Continental Tires: Inside the Factory

Jun 21, 2012
by Matt Wragg  
Continental have been advertising that their high-end tires are handmade in Germany for a few years now, but how do you go about making tires by hand? With a frame, at least an aluminum one, you know what to expect - it’s been put together by a man with some welding experience and a hammer. But a tire, well, that just had us stumped. So when Continental invited us up to their headquarters in Korbach, Northern Germany, we jumped at the chance to see the procedure firsthand.

We followed their production process from design and prototyping, right through to the finished tires that you can buy off the shelf, but you'll probably notice that we don't show the same tire throughout the article. This is because the production line manufacturers different tires on different days, and we were lucky enough to catch it as that change was happening. The fact is that the same process is used for all of the tires made within the walls of the Korbach plant - just the sizings, rubber compounds and materials (like the bead ) obviously change between the road models and World Cup-ready downhill tires.

Originial computer designs of the tyre.
  You're looking at the starting point for their forthcoming downhill tire - the Rammstein. After talking in great detail with their sponsored athletes - Continental worked closely with the Atherton family for this tire - they took their requirements and created this 2D image. At this stage of the tire's life they tried a few different options and, as you can see, evaluated how each individual characteristic would perform in the dirt.

Rapid prototypes.
  Rapid prototypes were made once Continental felt that they had something ready to be investigated further, with the plastic tire shells letting them study how the shape affected the grip pattern. These lifelike models are an important part of the design process before heading to the mold, allowing the designers to see the tire's layout in the real world as opposed to on a computer screen.

Sell by date for rubber and pressing the air out of it ready.
Rubber on the rolls ready to go.
  This is one of the starting points for any tire: rubber. Each batch has a very strict use-by date once it has been mixed, and the compounds of the rubber are very specific. The compounds are mixed from various substances to create a balance of grip and durability that that matches the end product's intended use. Understandably, Continental was not keen on telling us much about their compounds. Before it can be used, the rubber needs to be worked to remove the air from it, which is done by heating it and then running it through a roller-press. Loud pops as air bubbles burst from within can be heard as you walk by the machine. Once the air is gone the rubber is stored on rolls and ready for the next step.

Nylon the other component.
  Another important ingredient for any tire: nylon. These sheets of nylon, once sized for the specific tire that it will eventually create, will be joined with the rubber to create the casing.

Christian modelling the pressing machine.
Detail shots of the pressing machine.
The pressing machine
  Production starts in earnest here, in this giant machine. Christian, one of the research and development team members at Continental, is standing in front of the machine to give you a sense of just how big this monster is. The complex diagram maps out what happens inside. Roughly speaking, the top level prepares the nylon for the rubber to be introduced, and it's at point 26 on the diagram where the two become one. The hot rubber and nylon are forced together at this stage by a series of rollers running at different speeds to create more friction. Once combined they are then allowed to cool down and are stored on rolls at the end of it all.

Strands of cotton are run through the rubber so the air can escape later in pressing.
  Strands of cotton run through the rubber and nylon mix, allowing air to escape when the tire is pressed later. Different of colours of cotton are used to mark which type of tire the material is for.

The finished rubber nylon.
  One of the finished rolls. As you can see, the rubber and nylon are now like one material - this will form the casing for the tire.

The grip ready for assembly.
Cooling and extruding the rubber.
  This strip of rubber is what will eventually become the tire's tread (top). The tread rubber is forced through a die to create a specific shape and precise thicknesses across its width. It is then cooled over a series of rollers and then stored between a layer of fabric, used to prevent it from sticking to itself.

The rubber-coated bead.
The raw wire ready to be rubber coated.
  For wire-beaded tires, the beading begins its life as a roll of copper-coated steel wire. It is then pulled under tension through a machine that coats it with rubber (top).

The prepared beads.
  The rubber-coated beads are then curled into a loop that matches the precise diameter of its intended rim.

Schaefer.
  Finally there is the schaeffer, the fabric strip that is wrapped around the bead. Now all of the components needed to make a tire are present, although they still need to be combined.

