Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Re-Tiring Procedure for Ordinary Bicycles (“High Wheelers”) and Wheel Toys

Have the tires worn thin on your 130-year-old ordinary bicycle? Does your pedal car need new shoes? Vintage tricycle got a flat? Here is one way to replace those old solid-rubber tires.
This is the first time I’ve offered a how-to article. In researching this very old process on the Web, I found only two detailed sources: they were from Dave Toppin and Rideable Bicycle Replicas. My process is a combination of both those I found, revised through trial and error. If you’re seriously considering replacing solid-rubber tires, you would do well also read the processes described by Mr. Toppin and RBR.
Summary Description
The solid-rubber tire material, which is almost solid except for a small-diameter hole through the center just big enough to slide in a 1/8-inch-diameter steel wire, is cut to length slightly oversize, and the wire is threaded through and pulled taught around the wheel while the ends of the rubber tire are held apart so that the wire can be brazed together.
  • Tire material from Holmes Wheel Shop.
  • PVC tubing cutter to achieve accurate, square cuts through the tire material.
  • 1/8” diameter (9 gauge) solid, steel wire from your local hardware or home-improvement store.
  • Fine sandpaper for removing corrosion-preventative coating from the wire where it will be brazed.
  • Silicone lubricant to help get the wire threaded into the rubber tire material.
  • Fabricated tool to keep ends of rubber tire material apart when tensioning the wire and brazing together its ends. See photos to get an idea of the one I made out of 1.5” steel tube and a couple of thick washers with slots cut in them. (The slots in the washers are necessary to allow the tool to be removed once you're done!)
  • Cable clamps to allow you to form a loop in each end of the wire so that it can be attached to a sturdy rack or other fixture and the come-along.
  • Come-along (hand winch) or other device to tension the wire.
  • Sturdy rack or other fixture to hook come-along to for tensioning wire. This may have to be able to withstand up to 150 or 200 lbs of pulling force depending on the size of the wheel you are re-tiring and the thickness of the tire. (Less pulling force may be sufficient for larger wheels). I used an over-built steel work bench. A towing ball on the back of your truck would work well for one end of your fixture.
  • Two pair of needle-nose Vice Grip pliers to clamp tensioned wire while excess wire is cut away and ends are brazed together.
  • Die grinder with cut-off wheel and rotary-file bit for cutting away excess wire and profiling the brazed joint so the tire material will close over the joint.
  • Oxy-acetylene torch kit and brazing rod.
  • Small piece of scrap sheet metal for use as a heat shield to protect the wheel when brazing.
  • Wet rag to quench the brazed joint once the job is done.
Cut tire material oversize. Add an extra inch of length for each 10 inches of wheel diameter. For instance, if you have a 10-inch wheel, the appropriate length of tire material will be enough to go around and overlap 1 inch. If re-tiring a 50-inch wheel on an ordinary bicycle, the overlap will be 5 inches. Ensure the cut ends are smooth and square. Use a PVC tubing cutter and practice. For small diameter wheels, you might try to put a very slight bevel in the cut so that the length of tire along the wheel is very slightly less than the length along the outer diameter.
Cut wire to size and prepare the wire to be brazed. The length of wire necessary will be enough to go around the wheel, between the legs of your sturdy rack or other fixture, plus enough for a loop at each end. Cut the wire to size, lay it over your cut-to-size piece of tire material, and mark the approximate area along its length where the wire will protrude from the ends of the rubber. This is where the brazing will occur. Use fine sandpaper to remove the corrosion-preventative coating from the wire over an area about 5 inches either side of where you figure you’ll be brazing together the two ends. You can use a permanent marker to identify the ends of the area that you have prepared.
Install the wire. Use a file or die grinder to round off one end of the wire so you can feed it into the tire material. Depending on the length of the material, you might have to use silicone lube to get it through. The spray silicone lube will run down inside the tire and so might help with particularly large or stubborn cases. Feed the wire through the tool so that the two protruding sections of the wire cross one another. Wrap one end of the wire around a leg of your sturdy rack or other fixture, and secure it with one or two cable clamps. Put a loop in the other end that is big enough to put the come-along hook through, and secure it also with one or two cable clamps.
Tension the wire. Hook up the come-along, and fit the wheel into the tire. The wheel will have to be held in place with tape or light spring clamps until there is enough tension on the wire to compress the tire to hold the wheel. Consider laying towels or other soft material under the wheel to catch it in case there is a sudden loss of tension (wire breaks, fixture breaks, etc.). Crank the come-along until the tire material is snug against the wheel, then give it a little more additional tension to ensure that the ends will close over the gap and touch each other once the tool is removed. It should not need a lot more tension to ensure the joint closes when you are finished.
Prepare for brazing. Clamp the wire with needle-nose Vice Grip pliers at the point closest to where the wire emerges from the tire. Remove the come-along. Cut the wire with the die grinder so that there is about 1 inch of overlap. Bend the ends so that they touch along the length of their overlap. Clean the ends well, removing any silicone or other oils or dirt that might contaminate the brazed joint. Slip a suitably-sized piece of scrap sheet metal under the wire joint to act as a heat shield.
Braze ends. Use a small, hot, oxy-acetylene flame to braze together the two ends of the wire. Immediately quench the joint with a wet rag to prevent the hot wire from burning the rubber tire.
Finish the joint. Use a die grinder with a rotary-file bit to bevel the brazed joint along its length so that it is not substantially wider than the rest of the length of wire or the hole in the tire material. Use needle-nose pliers to twist the joint slightly so that it aligns straight with the rest of the wire. Clean out the grinder chips and any other debris, and remove the heat shield. Remove the tool by pulling it or levering it out with screwdrivers.
The compressed tire material should close over the brazed joint, with maybe a little help from you working the rubber to help it slip along the wheel and over the joint.
Roll away!
I hope that this post is helpful. This process worked for me, and I hope it'll work for you, too. As always, work safely. Fire and stored mechanical energy can be dangerous, so please try to anticipate what could go wrong before it does. I cannot be liable for things going wrong on your project.
If nothing else, my procedure sheds some light on how the Racycle Crank can turn the seemingly simple into an involved exercise. It might get simpler with practice.


