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Tyre Basics

Tyre tread design. Gripping high street fashion.

Michelin 18 May 2010

Importance of a tread pattern

You may not have thought of it this way, but tyres are like fashion accessories. They’re the jewels that complement and set off the design of your vehicle. Not only is the tyre expected to provide grip, traction, adhesion, and be an element of suspension, it also has to look good. When a vehicle is designed, the tread pattern is a key factor in making it stand out on the showroom floor.

Treads all look the same to me...!

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell if one tyre tread works better than another simply by looking at them.  To put it simply, the only things connecting you with the road are your tyres. So as you can imagine, they’re extremely important in providing high levels of grip, stopping ability, performance and safety. Especially in unfavourable weather conditions. This is one of the reasons why Michelin has 4,000 people devoted to research and development, with the largest R&D budget in the tyre sector.

Tread pattern

Structure, materials and tread pattern

These are what give a tyre its qualities of safety, control and user cost. While the structure is invisible, the black rubber tread pattern is quite visible. Let us look at how these affect two key measures of performance:

  • Safety (wet road grip)
  • Driving pleasure (dry road handling)

WET ROAD GRIP

To begin to understand the role of the tyre tread in the wet, it's useful to think of it as a water pump. The greater the number of channels in your tyre's tread, the more it can pump water away between the contact patch and the road surface. Then find more grip. Remarkably, it collects water and then displaces it from the contact patch in just a few milliseconds. The tyre size 195/65 R 15, for instance, can displace almost 15 litres of water per second.

Groove ratio

  • The higher the groove to rubber ratio, the higher the capacity of the tread pattern to 'store and pump' water.

Shape and layout

  • As a drainage system, the shape of the tread patterns, (symmetrical, directional, asymmetrical) determine how quickly they drain water away from the contact patch.

Sipes

  • These are thin slits in the tread rubber surface, which improve traction in wet or icy conditions. Acting like windscreen wipers, sipes help the edges and grooves of a tyre to drain away water.

DRY ROAD HANDLING

The rigidity of the tread pattern is one of the key elements that contribute to precise control and reaction to steering inputs.

Rigidity of the tread pattern is be obtained by:

Profile of the tyre

  • A flat profile with square shoulders provides good support in turns.

The amount of grooves

  • The smaller the percentage of grooves in the tread pattern, the more rubber there is in direct contact with the ground and the better the level of grip.

Large tread blocks

  • Large tread blocks limit the mobility of the tread pattern.

Self locking sipes

  • Tread blocks cut by many sipes will reduce the rigidity of the tread pattern. To counter this effect, we have introduced complex 3-dimensional sipes, which lock together under load.

 

As tyres are used, treads wear down and this limits their effectiveness in providing wet traction. So check your tread depth regularly, at least once a month. Tyres must be replaced when the tread is worn down to 1.6 mm. This is because you may no longer be driving with sufficient safety, and you may be breaking the law. A worn tyre tread can be dangerous so should be replaced. Tread depth gauges can be purchased from tyre specialists.

For more info see:

MICHELIN Tyre selector page

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