Where the Rubber Meets the Road: A Test of Bridgestone’s DriveGuard Run-Flat Tires

During most of the automobile’s recorded history, cars carried spare tires—sometimes in the early days, several of them (because of frequent punctures) in twin sidemounts or out back. Along with the tires as standard equipment was a jack (often in several pieces) and a jack handle. Part of driver’s ed was learning how to change a tire—don’t forget to use the approved jacking points!

Bridgestone DriveGuard Plus tires are standard equipment on certain BMW models. (Bridgestone photo)

I mention all of this because spare tires and jacks may soon become part of history. Not only are today’s cars being shipped with temporary spares (good for 50 miles or so) but the jack has been largely jettisoned. These steps are being taken to save weight—which is particularly important in heavy electric cars. Many cars today have no spare or jack, and come with small air compressors that work in concert with spray sealant to temporarily repair a flat. Or that’s what is supposed to happen—I’ve never successfully used that combination.

And another reason why jacks will soon be seen only in thrift shops is the run-flat tire. As the name implies, run-flats resist deflation and can keep you on the road after a puncture. The idea goes back to 1934, when Michelin introduced a tire for commuter trains and trolleys that had a “safety rim” inside that could run on a foam lining after a puncture.

Passenger cars got run-flats in 1958, when Chrysler and Goodyear teamed up on Captive Air tires. In 1972, Dunlop introduced the Total Mobility Tire and it became standard on certain Rover models. In a typical self-supporting run-flat today, the reinforced sidewall stays rigid without air pressure—and (as with compact spares) you have 50 miles of safe driving ahead before they should be removed and repaired.

Ko Denhamer’s 2003 Saab 9-5 Linear wagon with DriveGuards installed. (Ko Denhamer photo)

Ian McKenney, a spokesman for Bridgestone, said in an interview that the DriveGuard line was launched in 2014 as the company’s first run-flat line, and has now been updated as DriveGuard Plus touring tires. Run-flats are generally 20 to 40 percent heavier, but McKenney said that running them eliminates the need to carry a spare—providing a 50-pound weight saving, plus the jack.

McKenney said that when a tire is punctured and goes to zero pounds per square inch inflation, rubber inserts in the tire keep its shape and stay on the wheel. “You can drive 50 miles at up to 50 mph,” he said. “It will get you home or to the tire shop. Driving any further than that is not recommended, because as the tire rolls it compresses and that compression generates heat—the enemy of rubber. The tire will lose its chemical integrity and soften.” Certain types of damage to run-flats—as in sidewall punctures—may not be repairable.

The DriveGuards ready to be installed. (Ko Denhamer photo)

Not many new cars come with run-flats, but Bridgestone has an arrangement with BMW, most of whose models are so-equipped. Cars that come with run-flat tires also have Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) because otherwise you might not even know the tire was impaired.

The DriveGuards, with a 65,000-mile wear warranty, come in 19 sizes. “They’re an excellent touring tire that just happens to be run-flat,” McKenney said. Curiosity about Bridgestone’s DriveGuard run-flats led to this test. I have old cars with smaller tires, so the test DriveGuards went to my friend Ko Denhamer near Philadelphia, to try out on his 122,000-mile 2003 Saab 9-5 Linear wagon with manual transmission.

Ko reports putting close to 1,000 miles on the DriveGuards during the extra-hot July and August weather. The tires were inflated to 35 psi front and 32 psi rear, as per the Saab manual. Ko compares them to the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 tires that were on the wagon previously.

“I’ve run the Bridgestones on a mix of running errands around town and twisty winding backroads as well as highway driving at temperatures of up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 80 mph,” Ko said. “We’re in a drought, so the roads were mostly dry, though there was occasional light rain. Some rough road surfaces were encountered.”

Ko says the tires are similar to the Michelins in providing a comfortable ride, as well as the same quiet operation. “Good cornering, and I think the Bridgestone DriveGuard Pluses may actually feel slightly more planted and solid. All in all, great handling and comfort I really wouldn’t know they’re run-flat tires if I hadn’t mounted them myself. There’s not a trace of hard handling or stiffness. They’re really a good all-around tire with the benefit of run-flat safety built in.”

Ko also notes that when he removed the Saab’s now-unnecessary spare “it had zero tire pressure. The valve stem had failed. With run-flats I won’t have to worry about that.”

