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History of the Bicycle Tire

Chronological Essay

By Staff Writers

The tire is an indispensable part of man's first personal vehicle the bicycle. The bicycle was the most efficient mode of transportation after horses in the early days. Because the history of the bicycle tire is intrinsically connected with that of the bicycle, its history dates back to the first bicycle. 

The first bicycle in history ran on tires made of wood. Frenchman Comte Mede de Sivrac invented the early bicycle known as the 'Celerifere' in 1790. This two-wheel machine had no steering and was a rather crude form of bicycle. It had to be propelled by the rider by pushing with the feet against the ground. Although most bicycle historians now term the claim for this earliest bicycle as unreliable, the 'Celerifere' continues to bear the status of being the forerunner of the modern bicycle.

The next significant pre-bicycle was the one invented by a German Baron, Karl Drais, in 1817. Made completely of wood, this machine too had wooden tires. Pedals were not yet invented and just as the 'Celerifere', Drais's bicycle had to be pushed by the rider with his feet to propel the machine forward. This two-wheeler called 'Laufmaschine' or 'running machine' because popular in England and America and was also known as 'Draisienne'. It had two inline wheels and the front wheel was steerable with handlebars.

The next fifty years saw the emergence of metal tires replacing wooden tires. The metal tires were sturdier than the wooden ones and made the bicycle more durable, thereby resulting in better efficiency. 

In 1844, Charles Goodyear discovered the vulcanization process of rubber that changed the history of the bicycle tire. Rubber before vulcanization was unstable because it did not retain its shape and melted to a sticky state during hot weather and turned rigid and inflexible in cold weather. Goodyear's invention transformed the rubber into flexible material that was just perfect for bicycle tires.

Within a few years, bicycle tires were made of solid rubber. Although these tires were heavy and did not provide a smooth ride, they were nevertheless stronger than the earlier ones. Today, one can still find several types of tires made of solid rubber.

The 1840s was also significant for another crucial invention that of the pneumatic or the air-filled tire. Engineer Robert W. Thompson, of England is credited to having envisioned the idea of the pneumatic tire. In 1845, he acquired a patent for its concept. Thompson's tire consisted of a canvas inner tube that enclosed air and a leather outer tire. He called it the Aerial Wheel. Thompson's brilliant invention did not give him commercial success and his concept went undeveloped. 

Pierre Lallement created the 'Velocipede' or the bone shaker in 1865. As the name suggests, this bicycle model vibrated terribly. The early models were made of wooden tires, later metal tires were installed. Lallement's was the first U.S. patent made on a bicycle in 1866. The Velocipede had a crank and pedal that were fitted to the front wheel making propulsion easier. 

By the year 1869, the iron tires were completely replaced by hard rubber ones that were much more comfortable. Eugene Meyer, a Frenchman, invented the wire-spoke tension wheel in 1869 and is widely regarded as the father of high wheel bicycle a bicycle with a small rear wheel and a large front wheel. William Van Anden's invention of freewheel, around the same period, further paced up the development of the bicycle. 

English inventors were not far behind. The hard tires were most used from 1871 after the invention of the 'Penny Farthings' or the 'high wheeler' by a British engineer James Startley. Startley called his machine the 'Ariel'. His Penny Farthing model was made of metal and hard rubber tires. The wheels had tangent wire spokes for which Startley earned the patent in 1874.

The Penny Farthings had a large front wheel and a small rear wheel. It was the first version of an effective bicycle with tires made of hard rubber, mounted on steel rims. The front wheel of these bicycles measured up to 1.5 meters and the rear was only a quarter of the size of the front, which is why it was named after the large and small coins in the currency of the country the Penny and the Farthing. 

Two years later, English men Browett and Harrison patented an early caliper brake which paved way for effective braking by using a single mechanism for operating the brake shoes on either sides of the rim unlike the cantilever mechanism that was in existence earlier.

