This is how the winter tire has changed – comparing the world's first winter tire to the state-of-the-art non-studded winter tire

About 80 years ago, drivers received the world's first winter tires. The “Kelirengas” developed and manufactured by Nokian Tyres was the top product of its time – it was the first tire with a rough tread that could climb up the snowiest of roads. But how does the unique product of its time match up against a modern, non-studded winter tire? We compared the Kelirengas with the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2, the winner of multiple tests.

The world's first winter tire, introduced by Suomen Gummitehdas in 1934, brought about a revolution on the Nordic winter roads. Before this time, the tires used on the narrow and snowy roads had mostly been reminiscent of summer tires. When arriving at the foot of a snow-covered hill, the driver had to exit the vehicle to install cumbersome snow chains. The new winter tire was called the Kelirengas (“Weather Tire”) because for the first time it had a rough tread pattern that introduced a new type of grip for winter roads.

– Kelirengas was developed for trucks in order to allow them to move in thick snow. The transverse tread pattern of the tire dug into the snow like a track, which made climbing snowy uphills a lot easier, says Matti Morri, Technical Customer Service Manager for Nokian Tyres.

Nowadays, traction in snow alone is not enough for a tire. As the ploughing of the roads started, they became icy, and even more was required from the winter tire. When comparing the Kelirengas to its modern second cousin, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2:een, we can see that the changes in the tread compound and pattern alone are enormous.

– In addition to traction, modern tires must also have good lateral grip. The symmetrical, arrow-shaped pattern of the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 cleans itself well in deep snow, and has good grip on ice and slush, says Morri.

 

Dozens of new raw materials

Although the Kelirengas was a unique product for its time, it is only a winter tyre by modern standards in terms of its tread pattern. The Kelirengas used a similar, very rigid rubber compound as the summer tyres, which means that the grip solely depended on the grooves. Nowadays, rubber compounds that have been specially tailored for the tread provide a substantial part of the grip. And whereas over one hundred raw materials are used in the manufacturing of a modern non-studded winter tyre, the Kelirengas only used one third of them.

– Very small, crystal-like particles have been added into the rubber compound of the Hakkapeliitta R2. They act like built-in studs on icy roads, Morri explains.

Nowadays, non-studded winter tyres use both natural and synthetic rubber. Natural rubber works stably along a wide temperature range, allowing the tread compound to remain flexible and maintain good grip. The proportion of carbon black in the tyre has been replaced by silica, which significantly improves the fuel efficiency and wet grip of the tyre.

One hundred millimetres wider

Modern drivers value things in their winter tyres that the users of the Kelirengas could not even dream of, such as the steering feel of the tyre. This is also evident in the size of the tyre. The Kelirengas, designed for trucks, had a width of only 190 millimetres, whereas the modern non-studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 is available for passenger cars with a width of up to 290 millimetres.

– Width improves driving comfort substantially. The fact that the bias-ply structure of the Kelirengas has been replaced by a radial structure has also implied a quantum leap forward in the handling of the tyre.

Modern cars also require entirely different characteristics from a tyre. When designing a tyre, you also need to ensure that it works well with modern traction control and stability control systems.

Traffic is now much safer than during the age of the Kelirengas. Whereas the user of the Kelirengas could only try to sense the condition and grip of the road by using the driving feel and his/her eyesight, modern cars have equipment that can notify the driver in advance of slippery road sections and other factors affecting their driving.

– The only thing that has not changed from the days of the Kelirengas is the weather. Winter tyres are still used in the demanding and varying conditions of the north, Morri says.