When we see a Harley Davidson cruising on the roads, one can’t help but admire the sleekness of the machine and the way it hugs and glides along. But what we at that time fail to realize is that the component that helps the bike to cruise along the road with such beauty is the motorcycle tire. Even fewer people are aware that the motorcycle tire is really the brainchild of Robert Thomson who developed the world’s first pneumatic tire.
Robert was a Scottish engineer who was given a patent for this tire in France in 1846 and a year later in the USA (1847).The construction of his tire was very simple. It consisted of a hollow circular belt made of Indian rubber which was then inflated with air. But Thomson did not persist with his invention and soon lost heart, maybe because good quality rubber was not available at that time. He then digressed on to solid rubber tires and allowed his invention to go to seed. Thomson’s failure was John Boyd Dunlops gain, who about 4 decades later reinvented the pneumatic tire for his bicycle. Today’s motorcycle tires can trace their pedigree to this bicycle tire.
This basic design has undergone many changes and mutations during the last century. These developments have led to the modern tire. One of these developments is the radial tire. The first radial tire designs were patented in 1915 by Arthur W. Savage a successful tire manufacturer and inventor in San Diego, CA. Savage’s patents expired in 1949. However Michelin in 1946 further developed this type of tire as well and also made a commercial success of it. This new design was an added asset for a motorcycle as it enhanced the road grip and traction while driving. The difference between the earlier tires and the new radial tires was in their construction. Earlier tires had cross-ply structure, where the threads were woven across one another. Such tires did have endurance but the sidewalls were turgid and the tire could not flex easily, especially while negotiating corners or turns.
Michelin improved on this and produced the rubber threads which were woven radically and this problem was to a great extant solved. The bike thus had better control and improved traction for cornering and braking.
At this time, the concept of pneumatic tire was to have an inner tube, also made of rubber which actually held the air and kept the tire inflated. This design had lasted upwards from the early twentieth century (1920) to be exact. However as technology inexorably moves forward the inner rubber tube was discarded and in 1972 and Dunlop patented the tube less tire.
This was a revolutionary invention, though tubes are still manufactured and are in use sometimes to increase the life of tube less tires.
The changing demands over the years, market forces and customer liking has had an effect on the development of the bike tires and many new types are on the road. Tires cover the entire gamut from high speed racing such as Formula One to heavier tires that move usage vehicles that are as large as a house. We must bear in mind that the tire as a part of motorcycle equipment has a relatively high price compared to other components of the bike. Thus it is important for owners of motorcycles to see that they purchase the correct size for their two wheelers. The basic function of a tire is to give the rider and his pillion on the motorcycle a smoother ride. They must have relative resistance to punctures and most important give a good road grip that is so essential in motorcycle riding. One thing that needs to be emphasized, is that Motorcycle tires are the most important ingredient of a motorcycle as not only they help the machine move forward, but are also critical for the safety of the bike and correspondingly the rider.
Most of the tire manufacturers have become house hold names like Dunlop, Michelin, Pirelli and Bridgestone etc.
These are global corporate and have their plants spread from China, India to Europe and the USA. Some of the important bike tire manufactures who have molded the tire industry are worth a look.
To start with we have Michelin, a marquee name in the tire industry. It was incorporated way back in 1889. Michelin tires have a global presence and as part of their expansion acquired the American BF Goodrich Company in 1988. Incidentally Goodrich also traces its lineage to 1870.To further buttress its numero uno position it also took over Uniroyal Inc. in 1990, a business founded in 1892 as the United States Rubber Company. Michelin is the world’s largest manufacturer of tires and can trace its history to1830 in vulcanized rubber.
However the pride of place must go to Dunlop Tires. Its first factory opened in Dublin in 1889. Dunlop Tires makes a large variety and types of motorcycle tires for all vehicles. Dunlop also has a close association with motor sport including motorcycle racing. Dunlop tires are now available all over the world. It’s important to remember that the heritage of Dunlop will live on forever in the “(inch)” measurement still used all over the world as measure for the diameter of a wheel.
Breathing down the neck of Dunlop is the Bridgestone tire company. This is a Japanese company and started manufacturing tires much before the advent of the second world war-1931 to be precise. As Japan manufactures and markets some of the marquee motorcycle machines in the world like Honda and Yamaha it stands to reason that a large percentage of bike tires will emerge from Japan. The name Bridge stone is derived from the Japanese word Ishibashi which translates to stone bridge. Currently it’s the worlds second largest tire manufacturer in the world next to Michelin. Bridgestone has a vast range of motorcycle tires and are found all over the world
The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company is another name that has history behind it. It is over a hundred years old when it was started by Harvey Firestone. They have digressed into manufacture of motorcycle tires and are in a class themselves.
However with recession trends surfacing all around the globe with resultant reduction in the production of motorcycles the two wheeler divisions of these companies have to look to new and innovative methods to get out of this economic quagmire.