The History of the Tyre
It’s a little scary to think how much rubber is actually in contact with the road when you’re riding your motorcycle; not a lot. We put our trust in the few square inches that prevent us from sliding. Today’s tyres are a magnificent feat of engineering, and for that we have to thank the pioneers such as John Boyd Dunlop, Andre Michelin and Charles Goodyear.
Although Goodyear, from New Haven Connecticut, is credited with vulcanising rubber in 1839, the man who first invented and patented the pneumatic tyre was Robert William Thompson, the eleventh of twelve children of a Scottish woollen mill owner. After moving to Charleston USA at the age of 14, he returned two years later and taught himself Chemistry. He was still only 23 in 1845, when he patented the pneumatic tyre. His tyre had a number of small inner tubes inside a leather casing that was bolted to the wheel. One of the great advantages of this was that the tyre still performed even after a puncture. This sounds primitive now, but the alternative in those days was a steel rim strapped around a wooden wheel by a Wheelwright. The word ‘tire’ is derived from the function of this steel rim; it was designed to tie together the wooden spokes of the wheel. The American spelling of ‘tire’ was used in Britain along with ‘tyre’ to describe the outer rim of a wheel, but was discarded in the 19th century, probably because some patent documents contained the latter, although ‘tire’ was still in use to describe the metal variety.
In 1888 John Boyd Dunlop invented a tyre with one inner tube, but the solid tyre was still being used extensively. When a cycle race in Belfast was won by a bicycle with Dunlop’s pneumatic tyres, people began to sit up and take notice. One of the drawbacks of this tyre was the difficulty in removing the inner tube, and in 1890 CK Welsh invented the inextensible lip, which was to become the basis of modern tyre design.
In 1895 Andre & Eduard Michelin introduced the first pneumatic car tyre. The story goes that at the time that they were running a rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand, France, a cyclist who was having trouble with his pneumatic tyre appeared at their premises. It took an eternity to remove the tyre which had been glued to the wheel. After it had been repaired, it had to be left overnight to dry. The next day, the tyre failed within a few minutes, but the brothers were inspired to come up with something better.
In 1903 Goodyear patented the first tubeless tyre, but it took until 1954 for it to reach production Autel MaxiSys MS908. Other notable advancements were the first pneumatic aircraft tyre in 1906, and the introduction by Goodyear and Dunlop of pneumatic truck tyres in 1919. In 1911 maxidas ds808, Avon began to produce motorcycle tyres. In 1946 Michelin came up with the radial tyre and in 1972, Dunlop dispensed with the inner tube altogether, although BF Goodrich had introduced the tubeless tyre in 1947. BF Goodrich also offered the radial to the USA in 1965. In 1974 Pirelli introduced the wide radial tyre.
So the next time you’re cruising along on your bike, think how much nicer it is with that few square inches of rubber, rather than a steel band. Ride safely.
Alan Liptrot is the founder of The Company offers guided motorcycle tours in Spain, Portugal and Morocco. We will guide you through the plains and mountains of Southern Europe and North Africa. The tours can be seen at