What to do with used bike tires?

Introduction

Biking has been one of the most popular exercise activities around the world for decades. It’s strange to think that it wasn’t too long ago that many people would regularly use bikes on daily basis for their commute. As we witness more and more of vehicles, the benefits of using bikes can be advocated on a number of levels – from physical to environmental. Many multinational companies, including the likes of Google and Facebook, actively encourage their employees to use bikes for commute. Even though bikes have much lesser impact on the environment in terms of their carbon footprint, there’s one problem that most cyclists and bike owners face without exceptions. What to do with used bike tires? Most of the metal framework of bikes can be easily scrapped and there are dozens of scrap merchants in every town who would be willing to buy such materials. However, none of them will really come forward to take used bike tires as they are liabilities on many accounts. In this article, we will take a look at how used bike tires can be reused in a variety of creative ways to improve their utility, long after they have been discarded.

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A. Alternative Uses of Used Bike Tires

Used bike tires pose a number of challenges before they can be reused in order to harness their inherent material value. Before delving deep into what used bike tires can be used for, it’s necessary to understand how tires are constructed and the nature of materials used in a typical bike tire. There are three major constituents of any bike tire.
  1. Tire Carcass
Tire carcass is what forms the bulk of the body of a bike tire. It gives the tire its shape, structure and most of the weight, as well. Tire carcasses are generally made from durable synthetic fibre that’s coated/mixed with vulcanized rubber solution. This creates a patterned material that’s rigid and flexible at the same time, depending upon the force exerted on it. One of the foremost duties that a bike tire carcass is required to play is preventing tire punctures. Rubber itself is a very soft material and gravels, thorns, metal scrap or even pieces of broken glass can easily penetrate it. It’s the tire carcass that prevents such objects from puncturing the inner tube.
  1. Bead Core
Bead core is another important constituent of every bike tire. The central purpose of having a bead core in place is to doubly ensure that the tire doesn’t ‘give in’ when extra force (in the form of speed of the bike or weight of the rider) is applied. Bead core also decides what the diameter of a tire is going to be. Bead cores are generally made of industry grade stainless steel mesh wires that are typically 2 or 3 mm in diameter. These wires are woven into the tires carcass or around the tire carcass in such a way that the assembly gets extra strength, without any considerable increase in its weight. Bead core is generally removed with the help of mechanical defragmenters before a bike tire is put up for recycle. Bead cores are also often referred to as ‘clinchers’.
  1. Rubber Tread
Rubber treads make tires what they are. They are generally made of mixtures of synthetic and natural substances so as to fit the purpose that the tire will be expected to serve. Following table lists typical materials used in the synthesis of bike tires. Table 1: Typical Bike Tire Rubber Tread Composition
Application Material
Body Natural rubber and/or synthetic rubber
Durability Sulphur (vulcanization) Various aromatic amines
Additives Zinc oxide (to speed up vulcanization)
Appearances Pigments DyesPaints
Filling Solid carbon black Silica Charcoal Ground sand
Pliability and lubrication Grease Heavy mineral oils
Following graph (figure 2) depicts the composition of rubber treads used in most of the bike tires. It’s important to get to know this composition as it dictates many of the alternative uses of used bike tires. Cost Effectiveness of Recycling Used Bike Tires As far as costs are concerned, recycling of old and used bike tires is a definitely favourable prospect. In most cities in the United States (and other developed countries), used bike tires in small scales batches (anything less than two or three dozens) are generally not taken up for industrial scale recycle as it doesn’t make too much of economic sense. However, there are certain recycling agencies that may collect one-off batches of used bike tires in order to recycle them in bulk, when the batch itself becomes sizeable. It goes without saying that these agencies charge fees for such collection. How can the recycling of used bike tires be an economically viable prospect, then? The answer lies in resorting something that’s called ‘upcycling’, instead of mere ‘recycling’. The difference between these two terms will be discussed shortly in the very next section of this article. The alternative uses of used bike tires that are to be discussed in this article have been divided into five categories for the ease of presentation and understanding. These categories are:
  1. Around the House
  2. Fashion Accessories and Art
  3. Patch and Reuse
  4. Tire Liners
  5. Donate
These categories will be discussed at length in the following parts of this article.

