In September 1891, Charles Terront won the first edition of the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race. At almost 1,200 kilometers, the event was more than twice as long as any attempted before. Competitors were required to ride unsupported, using a single bicycle and carrying their own food and equipment.
Terront’s winning time of 71 hours and 21 minutes was a formidable physical achievement, but it was also a technological triumph. The rider’s British Humber bicycle was equipped with prototype pneumatic tires produced by the Michelin company of Clermont-Ferrand. The Paris-Brest-Paris race demonstrated the decisive superiority of air-filled tires. Despite inevitable punctures on the poor roads of the time, the few riders equipped with pneumatic tires easily outpaced their rivals on solid rubber.
Today, Michelin manufactures around 190 million tires every year in 68 plants. Its products are still fitted to bicycles, as well as motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, tractors, metro cars, construction machinery and aircraft. The company is active in 170 countries around the world and employs around 110,000 people. Its €21.9 billion ($25.28 billion) annual sales in 2017 make it the largest tire manufacturer in Europe, and the second biggest in the world.