What if you could have the performance of a beadlock wheel on your 4x4 without the cost or maintenance issues? What if there was a way to keep your tires on the rims even at low tire pressures, simply because the wheel was designed for off-road use at lower tire pressures from the start, rather than modifying a highway-approved rim into a beadlock style? Finally, we’ve found the first purpose-built wheel that, except for hard-core competition, meets or exceeds all those requirements—including being a DOT-approved wheel.
It seems that you can’t get away from the beadlock look or function in our 4x4 world; it’s almost mandatory for going off-road. At least that’s what the manufacturers would like you to think, and it’s true that low tire pressure increases performance while wheeling. But external ring retention beadlocks aren’t DOT certified, usually have a jillion bolts that always need checking, and aren’t exactly cheap. That’s also why there are so many companies making “fakelocks”: normal wheels with a decorative ring or bolts on the outside to give it the beadlock look without the price—or function.
Enter the new Birddog wheel from Interco Tire. Yes, the top tire manufacturer that gave you the original TSL Swamper, Boggers, and other real-dirt tires now has the first wheel specifically designed with the wheeler in mind. This wheel is loaded with features even we didn’t know was critical but which make for a wheel unlike any other. The concept arose from old-time wheeler and WWII P-51 fighter ace Lieutenant Colonel Dwaine “Birddog” Franklin, who used his natural birddog ability to hunt out and destroy enemy targets, becoming an ace in the process. After wheeling for many years he partnered with his son Dennis and also with Warren Guidry of Interco Tire to develop a wheel for the 4x4 industry that would overcome the drawbacks of regular wheels and beadlocks and be exactly what most recreational trail users, hunters, backwoodsmen, and fishermen would need.
So what makes this wheel special? Simply put, the features and benefits are unlike any regular wheel. First off, it is made of cast aluminum, not steel, for weight reduction, yet is thicker and reinforced specifically for hard use and larger-than-stock tires. The wheel also comes in a variety of offsets for direct fitment with no spacers. But the exciting feature is the unique bead retention system that securely holds the bead on the rim at low pressures off-road unlike a regular wheel. In addition, a superdeep drop center makes for easier tire changing while in the field. Also, the properly placed dual valve stems let you air up and down easily while monitoring the pressure. E/T-style lugs ensures wheel retention and centering, and the smooth finish helps shed mud and snow for good wheel balance.
We tested these new rims for over a month in many scenarios, including sand, mud, rocks, and street. At first we were apprehensive of hard trail use with less than 10 psi, since regular rims and tires can easily debead when wheeled hard at that pressure. But after trying out the Birddogs with excellent results in all scenarios, we tried them in the same terrain at only 5 psi, with considerable sidewall bulge. However, even steep side hills and hard cornering in the sand couldn’t rip the beads off the rim, and we were duly impressed. And while we never recommend unsafe tire pressures in any environment, even in our limited street use carving corners with lowered pressure, the bead stayed in place.
Our final thoughts are that the new Birddog wheels far exceed the design objectives, and we look forward to new sizes and offsets being offered. They are currently available in 15x9, 16x9, 17x9 , and 15x10 sizes in either 31⁄2- or 41⁄2-inch backspace in all popular bolt patterns.
Are these wheel for the hardcore trail users with 42s and serious competition venues? Probably not, but between those sports and street use, these wheels seem to be a must-have for the vast majority of wheelers, and we look forward to giving you updates on their performance.