  1. Excellent treatment of a difficult repair job! One nagging question: How do you keep the over-sized rubber part of the tire away from the joint where the brazing occurs?

  2. Good question. That is the purpose of the fabricated tool seen on top of the wheel while all the work takes place. The tool has slotted stops welded in place that hold apart the ends of the tire material. The slots are critical--without them you will not be able to remove the tool once the wire joint is brazed.
    Take another a look at the pictures (you can click on them to enlarge them), and you should be able to get a better idea of what is going on. You might appreciate that the vice grips have to be VERY tight when you cut away the extra length of wire that you tensioned only to compress the rubber.

  3. On these little tires with large diameter rubber you may get away with 1" for 10" of diameter extra, but with a regular wheel for a high bike you need 2" per 10" so an 18" wheel gets 3.6 inches extra and a 50" wheel gets a 10" overlap. Any less you will end up with a gap. Nice article! Dave Toppin

    1. I know this is an old post,but hopefully someone can reply.So,if I need 2" per 10" on diameter,using your 18" as an example,does the tool I make need to have a 3.6" gap,or does the tool stay the same,and I have to try to keep the rubber slack evenly distributed around the rim until I remove the tool?It seems like the 10" extra on a 50" rim would be darn near impossible to control and keep seated on the rim at the instant the tool pops out.Any hints or help is appreciated,as I have 2 12" and 4 16" tires to replace :-(

    2. I know this is an old post but hopefully someone can help.If I need 2" per 10" like above,using the 18" diameter as an example(3.6" gap),would the gap in the tool also need to be 3.6"+,or does the gap in the tool stay the same,but you have to try to distribute the slack evenly around the rim until the tool is removed.On the 50" rim,it seems like it would be darn near impossible to keep the tire centered on the rim as the tool is removed.I appreciate any help or tips,as I have (2) 12" and (4) 16" tires to replace.Thank You!

    3. For 12" and 16" diameter wheels, I would go with 1" extra per 10" of diameter, as originally stated in the article. Mr. Toppin's rule of thumb he indicates is for larger diameter wheels, as on a high-wheel bicycle. I always buy more tire material than I need, so I can have enough to complete the job even if one attempt goes bad.

    4. Bow Tie, the same tool can be used regardless of diameter. The extra material, regardless of how much there is, is compressed against the stops in the tool as you crank the come-along. Once the ends of the wire are brazed together and finished, the wire holds the tire to the correct diameter and the rubber material remains under compression. This compression closes the end gap in the tire material and keeps the tire tight on the wheel rim.

