June 15, 2006 The pneumatic tire has been one of the stand-out commercially-successful inventions of history, with around 1.2 billion car and truck tires sold each year, and an indeterminate number of bicycle, motorcycle and RV tyres on top of that. Whatsmore, the better it works, the quicker it wears out, ensuring that there’ll be a market next year because 75% of the tires sold will be replacements. Quite remarkably, despite such ubiquitous usage, the pneumatic tire has a massive Achilles heel – lose the air and it stops the vehicle.
The most-read story in the history of this fine publication is about Michelin’s Tweel, the first viable alternative to the pneumatic tire in more than a century with its greatest asset being that it doesn’t go flat.
Now there’s another flat-proof inflation system based on individual balls or air cells that has evolved from motorcycle off-road racing, where to win, you need to be able to finish the race. Tire Ball not only offers virtual flat-proof characteristics but simultaneously improves traction and improves suspension performance.
Right now it’s a technology that’s only commercially viable for off-road RV and motorcycle racing but materials technology promises to ultimately lead to highway applications for the product. In addition to racing, the Tire Ball is also a natural for agricultural, commercial and military applications where a flat might cost you a whole lot more than time.
It works like this - balls (air-cells) replace the vulnerable inner tube or tube-less inflation system. The system is designed to retrofit to conventional tires and wheels and is lighter and more durable than foam inserts. In a motorcycle the best number of cells equates to somewhere between 28-36 Tire Ball cells with the effective tire pressure varied for the prevailing conditions by adding or removing Tire Ball cells or by adjusting the air pressure in the individual cells. Cell pressures can be adjusted from 10 - 12 psi for woods riding, 3-5 psi for Trials riding, and up to 16 psi for high-speed desert conditions and the good news is that as well as being lighter than most tubes, you can run much lower pressures for better traction, without worrying about flat tyres.
Each individual Tire Ball cell is made from materials that are claimed to be ten times more puncture resistant than conventional heavy-duty neoprene tubes. Punctures are still possible, but very rare. Instead of losing all the air in your tire, only one cell goes flat, allowing you to finish the ride without needing to lose countless places in a race, or spend 20 minutes fixing a flat in the middle of the woods when you’d rather be having fun.