a.  Around the House – Furniture, Fixtures and Gardening

There are umpteen number of uses that old and used bike tires can be put to around the house. These applications range from simple crafts and handmade objects to complex furniture design and manufactured products that predominantly use used bike tires and other remnants of such tires. Such processes convert the liabilities (used bike tires) into assets (useful objects). In modern terminology, this is termed as ‘upcycling’ rather than ‘recycling’, as the waste products (tires, in this case) are not only being recycled, they are also being put to use in an improved capacity, making them wholly renewed for usage. Upcycling of used bike tires is a great way of dealing with potentially hazardous waste objects. Simple disposal methods like dumping or burning don’t work in case of tires. If tires are just dumped, they occupy much of the landfill space, making it difficult to dump other decomposable waster matter. Furthermore, tires in landfills are known to release a number of heavy hydrocarbons and metals like zinc into soil, thereby reducing the quality of soil in considerable proportions. The nearest reserves of groundwater are also known to get easily contaminated by large scale dumping of tires in landfills. On the other hand, incineration of bike tires releases a number of toxic flue gases (most notably, carbon monoxide) that can be lethal if inhaled in high concentrations. Considering all these things, upcycling of used bike tires for simple applications in and around the house is probably the best plan of action, as it puts to use waste materials, all the while feeding one’s creative forces.
  • Dodging Drafts
We all have, at one point or another, had to deal with windows that just don’t shut perfectly. This is not really a problem during summers. But when it’s pouring outside or heavy snow is predicted, such windows become pose many difficulties. More often than not, such windows will let in cool drafts of air continually. When it’s really snowing out there, such drafts of air are strong enough to cool down the room in a fraction of minutes. This results into very chilling indoor room atmosphere, despite keeping the heaters on at full throttle. Such windows cannot be closed shut using sealants, either – because, quite obviously, they will be required to open sooner rather than later. The best way to fix such draft-windows is to use small patches of used bike tires or inner tubes. The size of the patch will depend on the size of the perch of the window. Typically, a patch of 6 x 1 inches will work for most windows. Once the patch is cut and ready, it needs to be placed on the window perch while keeping the window open. The patch should ideally be placed where the draft is at its strongest. Once the patch is properly seated, you can simply close the window shut. It’s really that simple, and it works like a charm, every single time. To get rid of the patch, simply open the window and take the patch out. You can store such patches safely for using later on.
  • Hangers
Used bike tires are made of high quality rubber that’s generally a mix of natural rubber and synthetic rubber. This is one of the reasons why, used bike tires can be employed for a variety of ‘hanging’ purposes. To use a bike tire as a hanger, it needs to cut precisely where the object to be hung is going to be. Once that’s done, you can either use a sling pattern to create a triangular hanger or two separate string patterns to create a more fashionable double hanger. If you are an avid cyclist, chances are that you love to take care of your bike dearly. In such case, you definitely like to keep your bike indoors when you are not using it, just to keep it from the weather outside. Bringing a bike with dirty track indoors isn’t always the best of ideas, though – especially when it’s a heavy duty mountain bike that has seen dirt, dust and mud up close. You can easily solve this problem with a simple piece of used bike tire. All you have to do is cut the tire and get it thoroughly cleaned. You can use regular household detergent and/or a disinfectant to make sure the tire is clean enough to be handled. Once you have ensured that the tire is cleaned up to a good measure, you need to measure the distance between the handle of your bike and the pillion (or the rider’s seat). Considering this length, you can create a simple sling from the used bike tire that you just got cleaned. Tie one end of this sling to the ceiling or a wall mounted nail, and then just lift up your bike and let the sling hold it mid-air! Such bike hangers are not only efficient (because of high quality rubber), but also attractive and creative. Another way such slings can be used is to hang musical instruments, especially guitars. Most of the electric guitars are reasonably expensive and manufacturers warn against keeping them lying flat on the ground, in order not to distort the sound quality in the long run. If you were to use specially designed guitar stands, it will further cost you. A simple alternative to this is using a bike tire sling as described above. You can create such slings in dimensions that are similar to the normal guitar back-straps you use.
  • Rubber Bands
  The most ubiquitous use of discarded bike tires is in the making of handy rubber bands of various sizes. It doesn’t take a lot of efforts to carve out or cut rubber bands from the used bike tires and inner tubes as they are easily pliable, once the steel meshes are taken off. These tires and tubes can be cut into various sizes depending upon the purpose they are supposed to serve. Right from binding old newspapers together in a stack to keeping milk or beer bottles tightly packed when there’s no crate on hand, these simple household rubber bands can be quite useful.
  • Starting a fire
If you are used to living in areas where it’s perpetually damp, you would know that starting a fire can be quite tricky. Most of the timber you will get your hands on will be wet, unless you are ready to pay extra money for easy to burn wood chips. This becomes an even direr problem when you are running out of lighter fluid, or you just don’t want to waste it for anything other than barbecues. What you can do, in such cases, is use patches of old, discarded bike tires. Bike tires are quite easy to burn as they quickly catch fire. Once they have caught fire, you can manipulate and stoke fire with other wood chips. It should be remembered that you should use only small tire patches to get the fire going (especially for indoor fireplaces) as the burning of tire releases many noxious gases.
  • Gardening Equipment Holder
You can get a standard toolbox for household equipment like screw drivers and hammers in any hardware supplies store. However, when it comes to storing gardening equipment, many people still seem to be using the good old pile-them-up-in-the-corner or cram-them-all-in-a-sack technique. The problem with these techniques is that they are not only dishevelled, they are also inefficient. You will always have a tough time locating the exact equipment that you want. To get over this issue, used bike tires and tube can be used. A simple base can be created from patches of used bike tires. This base can be sized depending upon the equipment to be stored. Once the base is ready, flexible pockets made out of used inner tubes can be glued over this base, creating a fully functional, customized holder for gardening equipment.
  • Chair Weaving
If you happen to have one of those retro-styled, nylon woven chairs lying around in a dilapidated condition, a simple trick can bring it back to life. All you have to do is cut uniform straps from the used bike tire and inner tube and weave them together through the holes that such chairs have for nylon strings. Once you have tightly woven tire straps, make sure you paste the ends together with hot glue so that the weave doesn’t unravel. Your old chair will suddenly get transformed into a fun and fashionable bouncy chair.
  • Bathroom Mats
Used bike tires and tubes can be used to create some truly attractive bathroom mats. What you have to do is collect 5 to 6 used bike inner tubes and two used bike tires. Once you have them handy, get them cut in uniform stretches of about 12 x 2 inches. As you get these stretches ready, make sure that they don’t differ too much from one another in size or shape. Once done, crotchet these straps together in a tightly knit pattern. At the edges, use tire stretches instead of tube stretches. This will make the mat more durable and strong. The best thing about tire bathroom mats is that they don’t take too long to dry up. We all know that bathroom mats tend to get soggy and wet all the time. So, this can be a perfect solution to two household problems!
  • Mirror Holders
Getting an old, used, worn out bike tire to hold a neatly cut circular mirror is a great idea, especially if you are an avid fan of alternative décor themes and styles. You will, however, have to get a mirror customized to fit the size of the bike tire. Once done, you can simply wrap the tire around the mirror carefully so that all of the edges of the mirror slip inside the holding crease of the bike tire. You can use saw dust or paper shavings as fillings to fill the empty spaces. Finally, using hot glue, you can glue everything in place. Few hours of drying up and a nice, custom paint job later, you will have a beautiful, homemade tire-mirror assembly that’s certainly going to adorn the wall.

