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Bead-Lock and Faux Bead-Lock Wheels

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Trent Riddle | Writer
Posted January 1, 2002

All You Need to Know

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  • Axis Sport offers the Regulator, a DOT-legal aluminum faux-bead-lock wheel. Regulators are available for a wide range of SUVs and come with red, blue, or silver rings.

  • Champion Wheel offers true bead-lock wheels that are based on the American Racing Outlaw II and Baja wheels. Their bead-lock rings feature 24 bolts. Champion also will install bead-lock rings on your aluminum wheels. It’s a great way to bring an old scarred set of wheels back to life for dedicated trail use.

  • MRT offers several true bead-lock wheels that are made from steel. These wheels are available in either 18-bolt or 36-bolt configurations.

  • 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers offers its 152-series Street Lock steel wheel. This faux bead lock is DOT-legal. The outer ring on this wheel is welded a full 360 degrees for the utmost in strength. Even if you’re not into the look, this wheel is worth considering because the outer edge is virtually invulnerable to damage in the rocks.

  • National Tire and Wheel offers Mickey Thompson Classic II wheels that have been converted to a true bead-lock design. These aluminum wheels feature a 16-bolt ring.

  • The Trailready bead-lock wheel begins life as a Daytona steel wheel. Then an 18-bolt bead-lock ring is added. This true bead lock has an extra-wide lock ring that helps to keep mud and other items out of the wheel center. Unlike other steel wheels, the lock ring on this wheel is aluminum and is available in blue, red, or clear anodized finishes.

  • The Eaton bead lock offered by National Tire and Wheel is a steel-wheel-based true bead lock. This wheel has a 16-bolt ring.

  • Stockton Wheel offers custom-built steel bead-lock wheels. Seen here is the company’s Heavy Duty Off-Road bead-lock wheel. This wheel has a stylized center that is devoid of holes. The bead-lock ring features 16 bolts.

  • Weld Wheel offers the Super-Single StoneCrusher. This wheel is a tough two-piece forged aluminum alloy faux bead lock.

By now you’ve heard the whispers around camp about bead-lock wheels. Everyone is saying that you just have to have a set or you’re not a serious four-wheeler. We’re here to tell you that for some, bead-lock wheels are a must. But they are not for everyone. Here’s why: First off, bead-lock wheels are only needed for low-speed trail use when you plan on running your tires at very low inflation pressures. Many people are hesitant to lower tire pressures below the 18-psi mark, and if you’re one of them, you likely don’t need a set of bead-lock wheels. The fact is that unless you have a very heavy rig and drive it really hard, you’re unlikely to unseat a tire bead if the tire pressure is over 18-20 psi. On the other hand, if you like running pressures below 12 psi on the trail, your need for bead-lock wheels likely is quite high. If you’re wondering why anyone would run tire pressures this low, consider this: At lower air pressures, the tire has a larger footprint. This means more rubber on the rocks and therefore, more traction. In addition, a low tire is better able to conform to uneven surfaces, which also improves traction. And in mud, a bigger footprint can mean increased flotation.

The concept behind bead-lock wheels is simple. A bead-lock wheel clamps the outer tire bead in place, rather than relying on an inner safety bead and air pressure to hold the tire on the rim. By clamping the tire securely, you ensure that the outer bead can’t be pushed off the wheel in rough terrain with low tire pressure, resulting in an instant flat. Notice that we said the outer bead. Generally speaking, bead-lock wheels only lock the outer bead, and the inner bead retention system is of the standard design. This is done for two reasons. First, the stress of turning, cornering, and climbing over rocks is more likely to push against the outside bead than the inner one. Second, a dual bead-lock wheel makes it virtually impossible to center and balance the tire.

Now we know that the upside of bead-lock wheels is the ability to keep the tire on the wheel, even with extremely low tire pressures. So what is the downside? First, bead-lock wheels are complicated things that take a lot of time to build and put into use. This means that bead-lock wheels are more expensive than standard wheels, and you’ll pay more to have tires mounted and balanced on them. Bead-lock wheels also require a lot of maintenance. You can’t just mount your tires and forget them. The fact is that before and after every trail outing, you’ll need to check the torque on the bead-lock ring-bolts. Further, if any of the bolts are broken, you’ll need to replace the entire set. Did we say broken bolts? Yes, we did. You see, the bolts that hold your bead-lock ring in place are handling the load of keeping the tire on the rim. This load is concentrated on the bolts rather than all around the rim edge, as on a standard wheel. After a while, these bolts reach their stress limit and break. This is why more bolts are better. This is one of the reasons that bead-lock wheels are not DOT-approved for highway use. This means that you’ll need two sets of wheels if you plan on driving your trail rig on the street. Bead-lock wheels are great for rockcrawling, but are not suitable for street use.

But wait. What if you like that cool look and really want to install a set of bead-lock wheels despite the disadvantages? Well, consider a set of faux bead locks. These wheels have the look of a bead-lock, complete with bolt heads and outer rings, but are standard wheels in every other way. As a bonus, the outer ring adds some strength to the wheel’s outer edge. This makes faux-bead-lock wheels somewhat more durable than standard wheels in the rocks.

Here you’ll find a short list of the manufacturers of both real and faux bead-lock wheels. Whether you’re into hard-core ’wheeling with single-digit tire pressures, or simply desire the rugged look, you’ll find something here for you.


Lynnwood, WA 98087
4Wheel Parts Wholesalers
Axis Sport Tuning Inc.
Champion Wheel
Stockton Wheel
Stockton, CA
Weld Wheels
Kansas City, MO 64101
National Tire and Wheel
Marsh Racing Technologies