Run-flat tires won’t be for everyone, but in an auto environment where weight is critical they’re likely to have a future. The next step is solid tires with no air in them at all—Michelin showed such a VISION tire at its Movin’ On event in Montreal in 2019, but actual commercial production is still in the future.

Great Music Around Connecticut

If you’re alert and pay attention to the calendar, there’s lots of great music around—and much of it is free! I would have gone to even more long-form events—very sorry to have missed the Oldtone Festival this year—but COVID reared its ugly head.

But both before and after getting the virus I saw three fine shows, detailed here.

I never miss an opportunity to see Bill and the Belles, a unique country music ensemble, now a trio consisting of singer/songwriter/musical historian Kris Truelsen on guitar, fiddler Kalia Yeagle and banjo/banjo-uke player Aidan VanSuetendael. On August 2, they were at the Levitt Pavilion in Westport—free! The venue has 60 free shows a year.

Bill is Kris Truelsen (center) with Kalia Yeagle (left) and Aidan VanSuetendael.

Truelsen is a scholar of early country music, and hosts shows at Radio Bristol—based at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Tennessee. He and the band are also the hosts of Farm and Fun Time, a television show that celebrates the music and agricultural heritage of the South. It’s been on PBS stations in just the Southeast, but it’s going nationwide—stay tuned for more information.

Ridgefield, Connecticut is home to the (also free) CHIRP concerts, a creation of the redoubtable Barbara Manners—who has excellent taste in music. A lot of the shows are on Tuesdays, when I have my WPKN show, so I don’t get to as many shows as I’d like. But I did make it to see Slade Cleaves—on my birthday, August 4.

Slaid Cleaves.

Slade is an heir of Merle Haggard, if the latter played at folk venues. He celebrates the working-class blues. He writes devastating songs, often set in bars, about despair. “I’m not an innovator. I’m more of a keeper of the flame,” he says. Here’s a bit of the lyrics of “Broke Down”:

Sherry had a pawn shop band of gold
A sink full of dishes and a love grown cold
Along came a boy, pretty as the devil
She took his hand, the whole thing unraveled

There’s no turnin’ round, it’s broke down

Billy took the ring, jammed it in his pocket
Drove down town and tried to hock it
Down at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain
There’s a love note carved inside a wedding ring

Here’s the video:

I also went to an excellent jazz show at the Torrington Historical Society. In the garden of an old mansion, we listened to a one-off group consisting of leader Adam Nussbaum (a Connecticut native) on drums, saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, Larry Ham on piano and Dave Santoro on bass. They played one standard—“Alone Together”—and then mostly Santoro’s tunes.

Jerry Bergonzi in Torrington. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Nussbaum and Bergonzi are old friends, and both celebrated jazz musicians. They both played with consummate authority. Nussbaum—who’s on hundreds of records—is a fount of energy, and Bergonzi creates his own thing from the legacies of bebop, post-bop and swing. It was fun. Pianist Ham was perhaps a bit subdued for the company but he really added to the ballads.

Bergonzi will be on my WPKN radio show August 23 at 9 p.m.

Tatiana Eva-Marie with guitarist Dennis Pol in Westport. (Jim Motavalli photo)

And finally I saw, August 14, Tatiana Eva-Marie and her Avalon Jazz Band, again at Levitt Pavilion. Fascinating band, channeling the music of Django Reinhardt, but with Eva-Marie adding vocals and her own lyrics to a lot of the tunes. Mostly, she sang in French (she is originally from Switzerland, now in Brooklyn) but English for songs like Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby” and the Gershwins’ “Lady be Good.”

She’s a fine, expressive singer and a lively MC who acts out her songs with spirited hand gestures. And the band was stellar—Dan Rosenbloom was on accordion and Dennis Pol (who has his own acoustic quartet) on guitar. Berklee grad Seoyeon Im was on violin (Stephane Grappelli’s part) and she was superb, as was bassist Wallace Stelzer. It was the first time Eva-Marie has played with Im, but you’d never know. More will be heard from her. Here’s Tatiana with a completely different band–she gets around:

Paul is a fine guitarist, but comes out of more modern players like Wes Montgomery as much as Django himself. No harm done there. Classics such as “Nuages” and “Djangology” were played, as well as obscurities such as “Sweet Chorus”—now with new lyrics.

Eva-Marie is soon to appear in a new movie, Swing Rendez-Vous, which she co-wrote with French director Gérome Barry. It’s coming out in February 2023. So she and Truelsen have something in common—they do well on screen.