The Evolution of the Flat Tire


Bicycles have come a long way since the stone age. First came the wheel, then centuries later, the pneumatic tube ...  followed minutes later by the flat tire – and flats have been a mammoth  painasaurus ever since.


From Bedrock to Burbank, the road is strewn with tube hazards.  Thorns, rocks, glass, fossils ... and sharp rocks are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their next victim. Once you leave the bike shop you and your bike tubes are on their own – and without Mr. Tuffy, your next flat is just a stones throw away.


Mr. Tuffy. From the (Rolling) Stones Age to the New Age, the original and still the best tire liner of all time.


The Wheel


The wheel has come a long way. For one thing it is no longer made of wood and it is guaranteed that the ride is much smoother. What hasn't changed is the fact it is still one of man's greatest inventions. Could you even imagine where we would be today without it?


The early wheel was very simple ... a solid curved piece of wood, then leather was eventually added to soften the ride, as time progressed it became solid rubber which led to today's bike tire - the pneumatic, or air inflated tire and tube.


The first wheels made of metal or wood were very durable but did not provide a very comfortable ride. The nearest thing to the first tire was a metal hoop. There were many individuals that made contributions in creating the tire as we think of it today.




Rubber was not always as useful as it is today. Early rubber did not hold shape; it would be sticky in hot weather and become inflexible in the cold. In 1839 Charles Goodyear was credited with the discovery of the vulcanization process. Vulcanization is the process of heating rubber with sulfur. This transforms sticky raw rubber to firm pliable material which makes rubber a perfect material for tires.


The story of Charles Goodyear is a sad one, although he dedicated his entire life to making rubber a better form he would never profit from all his work. Charles Goodyear died bankrupt. Forty years later a rubber company would honor his hard work by using his name for their new tire company.


Solid Rubber Tires


Soon, after the discovery of vulcanization tires were made out of solid rubber. These tires were strong, absorbed shocks and resisted cuts and abrasions. Although they were a vast improvement, these tires were very heavy and did not provide a smooth ride. Today there are still types of tires made of solid rubber


Pneumatic Tires


The pneumatic rubber tire uses rubber and enclosed air to reduce vibration and improve traction. Robert William Thomson, a Scottish engineer, invented and patented the Pneumatic (inflatable) Tire in 1845. His first design used a number of thin inflated tubes inside a leather cover (illustrated). This design actually had its advantages over later designs. It would take more than one puncture to deflate the whole tire, and varying the pressures could alter the ride conditions.


This invention consisted of a canvas inner tube surrounded by a leather outer tire. Because neither bicycles nor automobiles had been invented when Thomson produced his tire, it was only applied to horse drawn carriages. The tire gave a good ride, but there were so many manufacturing and fitting problems that the idea had to be abandoned.


Bicycle Tires


John Boyd Dunlop, a Scottish veterinary surgeon working in Belfast, Ireland, is widely recognized as the father of the modern tire. Dunlop reinvented the tire for his ten year old son's tricycle in 1887. Dunlop's tire had a modified leather hose pipe as an inner tube and rubber treads.


Dunlop first advertised his tires in December 1888 in The Irish Cyclist, and in May of the following year the Tire had its first breakthrough. A Belfast Cycle Race was won on pneumatic rubber tires, and by now the public were starting to take note. The timing was perfect because bicycles were becoming extremely popular and the lighter tire provided a much better ride.


Unfortunately the original tire had its drawbacks. The inner tube was difficult to get at because the tire was stuck to the wheel. In 1890 C. K. Welsh patented the design of a wheel rim and outer cover with an extensible lip. By now we had the basics for today’s tire. Over the years the tire has developed into today’s high technology offerings.


Rubber Inner Tubes


It wasn't long before rubber inner tubes were invented and puncture flats became even more common.


Flat tires are a curse for the cyclist. That has been the case since pneumatic tires came into use in the last part of the 19th century. The July 14, 1895 edition of the New York Times has a lengthy article titled “How to Mend Your Wheel.”


Tires caused most of the difficulties on the road. “Punctures are the commonest form of injury to a wheel, and no amount of care can shield a rider from them. It is entirely a matter of individual luck what tires are punctured and how often.”


One of the difficulties in changing a tire in 1895 was that often the tire and rim were glued together. Inside the tire were two tubes, one an outer “shoe” and the other the inflated tube.


Getting at the problem was difficult. The rim and the tire were separated and “the lacing on the under side of the outer tube was ripped open and the air sheath pulled out.” Once the puncture was repaired, care was taken to reassemble the tire without pinching the air sheath tube. Then, if the rider carried rim cement along, he could glue the tire “onto the rim again but unless he has plenty of time to let it set, the best way is to fasten the tire on temporarily with tire tape.”


Sometimes the hole in the tube was just too big to patch with a piece of rubber. In that case, desperate means were required. “The unfortunate may walk to the nearest railway station carrying his wheel. He may ride on the flattened tire and ruin both tubes by cutting into them with the rim, or he may take off the tire and ride on the naked rim, ruining the latter, which is cheaper. One rider in this dilemma puled out his inner tube, filled the shoe with sand and rode home that way. A better scheme was that of a Brooklynite, who after removing the air sheath, stuffed the outer tube with hay. It was not an ideal tire, but it enabled him to get home.”


The Present - Flat Tire Prevention


Today, we have better bikes, better  tires, better tubes, highly advanced technology ... and we still have flat tires. Fortunately, we now have a wide variety of products that promise Flat-Free cycling. First among those are Mr. Tuffy Tire Liners. The Original ... and the Best!

The History of Punctures

Although not exciting as an Indiana Jones movie,  the

history of punctures tells quite a story. A story that will end once everyone rides flat free with Mr. Tuffy


You may also want to check out the history of tires and tubes.

History Buff