Airless Tires are Coming: Polaris Sportsman WV850

The concept of airless tires isn’t a new one – they have been used on small vehicles such as lawn mowers and golf carts for sometime. Airless tires (also known as non-pneumatic tires) have also been used on vehicles designed for operation in construction zones where tire punctures are likely. The value of airless tires is that they don’t go flat – they are generally filled with compressed polymers (plastics) instead of air. But we are now seeing airless tires being used in more conventional vehicles, and among the leading models is the Polaris Sportsman WV850.

Military inspiration

The inspiration for the Polaris Sportsman WV850 is the all-terrain vehicles of the military. Fitted with the airless TerrainArmor tires, the Polaris Sportsman is practically the ultimate four-wheel drive. The TerrainArmor tires are in a different league from the tires designed for use on construction sites – TerrainArmor tires can survive a military assault. A direct hit from a .50-caliber bullet? No problem – the vehicle could still drive for another 350 miles. Stabbed by a railroad spike? Not an issue – the vehicle could still drive for another 1,000 miles.

Clever design

The secret to the durability and resilience of these airless tires is their clever design. The inner structure of the tires is designed as a mesh-like construction – providing support for the weight of the vehicle but maximizing flexibility to absorb the impact of rocks and bumps. A tread design is still used and different requirements can be accommodated by different tread designs. The other features of the vehicle include a steel exoskeleton chassis and a 1,500-pound towing capacity.

Affordable pricing

The Polaris Sportsman WV850 retails for around $15,000.

Minimizing environmental impact

Research suggests that use of airless tires such as the TerrainArmor that are used by the Polaris Sportsman WV850 have a reduced environmental impact when compared to conventional air-filled tires – in particular only the outer tread section needs to be replaced.

Airless tire technology

Polaris are not the only carmakers investigating the potential for airless tires in every day motor vehicles. Michelin have released their Tweel tires and Bridgestone and Hankook have also released their own versions of the airless tire concept. Michelin’s Tweek concept is interesting because it doesn’t use a traditional wheel hub assembly – mounted to the axle is a solid inner hub that is surrounded by spokes made from polyurethane that are arrayed in a wedge-like pattern. The surface of the tire (the bit that comes into contact with the road) is formed by a shear band that is stretched across these wedge like spokes.

Airless tires have the potential to be one of the major innovations in motor vehicle manufacturing. You may never need to survive a military attack, you may never even have to tackle a rocky construction or demolition site, but we all know that our modern lifestyles often feel like a battlefield and anything that can help us survive this minefield (while also being a little bit more environmentally friendly) is definitely a step forward.

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The Polaris Sportsman WV850 retails for around $15,000.