For many cyclists, the bicycle tire doesn’t stand out as one of the more technologically advanced components. But after a look at some of the processes (and people) that go into designing and producing tires, it’s worth rethinking the value placed on this seemingly simplistic piece of equipment.
Tire maker Kenda recently hosted an open house at their R&D facility in North Canton, Ohio. Editors from a number of U.S. publications were on-hand to take a look at the impressive technical processes applied at this facility, highlighted by a preview of their recently completed on-site test track.
Interestingly, when arranging this trip through Kenda’s marketing department, several questions of a more administrative nature were relayed to their engineering team for approval. This wasn’t an anomaly. It’s representative of their entire business model. Kenda’s focus on engineering truly rivals that of the more renowned high-tech components to the bicycle industry such as suspension and the drivetrain.
This fact is buoyed by Kenda’s investment in motorsports and the automotive industry. After all, many of the same processes originally developed for automotive use are the same (or at least similar) in bicycle tire production. But this company was founded as a bicycle tire manufacturer and they’ve not forgotten these roots.
The extra steps that Kenda takes in both staffing and facilities to accomplish the explicit goal of furthering bicycle tire performance is impressive. VP of engineering, Tom Williams, kicked off the open house with a business-oriented discussion focusing on Kenda’s heavy investment in that pursuit. The company’s bicycle division currently pulls in close to 30% of gross total production revenue. Following suit, they’ve poured millions of dollars into bicycle division operations to ensure this progress remains a permanent fixture in their ever-growing tire portfolio.
It’s clear Kenda intends to do so with technology and science first. And American talent, to boot. Along with Williams, a handful of Kenda’s engineers and scientists at their facility south of Cleveland are alumni of the state university system. These scientists and engineers spend each day combing through different materials and designs for new tires with the help of more than a dozen high tech standardized analysis machines.
One of the most notable machines and processes in their portfolio is a recently acquired bicycle rolling resistance machine, quoted at over $1 million in value. Needless to say, this is one of only a few in existence worldwide. Kenda America already has one of these machines for automotive tires, but the smaller format bicycle tire needs its own version of many of the machines that Kenda has on location for reliable and accurate results.
As many advanced machines and personnel as it may house, this expansive facility does not produce tires. Kenda can cut samples here for the whole range of testing, from laboratory testing to field testing. But they leave prototyping and final production to their larger factories overseas. Still, you can be sure that any tire produced in those distant facilities has first run the gamut of testing and revisions both in this facility and in the field.
In an effort to enhance performance through field testing and development, Kenda has partnered with a number of professional race teams and top athletes across all bicycle disciplines. On the road, Rally Pro Cycling, among others, trains and races on Kenda tires. And on the mountain, the Polygon UR Team provides the same sort of direct feedback on Kenda product. This model for subjective field testing is standard practice across all industries of bicycle and component manufacturing. But to allow for increased access and repeatable test conditions (unlike public trails), Kenda has built a scaled down version of the Sea Otter Classic in their R&D facility’s backyard.
Complete with a 12-foot drop-in and advanced drainage system that cost $15,000, this backyard test track allows for immediate, consistent, and repeatable test conditions for their entire range of tires. Anything from road, to cyclocross, to mountain bike models can be run through this test track prior to production.
After touring the facility, Mtbr was given the opportunity to follow Kenda athlete Eric Porter through the many different lines on this track while on several different Kenda tire models. While some of the lines were pure fun (a series of high-speed rollers leading into a series of three-foot banked turns at the base) others were less so.
These less enjoyable lines were probably the more effective ones from a testing standpoint, however. One example was composed of inverted banked turns straight down the hillside with off-camber berms designed to really test the tire’s grip in less than ideal conditions. Another example was a pair of jump lines that each landed directly on a series of jagged embedded stonework intended to test a tire’s impact rating. I steered clear of those.
Two newer models of Kenda mountain bike tires that were on display for this event were the Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver, each larger-format mountain bike tires intended for the gravity end of the spectrum. The Hellkat, which riders such as Mick Hannah Porter assisted in development of, is the slightly more aggressive tread option. The Helldiver is a lighter tread design intended more for rear usage or all around riding in dry, loose conditions. Both tires are available now for $80.
Learn more at www.bicycle.kendatire.com.