Tire Technology 101

It these modern times with almost endless high performance, specialty tire choices for trucks, cars, and motos, it’s easy to forget how far we have progressed in just the past few decades. Prior to the 1980s there were few enthusiast, recreational off-highway truck tires.

As trucks and tires have advanced to a very high level many are now focused on the toughest tire available, thinking this is the best option. Maybe so, if you are continually puncturing your tires and/or ripping sidewalls, maybe you do need the toughest tire. However, some have forgot or never knew that the problem with light-truck tires just a few decades ago was that most were bias-ply designs and were very inflexible. They were pretty rugged as bias-ply tires tend to be, but in addition to their limiting tread designs, on-highway handling was only fair, and sidewall and tread flex, a key component of traction, was almost non-existent. Radial tire design and the specialty tires have changed this in a big way.

This comical and entertaining historic advertising movie from 1939 for the Fisk Tire Company illustrates how advanced tire technology has become and how different it was decades ago. At minute 4:00 in the video, the narrator explains how the rubber “inserts” allow the formerly continuous tread ribs to flex and act independently. This is essentially the same as what’s accomplished with the siping of modern tires, allowing tread blocks to conform and move independently, and providing biting edges for grip. Flexibility is key. If you want traction, you need flex. Most modern tires do offer a lot of flex, and flexibility is part of the reason handling, ride, and traction is so good (think radial tires). It’s important to remember and focus on the fundamental principles of traction and drivability.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

3 Replies to “Tire Technology 101”

  1. I really enjoy old movies like this. A modern copy of this tire is produced for vintage cars, available from a company in Pennsylvania. From the website quoted price, one tire will cost you what 4 did then!

  2. You make a very valid points Ryan regarding the common use of mud-terrain tires on vehicles that see very little dirt, and looks vs. performance. You will probably enjoy the tire posts I’m working on for next week.

  3. I listen to old time radio shows from the 40’s and 50’s and the tire ads are quite interesting. Ribbed tires were high tech back then. I could only imagine what it was like to drive a huge hunk of steel with smooth ribbed tires in the rain or snow.

    As for off-road/truck/suv tires, there certainly have been quite a few innovations in the last 30 years. With the advent of radial mud tires, there are more people running them (on vehicles that see more pavement than dirt) than ever. I think now, more than any time previous, people run a tire based on looks over performance or even what the tire is suited for.

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