Vintage motorcycle tire styles

Discussion in 'Antique Motorized Bicycles' started by DougC, Nov 2, 2009.

  1. DougC

    DougC Guest

    This is a question about tires, but only as it relates to board-track-era cycles (from 1900 to 1920 or so).
    I am considering attempting to make my own tires, so that I can have ones that look better than what is available. This will be so that I (and possibly others) can obtain tires that--while not the exact same dimensions--will at least have the correct tread styles and colors (something so far no commercial MTB tire company has been able to do). I haven't ever worked with molding rubber before, but all the people who say it can't be done have never tried it themselves and can't explain to me exactly why it can't be done--so I'm going to give it a spin, more or less.

    What I already know is that all the required materials are available separately. I have some other things going on so it may be a month or two before I start messing with any of it.

    There's plenty of Chinese companies that will do custom production work and they could do it much cheaper and better on their factory equipment than I could by hand, but there's two problems with them: most have a minimum order quantity of one 20-foot container of tires, and the cost of tooling a new tire tread mold is tens of thousands of dollars,,, and you don't even own it after you pay for it, you're just paying them to make a mold that they keep. (-Not that you would really have much use for the tire mold on your own, but the point is that even if you decide you no longer want their services, then they are free to crank out tires on a mold you paid your own money to build-)

    So, I started looking around online for old photos showing what kinds of tires that these cycles really used to find out what varieties I'd need to create--and there appears to be only two styles, with some possible color variations among them. The two styles are the "button tread" and the "ribbed", and some other possibles are shown as well.
    See this page:

    If you can produce a vintage photo showing another style of tire tread, I'd like to see it. Be warned, I have been looking for a number of days now in my spare time with lots of search terms, on English-language pages, out to 40-50+ Google page results. If you can read other languages you may find things I missed, however.

    Also note that for this purpose, only vintage photos are useful as evidence. Any modern restoration may have used the incorrect tires simply because it was one that was cheaper or easier to obtain than the proper tire, or they couldn't find any information that said what the proper tire really was.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2009

  2. I believe some variation of ribbed tread tires in white or black rubber were a fairly popular choice for the board track racing crowd. I imagine different tires may have been used for dirt tracks or endurance runs on roads.

    Lots of good clear vintage shots.

    Here's a few very detailed pictures, although they may not be racing tires specifically.

    An advert with good view of the tread patterns.

    I do know that white and black button tread tires are available in 26" through coker.
  3. DougC

    DougC Guest

    Thanks, a couple pages there I had not found.
    These are Goodyear tires, I had seen a bunch of ads for them but none saying they were made for motorcycles.

    Those are vintage clinchers in fractional sizes. The diameter is wrong for MTB rims, and they won't fit on modern bicycle wheels at all because the tire bead is different.

  4. scottyo

    scottyo Member

    Hey Doug,
    Im afraid I dont know much about making tires, but if youre strictly looking for a good vintage style tire and not in this for the challenge of making your own, then I would check out the Felt Thick Brick:

    They fit on a 24" wheel but are so fat that they have a total diameter similar to a typical 26" tire/wheel. Their tread is very vintage and they have cream and black colors.

    Also the schwalbe fat frank is really nice and comes in brown as well (26" only).
  5. DougC

    DougC Guest

    And then they had names, , , , ,

    Plodding onward-

    The 5-rib "board-track" tire tread style is named the "Swinehart".
    Go to Google Books, look up the title "Tire Making and Merchandising" by F. R. Goodell (1918) and it's on page 77 of the PDF (or page 68 of the actual book pages).

    The street/dirt tread you see on vintage photos of these motorcycles (the tread with alternating rows of two and three round knobs/buttons) is called the "Kokomo".
    Go to Google Books, look up the title "Pneumatic tires automobile, truck, airplane, motorcycle, bicycle" by Henry Pearson (1922), on page 659 of the PDF (654 in the actual book page numbers).


    The second book in particular shows a full 18 pages of various tire treads with 35-40 per page, but unfortunately most of them are blacked out (I guess from improper scan settings? some of them show up perfect...). It's kinda amusing to browse through; one genius seemed to only design and patent tire treads that were entirely made up of dollar ($) and cent (ยข) signs. The book's author admits that (paraphrasing) "most of the many thousands of tire-tread patents awarded were merely decorative or fanciful in purpose, and conferred no real benefits beyond simpler tread designs".

