When Center Line Wheel Corporation set out to build a new bead-lock wheel, it didn't exactly copy the regular bolted-ring-on-a-rim concept. Actually, this new I.C.E. wheel is unlike most any wheel with its innovative construction. It offers run-flat capability, which a pinched outer bead alone can't accomplish, and the bead lock is really a side effect of the run-flat design.
Much like the spun aluminum three-piece modular Center Lines of the '80s-which spawned a slew of look-alikes and forever made people believe that any wheel with small round holes was a "modular" wheel-this latest Center Line also features three modules. Reminiscent of the old design, there is an inner section which holds the inner bead, a center, and an outer part that holds the tire's outer bead and the valve stem. Both are also made from aluminum, but that's about it for similarities-these new wheels are different, indeed.
Reading the specifications for the I.C.E. (Integral Centering Element) wheel didn't impress us at first. A 17x9 is listed as weighing in at a rollover- and deceleration-resistant 49 pounds, per wheel. That's unsprung, rotating mass, the worst kind of vehicle weight. Then, W.D. pricing is a not-too-modest $679 apiece. Ouch. To top it off, the tire size and load ratings are a mere 33 inches and 2,200 pounds for five- and six-lug wheels, with eight-luggers at 35 and 3,200, respectively. After lifting the boxes and reading the specs, we sure didn't like this new wheel, but that was all to change.
Mounting a tire made us appreciate the fast and effortless installation afforded by the Center Line, not normally a strong point of bead-lock wheels, and we had to admire the ingenuity and simplicity of what at first seemed to be a complex setup. Still, it was impossible to ignore a comparison with the old spun-aluminum version. Granted, they aren't bead locks, have no run-flat capability, can't easily be disassembled at home (they're riveted together), but they're one of the best wheels we've ever used for bead retention-bead locks included. Also, they weigh in at an acceleration-friendly and handling-happy 18 pounds for a 15x10. Why is the new 17x9 three times heavier?
It all made a lot more sense after talking to Ray Lipper, the man who engineered the I.C.E. concept. Designed for military use with 37s and in conjunction with an inner 28-inch "tire," everything had to be very stout and, well, bulletproof. Center Line is one of the few wheel companies making everything (except the aluminum) in-house, in the U.S., thus the military interest. Obviously, there's serious overkill in the weight and tire diameter ratings, and the fact that we civilians can now buy this wheel is basically a nice bonus. Included in the price of admission is also free repair of the outer section, should you smack a rock with one.
Essentially, the outer part of the I.C.E. is the equivalent of the bolt-on ring on regular bead-lock wheels, but with positive indexing, which makes the wheel run true and remain balanceable. We put a Center Line on the Hunter GSP 9700 balancer (yes, it measures rims too) and found the run-out to be minimal: 0.016 inch at worst, with an average of just 0.0095. That's quite a testament to the quality manufacturing, especially when considering that it's a three-piece wheel.
Center Line just might make a 15-inch version for those of us who prefer traditional wheel sizes, if the demand is there (and it would be quite a bit lighter), but for now we have the mil-spec, user-friendly 17x9. Either way, it's a very appealing concept.