Before I started restoring vintage bicycles, I spent several decades restoring vintage cars and motorcycles. They may be more involved because of their engines, but one major advantage that motorised vehicles have over bicycles is that their tyre sizes are much more logical. Trying to fit modern tyres on vintage bicycles can be a nightmare!
My problems have been compounded by the fact that I restore British, French, German and American bicycles, and their wheel sizes are different …some tyres even have exactly the same size written on them, but are completely different sizes!
Nevertheless, over the years I’ve tried to learn all I could about this complicated subject, and I think that at last I can start creating a database to help other sufferers.
I’ll start with 28″ wheel rims.
28 x 1 1/2″
This is the most common size for old British roadsters. ERTO 47-635 Tyres are available from Schwalbe in cream; these are top quality tyres, easy to fit and hard-wearing. This tyre has a Schwalbe logo on the sidewall; this is hard to rub down to remove the logo, as the inside of the tyre is black and if you rub too hard you’ll go right through to the black lining. Easier to paint it out.
Ralson also have a cream tyre in this size. They do not have a coloured logo on the side, so look nicer; however, you usually split several inner tubes trying to get the tyre on as its quality is poor.
Black tyres in this size are also easily available. I find the Raleigh (made in China) is the best.
28 x 1 3/4″
This is an obsolete tyre size, so beware of vintage bicycles with this size. BSA and Rudge-Whitworth bicycles from around 1898 – 1910 often had this size wheel. You can get modern tyres that will fit, but make sure they don’t have a blue band on the sidewall.
I did find some Russian tyres with this size, though it has confused me that it also shows ERTO 622, which I believed to be the size below rather than 28 x 1 3/4.
28 x 1 5/8 x 1 3/8″
French bikes often have this size tyre. ERTO 37-622 is available in black; and ERTO 47-622 in Schwalbe, as a cream balloon tyre with a blue reflective stripe on the sidewall.
28 x 1 3/8″
This is another French size, 700 X 35A ERTO 37-642 and impossible to get in the UK. I have to order them from France. I believe they are sold there by only one particular tyre seller who gets them manufactured in Vietnam. He usually sells them on French ebay when he has them in stock.
28 x 1 1/2″ GERMAN TYRE WITHOUT WIRE
Here is an example of the same size description but different sizes. Some vintage German bikes have rims that nothing else will fit except this tyre which is called a 28 x 1 1/2 but has no ERTO number.
Here are photos to illustrate, provided with explanations from my friend Jurgen, with thanks.
BELOW: the typical german rim from Early 20th century, with wrong tyre
BELOW: shows the difference – both tyres with same description
BELOW: shows the type of tyre required, without wires
BELOW: shows the wrong tire with wire inside
AMERICAN 28″ TYRES
In case you didn’t already know, wooden wheels on vintage American bicycles will not accept a normal pneumatic tyre with a separate inner tube. The original type of tubeless tyre is no longer made. The only options are to use a replacement solid tyre currently sold in USA (costing around US $250 each + carriage) or remove the wooden wheels and replace them with metal wheels. In America, most vintage enthusiasts who want to ride their pre-1932 wooden wheeled bicycles replace their old wooden wheels with modern 36-hole wooden rims made in Italy.
You can read in another page in this section about how American cycle manufacturers sabotaged the American bicycle export business by providing only wooden wheels and tubeless tyres for their bicycles …both commodities being made by themselves.