    I looked around for how much a copy of this book would cost, and the cheapest at the moment is $275.
    So I may not be getting it anytime soon.
    It does not really matter to see all of them, there were only a few of the most famous tread designs I had even considered.

    Another amusing concept re-born many times was that of the "suction-cup tread". The theory was that if a tire had lots of little "O" shapes on it, the air would be squeezed out of these as they rolled under where the tire met the ground, and create a suction, giving more traction between the tire and whatever ground it was on. It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that if this principle really worked, then the tire would be more difficult to roll as well.......
  6. Board track tires and wheels

    Hi DougC, early on you had asked about sizes and types.

    As far as I have been able to research the 2 most common, if not the only, sizes are 28x3 (medium and heavy-weight motorcycle) and 26x2,125 (light motorcycles, and many racing Motorcycles. The bicycles of the day used 28x1.5 and it is possible that some VERY early, more homemade type race motorcycles may have used them.

    The reason we still have a variation of the 26x2.125 tire still, is because Ignaz Schwinn bought Excelsior Motorcycle Company about 1909, and soon went racing! The demise of the Glory Days of American Motorcycle was evident with Henry Ford's cheap mass-produced automobiles, and the Great Depression that was creeping upon them. As a business decision Ignaz folded Excelsior, which forced Frank W. Schwinn back into his fathers bicycle business. This would be around 1931.

    Frank decided that he could capture a larger market share by making boy's bicycles more like the famous motorcycles. This is when he designs and introduces, among others, these things; "Schwinn Springer" (plagiarized from early motorcycles). Cantilever frames with low seating position, and put Faux fuel tanks in the straight-bar frames, also naming a line of bikes "Motocycle".

    He then contacts the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, who had been making racing tires for Henry Ford since 1901. Exclesior had run hundreds of the Goodyear tires on the boards all around the country, he was able to convince Paul Litchfield then president, to resume the production of the old 26x2.125 motorcycle size of tires, convincing Paul, that they could sell enough bicycles to support the re-introduction of the old size.

    Frank W. will call the new tires "balloon tires". They were a huge success, and can be found everywhere in the US still.

    The closest wheels I have found are made by The Worksman Cycle Company, in the Bronx New York, where they have been making bicycles since 1898, perhaps their early clincher style rim dates back to the early style directly?

    I hope some of this sheds some light on this subject.


    Attached Files:

  7. DougC

    DougC Guest

    The motorcycle and bicycle tire sizes may have used the same numeric size specifications, but were not the same. The bicycle tires at that time in the US were tubulars I believe, not clinchers at all.

    Nope, the vintage tires and rims would not be compatible with today's tires or rims at all.


    I have a question for you now: I believe you had a photo of a motorbicycle that had the red retro BF Goodrich tires on it, did you not? If so (or to anyone who has used them) did you notice anything unusual about the traction they delivered? Was there less, more, about the same?
  8. Hoodoo

    Hoodoo Member

    Yes but which size

    For my first vintage project I have been using 26" tires but this bike is awfully
    low (I admit I have the seat down in racer fashion). But were there really
    26" single cylinder Motorcycles in the early days circa 1909-1915ish or
    where they usually 28" bikes? If 28" I should be using 29er tires and modding the frames and forks to fit.
  9. meatwad

    meatwad Member

    Here's a pic of a 1914 Pope. I dont know what size wheels it has but it is porportionaly the same as a bicycle with 26s.
  10. Hoodoo

    Hoodoo Member

    I really regret not adding six inches to the frame on my bike as mine is going to look a bit short. I really like the tank style on this pope. I got into this project with my typical charge for the guns approach. I always need help and I have to get helpers energized and then I get all excited and forget to do my homework. What has been wierd is that I have asked several people with vintage bikes for the wheel size but they haven't responded. I'll bet that pope is a 28 with about a 78" overall size. I really like the porportions of the old bikes.
  11. meatwad

    meatwad Member

  12. Hoodoo

    Hoodoo Member

    Thanks. What a cool bike, that place went under didn't it? Will be hopefully test running it this Saturday. Having the tank made now but will use the kit provided tank for the test. Would be nice if it runs. NEXT TIME I will build the bike to fit the underslung tank I have and it will save a lot of trouble.
    Can easily make a dummy tank to fit over the store bought tank. I am going to bite the bullet and add those generic springer forks that are on ebay. Fixing to try to install the rear axle stand. I think the white tires will make it look bigger.
  13. DougC

    DougC Guest

    29" MTB wheels and tires would probably be closer to the old 28" motorcycle size.
    There are a couple choices for wider 29" rims out there.