b. Fashion Accessories and Art

The world of fashion and art is always on the lookout for ideas that do not conform to the established paths. Perhaps, it is this very search for something new that creativity is all about. In the same spirit of creativity, there are a few ways in which used bike tires can be used to create fashion accessories and even works of art.
  • Inner Tube Belts
Inner tubes are not only strong, they are highly elastic, as well. This makes them a perfect material for something as prosaic as a belt. If you have an inner tube or two lying around in the garage, you can put them to good use, in order to create fashionable belts out of them. Once you have got the tube cleaned up, you have to remove valves and valve casings (every metal part, so to speak). Then, you have to cut the tube at any point and measure its length. Depending upon your waist size, cut out a suitable length of the tube. Now, you can place a thin sheet of tissue paper inside the tube. Once that is done with, all you have to do is get the tube sewn in using a sewing machine. Stitch a good-looking buckle at one end and drill some holes at the other end to turn a useless inner tube into a fashionable rubber belt.
  • Wallets and Wrist Bands
Using pretty much the same procedure described above for belts, used bike tires and inner tubes can be sewn in a variety of shapes and sizes to create other goods like wallets, purses, wrist bands, tote bags, guitar straps and even dog leashes. You can use imitation diamond studs, whistles, bells, coloured precious stones and other accessories to further beautify your creations.
  • Customised Hula Hoops
Hula hoops are popular because they are fun, and they help burn some extra calories. If you love staying in shape, you don’t have to go out and buy an expensive hula hoop. You can turn any old bike tire into a proper hula hoop within no time. Once you get the bike tire cleaned, you have to make sure that it is smooth around the inner edges. You can use a simple sandpaper to get it smoothened. Then, you can put bit of waste paper scraps inside the tire and get it all sealed with a fitting piece of inner tube material. There – you have a homemade hula hoop ready! You can customize it using the colours of your choice.
  • Jewellery
It’s quite possible to create exquisite jewellery using discarded bike tires and tubes. Used inner tubes can be cut to design and size to create stunning earrings.
  • Footwear
Using a flattened piece of used bike tire, it’s easy to ‘build’ from the scratch fully homemade sandals. You will first need to draw an outline of both of your feet on a cardboard. Get this outline cut out from the cardboard and place it on the inner surface of a flattened piece of bike tire. Then, cut the sole from the tire, and attach/glue to it custom straps cut out of inner tube. It may not be the most attractive looking pair of sandals in the world, but it will still be useful – and it will be your own creation!
  • Tire Track Paintings
Tire track paintings have been made popular worldwide by a New York based Singaporean artist, Thomas Yang. He uses bike tires with custom cut grooves to draw on paper. So, if you have a creative mind, you can certainly put old, used bike tires to good use in order to create visually stunning art forms.

