Tyre choice at Running Deer is something thats very important to us! The humble rubber keeping our vehicles in traction as we travel to work on Dartmoor is often overlooked in terms of its history and origins; regardless of its importance in our day to day lives.
Without them, getting through the sometimes harsh British weather conditions and the woodland we work in would be a far more laborious process. This is becoming far more apparent as we make our way into the winter months, expecting snow and wind, alongside having had some flooding last weekend through to this week.
It is because of this imminent snow and rain I thought perhaps it would be interesting to talk a bit about how exactly we can be driving through all this madness in such comfort.
History of the modern automotive tyre
It all begins when the word tire was originally coined in the 1300s, as “The notion is of the tire as the dressing of the wheel.” Thusly, the term “Tyre” is in fact a shortened variation of the word “attire.”
To kick things off, British inventor Thomas Hancock, and American Charles Goodyear (yes, That Goodyear. Although he ended up not profiting from this invention, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber company formed in Akron, Ohio in 1897 in his honour.), were awarded patents for the vulcanization of rubber in 1845.
They had named the process of vulcanization after the Roman god of fire; and the process itself is a chemical process for converting natural rubber/polymers into a more durable material by adding sulphur. This was incredibly important, as it made rubber waterproof and usable in all weathers, while at the same time staying elastic and durable.
Not long after the patent was passed, Scottish inventor Robert William Thompson patented a solid pneumatic tire, using rubber and enclosed air to make for a smoother ride. Unfortunately at the time it was too expensive to mass produce, so it was benched.
In 1870, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Goodrich founded the first tire factory in North America, in Akron, Ohio. Even then, performance was already an integral part of the brand’s DNA. This led Charles Cross Goodrich, son of Benjamin, to establish the very first tire research centre in the United States.
Not to give up on the concept in 1888 another Scottish inventor John Boyd Dunlop when living in Ireland was told by his son that the hard wheels on his doctor prescribed tricycle were uncomfortably hard when riding over the rough streets of Belfast. This prompted Dunlop to form pieces of canvas bonded with rubber to the wheels and his tyres were a great success, creating a line of commercially successful “Safety Bicycles.”
March 1889 Hume, the captain of the Belfast Cruisers Cycling Club, was the first member of the public to purchase a “safety bicycle” fitted with Dunlop’s newly formed pneumatic tyres. Dunlop suggested that it would be advantageous to Hume to use them in a race, and on 18 May 1889 he won all four cycling events at the Queen’s College Sports held on the North of Ireland Cricket Club Grounds.
As the story progresses into the next century, in 1903 P.W. Litchfield of Goodyear Tires patented the first tubeless tire, although it was never commercially used until the 1954 V-8 Packard Clipper was sold with them fitted as standard. This was the first vehicle to offered with tubeless tyres from the showroom, prior to this all tyres used in auto-mobiles were tubed pneumatics.
In 1904, mountable rims were introduced that allowed drivers to fix their own flats by swapping out the wheel for a spare. Not long after this in 1908, Frank Seiberling invented grooved tyres with improved traction, something we now call the tread. In 1910, B.F. Goodrich invented tyres with a longer lifespan by adding carbon to the rubber, and in 1937 they also developed the first synthetic rubber tyre using a special patented substance they dubbed “Chemigum.”
In 1946, the Michelin company developed the first radial tyre, which proved itself far superior to the old bias-ply tire construction used in earlier tyres. It was both stronger, longer lasting and it increased handling. The technology was quickly picked up by manufacturers across all of Europe and Asia due to its superior handling and fuel economy, but it took quite some time to catch on in the American market. In fact, it took 22 years until 1968, when a consumer publication called Consumer Reports awarded both its top spots to radial tyres.
It took time, but now radial tyres are currently holding 100% of the market share.
Since we now have caught up on the history of the development, let’s talk tread choice.
