Airing down tires gains traction and improves your vehicle's off-road performance. We all know this. Unfortunately, when the tires are low they can come off the bead, spin on the rim (ruining balance), and do a number of other things that aren't needed or wanted. The peace of mind we get using a beadlock wheel while aired down cannot be overstated.
There are a number of fine beadlock wheels available today. We were given the chance to mount up and try three different types of beadlocks to use on JK Wrangler projects we're building. Of course, these beadlocks would work just as well on a light-duty truck, prerunner, or trailrunner. Mopar Accessories provided a set of Mopar/Hutchinson wheels, KMC supplied its new beadlock wheels, and also sets of OMF beadlocks on Mickey Thompson Classic II wheels and OMF beadlocks on Jeep factory Rubicon rims. OFF-ROAD Editor-in-Chief Phil Howell mounted a set of Walker Evans Racing beadlock wheels and will comment on them.
Mopar/Hutchinson Rock Monster Beadlock WheelsThe first set we mounted were the Rock Monster wheels by Mopar/Hutchinson from Mopar Accessories. Right away, you notice just how heavy and beefy this wheel is. It weighs 55 pounds and the outer ring looks like it could stop a .50-caliber round. The outer half of the wheel is several inches thick. One nice feature of the Mopar/ Hutchinson beadlock is that both the inner and outer beads are beadlocked. This is accomplished by a heavy rubber ring that is inserted into the tire before the tire is slipped onto the larger inner half of the wheel. When the two halves of the wheel are bolted together, the rubber ring presses against the inner and outer beads and holds the tire tight against the wheel. The two halves of the wheel are sealed airtight with a rubber O-ring.
Anyone installing these wheels should follow the manufacturer's instructions on tightening sequence and torque settings. As with all beadlocks, this is very important. The Mopar/Hutchinson wheels have five studs that are longer to assist in getting the beadlock started. The studs are double-nutted to make sure they do not back off. These wheels went together the easiest of any beadlocks we've ever mounted. Then, we decided to take one apart. Yikes! It took two guys an hour to get one wheel apart. The tolerances are so tight that, once bolted down, taking them apart is a daunting task. We're sure disassembly would get easier after several mounting/takedown cycles, but that first time is tough. Take your time and work your way around the wheel, and it will come apart eventually. We did need to run 1.25-inch wheel spacers to fit a 37-inch tire on the JK, as the wheel has 6.25 inches of backspacing.
This is one tough-looking wheel and, after wheeling in Moab for a week at low tire pressures, it performed perfectly.
ProsEasy to installHeavy-dutyDOT-approvedCool military styling
ConsHeavyDifficult to disassembleWheel spacers needed for larger tires
OMF BeadlocksNext, we mounted the OMF/Mickey Thompson Classic II wheel. We have always liked the stylish looks of the M/T Classic II wheel and jumped at the chance to have OMF beadlock our set. Perfect welds and that beautiful polished ring are impressive. The OMF beadlock is the only one in this group to be welded on a conventional wheel. This means you can use almost any wheel that strikes your fancy. But are they as strong as beadlock wheels that are cast that way from the start? We've never had a failure with OMF beadlocks, so we can say with confidence that they're strong.
Mounting these wheels is easy. Make sure you put a small dab of antiseize on every bolt before you start it. Tighten the bolts in several steps in a crossover sequence in order to make sure you do not warp the beadlock ring. OMF angles the bolt-hole washer seats so that as the ring is tightened down, the washer will stay true to the bolt head and the bolt won't break off after a while.
A nice feature of the 17x9 M/T wheel is that it has the perfect 4.5-inch backspacing for a JK with 37-inch tires, so wheel spacers are not needed (we used 35-inch Nitto Mud Grapplers on this JK, though). The OMF/ Mickey Thompson Classic II weighs just 27 pounds. This wheel also worked well all week in Moab.
Phil asked OMF to also beadlock the factory wheels that came on the Rubicon. The company was able to do this, even adding an extra 1/2 inch of width to the 7.5-inch-wide wheel, making it 17x8. These wheels attracted more attention than any others during Easter Week in Moab. The OMF/ Rubicon combination weighs in at 32 pounds each. They assemble just like the OMF/Mickey Thompson Classic II combo, look great, and exhibit factory quality and strength. They require wheel spacers on the JK to run 37s.
