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From the two wheels on a bike to the four wheels of a car, all the way through to the most extreme tyres on the market including those designed for tractors and farming machines, what many consumers aren’t aware of is the impact of different tyres on the effectiveness and safety of their vehicle. In fact, if a garage announces a problem or replacement which is required on the wheels of your car, and if you see a cyclist tinkering with the wheels of his bike, the likelihood is that what is being adjusted or replaced is the tyres - not the wheels themselves.
With so many different types of tyre available on the modern market, the variation in quality is huge and the number of seasonal discounts covering winter and summer tyres for cars and bikes means that consumers looking for deals are always a season behind. That’s not to say that investing in these discounted tyres is bad – just that consumers should take care if they live in extreme climates not to invest in a summer tyre during the winter months which could make a vehicle unsafe on the road.
Tyres are the parts of the wheel that provide the friction that stops vehicles from sliding, and which are blown up to the sufficient level as determined by the manufacturers to support the optimum driving force and speed of the car. Of course, with such hefty responsibility comes a great deal of space for problems - making garages, bike stores and tyre specialists all integral parts of the tyre industry; working together to ensure that every vehicle on the road be it motorised or manual is safe and efficient.
Evolution of the Tyre industry
To look at the over time of various tyres attributed to the development of bicycles, cars and other vehicles, it is important to understand that much of the change which occurred in the industry came as a result of the increased need to focus on safety and efficiency. Within the automotive industry as whole, much of the history of vehicles spotlights how various vehicles were designed and upgraded to make them more convenient and more accessible to a wider mass market – and thus tyres were developed in the same way to make them more attainable to a wider audience and to ensure the safety of consumers.
The very first tyres on motorised vehicles, for example, were composed of solid rubber with no inflation – meaning that while they faced no risk of popping on uneven ground, what these tyres did do was limit the speed of the vehicles due to the very low levels of shock absorption provided by air-less tyres. These may have been the safest options at the time, but they were ineffective for vehicles that were being designed for speed, and so very soon (in 1888) they were replaced by pneumatic tyres which were ,matched with the newly developed gasoline cars and which – in the eyes of the target consumer who was accustomed to hard tyres – became a revolution in the way that vehicles were manufactured and operated.
One of the most notable things that becomes obvious through the exploration of pictures of tyres through history, is the fact that the earliest tyres were much thinner in size than those we see today on modern cars. This is mainly due to the change in usage of vehicles over time – the earliest tyres that the industry has images of were used to draw carriages and carts, and so didn’t carry nearly the same weight as tyres today. They also didn’t move as fast, and they reduced resistance with the ground to ensure that vehicles were able to move uninhibited.
It wasn’t until the 1900’s that tyre tread became more widely understood as an integral part of the manufacturing process – in fact one we still put at the top of the priority list for today, as a defining feature in the quality and safety of our tyres. The tyre tread is the bit of the tyre which makes contact with the road, made from thicker rubber which protects the main functioning part of the wheel – and is required to be exceptionally strong in today’s cars with the speeds that cars are designed to run at. If you watch a complete Formula 1 race today, you will notice how a key part of the pitstops includes replacing the car tyres – this is because the amount of friction created when cars run at such high speeds wears the tread down extremely fast and makes them unsafe on smooth surfaces. Another example of the importance of tyre treads in action relates to a completely different industry – the crime and policing industry, which often uses tyre treads from vehicles as an identifying feature for the make and model of car which may have been present at a crime scene.
As the 1900’s wore on, tyres became more modern in their appearance and different materials continued to be designed to increase their effectiveness and efficiency. In 1931 an American company called Du Pont was responsible for the creation of the first synthetic rubber which could be used industrially – thus transforming the tyre industry and reducing its reliance on natural rubber as synthetic materials were proved to be cheaper to make and higher in long term quality. The early 1900’s was also when tyres began to thicken in their appearance to increase the amount of contact with road surfaces, with various features gradually being developed to this day.
Meanwhile, to look at the history of cycling tyres it is important to recognise how all the features discussed and developed above work in a different way on bicycles – depending primarily on the purpose of the bike. For a road bike, thin tyres with a very low tread are ideal for generating speed; meanwhile off road biking is generally served by much chunkier tyres which have deep treads and are less likely to be damaged by uneven grounds. These features tend to be separated into two camps – the functional and the durable – with functionality largely depending on the surface being ridden on and looking at how well the bike is able to perform on that surface, while durability looks at the surface and ascertains what the tyre needs in order to withstand and remain functional.