The tread of a tire is the rubber on its circumference, the part that actually contacts the ground. The more they are used, the more this wears away; making them less effective. The patterns and grooves on the tread help give them distinct uses, ones that we at Running Deer rely on rather heavily.
The road tyres most cars are equipped with are designed to allow water to be expelled from beneath the tire and prevent hydroplaning. They are often very effective at this, but due to the relatively shallow grooves and channels are less effective on mud and loose surfaces.
The tyres we are more likely to be running on a day to day basis are off-road tyres. These have more aggressive patterns, allowing them to bite into surfaces and lever the wheel through loose surfaces such as mud, and stone which makes them much better in the woods, and the area we live in.
However, really we need a happy medium. The tyres on one of our Land Rovers, Michelin Latitudes, are considered all terrain tyres. This means there is a fairly aggressive tread pattern, with relatively wide and flat surface area. This allows it to keep a fairly large contact patch on tarmac and road surfaces, and provide good use in the rain; whilst remaining somewhat grippy and capable on looser surfaces.
Something that would possibly also be beneficial at Running Deer given the terrain, is run-flat tyres. They are much more specialised in their abilities, and although our current vehicles are certainly tough enough, punctures and flats can always occur.
Modern run flats were later developed in the 1980s to avoid accidents during punctures, which come in three forms., however these were around in the 1930s in the form of self-supporting tyres, introduced by Michelin to reduce the amount of blow-outs which had become a common occurrence at the time. It was based on technology designed for commuter trains, which had a safety rim inside the tyre which if punctured would run on a special foam lining.
It was primarily developed for the military, and specialised vehicles such as armoured bank vehicles. It was advertised as “Semi-Bulletproof” and even though it held up to that promise, it was far too expensive to be used by the public.
After significant development changes these are now commonly found on light trucks and passenger cars, and typically last for around 50 miles at 50 miles per hour, although this can damage the wheels and repair may be impossible and in certain cases unsafe; especially if the puncture is in the sidewall. They are around 20/40% heavier than standard tyres, and have thicker sidewall’s.
The other two forms of run-flats are self-sealing and auxiliary-supported. Self-sealing contains an extra lining within the tyre itself that self-seals in the event of a small hole (e.g. a nail, or a screw puncture.) The loss of air is then prevented from the outset, so and can be used either permanently or at least well enough to get to a tyre fitter.
In the case of Auxiliary supported, there is an additional support ring either attached or inserted into the wheel itself, which can support the weight of the vehicle in case of a sudden loss of pressure. This run-flat insert can carry heavy vehicles for long distances at high speeds; and is therefore the normal run-flat choice for military vehicles, and armoured vehicles in modern day.
The exciting future of the tyres that are commonly available is debatable, as many companies are currently developing airless NPT’s (non-pneumatic tyres) such as Michelin with their newly developed UPTIS airless tyre, which is designed using composite materials mixing rubber and high strength resin embedded in fibreglass.
This is then formed into a series of “Spokes” to hold the weight of the car, and provide similar handling and performance to traditional tyres without the need to check pressures, eliminating flats, promoting even wear and improving fuel economy.
Similar to how semi-truck tyres are recapped, Michelin envisions that a brand new 3D-printed tread could be installed in an existing airless tyre, reducing raw materials and energy spent building entirely new tyres. Michelin claims this production cycle could eliminate an estimated 200 million tyre replacements every year.
At Running Deer we are always looking for new ways to be renewable, so it’s interesting to see that our choice of tyres may have an impact.
Michelin Group among many other companies are working to make the production, and general global impact of tyre manufacturing and use far more eco-friendly in modern times; and this is something we see more and more of in our automotive industry.
I will close this blog with the hopes of Eric Vinesse, Michelin Group Executive VP for research and development on the future of airless tyres.
“The sustainability aspect is critical for the next ten years. We have an ambition in the next 30 years to be 80 per cent renewable in everything. We need to move towards a more sustainable future where we can provide solutions that have less impact on the environment overall. There’s a global benefit for society and everybody.”