In mid-May, Michelin held a press conference to announce the expansion of its Tweel line of airless tire and wheel assemblies. The company has already released versions of the Tweel for lawn care equipment, golf carts and even skid steer loaders. Now it’s introducing a Tweel designed for the UTV market, specifically for those UTVs used in applications like farming.
“The idea of the Tweel is a single unit that replaces a tire and wheel assembly,” said Tony Marconi, the brand’s technical expert. “That’s how it got its name, the Tweel. It’s not disassemble-able. There have been zero-pressure solutions in the past. We’ve seen run-flat tires, but the idea of the Tweel is it doesn’t need air pressure to begin with.”
Tweels use a semi-rigid “shear beam” (the outer surface with a conventional tire tread on it), which forms the tread surface and acts like a mechanical spring. High-strength poly-resin spokes bind it to a central hub which bolts onto a UTV axle like a conventional tire rim. This design allows the tread surface to flex, creating a larger footprint than a conventional tire, minimizing ground pressure, increasing floatation and helping improve tread life.
“When we started looking at the utility side, we targeted construction, mining and farming applications,” said Justin MacLanders business development manager at Michelin.
The brand has had a number of Tweel-equipped UTVs out on field trials with farmers for several years. The results, said MacLanders, have been very good.
“We actually had some farmers we were testing with pull their pickup trucks out of the mud with their UTVs on Tweels,” he added.
“We don’t think we’re a tire supplier,” added Olivier Brauen, vice-president of Michelin Tweel Technology. “We think we are a mobility provider, so Tweel was inspired from the beginning for that purpose.
“The project started in 2005, when we showcased our first prototype. In 2012 we launched our first Tweel targeting skid steer loaders. Then we moved to the next product for the turf care industry. In 2017 we launched another application for golf carts. The question now is what’s next. And what’s next is the Tweel for UTVs.”
To start with, Michelin will offer UTV Tweels in 26-inch diameters with two different hub bolt patterns — a 4 x 156, which fits most Polaris UTVs, and the 4 x 137, which fits Can-Am, Kawasaki and Textron UTVs.
“There are a lot of bolt patterns in the industry, but starting out we’re trying to target the largest group of them,” said MacLanders.
The company has set a target retail price of between US$600 and US$700 per Tweel, roughly double the price of a high-end radial tire and rim combination or three times the cost of a bias tire and rim. But Tweels are expected to have a much longer service life
“What we’re looking at is about two to three times the wear life of a traditional tire,” said Marconi. “We’re using a high-grade automotive tread rubber.”
At this stage, however, the Tweel units aren’t a good fit for recreational UTV use. Although they’re rated for a load of 715 pounds (325 kilograms) each, their top speed is limited to 37 m.p.h. (60 km/h).
“We wanted to start out in the utility market where there really isn’t a need for high speed,” said Marconi. “We’re not fully confident in the durability at sustained high speeds. It’s not like it’s going to come apart at high speeds, just that we’d like to advance the technology a little bit more so you get the long, long life you expect from a Michelin product. We’re taking a conservative approach for now, but we expect future evolutions to be capable of higher speeds.”
“As the product matures and we make improvements,” Marconi said, “we’d like to move toward the recreational market where high speeds are more important.”
Michelin will make the UTV Tweels available through its network of dealers and online.