In 1879, Henry Lawson patents a rear wheel, chain-driven bicycle called the 'Bicyclette'. The front wheel of the Bicyclette was much smaller than the 'high wheelers' and nearly equal to the size of the rear wheel. The Bicyclette ushered in the era of the safety bicycle, although it failed to succeed commercially.

Thomas B. Jeffery, a bicycle manufacturer and inventor, came up with what would be the antecedent of the clincher tire. In 1882 he got the patent for an improved tire that was held on by a wire fixed to the tire. The wire could be tightened to the bicycle rim making it more secure. Prior to this, bicycle tires were held to the rim by means of glue and were not very secure as they usually came off the rim. His bicycle was called the 'Rambler' and was produced in Chicago between 1878 and 1900. Jeffery's invention helped pave the way for the clincher tires of today. 

The year 1885 saw a major development in the bicycle tire with the creation of the first successful safety bicycle. Designed by John Kemp Starley, (nephew of James Starley) and William Sutton these bicycles called the 'Rover' had wheels of equal size and a rear wheel chain drive. Soon, the safety bicycle replaced the Penny Farthings completely. It is the first contemporary bicycle and although it was highly successful, J. K. Starley did not patent his design. An increasing number of people took up cycling after the advent of the safety bicycle. 

The bicycle has been an ignition to much advancement in engineering, the most significant one being the development of the pneumatic tire. Although Robert W. Thompson patented its concept in 1845, it was Dr. John Dunlop, a Scottish veterinarian, who developed the pneumatic tire, earning true credit for it. Dunlop also coined the word 'pneumatic' for the concept. He is said to have developed the pneumatic tire for his son's tricycle to ease the headaches he got by riding on hard rubber tires. Dunlop replaced the hard rubber tires with air filled pneumatic ones and noticed that the ride became a lot smoother. The invention caught up like wild fire and soon Dunlop's tire replaced all other forms of tires the world over. 

These tires had rubber treads and a modified leather hosepipe for an inner tube. It was not long before rubber inner tubes were invented. The pneumatic rubber tire was much lighter, and offered a smooth ride and at higher speeds. The enclosed air in the tire reduced vibration and improved traction.

Technological advancements happened quickly after the creation of the safety bicycle and pneumatic tires. 

In 1893, father and son team, August and George Schrader designed a better tire valve system providing the much needed air-tight seal that prevented the tires from going flat over time. The Schraders improved upon the design and soon Schrader valves became popular. Most bicycles of today still use these valves. Three years later in 1896, Schrader patented the cap for the tire valve giving yet another invention to the bicycle tire - the tire valve cap. 

Three-speed gradient hub gears were invented in 1896 by E.H. Hodgkinson, a significant invention that was the precursor of the modern derailleur. Derailleur gears were perfected soon. In 1911, Philip Strauss invented a combination tire that had an air-filled rubber tube on the inside and a rubber tire on the outside. These tires were marketed by Strauss' company.


In 1933, German builder Ignaz Schwinn introduced the balloon tire, a widened tire that would set the trend for a new type of bicycles for rugged usage. 

During 1962, bicycles tires had another addition with small custom tires developed for a model bicycle called the 'Moulton'.

The basic shape and configuration of the bicycle's tire has not changed much since the invention of the safety bicycles. The modern age bicycle tires have seen continuous improvements in design and construction, largely to enhance efficiency. The emergence of different cycle models demanded variations in tires. Racing and touring bicycles use narrow high-pressure tires, while terrain and mountain bicycles are generally fitted with broader treaded tires. The modern tires are designed with a lot of emphasis on aero dynamism using light weight and specialized materials to ensure efficiency and minimal road resistance. With the advent of modern technology and computer-aided design the bicycle tire continues to evolve.