The assembly machine.
Laying the components together.
  This is where you really understand why Continental say that their tires are handmade: each one is assembled individually by a single person. The components of the tire arrive on the large assembly machine in the top photo. The tread rubber is shown, lower left, rolled in its cloth backing. The casing rubber is rolled onto the tire-forming drum (bottom center) and cut diagonally to size by the operator. The beads are wrapped onto the casing fabric first (bottom lright) and then the tire-making drum automatically folds the casing over the beads. The casing is nearly complete

Putting the tyre together.
  A strip of schaeffer cloth is laid over each bead and the tread rubber is then rolled onto the centre. The schaeffer and tread are trimmed down with a pair of scissors to fit perfectly, and heat is applied to seal the rubber.

Ready
  There you go: an un-pressed tire. All it needs now is some hot-patch labels and it will be set to the presses, where the tread rubber is forced under heat and pressure into the molds that give it its final shape.

The tyre presses.
The tyres press details.
  You have to respect anyone who works here in the presses. They use steam heated to 180 degrees centigrade, and on the relatively cool day when we visited it was still stiflingly hot... it doesn't bear thinking about how hot it gets in here during the summer. And that little yellow notice on the bottom right roughly translates to "watch out, this thing could kill you".

Inside the press.
  A look inside the press. The tire is mounted in the centre, where hot steam inflates an internal bladder that forces the uncured tire into the mold.

Rammstein
Tread details for the Rammstein tyre.
  Each type of tire has it's own mold - if you look closely you can see exactly what the tread pattern will be on their new Rammstein downhill tire... The little holes at the top of the mould are to let air and excess rubber escape - that's what creates the little rubber dangly things (it's a technical term ) you find on new tires.

The presses at work.
  Here, the tire is shown, placed in the press. The tread mold is two matching halves that clamp over the tire. Heat and pressure then cure the rubber, forming the tread and mating the tread, casing and bead components into one structure.

A freshly-pressed tyre.
  A smoking hot, fresh tire straight from the presses.

The tyre wear testing machine.
Details of the wear test.
  Of course a new tire design will need testing. This is the durability test where they run the tire over the big, uneven metal wheel with a weight of 50kg to see how well it survives. They needed to manufacture their own wheels with industrial-standard hubs for this, because normal mountain bike wheels aren't up to the kind of abuse they put their tires through in testing.

Pinchflat test.
  Pinch-flat testing. A weight of 10kg is dropped from various heights onto an inflated tire.

Puncture test.
  Finally, the penetration test to see how hard it is for a sharp object to break through the tire.

The finished product modelled by Jurg and Ulf.
  Made with love. Head of marketing Joerg, the legendary Ulf, and the new Rammstein DH tire - handmade in Germany.

Stay tuned to Pinkbike as we'll have an exclusive first test of the new Rammstein downhill tire next week.

www.conti-online.com

Posted In:
Stories Tires



88 Comments

  • 52 0
 Germans love their rubber!
  • 7 3
 HAHAHAHAHAHAHA
  • 33 0
 Especially rubber with knobs!
  • 28 1
 Still don't trust their condoms. Conti and maxxis should make some
  • 10 0
 Pretty sure dunlop made the first condom, half a centimetre thick tire rubber condom that you use and rinse out and repeat lol
  • 11 0
 Grim
  • 4 1
 The first condoms were used in Asia hundreds of years ago I believe and were made of turtle or tortoise shells...ribbed for her pleasure! Smile Don't quote me on that though, it's a distant echo of knowledge from somewhere. Might go and check to see if I'm on the ball or not...
  • 6 0
 they should have made it a video like the one when they made the handlebars would have made it that much better!! still pretty rad though
  • 1 0
 nuttela and anyone else who fancied a video, this was done a while ago at a schwalbe factory. i imagine the process is very similar Smile

