years ago so where are they and why can’t i get some fitted to my volkswagen now before we get into these fancy new squishy tyres we should talk about what we have now and even though

Tyres may seem like just boring black donuts of rubber they’re actually very well designed on average they’ll last you around 30 000 miles varying on whether they are on a driven axle or not but that’s pretty good and they produce less noise than ever they have very good suspension characteristics and are mostly very comfortable and they are very predictable to

Drive and by that i mean when you get near to the limit of grip they break into a slide gradually and this means that the average driver can feel this happening and correct it before things go very wrong overall grip is improving too especially in the top end of things and over my racing career there has been a noticeable improvement in grip of the tyres on race

Cars and this is trickled down into road cars for example the latest honda civic type r on michelin’s cup two tyres can actually lap the nordschleifer faster than a lamborghini gallardo from 10 years ago and of course a lot of that is from other improvements but a significant proportion of that is from the advancement in tyre technology don’t forget the tire is the

Only bit that connects the car to the road surface this improvement also comes from the tire manufacturers endlessly tweaking construction and the compound of the tyre the compound is the specific chemical mix of the rubber as well as the endless list of additives they mix in they also tweak the tread patterns too and these are really clever being able to pump out

Gallons of water every second when in wet conditions but also providing loads of grip in the dry too but here’s the issue you go to the tire shop and you get four new tyres you could get a mile down the road and something as simple as a pothole or a nail could render the whole tire useless as well as leaving you stranded by the side of the road but that’s actually far

From the worst case what happens when the tyre lets go at high speed well i’m sure you know the crashes can be awful a tyre blowout could render you completely out of control and it happens more than you might think the u.s transport safety board say that over 30 000 incidents happen every year directly because of tire failures but even if these failures happen on

Your drive home one hole in the rubber means that the whole thing has to be scrapped michigan say that this is as much as 20 of all tyres sold 20 that’s 200 million tires wasted every year which if you stack the tyres side on would be a tower 21 000 miles high so in steps michelin with these fancy airless tires and they are mad look at how the weird spoke things

Compress and rebound i find them just absolutely fascinating to watch and well no air no punches you can drive over nails potholes whatever and they are just fine so that’s it problem solved right well unfortunately there is a lot more to it than that this is called the michelin uptus it’s a tire made from resin infused fiberglass and rubber to make these cool

Spokes and they sit between the wheel and the tread and it’s this bit that is the hardest to get right the spokes job is actually much more complex than you think because they have to have a suspension effect provide good side to side rigidity as well as not producing more rolling resistance than normal air tires and it turns out that this is actually really tough

Because good old air is very good at all of these things when a car is moving the tire is compressed at the point where it contacts with the road but then decompresses as the tyre rolls and loses contact with the ground with a material like rubber some energy is wasted as heat as a tire deforms during this process of loading and unloading and when you’re on the

Motorway cruising at 70 the rubber goes through this process a thousand times a minute so it makes sense that the energy wasted quickly accumulates the way of reducing this energy loss is by minimizing the amount of rubber used in the tyre and replacing this space with air which does not suffer the same energy loss as a result an air filled tyre is highly efficient

And also very lightweight reducing the unsprung mass of the car and improving both ride and handling and this explains why these tyres are taking so long to hit the market michigan have been working on them for 10 years already and still say the tyre won’t be available until 2024 at the earliest which is a real shame but for when they do get it right this design

Does introduce some really cool benefits to look forward to for example all of michelin’s prototypes have come with the tyre and wheel in one unit and yes this could frustrate those of you that like nice looking alloys me included but what it does mean is that you could fit them at home rather than taking the car to the tire shop and having the old tires taken off

And refitted to the original rim it would also mean that michelin could rework used tyres so imagine you do your 30 or 40 000 miles on a set of tyres they could then take these and retread them pretty easily and cooler still michelin are proposing to do this with a new 3d printing system sounds pretty far-fetched but we’ll see how quickly that happens this new tyre

Also requires much less steel than current tyres as there is no need for a steel wire carcass again reducing the energy you need to produce them but the main question i have is how good are they going to be on the track i’ve been racing all of my life and i’ve been lucky enough to experience lots of different tyres on track from f1 tyres to the eco tyres that they

Put on the gt86 and what’s great is that they are predictable breaking away gradually allowing you to correct a slide and maintain control in a race car predictability on the limit means confidence to play with the car at speed but these airless tyres are an unknown quantity and whilst i’m sure they are running tests on this i’ll be intrigued to see how they feel

On track or when you’re having a blast down a country lane would these tires break away in the same way would that weird lip by the tread dig into the road and could they take the same punishment that normal tyres can and this actually got me thinking about the spoke design maybe they could be tweaked to adjust this sort of thing in a way that normal tires can’t

Bear with me here and let me explain so imagine you’ve got a normal tyre and when you come into a corner the tyre actually stretches sideways as you load the car up this is normally a good thing but only up to a point if a tyre is too soft it can make the car very wallowy and indirect when you turn into the corner not giving the driver very much confidence in a

Normal tyre you can somewhat fix this by increasing the tyre pressure essentially making the tyre stiffer but the pressure also changes how much the tyre balloons and therefore how much of the tyre is it in contact with the road so basically you would want a higher tire pressure for sharper steering but this would reduce the overall grip of the tyre reducing the

Performance massively but these new tyres could allow for the best of both worlds the perfect vertical stiffness to keep the most contact patch with the road but also very stiff in the sideways direction to allow for precise steering now to me that is really cool and you could do the same on the other end of the scale imagine you’re in an s-class something that

Is all about comfort the tyre could be really squishy in the vertical direction but still handle corners fairly well whilst this is still a version one product there are two main things that michelin need to get their head around reducing weight and getting the price done and here’s the crux of it currently there is no price estimate for these tyres but i can’t

Imagine it is anywhere near low enough to make sense for normal drivers new cars keep on failing this cornering test and we explain why in this video here remember to subscribe to the driven media channel and i’ll catch up with you in the next one cheers and see you next time

Transcribed from video
Why Airless Tires Kinda Suck By Driven Media