The most common blunder we see on the trail is overinflated tires. We all know that lowering the air pressure in the tires provides better traction and an improved ride over pumped-up rock-hard rounders, but how low should you go? Popping a bead is the fear that keeps us from going too low. Weve found that the perfect off-road pressure for a tire is usually low enough that unseating a bead becomes common. You could sacrifice traction with higher pressures, but some type of bead retention makes more sense.
There are lots of bead-retention methods available, ranging from glues to expensive inflatable Kevlar liners. The simplest and most functional method is to use bead lock wheels. These wheels have the added benefit of allowing you to change a tire yourself without a tire machine or any special tools, other than a Hi-Lift jack. They also look cool with the Grade 8 bolts used to clamp the bead running around the perimeter of the wheel. If you only want bead lock wheels for their race-inspired good looks then quit reading, flip to the source box, and order away. For those not so easily swayed, read on for the lowdown on locks.
Tire-to-wheel retention isnt new to the automotive world. Drag racers, off-road race teams, and some roundy-round racers have been using different methods for decades. Only in the last few years have bead lock wheels entered into the world of four-wheeling. With all this in mind it is important to know that bead locks are not designed for street use. Installing bead locks on your wheels will certainly void any wheel warranty, but most of us forgot about warranties when we lifted our trucks anyway.
Before deciding whether or not you need bead locks, its important to consider how much you air down your tires for off-road use. If you have popped a tire off its seat before, or do that frequently, then you may want to get locks, unless you enjoy changing tires and reseating beads. If you have a lightweight vehicle (Jeep, Toyota, and so on) and big tires, you may find that the tires work best in the single-digit pressures. Check out the sidewalls for the load capacity and max pressure. A 35-inch tire may have a load capacity of 2,900 pounds at 35 psi. If your vehicle weighs 3,000 pounds you can almost hold the whole thing on one tire at full pressure. In this case, the tires should be lower than the max pressure for street use. In the dirt, the pressures should be nowhere near the max psi.
Early high-horsepower dragsters used wide slicks that generated enough traction to cause the wheels to spin inside the tires. Bead screws and glues were probably the first methods ever used to keep this from happening. Screws and glues are still used today, although sometimes they may not be enough. The screws are sheetmetal screws. Holes are drilled through the wheel lips, and the screws are threaded into the side of the tire beads, keeping the wheels from spinning in the tires. This method has also been used somewhat successfully off-road. The main drawbacks are holes in your wheels and tire beads. For drag racers its not a big deal since they dont bash the screws on rocks and can remove them once in a while to change tires. Bead glues offer only marginally better retention than a stock wheel. Inner tubes and other inserts can be difficult to install and maintain, and may require wheel modification.
Bead locks offer added strength to the wheel lip, keep the tire bead in place, and keep the tire from spinning on the wheel in muddy high-horsepower applications, and the rings themselves offer added protection for the valve stems. None of the other bead-retention devices have this many advantages.