www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0P3oQWo22A
  • 26 1
 My mate always said he didn't use condoms, to expensive or something, he said he just wips it out before the crutual moment!! I dont ride with him much these days though as he spends allot of time at home looking after his kids. lol. True Story.
  • 1 0
 lol was well good for a laugh, thanks man
  • 1 0
 another one of those how its made videos would be cool.
  • 1 0
 How It's Made video here - www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jO0TE3f0ow
  • 1 0
 The way I understand it is the first condom was used in the middle east using sheep and goat intestines, sometime in the 1800's the Europeans redesigned the idea by taking the intestine out of the animal first. I think....
  • 1 0
 pretty sure the first condom was an octopus tentacle... pre-lubricated
  • 25 1
 i will never complain again about tire price. More articles like this Pinkbike, keep them coming!!!
  • 10 0
 Someone in Greece should be making innertubes ... Then you could say that greece helps with Continental Inflation, whilst the Germans are ensuring the inflation is covered. A match made in heaven. Good thing JP Morgan doesn't make Brakes... cause you know they are never going to stop!!!
  • 6 0
 Another great ''how its made'' type article. Love to see how stuff is made, This is a world away from how I envisaged tyres are made. Now I know different.
  • 3 0
 I'm using Black Chili Rubber Queens on my hardcore hardtail and I'm very pleased with them. Great tubeless tire, easy to set up and lots of grip. Rear tire has endured lots of runs through rock gardens with no rear suspension and a 100+ kg rider! Not good for muddy conditions but tbh I haven't found a tire that works well in the mud (apart from Maxiss Wet Screams and other tires specifically made for mud).
  • 5 0
 watch out for "made in india" conti's there like cheep knock-offs made of plastic. the german made tires are very good.
  • 4 0
 There is a serious difference between the high-tech German made Conti tires and the basic Asian ones. I don't mean that the Asian ones are bad, but at shop prices sometimes between 12 and 15 € they are rather intended for mountain bikes from 500 to 1000 €. This is certainly the bulk of sold bikes and there is a clear entitlement for this market section - although it has little in common with the sports of mountain-biking. The German made Contis are excellent, and there are several indicators and tech labels to identify them and separate them from the Asian basic ones: The German flag on the packaging, the "handmade in Germany" print on the tire, Black Chili Compound rubber, Protection technology, tubeless ready, Supersonic, and more.
  • 2 0
 I don't know which ones are the "asian" tires and which are not, but I quite enjoy tires like the diesel, and the non black chili RQ etc, ofcourse the black chili versions are much better, but they just get torn up so quickly on the open granite here. The traction on the cheaper ones on wet roots etc are not as good, but they last longer and roll almost as quick. I find their performance to be on par with the 60a single ply minions for example.

Quite interested in seeing what the cheap baron is going to be like.

Maybe its a matter of what you are expecting...
  • 2 0
 As Falco said, I believe that the conti tires with puncture protection etc are the handmade German ones. I had a pair of bottom-of-the line Verticals - never again. The tread design is still awesome but they feel like hard plastic next to a minion. The bead ended up tearing loose from the carcass and the sidewalls are paper thin. They really did have that budget knockoff feel about them. Meanwhile my commuting bike is running on conti city rides - these have the puncture protection and they are the handmade ones. The quality of construction really is exceptional. Massive sturdy bead, huge thick sidewall, beautiful smooth and silky rubber compound. And only one puncture in almost 1000 miles of commuting over god knows how much crap. I pull bits of glass out the tread nearly every day (have to ride through some....less desirable areas often) and so far none of those have penetrated through the protection layer. And the funny thing is you can find a city ride for the same price as the Verticals.
  • 8 4
 f*cking luuuuuurve the feel of contis, do they make any tires with beefy sidewalls?
  • 2 0
 Their downhill tires have one of the strongest sidewalls. Especially for trials use, it requires low pressure for hopping on the rear. And it won't pinch flat, unless I seriously mess up.
  • 2 0
 What's with the neg props on ride nz's comment, looks like he was asking a genuine question...
  • 3 0
 der baron and der kaisers in black chilli are the best tyres ive ever used never had a pinch flat even at 15 psi rides!
  • 1 0
 Rubber Queens are pretty darn beefy
  • 2 0
 I hope this new Rammstein tyre will hold up better versus flats than other Continental tyres. I would happily try it in the future, if it will be acceptable in price. Very good article, keep it coming pinkbike!
  • 1 0
 I used to work in a tire factory, worst job i've EVER had! These pictures brought back not so great memories. It looks like the Conti factory has good working conditions but where I worked, well, it was practically a sweat shop.
  • 1 0
 always loved schwalbes till my boss convinced me to try conti's instead, now I wouldn't go back, they last me more than twice the distance, plus I'm at well over 7 thousand miles without a puncture, and they work better in the wet than any other tire I have used.
  • 1 0
 I used to use continental tyres, they were so great. The only problem was removing them from your wheel. They were litterally the hardest things to get off and i thought fuck this im going to maxxis, which arent as good but actually come off.
  • 1 0
 @ Sshredder Du du Has mich.....what does that mean.? German translation please

