If you’ve never driven a Tweel, it might be time to try one (or four to be more accurate). Named for its hybrid bent between a tire and a wheel, a Tweel is basically an airless tire held up with rubber spokes. Michelin, the company that developed it, says the spokes provide a unique energy transfer that reduces bounce associated with pneumatic tires while offering two to three times the wear life. Add because the tires have no air, you never have to adjust the air pressure or risk getting a flat.
Michelin makes a line of these airless tires for skid steer loaders, which it calls the X Tweel SSL. And this week, it announced it has updated its website with a dealer locator tab that lets you locate dealers who sell these X Tweel SSL airless radial tires in your area. You can search dealers by location (address, city, state) or by ZIP code. The tab can also be used to locate the Michelin X Tweel Turf, available on new John Deere ZTrak 900 B, M or R Series mowers.
Different companies make tires that don’t use air, including Bridgestone and Goodyear, and they go by different names: Non-pneumatic tires (NPT), airless tires, or run-flat tire are the most common.
The first time I drove NPT tires was in 2014, when Polaris invited the media to test drive its then concept SxS utility vehicle called the Ranger Hippo, which was scheduled to go into production that summer. Its airless tires were called Terrain Armor non-pneumatic tires (NPT). Jim Burk, who was the product manager for the Hippo, talked about how these tires won't go flat (think crop-stubble punctures) and won't get stuck in mud because the honeycomb design actually pushes mud out.
As I reported back then, I was floored by how the tires absorbed the bumps and seemingly rolled without noise or resistance. I asked Burk if we'd see this type of tire migrate to other types of vehicles in the future. "I think we will," he said.
Michelin says Tweels are best suited for low-speed vehicles that don't have suspensions and are prone to flats, such as lawnmowers and skid-steer loaders used on construction sides, but isn’t ruling out their use on other vehicles in the future.
Of course, they also have some drawbacks, such as noise and vibration at higher speeds, and factory infrastructures will need to catch up to make them.
But, all in all, these airless tires are definitely worth a test drive. And now, with its updated website, Michelin has made it easier to find them.
To learn more about the MICHELIN TWEEL airless radial tire, visit michelintweel.com.