    Three I found:
    Snowcat rims: 44mm wide = $50 each
    Kris Holm (three models) = $50-$100 each
    Salso gordo 29ers: 35mm wide = $100 each

    The Snowcats are by far the widest and among the cheapest.
    Schwalbe makes Big Apples in 29" sizes, for tires.

    Only hang up left is that you pretty much need to build your own frame, if you want anything retro-looking at all. There's a lot of casual/comfort/hybrid bikes around that are 700C wheel size (basically the same diameter as 29"s come out to be) but most of those bikes are not built to take tires so fat. The only frames around for these wheels that can run fat tires are straight-tube MTB's.
  14. DougC

    DougC Guest

    I am still working on the tire-making project, though I am taking it rather casually.


    One thing I realized just now is that to use latex tires, you would probably need to change to using silicone lube on your chains.

    Many people who build motorized bicycles have setups that allows the engine-drive chains to rub at least slightly on the side of the tire, and hydrocarbon oils are rather chemically destructive to latex rubber.
  15. DougC

    DougC Guest

    Yesterday I ran a small test of the first of the machines I need to make tires.

    The first machine is the one that produces the necessary fabric, that must have all the threads going one direction only (normally-woven fabric can't be used, it won't work). I had to figure out how to do this myself, since there is no machine I found that would do it. It is the major obstacle to making home-made tires, so I won't show or say how the machine works--but I can show what it makes.

    This piece has a few things wrong, but most of those issues are already solved. The thread count ranges from about 40 to about 50 threads-per-inch, but stopping and re-starting the machine causes that. I was making adjustments to it while I was doing this, but running a whole piece without stopping should get it more consistent.

    My goal was for an 80 thread-per-inch finished tire casing, so that requires two layers of 40 threads-per-inch that are folded across each other. 80 TPI is rather high for a cruiser-bicycle tire, but about medium for bicycle tires in general. More threads = a thinner casing and less rolling resistance. Cheap tires will have around 40 tpi while higher-end road bicycle tires will have around 120 tpi.

    There are no cross-threads at all, the thread is held together only by the rubber. I only put one thin layer of rubber on and I didn't let it cure very long so it tore very easily. The edges are also frayed because the method I had planned to use to cut it off the machine didn't work so well, but I already have a few other things I can try to help that.


    With commercially-manufactured tires, they have the fabric made separately on large rolls and they just cut off whatever size they need. You can see huge rolls of it in these two bicycle tire manufacturing videos:

    Video below is a Continental factory video, in an episode of "How It's Made"
    skip ahead to 1:55 for the fabric

    Also there is a Schwalbe video online too
    skip to 3:45 for the fabric stuff

    They don't say very much about the fabric itself, but then they don't actually make it at the tire factory either.
    I did find out how it is made but I couldn't make it the same way they do, because making a machine that could produce continuous rolls like that would require a huge amount of thread at once. The machine I have built can only make enough for one tire at a time. The test sample is only a short piece, but the machine can make continuous pieces long enough for a 29" tire.

    Also, they make the fabric separately and coat it with rubber afterward. I figured it would be easier to just coat it with rubber during "weaving", since it is easier for me to spread a thin layer of liquid rubber onto it and let that cure than it would have been for me to roll semi-solid rubber into a very thin unbroken sheet.


    I am still quite a ways from making a whole tire, but this is one part that you can't do it well without, and making this part was the biggest problem I could foresee.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 13, 2010
  16. chainmaker

    chainmaker Member

    How is this project coming along ??
  17. DougC

    DougC Guest

    The project has been sitting idle for quite a while now, but will be picked up again soon. For a number of months I didn't have the spare money to blow on this, but that aspect of things has improved somewhat.

    I am still entirely confident that this is 100% possible to do at home.
    Besides the lack of blow money it was stuck at a point where I didn't quite know how to proceed, so I just left off it for a while.


    At any time I have about four different projects going at once. ;D

    The one I had been working on the most lately was this:
  18. DougC

    DougC New Member