c.  Patch and Reuse

This is a rather well-known use of used bike tires. When you have an old, worn-out bike tire and tube assembly on your hand, you can do so much better than just throwing it away – especially if you are a regular cyclist. A step-by-step guide to patching punctured bike tires using a part of used bike tire is given below.
  • Take the flat tire off the wheel and pull out the punctured inner tube using appropriate tools.
  • Locate the site of the puncture by inflating the tube with air pump and then immersing it in a tub of water.
  • Once the site of the puncture is located, mark it with a pen.
  • Then, cut out a patch of rubber from an old inner tube.
  • Polish the site of the puncture with a file or a sandpaper and apply hot glue or puncture solution generously.
  • Then, place the patch of old inner tube over the site of puncture and roll it in position using a heavy roller.
  • Let the glue dry for ten to fifteen minutes.
  • Inflate the tube again and reaffirm that it has been fixed by immersing it in water.
Patching and reusing is a simple method of making use of discarded inner tube rubber – a perfect example of recycling.

d. Tire Liners

Another great way to reuse used bike tires is to create tire liners. This will involve a little bit of work, but rest assured that once completed, this will virtually make your bike tires puncture-proof – a great luxury to have! Tire liners not only help you make use of used bike tires, they also help you save money by saving new bike tires and tubes from countless thorns, glass shards, gravels and nails.
  • To make a tire liner, you will have to get your hands on a used bike tire. Once you have it with you, carefully remove the steel beads from the tire, leaving the tire free of any metal part.
  • Now, an average steel tape needs to be procured. This steel tape will be wrapped on the outer surface of this used tire. You can either use industrial glue to get it pasted to this surface, or to add an extra bit of measure, you can directly sew it on the outer surface of the used tire using a thin steel filament (easily available at hardware stores).
  • Once the steel tape has been perfectly glued/sewn, this used tire will be placed carefully inside a new bike tire. Care needs to be taken to align the valve holes of both the tires. Use of tools like pliers and wrenches may be required.
  • As this steel-taped old tire makes its way into the new tire, new inner tube is to be inserted inside the taped tire.
  • When the assembly is ready, bolt it to the wheel as usual and inflate the inner tube.
  • Now, your bike tire will be as good as puncture-proof.

e.  Donate

If you have used one or more methods of reusing old bike tires and inner tubes but you still more tires to be dealt with, you can simply choose to donate them. You can either donate them to professional recycling companies/organizations that recycle tires (and all other bicycle parts) in a scientific and eco-friendly manner, or to charitable organizations that use the donated materials for charities. A few of such organizations and companies have been listed in the following table. Table 2: Where to Donate Used Bike Tires
Name of the organization Reference
Bikes Not Bombs (USA) https://bikesnotbombs.org/help-out/donate-bikes
Rad Bikes (New Zealand) http://www.radbikes.co.nz/donate/
I Bike Foundation (Global) http://www.ibike.org/environment/recycling/
Edmonton Bicycle Group (Canada) http://edmontonbikes.ca/services/bikeworks/recycling/
Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op (USA) http://www.ohiocitycycles.org/
Tire Stewardship BC (Canada) http://www.tsbc.ca/bike.php
Recycle Now (UK) http://www.recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with/bicycles
Re-Cycling (UK) http://www.re-cycling.co.uk/
Waste Recycling UK (UK) http://www.wasterecycling.org.uk/the_environment/recycling_means_of%20_transportation.php

B. Other Finds for Consideration

  • Shelves From Used Inner Tubes
Another interesting household application for used bike tires and inner tubes is to create easy-on-the-eye shelves. Highly tensile and elastic properties of inner tubes are utilised in making these shelves. All that needs to be done is to have two supports in place (preferably wall mounted), around which several pieces of used inner tubes can be stretched and wound. The resulting structure provides great stability for books, newspapers, magazines, miscellaneous articles, trophies and even decorative wine bottles.
  • Abstract Art
If you have fertile enough imagination and strong enough creativity, bicycle tires can provide a great medium to express yourself. Paintings (as we earlier discussed), object arts and abstract manifestations of one’s self can be created using something as mundane as a discarded bike tire. A fitting example of this is the innovative bicycle tire sculpture created by noted sculptor Judd Turner.
  • Value Creation
Several pieces of furniture that are used on a daily basis in households around the world – chairs, coffee tables, dewans, lounge chairs, rocking chairs etc. – can be manufactured using old bike tires as one of their constituents. It should be noted that the emphasis here is on creating something of value and utility from something that has, for all practical reasons, lost such value. The very act of upcycling of used bike tires is akin to ‘value creation’, a criterion that most products are usually judged against.