Michelin X Tweel: No Air and Still Not Flat.
- 8. February 20228. February 2022
- E-Bike News, E-Cargo News
What does electronics have to do with a bicycle tyre? At first glance, very little. Okay, there are now sensors that electronically transmit the tyre’s air pressure. Apart from that, however, it is a little surprising why Michelin is presenting its latest bicycle tyre at one of the world’s largest electronics trade shows, the CES. Especially since there is no air pressure on the tyre that can be detected electronically.
No more unwanted pit stops
Michelin has deflated the X Tweel for e-cargo bikes. Oh no, wrong. There was never any air in any inner tube or anything like that. The tyre manufacturer presented the prototype of a completely airless tyre. In a combination of wheel and tyre, it is supposed to provide more safety when transporting heavy loads. According to Michelin, the X Tweel will successfully prevent flat tyres, maximise uptime and minimise problems. The latter are two key arguments aimed more at large fleet operators.
E-cargo bike from Coaster Cycles with Michelin’s X Tweel airless tyre at CES.
Behind the new introduction is technology that Michelin has been using for several years. Construction machines, tractors and lawn mowers in particular roll across our planet on X Tweel Airless radial tyres. Now the French company has slightly modified the product and tailored it to another application.
You have to give way sometimes
The basis is still a complete wheel consisting of tyre, rim, spokes and hub. As said, there is no inner tube and no valve. The spokes hardly resemble anything you would normally find on a bicycle. Seen from the side, they are curved in different ways and are more like a blade than a narrow stick. They are made of a polyresin. Under greater resistance, they give way without breaking. This can be seen particularly well in slow-motion shots in which such a tyre rolls over a heel. The spokes bend considerably, the space between them is compressed, so that almost a complete system failure is to be feared. Yet this is only the way in which an X Tweel dampens vibrations and absorbs shocks.
When the Michelin X-Tweel Airless radial tyre hits an edge, it is pretty much compressed.
Contact with the ground is ensured by a rather thin tyre in terms of material thickness. This is not designed to prevent every puncture by a pointed or sharp-edged object. Instead, such annoyances are simply allowed to penetrate the structure. After all, there is nothing inside that they could destroy. Just a reminder: no tube, no air of any kind. Everything that is firmly stuck in the ground stays right there after the tyre rolls over it. What happens to the things that are loose, we cannot say. Does the X Tweel pick them up involuntarily? A test would have to show that. Michelin promises in a press release that in any case the riding behaviour would be comparable to that of a pneumatic tyre.
Even such large nails do not stop the tyre.
Is the end of the tubular tyre near?
In total, the manufacturer puts forward eight points in which it believes its product has an advantage over conventional tubular tyres.
1. Fewer flat tyres and thus less downtime and costs.
If the X Tweel works as described, this could well be the case. For logistics companies or food delivery companies, this would mean fewer delays and repairs, and thus hard cash. And each of us would probably love to do without tube patches and tube swaps.
2. More stability in curves and thus faster delivery
The plus in safety due to greater stability may also come true. Whether delivery times are shortened because the tyres can be driven through bends a little faster is doubtful.
3. Higher load capacity compared to pneumatic tyres
With regard to e-cargo bikes, this is a very important factor. Even today, the more spacious cargo bikes are approved for a maximum weight of far more than 200 kilograms. It takes quite a bit of innovation to be prepared for this. Schwalbe also offers a special solution in this area with the Pick-Up. However, there is certainly room for a few more competitors in this segment.
4. No tyre maintenance or flat repairs required
The question is whether the costs saved by lower maintenance are worth it when the tyre on the X Tweel wears out and then a complete wheel has to be replaced. The purchase price, which Michelin has not yet commented on, also counts in this calculation.
5. Easier assembly due to fewer parts
Sure, just put the wheel in, lock the quick release or thru axle and go, sounds great. But that’s already similar with every complete wheel today. What is really eliminated, of course, is the fitting of the tyre and tube. However, the predefined hub probably also means that options such as a hub dynamo or a shifting hub are omitted.
6. Extended range due to lower rolling resistance
If tests prove this statement, this would be one of the biggest advantages of the X Tweel. After all, both private individuals and companies benefit from longer ranges.
7. Improved end-of-life reuse and recyclability
In order to judge this, we lack a little insight into the exact composition of the X Tweel. In principle, however, it can be said that the recycling of polyresin, for example, is technically quite demanding.
8. Improved tyre wear
Based on its experience in construction machinery or agricultural applications, Michelin certainly knows quite well how durable these wheels are. The most vulnerable link in the chain is probably the actual tyre with its tread. It is quite possible that the manufacturer is working here with a compound that can very well match alternatives from Schwalbe & Co.
Cooperation with bicycle manufacturer from Boston
At the CES, Michelin showed up together with Coaster Cycles. The X Tweel was on display on a cargo bike called “Parcel AW” from the US manufacturer. Founded in 2004 by current CEO Ben Morris, the company has a total of four electrically assisted cargo bikes in its range. All of them make a very good impression judging from a distance. Apparently, they are sophisticated solutions that consistently rely on the Cargoline drive from Bosch and are partly equipped with stepless automatic gear shifting from Enviolo.
E-cargo bike Parcel AW from Coaster Cycles in the original.
According to Ben Morris, he started with a few of his own pedicabs and from that developed the idea for a cargo bike and with corresponding builds. Now Coaster Cycles considers itself ready to take the next step. At least that’s what Jesse Bartholomew, Vice President Product, says: “Coaster has been pushing the limits of what’s possible in e-mobility and leading the way in innovative solutions for last mile delivery providers. The Michelin airless radial tires will help our customers make safer, more efficient, and faster deliveries with no down-time. We’re proud to partner with Michelin on such an exciting project.”
At home on the streets of Boston – cargo bikes from Coaster Cycles.
Pictures: Michelin; Coastercycles
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