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Fascinating Story of Motorcycle Tires: History and Usage

MG is an air warrior and a global traveler well as an amateur astrologer who loves to visit and explore new places.



My father gifted me a Royal Enfield 'Bullet' when I had just entered college. It was a 350 cc machine that had been used by him for about a year and a half but it was in pristine condition and you could hit a pothole at 70 mph and nothing would happen. it was as good as new. I, however, fitted brand new tires, and the machine was rearing to go. I remember I selected the Dunlop brand of tires.

I used this bike for about 5 years and then graduated to its elder brother the 500cc motorbike. In those days, the only bike available was the Royal Enfield. Japanese bikes have not made an entry. The Enfield company had declared bankruptcy in England and an Indian manufacturer had bought the entire plant and logo and set up the plant in the city of Madras. The bike also became standard equipment for use by the Indian army.

A powerful bike on the road is a breathtaking sight. A Harley -Davidson roaring across the freeway from Mumbai to Pune is simply captivating. People will marvel at the beauty of the machine but very few people think that without the tire the bike would be a dud. A bit of history is interesting.

The first name that made a mark is Robert Thompson (1822-73). People may not know anything about Robert Thompson. He was from Scotland and is the man who is credited for inventing the fountain pen.

Robert was an engineer and is credited for the invention of the pneumatic tire which he fitted on his bicycle. He was given a patent by the French in 1846 and a year later in 1847, the USA also recognized his patent. Robert made a simple rubber casing that could be filled with air and used on a bicycle. His invention was not foolproof and there was a problem with the retention of air in the tire. Robert lost heart and gave up. He later tried and experimented with solid rubber tires but they generally failed.

John Boyd Dunlop(1840-1921) is the next man who made a significant contribution. He re-invented the pneumatic tire. He first tried it on his bike and was a success. This was the beginning of the motorcycle tire.



John Dunlop's invention of the pneumatic tire in 1888 was revolutionary. The motorbike had become important as it had replaced the pedal cycle. The Michelin brothers went one step ahead and perfected the art of removing and fitting the tires in 1891.

Arthur W Savage now patented the design of the radial tire in 1915. Savage's patents expired in 1949. In 1946 Michelin also developed this type of tire.

This new design enhanced the road grip and traction on the road. The earlier had cross-ply structures, where the threads were woven across one another. Such tires had turgid sidewalls that could not flex easily, especially while negotiating corners or turns.

Michelin made an improvement. He produced the rubber threads which were woven radially. The bike thus had better control and improved traction especially while negotiating curves and braking.

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The pneumatic tire had an inner tube. This was also made of rubber and fitted inside the tire to keep it inflated. This design had lasted upwards of 100 years. As advancement in technology continued the inner tube was discarded and in 1972 Dunlop marketed the tubeless tire. The tubeless tires are now in vogue in all machines.


Modern age

Tires now 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. As far as motorcycles are concerned the ratio of the cost of tires to other equipment on the motorcycle is pretty high and hence it is important for people who own motorbikes to buy the correct size and type of tire. The basic function of a tire is to give a smoother ride. They must have resistance to punctures. The road group of the tire is an essential requirement for a vehicle.

Motorcycle tires not only help the machine move forward, but are also critical for the safety of the bike and the rider. Some of the big corporates in the field who are well known are Dunlop, Michelin, Pirelli, and Bridgestone. They have manufacturing activities in China, India, and the USA.

Michelin is a marquee name in the tire industry. It was incorporated way back in 1889. They acquired the American BF Goodrich Company in 1988. Goodrich also traces its lineage to 1870. It remains the numero uno of the tire industry

The next in line is Dunlop Tires. Its first factory came up in 1889 in Dublin. Dunlop Tires has a close association with motorsport including motorcycle racing. Dunlop is associated with the (inch) measurement still used all over the world as a measure for the diameter of a wheel.

Bridgestone tire company. is not far behind. This is a Japanese company and started manufacturing tires in 1931.

The Japanese word Ishibashi which translates to the stone bridge is the inspiration of the word Bridgestone. It's the world's second-largest tire manufacturer with Michelin being number one.

Another famous name is the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. This name breaths history. It was started by Harvey Firestone. a good 100 years back.

With recession trends prevalent all over the world, due to many factors like China Virus, motorcycles and resultant tire manufacture has also suffered.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 17, 2021:

Pamela, thank you for commenting.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 17, 2021:

It seems like all businesses have had a difficult time due to the virus. I found your article to be quite interesting, MG.

I remember the tires with inter tubes and I am familiar with most of those manufacturers. I did not know the history of tires, which was interesting.

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