Top retailers in the tyre industry
The best retailers for the tyre industry depends on the vehicle that you are shopping for. For consumers seeking tyres for their car, the best tyres to match any specific vehicle are often those created by the car manufacturer themselves – for example Landrover who create thicker tyres with larger treads, designed to withstand the off road driving that many consumers buy Landrovers’ for. This is further supported by extra features like different suspension settings to create more cushioning on bumpy ground.
Any new car purchase will come with the appropriate tyres – but what happens when these run down on tread and need replacing? Should you return to the make and model dealership, or are there other retailers you can turn to?
This is where third party tyre retailers come in, with many of the top retail names creating various tyres for different vehicles and different lifestyles in which the vehicle will be used. A great example is a company called Continental which has been at the top of the tyre retail industry for decades and which specialises in the provision of Premium Contact tyres, Winter Contact tyres, and even Eco Contact tyres for the modern market.
Other top retailers in the car tyres industry include:
- Michelin Tyres
- Pirelli Tyres
- Bridgestone Tyres
- Goodyear Tyres
As well as the products themselves which these retailer’s stock under various brand names and identities, what all these retailers provide is the service to match the tyre being purchased – offering replacement fittings and services to ensure efficiency and safety across vehicles.
In the bicycle market, the top tyre retailers are very different – with many experts in the bicycle field knowing little about cars and motorised vehicles. As with the car tyre retailers, most of the top names in the bike world offer full services alongside their products and are renowned for providing a high level of service which matches their product line. One of the top examples in the industry is Halfords which stocks all manner of different tyres for different purposes and can help guide commuters, triathletes, mountain bikers and leisure cyclists towards the ideal tyres for the terrain and frequency of use of their bikes.
Other top retail names in the bike tyre industry include:
- Evan Cycles
In recognising top names in the industry, it is also worth noting that both bike tyres and car tyres are given heavy coverage in various industry-specific magazines and publications – for example Cycling Weekly in the bikes market, which constantly explores and reviews the best tyres for different kinds of cycling in order to educate consumers and draw attention to the huge developments which are constantly being made in the industry to increase efficiency and safety.
Trends in the tyre industry
As mentioned above, one of the main trends which is driving the tyre industry into the minds of consumers is the focus that it is given across mainstream channels and platforms. From review articles in biking and automotive magazines, to coverage on top car shows like Top Gear, through to the commentary on F1 channels and races which is consistently drawing attention to the tread on various tyres and how often they are replaced, consumers are always being reminded of the importance and prominence of the tyres in determining the effectiveness of any given vehicle. The positioning of tyre pressure machines at supermarkets and petrol garages further serves to remind consumers of the importance of their tyres being filled to the correct pressure – not just to ensure safety of the vehicle on the road but also to provide the most comfortable driving experience.
Another trend which lends itself to the automotive tyre industry is the rise in prominence of eco tyres and those which are being designed to support fuel efficiency – including minimal friction and a better on-road performance which uses less resistance and instead focusses on better traction. These developments come in response to the rise in electric cars which need to be as efficient as possible to make a full charge go further, meeting the demand from consumers for tyres which support the usability of their car.
Meanwhile in the bike market, one of the main trends comes in response to the rise of commuter cycling – actively encouraged by businesses and city councils in an effort to reduce the amount of car pollution being pushed into the atmosphere by commuters on a daily basis. The rise in folding bikes and smaller bike frames comes as a response to the need for bikes which can be moved about and factored into a commute easily – but what does this mean for tyres? One of the big shifts in the tyre market made to meet the demand of cycling commuters is the call for wider tyres which create more cushioning and a more comfortable seat to ride upon. Of course, this doesn’t suit all bike users – with road cyclists and racers still heralding the aerodynamic functionality of super thin and lightweight tyres. However, for the average leisure user, the rise in thicker tyres means that cycling is a more comfortable experience.
The final trend refers to the servicing of tyres and how consumers are becoming more actively involved in the care of their own vehicles and bikes – with bike repair kits now readily available to support the servicing of consumer’s own bikes while out on a ride, and with hand pumps and spare tyres factored into the body of the average car to ensure that a consumer is not caught out with a flat tyre and no way of fixing it. What this means, particularly for cyclists, is that they can enjoy a greater understanding of their bike components and the way that they work together, helping them to become more attuned to what might be wrong as they use their bike, and subsequently making them safer cyclists on the road and beyond.