ProsClassic good looksLightweightEasy to installNo wheel spacers required (with M/T Classic II wheels)
ConsConverted nonbeadlock wheels
KMC Enduro Beadlock WheelsKMC is also in the market with its own beadlock wheel, the Enduro. The first notable difference you will see is that KMC uses more bolts on its beadlock ring. The company uses 36 bolts, meaning it takes a little longer to mount the tires. The Enduro weighs slightly less than the Mopar/ Hutchinson Rock Monster beadlock at 50 pounds, making it quite heavy.
We found the KMCs went together easily - just remember to follow the manufacturer's instructions on tightening sequence and torque specs. This is a well-built wheel with unique styling. KMC also designed each wheel to have two valve stems, allowing you to air down (or up) the tire through one valve while checking the pressure at the other. The only real drawback to this wheel is that it has such a high offset that wheel spacers are required even for stock-size tires. The rear inner face of the wheel pushes against the JK brake caliper in the rear without a spacer. The KMC wheel performed flawlessly in Moab.
ProsMore bolts in beadlock ringDual valve stems
ConsHeavySpacers required for all tire sizes
Walker Evans Racing Beadlock WheelsWalker Evans beadlocks are very strong wheels designed from the start to be beadlocks. Many racing teams use them at speeds well over 100 mph in the desert, bashing obstacles with no problems. We've used them on many projects and have had no failures or problems - ever.
The Walker Evans wheels come either polished or matte, with a choice of narrow or wide beadlock rings that can be anodized a number of colors. We chose polished wheels with a polished narrow ring (it's easier to get at the valve stem for airing up and down). They're available in any backspace and bolt pattern you need, so we ordered ours with 4.5-inch backspacing and the JK Wrangler's 5x5 bolt circle. Our wheels weighed 37 pounds each with the narrow beadlock ring installed. The Walker Evans wheels are high-quality and are very easy to assemble.
ProsHigh-quality wheelsAvailable in backspace you needChoice of narrow or wide beadlock rings
Cons Available in only one style
While everyone has his own way of mounting tires on beadlocks, here's the way we like to do the Walker Evans beadlock wheels in our driveway or garage. Remember: Mount beadlocks at your own risk, and our way may not work for you.
-To mount your tires, put the wheel (without ring, of course) upright on a blanket or towel.
-Install a rubber valve stem and remove the core.
-Use a spray bottle to squirt water on the inside bead of your tire (soap isn't needed), then push the tire on the wheel. Sometimes this means bouncing a bit with your knee to get the bead over the wheel.
-Make sure the upper bead seats around the beadlock ring lip (it easily does this and usually falls into place).
-Place the outer ring over the outer bead, lining up the bolt holes. If you're running a tire with a thicker bead, you may have to get four bolts that are longer than those that came with your beadlocks (we've always had to do this and use bolts that are 1/2 inch longer). This will allow you to put the bolts in and pull the ring down to a point where the other bolts will start. Make sure you dab a small bit of antiseize on all bolts.
-Install the four bolts and washers at the 12, 6, 3, and 9 o'clock positions on the ring. Tighten them enough to pull the ring down just a bit, crossing to the opposite bolt to tighten.
-When the ring is pulled down enough, put the supplied bolts and washers on either side of each longer pilot bolt. Tighten those just a bit, then remove the pilot bolt and install a supplied bolt in those positions.
-Now, put washers and bolts in the open spaces and start to tighten all bolts, crisscrossing the wheel as you go. The ring will pull all the way down to the wheel, even if it doesn't look like it when you start.
-Don't tighten one bolt all the way down: Tighten them all equally a little at a time and pull the ring down fairly evenly.
-DON'T OVERTIGHTEN! Use a torque wrench and tighten all bolts to 18-20 lb-ft.
-We now squirt around the rear bead with some more water, place the wheel and tire over a 5-gallon paint bucket or stool to get it off the floor, and then start filling the tire with air. Usually, the bead will seat right away.
-Once you hear the "pop" of the bead seating, remove the air chuck and reinstall the valve core you removed earlier.
-Inflate the tire to no more than 30 psi.
-We've never had a problem finding a tire store to balance the tire/wheel combo.-This sounds really complicated, but it's not. We like mounting tires on beadlocks and you will too, once you get the hang of it. Set aside some time, turn on some music, and start in.
-NEVER trust anyone else to do this for you, as others almost ALWAYS tighten bolts too much and foul up your expensive wheels.
Although beadlock wheels are impressive, another thing that impressed us is the high quality exhibited by all these wheels. We're confident that any of the beadlocks here you choose will serve you well in the dirt, no matter what you throw at them!