The John Deere Z740R ZTrak zero-turn mower has a lot going for it: a mowing deck up to 60 inches, a 10 mph top speed and a 23.5-horsepower V-twin engine. That bad boy's got a four-year, thousand-hour warranty that would be bumper-to-bumper, if it had bumpers.
What it doesn't have is air in the tires. Nor does it need any, because the Z740R rolls on the sickest of low-pros: Michelin Tweels, which combine a "shear beam" (think: the skinniest of sidewalls) with flexible poly-resin spokes connected to a hub. It's a tire and wheel in one, hence the name.
Now, when presented with an airless tire, you might think the first thing you'd do is try running over a nail. Wrong: you try running over two handfuls of nails, in the driveway of a friend's farm. This had no effect whatsoever, so I lined up a trio of nails in my own mini spike strip to see what would happen. The Z740R rolled over the nails, which lodged harmlessly in the tread and impeded the mower not at all.
Feeling cocky, I placed a brick in the driveway and drove over that, the Tweel deforming around the masonry and then springing promptly back into shape. It's simultaneously like a zero-profile performance tire, a run-flat, and an off-road balloon tire aired down to 10 psi.
Satisfied with my Tweel experiments, I roared off to mow approximately half a football field in five minutes, which is possible when you're hacking a five-foot swath at 10 mph.
One Tweel downside is that on high-and-tight lawns and zero-degree turns, the relatively sharp edge of the sidewall can leave marks on the grass. That wasn't an issue in my gnarly test bramble, which is usually mowed by a tractor the size of a Victorian manor.
On the Z740R ZTrak, Tweels are a $580 option. That's a good deal, given that this size Tweel costs $599 each from Michelin. (And yes, they'll fit some other mowers, if you want to retrofit.)
Michelin is now also making off-road Tweels for UTVs, small turf-friendly models for golf carts, and even skid-steer Tweels. While the up-front price is certainly more than you'd pay for a pneumatic tire, Michelin says that the tread on a Tweel should last two to three times longer than a conventional tire-and it can be retreaded.
OK, so where's my automotive Tweel? I want my car to look like a Mars rover as soon as possible. Right now the max speed rating for a Tweel is 50 mph, but I hold out hope for car-sized Tweels.
Because I'm not sure I found all those nails I dropped in the driveway.
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