It’s one of those things that many of us have been unfortunate enough to experience – crawling onto the hard shoulder of a busy motorway and enduring the stressful task of changing a wheel due to a pesky puncture (it seems compulsory that this happens when it is raining and you’re en route to an important meeting).
Luckily, the traditional full-size spare wheel went the way of VHS and became a thing of the past a few years ago; bringing an end to the dangerous roadside undertaking and making way for other technologies to help reduce the effect of punctures. Going one step further and aiming to send punctures into the history books entirely, Bridgestone have announced their airless tyre is moving ever-closer to production.
Named the 'Air Free' concept tyre, the project was originally announced by the company back in 2011 and featured the mission statement that 'To create and develop a viable alternative to conventional tyres that is also more environmentally friendly and more sustainable'.
The first generation concept was unveiled at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show and was unlike anything that anyone had seen before. Ever since the first concept came along, the tyre has undergone a long period of testing on ultra-light vehicles and is now in its second generation.
The Airless concept tyre consists of three main parts: an aluminium inner wheel, a rubber-based outer tread and thermoplastic resin spokes that create the body of the tyre. Seen here in a striking blue colour, the unique spoke system replaces the conventional tyre body by creating a durable yet flexible inner assembly that can easily support around 150kg.
Thanks to the interlaced structure, any sharp object that was to pierce the outer tread will have zero effect on the running ability of the tyre. True to the original mission statement of the project the interlaced structure also helps to improve the sustainability of the tyre; bringing forth the ability to simply recycle each tyre into a new unit.
Whilst the clever spoke system is a blessing when it comes to a future of not worrying about tyre pressures or punctures, it does suffer from one small problem: items becoming lodged between the spokes. Bridgestone say that this issue has been a major focus during testing and that the concern has been solved due to the nature of the system – “As the distance between the spokes changes while the vehicle is moving, objects will generally come lose".
To date, on going testing has only been undertaken at speeds of up to 37mph on vehicles that weigh up to 410kg. With Bridgestone's recent announcement that the tyre could be ready for production in the next two years, we can assume that small city cars will be the first to receive the tyre; further boosting their appeal in a world that grows ever more concerned with the environment and value for money.