We visted Kenda’s new facility and test track to learn more about what goes into developing bike tyres.
Whether you’re riding once a week or racing every weekend, having a good set of tyres on your bike can make the difference in having a great ride or ending up on the ground. Tyres are (ideally) the only part of your bike that comes in contact with the surface that you are riding on, so it’s important to make sure they’re in good shape.
And while tyres might seem like one of the simpler parts on your bike, there’s actually a lot of technology that goes into making them roll how you want them to. Kenda is one of several major tyre manufacturers out there, and they’ve been refining their process since 1962. Recently they took us behind the scenes at their super high-tech North American Research and Development facility near Akron, Ohio to show us how they test and develop tyres. Here are three things to keep in mind when you’re looking for new rubber.
Not all tyres that look the same are the same.
There are infinite tread patterns out there, but the particular rubber compound used can also make a huge difference in how a tyre feels. Kenda and most other high-end tyre companies use dozens of different mixes, each of which give their tyres different handling characteristics.
Compounding Specialist Caitlyn Holiday explained that tyres and rubber compounds vary greatly and are made for specific uses, surfaces, and even temperature ranges. For example, some tyres which are designed to be extra-durable might not feel as grippy or soft; and tyres meant to be fast and light might not last as long.
Finding the right balance of tread and rubber compound can make your ride that much sweeter, so make sure to investigate all the options for the tyre model you choose.
No tyre lasts forever.
It can take a lot of riding to wear a tyre out, but mileage isn’t the only thing that can kill a tyre. Dry rot (when tyres start to look dry, faded and cracked) is a common problem, and it isn’t just from age, mileage, or exposure to sunlight - it’s also from exposure to ozone, which is particularly detrimental to certain rubber polymers.
Kenda uses a special machine that exposes tyres to huge amounts of ozone to test their durability and to figure out ways to make them last as long as possible. These machines are more applicable to car tires, which get more direct contact with ozone on the road, but if you see dry rot in your bike tyres, it’s important to replace them right away.
Testing a bicycle tyre is hard work.
Laboratory tests are no match for real-world feedback from riders, but to be helpful, tests need to be repeatable, measurable, and conducted in consistent conditions. To maintain test consistency, Kenda developed their own dirt test track at their Akron, Ohio R&D facility. A paved track around the outside also has a variety of banked and off camber turns to push tyres to their absolute limits.
While from the road it looks like fun, engineers say that the new test track at Kenda is purely scientific. Alan Clark, Senior Director of Bicycle at Kenda stated, “Kenda sees the development of this track as a valuable addition to the current testing protocol of laboratory machines and professional athletes it currently employs.” I spent some time riding it and I don’t know if I totally believe them (it’s a blast). When it comes time to replace your tyres, Kenda has offerings for just about any kind of bike you may have.