IIRC it means " You, You Hate Me"

I downloaded some english Rammstein years back thinking it'd be cool to hear the english version, it definitly puts a twist on the songs, thats for sure.
  • 2 0
 He is so funny. Go to the Eurobike. Wink Met him at last years and drank a beer. Talks a lot freakin stuff. Acutally more cute than scary. haha
  • 4 0
 Man this article is awesome Big Grin
  • 1 0
 It's hard to beat race kings.Cheap,made by hand in Germany,comes in a fancy box,great in dry conditions and also was good in snow )))
However,I hope that employes are well paid for this kind oj job ...
  • 1 0
 I love my Vertical Protection 2.3 and use them as a Notubes. Just add 125ml milk per wheel and Im very happy with them in my AM bike. They are quite light, durable and good grip as well.
  • 3 0
 The guy with the beard looks a lot scarier in Bike magazine
  • 3 1
 Continental makes great tires! Just be careful riding their supersonic versions, I ripped the side wall in 3 months.
  • 1 0
 Havent messed my gravity up yet =)
  • 2 0
 3 months is pretty good for a super light hand made race day tire.
www.conti-online.com/generator/www/de/en/continental/bicycle/general/innovation/supersonic_en.html
  • 2 0
 Pics are great, but would so cool to see a vid on this ~ ! I do like my Chilli rubber queens... Razz
  • 1 0
 Thanks a lot guys! Great stuff! Smile
  • 3 0
 I've used so many tyres. Continental were some of the best.
  • 4 0
 That beard is amazing!
  • 3 0
 RAMMSTEIN I'm hearing them now!!!
  • 1 0
 looks like a der kaiser that rolls quicker.... that has the potential to be pretty awsome!!!
  • 1 0
 Worst tires i have ever bought. torn sidewalls on 2 x-king's and 1 rubber queen in less then a month, all of them had the protection sidewalls,
  • 1 0
 I have also written off 2 rubber queens in recent months due to sidewalls, problem is, no other trail tyre I've tried grips or rolls like them so I end up going back, £45 a time :-(
Just fitted der kaisers to my dh bike and first impressions are good, I am not expecting any sidewall problems as they feel like mx casings, rq feels like rizla in comparison, a week in the alps will put them through their paces next week.
  • 1 0
 Just wondering what does Rammstein mean? it doesn't translate in Google and there is also a band called Rammstein so it must mean something right?
  • 1 0
 Rammstein with 2x "M" is the band name. Ramstein with 1x "M" is the name of an american air base in germany:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramstein_Air_Base

There was a horrible airplane crash in 1988 during a flight-show where 70 people died in the flames. It is said that the band chosed their name after this accident. But they never said it offically...
  • 1 0
 so what about the tyre, a tyre named after a horrible national event?
  • 4 2
 Please make next tire called Metallica
  • 2 0
 hahaha or maybe Iron Maiden
  • 4 4
 No, make a Semi-slick and call it Dubstep! But Iron Maiden is a good name for a hard to cut or penetrate side wall system...
  • 2 0
 Great article, very interesting.
  • 2 0
 These "How It's Made"segments are great. Keep them coming. Thanks !
  • 3 0
 Great article Matt!
  • 1 0
 amazing story!!! Smile Smile Smile Smile Smile Smile more please
i want to see some cranks being forged
  • 1 0
 I love my conti's. Ill buy another set when mine wear out
  • 1 0
 there's something odd about the last picture... O_o
  • 1 0
 And that's why I run Conti's!!!
  • 1 0
 Du du Has mich.....what does that mean.? German translation please
  • 1 0
 You - You hate me!

or

You - You own me!

because the german "hast" spoken out could mean both. So it's up to your interpretation :-)
  • 1 0
 haha Big Grin thumbs up for that working lady Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Love my new Mountain King 2.4's!
  • 1 0
 Want the Rammstein for the last races of the year....BADLY!
  • 1 0
 i will always use continental tyres , you cannot beat there quality!!
  • 1 0
 trippy
  • 1 1
 Just like MC Hammer & A Gwin "Can't touch this"
  • 1 3
 i prefer Schwalbe
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