How we forget those four round blobs at our own peril
* And how I won't forget my real-life ironic moment
Published 04/06/2014 | 02:30
AS an ordinary motorist I have paid minimum attention to the tyres on cars I have owned over the years.
I had absolutely no idea of the work, science, technology and expertise that goes into making them.
Perhaps more to the point, I paid little heed to how vital a part they play in keeping me and my family safe.
By coincidence and good fortune, I found myself on a test track in Japan, inundated with facts and figures, as you would expect.
The Tochigi Proving Ground is three hours north of Tokyo. Covering roughly 200 acres, the test track has a 3.9km circuit with a bank angle of 50 degrees for high-speed performance tests as well as various other courses to evaluate how tyres operate on a skid pad with a 110m diameter.
It is here – nestled among miles and miles of rice fields – that Bridgestone tests in excess of 10,000 tyres on more than 200 types of vehicle each month.
The level of technology is mind-boggling. Indeed, if you read last week's Motors you will already know that Bridgestone is not far off bringing out a tyre that will not get punctured. Just think of that purely on personal safety grounds alone.
These 'Air Free' tyres rely on a special mesh of thermoplastic resin and not on air so they cannot go flat as the material is flexible and durable.
The people over in Bridgestone's Tokyo headquarters reckoned we'll see them in three to five years and talks with car makers about having them fitted to new models have already begun.
That's a little bit in the future, for sure, but today's tyres (yes, they are just black blobs to most people) are extraordinary pieces of work. The trouble is, no one really bothers to take too much notice. That is apart from the enthusiast driver and sports fan.
My brief, if sharp, learning curve while driving or being driven taught me a number of things.
You can save a lot of money on fuel if you check your tyres' pressures every week or two. You will stop a lot quicker and more safely if your car has the proper tyres on.
I have always tended to go for the least expensive. Sometimes the cheapest isn't the best.
I'm sure you have heard some or all of this at some stage from the experts. I'm no expert. I'm just telling you what I saw and learned.
Of course it is a multi-billion-dollar industry and, certainly, the array of tyres and choices can be bewildering.
But the bottom line should be safety first when it comes to your car. And that means taking five minutes, no more, to check the tyres for cuts, abrasions, etc, and for pressure. Under-inflated tyres can cost a stack in extra fuel.
My story is not, however, without a tread of real-life irony.
There I was, after seeing and hearing about some of the most technologically advanced tyres in the world, returning to pick up my own car at Dublin airport.
You've guessed it. I had a flat tyre.
At 11 o'clock at night, is there a more depressing sight?
The sooner they get that tyre you can't puncture over here the better, as far as I'm concerned. I don't care what it costs.