Neutral Service has no doubt at all that you’re all far too clever to have been taken in by our April Fool’s joke (because A; you’re women’s cycling fans and therefore obviously very brainy and B; because it’s not as good as the one we did last year). We wonder, however – did you spot the anagrams? Van den Meinte = “invented name,” Piet de Laumt = “made-up title.”* Now, if anyone thinks “singing” tyres could actually be made, don’t forget we’re willing to sign over the rights in return for a few free pairs and a night down the pub. 🙂
*Aaltje de Laumt isn’t an anagram – I just think it’s a nice name.
Strong winds can wreak havoc during a bike race, but one tyre company at last weekend’s Gent-Wevelgem women’s race faced a unique problem – the powerful gusts prevented fans hearing the product it had hoped to launch at the event.
The company, Van den Meinte, is based some 40km from Gent at Cadzand, just over the Dutch border and ideally placed for the Flemish cyclo cross races which, until it developed its latest product, were the company’s target market.
Wieb van den Miente, who created the company and still runs it, worked for a major European manufacturer of car and bicycle tyres until the middle of the 1990s when tough economic times forced him to accept an offer of voluntary redundancy. “It was an uncertain time, but it proved to be a great opportunity for me,” Wieb explained. “I’ve always enjoyed cyclo cross and was friendly with a few of the local riders, who had told me they could no longer find certain tyres they especially liked in the shops. So I spoke to a few of my contacts in the industry and managed to buy a tyre-cutting mill for a good price, then bought up the rights to some of the tyre patterns those riders had told me about and started to reproduce them. It’s not a big company – two or three sheds, that’s all, but we’re busy.”
So why was a small company that reproduces old tyre designs trying to organise a big, secretive product launch at a major race?
“It all started when we had a problem with one of the machines that adds our logo to the tyre sidewalls – the tyres were usable, but the logo was skewed and, at first glance, it looked a little bit like a rude word in Dutch,” laughs production manager Piet de Laumt. “So I took a pair home for my daughter Aaltje’s bike – she’d just turned 14 and had her first full-size bike, so I thought ‘cross tyres would give her more grip on her journey to school in the winter. The first day she used them, she came back delighted – not because of the added grip, but because she loved the noise they made on the asphalt!”
That got Piet thinking: could tyres be made that would produce a specific noise, perhaps even music?
“We started by listening to loads of different tyres being used on the rollers – all of our employees are keen cyclists, so we keep a set of rollers in the staff room for them to use if they want to during their breaks, or to warm up before cycling home,” says Piet. “Then, with the help of Wieb’s wife, a talented musician, we identified which parts of which tyres produced certain notes and made up a new tyre that we hoped would play a tune – it worked, more or less, giving us a recognisable rendition of that year’s Dutch entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.”
“Suddenly, I had an idea,” continues Wieb. “If we could make a tyre that created music, surely we could make a tyre that created speech. It was much harder to do and we could only managed short, monosyllabic words at first. Our first successful attempt was last year – on each rotation, it said “Vos”.”
Once they’d got the basic technique worked out, Van de Miente found it was far easier to start designing tyres that would form two, three or more syllables. Once they’d secured a patent and decided on a name – Zanger, Dutch for “singer,” – they decided they’d approach a few teams to gauge interest.
“We didn’t want to go to the big men’s teams,” says Wieb. “That’s where the money is, but through our connections to the cyclo cross world we believed that women’s cycling was where we should aim the new tyres. Men’s cycling… hey, it’s fine you know, we love it too, but women’s cycling is seen as a younger, more dynamic, more innovative sport. We had something that so far as we know has never been done before, so that’s where we wanted to be. Four teams were using our tyres at Gent-Wevelgem.”
“We don’t want to reveal yet who they were, though,” adds Piet. “We think it’ll be more fun if fans listen to the riders pass by at the next UCI race and see if they can work it out for themselves!”
Van den Miente Zanger tyres, which can be designed to “speak” the names of riders, clubs or words, will be available to order through the company website later this year.