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Radial vs. Bias-Ply Tires

Detached Tire
The Jp Staff | Writer
Posted May 1, 2011

Unbiased?

Guy #1: "Dude, this guy in my gun club was telling me about his cousin's brother'snephew's roommate who could never get his bias-ply tires to take a balance. His Jeep went into death wobble and he lost control, hit a honey truck, and skidded through a plate glass window factory where he was decapitated."

Guy #2: "That's nothing. I heard from my ex-wife's Latin pool boy (whose salary I still pay, by the way), about this chick's Jeep with under-inflated radial tires. The front tires overheated, delaminated, and caused the Jeep to pole-vault over a busload of orphans and into an Acme TNT van. The ensuing explosion and fire contributed to global warming and directly resulted in the heat-stroke-related deaths of three polar bears."

Yes, truly the debate of radial versus bias-ply tires has had its various opponents and proponents over the years. Are the sidewalls of radial tires no better than paper or cardboard on the trails? Does a puppy die every time you mount a bias-ply tire on anything but a tractor? Who can really say for sure. But here's the Jp staff's take on the subject.

Hardcore Hazel
I'm a realist. I don't expect my tax accountant to wash my car for me. That's not what I pay her to do. So why should I expect a glass-smooth street ride out of a gnarly set of off-road tires? I bought 'em to work really well in the dirt and to survive in the rocks. Conversely, I'd never pull the Michelin street radials off my wife's SUV and mount 'em on my flattie before heading to Johnson Valley. Unfortunately, some don't see things in the same shades of black and white as I do.

I like bias-ply tires. I don't care that they flat-spot after sitting overnight or that they may wear a bit unevenly. It's okay to me that if I do take the effort to have them balanced it may take as much as a pound or more of wheel weights per-tire to get the job done. Their hammer-tough carcass and brutal traction is all I ask in return. Historically, bias tires haven't been known for their long street life. I did put over 20,000 miles on a set of Swamper Boggers and still had almost half the left on them when I took them off. I consider that a fluke, though. It must've been the Perfect Storm of tire survival rolled into one absurdly remarkable scenario. Lately I've been running a set of small Swamper LTB tires on a Wrangler and their fast and uneven tread wear has restored my faith in the world order. Bias tires are largely old-school tires. Not a lot of new technology and effort seems to be lavished upon their design and manufacturing, but they are as tough and unsophisticated as a Boston dock worker.

Radial tires, on the other hand, seem to offer the best of both worlds nowadays. In the past if you ran a radial tire you could expect smooth on-road manners (for the most part), but you also expected the sidewalls to be ridiculously susceptible to puncture and tearing on the trail. That's not exactly so anymore. Tire manufacturers are developing tighter sidewall weaves and have in some cases introduced bulletproof materials like Kevlar to bolster a radial's survivability. The end result is a tire that is manufactured to tight tolerances (meaning it's actually round instead of lumpy and oval), has consistent material distribution through the carcass (meaning it's balanced and requires less weight on the rims), and wears longer without giving up traction (meaning the materials in the rubber blends are more advanced). I think ten years ago I would've clearly chosen bias-ply tires for their crazy off-road attributes, but today the radials are just too good. As long as they're available in the size I want to run, make mine a radial.

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