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​Rolling Resistance and Tires


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Photo Credit: On Pexels, CC0 License.

Rolling resistance, sometimes called rolling friction or rolling drag, is the force resisting the motion when a body (such as a ball, tire, or wheel) rolls on a surface. It is mainly caused by non-elastic effects; that is, not all the energy needed for deformation (or movement) of the wheel, roadbed, etc. is recovered when the pressure is removed. Two forms of this are hysteresis losses (see below), and permanent (plastic) deformation of the object or the surface (e.g. soil). Another cause of rolling resistance lies in the slippage between the wheel and the surface, which dissipates energy. Note that only the last of these effects involves friction, therefore the name "rolling friction" is to an extent a misnomer.

In the broad sense, specific "rolling resistance" (for vehicles) is the force per unit vehicle weight required to move the vehicle on level ground at a constant slow speed where aerodynamic drag (air resistance) is insignificant and also where there are no traction (motor) forces or brakes applied. In other words, the vehicle would be coasting if it were not for the force to maintain constant speed. An example of such usage for railroads is. This broad sense includes wheel bearing resistance, the energy dissipated by vibration and oscillation of both the roadbed and the vehicle, and sliding of the wheel on the roadbed surface (pavement or a rail).

But there is an even broader sense that would include energy wasted by wheel slippage due to the torque applied from the engine. This includes the increased power required due to the increased velocity of the wheels where the tangential velocity of the driving wheel(s) becomes greater than the vehicle speed due to slippage. Since power is equal to force times velocity and the wheel velocity has increased, the power required has increased accordingly.

Since railroad rolling resistance in the broad sense may be a few times larger than just the pure rolling resistance reported values may be in serious conflict since they may be based on different definitions of "rolling resistance". The train's engines must, of course, provide the energy to overcome this broad-sense rolling resistance.

For tires, rolling resistance is defined as the energy consumed by a tire per unit distance covered. It is also called rolling friction or rolling drag. It is one of the forces that act to oppose the motion of a driver. The main reason for this is that when the tires are in motion and touch the surface, the surface changes shape and causes deformation of the tire.

Rolling friction generates sound (vibrational) energy, as mechanical energy is converted to this form of energy due to the friction. One of the most common examples of rolling friction is the movement of motor vehicle tires on a roadway, a process which generates sound as a by-product. The sound generated by automobile and truck tires as they roll (especially noticeable at highway speeds) is mostly due to the percussion of the tire treads, and compression (and subsequent decompression) of air temporarily captured within the treads.

Factors that contribute in tires

Several factors affect the magnitude of rolling resistance a tire generates: wheel radius, forward speed, surface adhesion, and relative micro-sliding.

Material - different fillers and polymers in tire composition can improve traction while reducing hysteresis. The replacement of some carbon black with higher-priced silica–silane is one common way of reducing rolling resistance. The use of exotic materials including nano-clay has been shown to reduce rolling resistance in high performance rubber tires. Solvents may also be used to swell solid tires, decreasing the rolling resistance.

Dimensions - rolling resistance in tires is related to the flex of sidewalls and the contact area of the tire For example, at the same pressure, wider bicycle tires flex less in the sidewalls as they roll and thus have lower rolling resistance (although higher air resistance).

Extent of inflation - Lower pressure in tires results in more flexing of the sidewalls and higher rolling resistance. This energy conversion in the sidewalls increases resistance and can also lead to overheating and may have played a part in the infamous Ford Explorer rollover accidents.

Over inflating tires (such a bicycle tires) may not lower the overall rolling resistance as the tire may skip and hop over the road surface. Traction is sacrificed, and overall rolling friction may not be reduced as the wheel rotational speed changes and slippage increases

Sidewall deflection is not a direct measurement of rolling friction. A high quality tire with a high quality (and supple) casing will allow for more flex per energy loss than a cheap tire with a stiff sidewall. Again, on a bicycle, a quality tire with a supple casing will still roll easier than a cheap tire with a stiff casing. Similarly, as noted by Goodyear truck tires, a tire with a "fuel saving" casing will benefit the fuel economy through many tread lives (i.e. retreading), while a tire with a "fuel saving" tread design will only benefit until the tread wears down.

In tires, tread thickness and shape has much to do with rolling resistance. The thicker and more contoured the tread, the higher the rolling resistance Thus, the "fastest" bicycle tires have very little tread and heavy duty trucks get the best fuel economy as the tire tread wears out.

Diameter effects seem to be negligible, provided the pavement is hard and the range of diameters is limited. See dependence on diameter.

Virtually all world speed records have been set on relatively narrow wheels, probably because of their aerodynamic advantage at high speed, which is much less important at normal speeds.

Temperature: with both solid and pneumatic tires, rolling resistance has been found to decrease as temperature increases (within a range of temperatures: i.e. there is an upper limit to this effect) For a rise in temperature from 30 °C to 70 °C the rolling resistance decreased by 20-25%. It is claimed that racers heat their tire before racing.

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