It doesn’t take long for new owners of ATVs and Side x Sides to develop not only their riding skills, but their mechanical aptitude as well, especially when it comes to changing and repairing tires. As one quickly learns, the low-pressure tires are prone to cuts, punctures, and leaks, sometimes for no apparent reason. On a weekend adventure ride that’s a bit of an annoyance and we, like many riders, carry a plug kit and small compressor for just such an occasion. When it happens on the job site, on the farm, or during other more critical tasks it means machine down time, lost productivity, and missed deadlines. The new Michelin X-Tweel airless UTV wheel is designed to eliminate the problem and to keep you rolling.
ON A ROLL
Michelin’s first tire was for bicycles, but in the 130 years since that product was introduced the company has grown into arguably the world’s premier tire company, making tires for everything from passenger vehicles, to huge mining trucks, and even the space shuttle. Most of those tires have been the standard pneumatic variety, but interestingly enough they developed the first self-supporting run-flat tire way back in 1934. The X Tweel UTV wheel is designed for exactly the same problem but with modern materials and a highly developed package.
The new Michelin X Tweel UTV airless radial tire is a direct descendant of all Michelin has learned from their development of run-flat tires for other vehicles. They like to call it a “highly-durable, non-pneumatic alternative to conventional tires”. We’ll just go with problem solver. Here is how it works.
The X Tweel is a single piece unit comprised of a tough, steel rim that bolts to your ATV or Side x Side, but in this case the tire is permanently joined to the wheel. Where ordinary tires have a rubber carcass that presumably holds air, the Tweel has a configuration of pliable, full width poly-resin spokes that both maintain the round shape of the tire and deform over trail bumps, in some ways creating a secondary suspension. At all times the resin spokes work to retain the original shape and this means the vehicle axle actually hangs from the upper parts of the wheel. This creates a larger contact patch at the bottom for better traction, while the deflection over trail obstacles improves ride quality. The spokes do not allow for side to side deflection however, and where an ordinary tire tends to roll in corners and can feel imprecise, the Tweels remain centered over the wheel hub. Basically, the X Tweel UTV wheel is designed to perform like a standard tire and wheel but with a rugged, zero-maintenance solution. The benefits are:
- Zero down time from flat tires – more time on the job or trail
- High damage tolerance - You would probably have to run over a landmine or burn it to hurt the X Tweel
- No need to carry tools or repair kits exclusively for tires.
- No ongoing maintenance from pressure changes, either seasonal or by slow leaks.
- Less tire bounce from the balloon effect of pneumatic tires.
- Steel wheel for extreme durability
- Spokes create secondary suspension to vehicle suspension – smoother ride
FIT AND FINISH
A quick check of the Michelin specs shows that each Tweel weighs about 50 pounds, which puts them a little over many stock tires and wheels but definitely in line with most aftermarket setups. We were anxious to see how they performed.
We installed the X Tweel UTV tire and wheel on a Kawasaki Mule Pro FX. The Mule Pro is definitely one of the toughest, hardest working machines available and we’ve used one for everything from hauling firewood, to picking rocks from the fields, and even at a local ball diamond renovation project. When there is a tough job to do the Mule Pro is our first choice. They run great, they handle excellent, and they are as tough as, well, a mule. Since the Mule Pro FX has a load rating slightly under a pair of X Tweels (715 lbs. each) the two were very well matched. Installing the X Tweels was easy enough; jack up the machine, spin the lug nuts off with your handy impact, and then slip the new Tweels on. It was time to get the Tweels spinning!
THE X-TWEEL DEAL
The main purpose of Tweels is to eliminate the possibility of flats, but there are other benefits as well. They ride extremely smooth! Much like a basketball deforms and returns to shape, some tires can create a bit of a bouncy ride. The Tweels don’t have this tendency since the web spokes support the wheel from above and below while the contact patch on the ground remains flat. The large, flat contact patch also means better flotation on muddy or soft ground, and less compaction on seedbeds or sensitive turf. Where the round profile of a tire leaves a sunken ditch in muddy terrain the X Tweels leave a slight depression that looks like you dragged two wide, flat skids along. On muddy or slick ground the feel is somewhat different than an ordinary tire, almost like you are sliding a bit at first, but the Tweels settle in and drive you forward. We tried the X Tweels on snow with the same effect. No doubt you could still get hopelessly stuck with the X Tweels just as you could with a tire, but if you stay out of the mud pits the semi-aggressive, open tread of the Tweel will pull you through. Climbing steep grades was no problem as well, and braking felt no different.
One thing we were concerned about with the X Tweel was cleanout between the web spokes. All that open space leaves huge potential for unbalanced load! No doubt Michelin engineers considered that as well and thankfully the Tweels shed mud and snow as you roll along. We would not advise letting the mud dry or snow freeze between the spokes, however.
We did notice a difference in handling from the Tweels. Tire sidewalls flex in corners making the handling feel imprecise, especially in tight turns or when driving aggressively. The webbed spokes of the X Tweel cannot flex however and the handling is very precise. Small input to the steering wheel can be felt, but it was never a problem and we actually preferred the more precise feel. Where you steer is where it goes!
Finally, the X Tweels are extremely quiet. Whether crossing a bean field or paved street the Tweels exhibit almost zero tire noise. They’re probably the quietest tire / wheel we’ve ever tried. Even when operating on a paved street you’ll hear almost nothing but engine noise.
The airless radial Michelin X-Tweel UTV wheels are a unique solution to flat tires. You probably won’t see many at the dunes or mud runs, but if you need your hard-working Side x Side to be ready to go all day and every day on the farm or job site, the X Tweel UTV wheel will definitely keep you rolling. Keep the air compressor and tire gauge in the shop.
TIP: The Michelin X Tweels use a raised seat formed into the wheel for each lug nut, just like the wheels on your truck. This works to both center the wheel, and as a tensioning tool to keep the lug nuts tight. However, if your UTV comes with a flat washer type flange nut to hold the factory wheels on you will need to install cone shaped lug nuts.