03 February 2017

These Flytes Never Took Off

When you think of high-quality bicycle tires, some names that might cross your mind are Michelin, Continental, Panaracer, Schwalbe and Vredestein.

Panaracer is a subsidiary of the Panasonic corporation.  People who aren't familiar with the brand, or cycling, might think it odd that an "electronics company" makes bike tires--and some very nice ones, at that.  Or, for that matter,  bikes, which is probably the reason why they didn't sell as well in the US as, say, Fuji.

Schwalbe doesn't seem to be similarly connected to some larger industrial concern.  At least, I couldn't find any such connection.  All of their tires, it seems, are made for bicycles, e-bikes, scooters or wheelchairs.

The other three brands I mentioned--Michelin, Continental and Vredestein--make tires for motorcycles, automobiles and other kinds of motorized vehicles (including industrial machines) as well as bicycles.  In an odd way, their practices parallel those of North American manufacturers in the days when few adults rode bicycles--and, as a result, demand for high-performance bikes and tires was minimal--on this side of the Atlantic.

If you rode a balloon-tired cruiser, whether from Schwinn, Columbia or Huffmann (Huffy) or long-gone marques like Elgin, Rollfast or Monark, it probably was shod with rubber from Goodyear, Goodrich or one of the other companies that made tires in the US for motorized vehicles.

(In fact, B.F. Goodrich also marketed bicycles, manufactured by Schwinn and other bike-makers, under their own name before World War II.)

Another of those US-based tire manufacturers was Carlisle.  From what I could tell, they were the only one of those manufacturers to make the transition from heavy balloon tires to lightweight high-performance tires.  In fact, not long after Michelin introduced the "Elan"--widely considered to be the first high-performance clincher tire-- in the mid 1970s, Carlisle produced its own narrow low-profile clincher tire, available with a folding or wire bead, called the "Flyte".

I never rode Flytes myself, but they seemed to be of good quality, if a bit heavier than Elans and their imitators.  I had not thought about them for a long time until I came across a listing on eBay:

The tire for sale is wire-beaded, though a folding version was also made.  My impression of Carlisle 700C and 27 inch tires comes entirely from the ones I saw in the shops in which I worked.  I don't recall selling, or knowing anyone who rode, them.  

Part of the reason they didn't catch on, I believe, is that most cyclists who were looking for high-performance clinchers were, by that time, riding European and Japanese equipment.  We were, by then, already accustomed to looking toward companies like Michelin--and Wolber, Clement, Panaracer and IRC, which would adapt and, in some cases, improve upon, the design of the Elan--for our pneumatic needs.  

Panaracer and IRC, Japanese concerns both, would also make tires for a then-fledgling company called Specialized Bicycle Imports.  Today, of course, you know it as "Specialized", and its "Turbo S" tire was probably the first to weigh (with the tube made for it) less than most racing tubulars while offering most of the ride quality of such tires.

By that time--the early 1980s--Carlisle was just barely hanging on in the bicycle world.  In fact, it was the last company to manufacture tires for non-motorized two-wheeled vehicles in the USA.   Today it is part of a group called Carlstar, which makes tires for industrial and agricultural vehicles and machines, ATVs and other outdoor vehicles--but not for bicycles.  Interestingly, they also seem not to be making car tires, but they offer after-market and custom car wheels under their Cragar, Black Rock and Unique brands.


  1. Justine, where is the last paragraph where you say what the perfect replacement for a bike which had some of the very first 27 inch Elans is. The wheels are starting to sparkle again and for once I want to be ready for the spring...

  2. I'm a big fan of Schwalbe. They're pretty much totally committed to the bike market as you have pointed out. They don't have a larger corporate parent doing car or motorcyle tires like Continental or Michelin. What I really like about them is they've gone all in on tubeless tires as they believe this is the future. I've become a big fan of tubeless, and wish I hadn't waited so long to try them. I've been preaching with all the zeal of the converted to anyone who will listen.

  3. Coline--You had some of the first 27 inch Elans? That's a story unto itself.

    Phillip--You make a very good point about Schwalbe. They are one of the few true cycling companies. I haven't tried tubeless yet, as I have plenty of tires and tubes--and rims to go with them. Some day, perhaps.

    1. I was working for Michelin , and building up a pile of parts whilst my light touring fram was being built, when the Elans were announced. I chose 27 inch wheels because 700c was only rarely seen and wanted easy availability of spare tubes and tyres. Irony is that is all now reversed and there is little choice for free wheels or tyres in 27 x 1 1/4 inch wheel size but the bike is far too good to just hang on the wall...

      Pondering the countless possibilities helps put me to sleep.