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treated rubber and fabric com-

L
pound, the cords of which run in a
radial direction in relation to the
HOW IT WORKS BY CHRIS MAIDA

tread. There is also a layer of steel


belt, which is what allows the tire
TIRES to keep its shape at speed.
Bias tires, which are the stan-
dard type used, have either a two-
or four-ply carcass, and are pro-
duced using a single-step manu-
How they are made
AST SEPTEMBER, GREG CARTER OF VICIOUS Cycles facturing process. To make a bias
(the winner of the 2007 Metzeler Bike Show), some of the tire, the beads are first put on the
Metzeler crew, and I went to Germany to tour the tire manu- bead-setting layers, which are on
facturing facilities of this great company. (We also spent a cou- the sides of the tire machine. (If
ple of days in Munich attending Oktoberfest, but that’s another you look at the accompanying
story.) Until this trip, my opinion of tires was “You can’t eat ’em, photos, even though they’re for a
and they smell bad, but you’ve got to have them.” After all, tires are, different type of tire, this will
basically, heavily-reinforced balloons. However, I was pleasantly make more sense.) Then the indi-
surprised to find that it was interesting to see what goes into making vidual plies are wound on a flat
a modern, high-performance tire. The need to balance strength and steel drum, with the cords of the
weight, as well as a host of other variables that are best left for engi- alternating plies crossing each
neers to discuss, results in an extremely involved process with spe- other. Rollers then press the plies
cialized materials. I was also surprised by the tight tolerances firmly together and help remove
adhered to during the entire manufacturing process. Don’t worry; I’m any air trapped between the plies.
not going to bore you with thousandths-of-an-inch measurements, The plies are also pressed down
and wire and cable specifications. However, I thought you, too, on both sides. After a bead is set
would like to see how these modern marvels are made. Since against each side of the plies, the
Metzeler (www.US.MetzelerMoto.com) makes over 350 sizes of sides are wrapped around the
excellent motorcycle tires, I asked them to send some images of tires beads, creating what is known as
being made and some basic specs. It’s actually pretty cool to see how a turn-up.
strands of wire and strips of treated rubber are joined to make those The last phase is to place a
marvelous donuts we love to push to the limit. length of tread onto the just-
The following photos are a collection of images showing the process made carcass. Air bubbles are
required to make one of Metzeler’s zero-growth tires. If you’re not removed by again piercing and
familiar with that term, it means this tire does not get taller when rolling the carcass. Once this is
you’re riding at highway speeds, as a standard bias tire does. This done, the tire is removed from
enables a bike builder to keep the gap between tire and fender nice and the machine’s drum and sent
tight, since the tire’s size when it’s spinning at 100 mph is the same as to another area of the plant to be
when it’s at a standstill. Zero-growth tires are manufactured in a two- vulcanized (cooked at high
step process. The tire’s carcass consists of only one ply of a specially temperature and pressure).

1 The tire’s carcass material is chevron-


cut on a machine that can be swung to
any point in a 100-degree arc to get the
2 The cord angle (indicated by the white
lines) has to be checked continuously
since it greatly affects the handling of
3 The tire’s reinforced inner liner, which
acts like an inner tube (it’s made of a
special compound that’s impermeable
cord angle needed for a specific tire the tire. Once the strips are cut, they to air) and the carcass fabric are joined
size and model. The width of the strips is are joined together and wound onto a together on this doubling calendar
controlled automatically. spool. machine.
HOW IT WORKS

9 On the left-hand side of the machine, a


layer of rubber has been wrapped

6
around the drum. This is the first phase
Manufacturing zero-degree tires is a of building the steel belt and tread por-
two-step process. A bead (arrow) is tion of the tire.
positioned on each side of the machine
and a single ply (note its radial cords)
is wrapped around a flat steel drum.

4 Bead rings ensure the tire seats firmly


on the wheel. Steel wires (how many
depends on the tire) are coated with a

10
rubber compound and then wound

7
together to make the bead. A bead filler The layer of rubber is then moved to
is then added to the bead. After the single ply is pressed down on the machine’s shaping drum and pre-
both sides and the beads are set against shaped in preparation for the steel
the ply, the ends of the ply are wrapped belt.
around the beads by two air bladders,
forming a turn-up.

5 8 Specially treated rubber strips for the

11
The tread layer, which will show the tire’s sidewalls are then automatically
tread pattern, is molded on an placed on both sides of the carcass The steel cord band is then wound
extruder. A special compound is then and pressed into place. The finished onto the rubber layer. This is the belt
added to ensure it will bond perfectly carcass is transferred automatically to that allows the tire to maintain its
to the carcass. Note the colored the next tire building machine for the shape up to the tire’s rated maximum
identification marks. second step. speed.
HOW IT WORKS

12 After the tread layer is cut to the cor-


rect length by an ultrasonic knife, the
tread is laid over the steel belt and
15 The finished carcass is inflated from
the inside by an air bladder and
pressed into the tread/belt package.
18 The high pressure and temperature
inside the steam-filled bladder press-
es the tread compound into grooves
rolled against it. The completed tire is then removed in the mold, which produces the tread
from the machine. pattern.

16 The tread layer is rolled to provide

19
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good adhesion to the belt. The raw The finished tire is checked visually
The tread/belt package is then placed tire is ready for vulcanizing, which for flaws in the carcass, sidewall, and
inside the machine’s transfer ring, causes the long polymer molecules tread. This machine performs unifor-
which firmly presses the tread onto to form cross-links, giving the rubber mity tests to make sure the tire runs
the steel belt. Air bubbles are compound its elastic properties. true.
removed by piercing the tread.

14 On the other (right-hand) side of the


machine, the finished carcass, which
was made in the first step, is placed 17 Vulcanizing, which is done in a closed
mold at high temperature and pres- 20 The final step is to place the tire on a
balancing machine to determine the
inside the tread/belt package, which sure, results in firm bonding between lightest point, which is marked with
is inside the transfer ring. the rubber compounds and the steel a dot. This is where the valve will
and fabric cords. later be placed. AIM