Bicycle Tire Timeline
1790  The first basic bicycle, the 'Celerifere', runs on tires made of wood. Frenchman Comte Mede de Sivrac invents the Celerifere or the 'Hobbyhorse' which has two wheels but no steering or pedals and has to be moved around by pushing with the feet against the ground. 
1817  German Baron, Karl Drais makes the "Laufmaschine" completely from wood. Called the 'Draisienne', this two-wheeled machine runs on wooden tires too.
1844  Charles Goodyear invents vulcanized rubber that would soon revolutionize the history of the bicycle tire. Goodyear's invention lays the foundation for cured rubber tires.
1845  Engineer Robert W. Thompson, of England patents the pneumatic or inflatable tire. The tire consists of a canvas inner tube enclosed by a leather outer tire. He called it the Aerial Wheel. Though the tire resulted in a good ride, it was not commercially successful and the invention went undeveloped. 
1866  Metal tires replace wooden bicycle tires in Pierre Lallement's model called the 'Velocipede'. This two-wheel machine had pedals on the front wheel and was given the name 'boneshaker' in the U.S., because of its rough ride.
1869  A Frenchman, Eugene Meyer, invents the wire-spoke tension wheel and produces a beautifully designed high wheel bicycle, with a small rear wheel and a large front wheel. The same year, William Van Anden obtains the first freewheel patent.
1870  In England, an Engineer named James Starley develops the 'Penny Farthing', the high-wheeler of Britain, named after the large and small coins in the currency. The bicycle ran on solid rubber tires mounted on steel rims. Called the 'Ariel', the bicycle was made of metal and had wheels with tangent wire spokes. 
1874  James Starley is awarded a patent for tangent spokes.
1876  Browett and Harrison patent an early caliper brake.
1879  Henry Lawson adds a rear-chain-drive mechanism to the penny farthing bicycle calling it 'bicyclette'. Called 'The Crocodile' by critics Lawson's model fails to succeed in the market.
1882  Thomas B. Jeffery, a bicycle manufacturer and inventor, gets the patent for the precursor of clincher tires.
1885  John Kemp Starley, nephew of James Starley, designs the first successful 'safety bicycle' with equal-sized wheels and a chain drive to the rear wheel. This is the first modern age bicycle with two-equal sized wheels that entirely replaced the penny farthings. In spite of the model being successful, J. K. Starley did not patent his design.
1887  John Boyd Dunlop, a Scottish veterinarian, develops the first pneumatic bicycle tire (filled with air) for his son's tricycle. Dunlop's tire for which he was awarded a patent in 1888 has a leather hosepipe serving as the inner tube and outer rubber tire with treads. His invention brings the era of hard rubber-tired bicycles to an end and steers the way for smooth bicycle rides. It won't be long before rubber inner tubes are invented.
1893  August Schrader and his son George Schrader invent an improved version of valve to keep the air in the tire. Schrader valves are still popularly used in bicycle tires.
1896  E.H. Hodgkinson patents a 3-speed gradient gear, a pre-cursor of the modern derailleur.
1911  Philip Strauss invents the combination tire of air-filled inner rubber tube and outer rubber tire.
1930s  Multi-ratio gearing systems are introduced in racing bicycles.
1933  German builder Ignaz Schwinn who emigrated to the U.S. and founded his bicycle company in 1895 introduces the balloon tire (widened tire), that will be a trendsetter for rugged bikes for the next 40 years. 
1950s  Derailleur systems evolve.
1962  England saw the emergence of usage of small custom tires for a model bicycle called 'The Moulton'.
1978  Launch of the first high-quality foldable clincher tire called the Turbo. 
Bicycle tire - today The modern age bicycle tires were in use from the 1970's though there were continual improvements in design and construction, largely to enhance efficiency. Racing and touring bicycles use narrow high-pressure tires, while all terrain and mountain cycles are fitted with broader waffle-tread tires. The modern tires are designed with a lot of emphasis on aero dynamism with light weight and specialized materials to ensure efficiency and minimal road resistance.
please feel free to add to our timeline by emailing us with important dates and events that you know about. info@everybicycletire.com

 
 
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