    5. Racycle Crank,
      Thank You so much for the replies! I watched a couple videos on hiwheel of a man actually using the tool(although he twists instead of soldering),and it cleared everything up for me.Now I REALLY need to find a source for the rubber.Everything I found online are round rubber.The tires I'm redoing(both the 12" & 16"),are 1-1/4" wide,and actually were that size being marked 12x1-1/4 and 16x1-1/4 respectively.They both have a flat trad,and I think originally may have had grooves in the tread.I have looked for some time for those size tires to no avail and was thinking of making my own as a erplacement.These are for my buddies bike shop for his personal projects and he don't have the capability for these repairs.Me,being a disabled ex-machinist,still have the capability in my garage.Is anyone repopping either the whole tire to boil,or even the tread?Google hasn't been much of a friend lately :-( I'm getting desperate,as I told him years ago I could fix anything,and I hate to let him down now,lol.

    6. Are you saying that the tires have the size molded into the sidewall? They sound like semi-pneumatic tires. 12x1.75 and 16x1.75 are available ( and You can buy the wheel assembly, remove the tire, and install it on your wheel. Try searching for semi-pneumatic tires or flat-free tires. Good luck!

    7. Yes they were semi-pneumatics.I found the 1.75's on marathon and a couple other places before coming here.I thought thay may not fit his rims being 1/2" wider.Also I was concerned their 12" & 16" may not actually be the same as our 12" and 16",hence me considering this treatment of a solid tire.

  4. great stuff. And your Norton project looks great too.

  5. Hi, I have a kids vintage tricycle (1960) and I would like to have the rubber wheels re-done. Do anyone know where I can send them?


    1. The 1960 tricycle likely has semi-pneumatic tires. You might try this:
      They probably have 1.5" width too. Or try
      You might have to paste those URLs into your browser window.
      Installation of the semi-pneumatic tires involves heating the new tire in
      simmering water, pouring off the water, and (while wearing gloves to keep
      from burning your hands) using small levers (bicycle tire irons or
      screwdrivers) to force the tire into place. Liquid soap can help the tire
      slip on.

  6. We are going to refurbish my husband's Sunshine tricycle for our granddaughter and need an old tricycle seat and new tires. The tricycle was made in Ontario Canada about 1940's/50's and has solid rubber tires - any idea where I can find replacements? I will be in Canada Aug/Sept and want to pick it up while I am there - could get it shipped to a Canadian address if required.

  7. If the tires on your sunshine tricycle look like those fabricated in this post, then the only thing you can do is fabricate a set like I did or have someone do it for you. If you are lucky, the tires might instead be semi-pneumatic tires, which are commercially available. You could try
    Or this
    Let me know if this information helps.

  8. Unfortunately they are not semi-pneumatic they are solid rubber with a metal cable in the middle holding them on. I found what I need on but can't get the shopping cart to work with a Canadian or UK delivery address and no one seems to be answering their email and no phone number that I can find either!! Frustration!

  9. I am restoring a tricycle similar to the one you have pictured at the bottom of the article, it is a Shapleigh Hardware Co. Rugby. The tires are hard rubber but there is a rib running the full circumference of the rim. The hard rubber would need to have a slit running the full length. Have you ever encountered something of this nature?

    1. Sorry, I have not encountered tires like you describe. You might try posting your question on the forum of The Wheelmen or on the Classic and Antique Bicycle Exchange. Good luck!

  10. Holmes Wheel Shop has a telephone but not a web site to order from. Call them at 1-330-279-2891. They can take your credit card info over the phone. Try searching the web for Mr. Rittenhouse. He used to advetise in the back the Wheelmen's newsletter.

    1. Unfortunately, Ray Rittenhouse passed away in Dec. 15, 2015:

    2. Wow. I'm really sorry to hear that. Thank you for sharing the news.

  11. Hi Racycle Crank. I need solid rubber tyres about 20mm wide for 10" wheels. Holmes Wheel shop can supply the rubber material you show at top, correct? Is that a USA phone number?

    1. Yes, Holmes Wheel Shop should still be able to supply the material that is shown in the photos. They carried a variety of widths. Yes, the phone number quoted is a U.S. phone number.

  12. Hello all. I have a chain drive tricycle that I am working on. Great shap and all there but both back wheels (tires) are non-existent. Any ideas on who or how or where to get these back to new so I can be send? Thanks all

  13. Great article and understandable instructions. I have 70+ year old tricycle with 14"x1.75" rear and 20"x1.75" front solid rubber tires. Need to retire all three. However need also to replace spokes. Have not been able to locate spokes for the 14" wheels. Need 132mm+/- length. Anyone available that has spoke blanks that can be cut to length and threaded or where might I find same?

  14. Regarding custom-length spokes, it's certainly possible to get them for motorcycles, so I expect that they'd be available for bicycles as well. See . I have an old tricycle (Taylor) that has rear spokes the length of matchsticks, but either end looks totally conventional, so I'm sure someone out there can make you a set of spokes. Good luck!