By now most wheelers know the value of a beadlock rim for their 4x4. Physically clamping the bead of the tire to the wheel enables you to run lower air pressure without the tire coming off the rim. Lower air pressure, in turn, increases traction and a smoother ride off-road. This all goes out the window though once the tire is punctured. That is where TireBalls come in.
TireBalls are air-filled cells positioned inside the tire and act like a runflat or an inner tube, but they have advantages over either. By using 20 urethane cells per wheel, the TireBalls continue to work even if some of the cells are punctured. And unlike a runflat, they can be tuned for specific pressures and ride characteristics.
All of these attributes are useful when you don’t have time to stop and change a tire, like when you are racing—or someone is shooting at you. This is why TireBalls are so popular at King of the Hammers and in military applications.
But what if you are a recreational wheeler who runs big tires and doesn’t have the room for a spare? How much ground clearance is lost when the tire loses air? And how many TireBalls can go flat before you cannot drive on them anymore? Check out the captions to find the answers to all of the questions and more as we put TireBalls to the test on the Rubicon Trail.
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1. We started by dismounting our tires and reading the instructions from start to finish. Each tire accepts 20 TireBalls that are inflated either individually or with a multiport manifold.
2. To inflate the TireBalls, you use a needle similar to a basketball. The valve is flush with the rest of the surface to eliminate the chance of abrasion on adjacent cells.
3. Silicone is provided to lubricate the inside of the tire and reduce friction. Any rubbing between the tire, wheel, or other cells could result in eventual punctures.
4. First we inflated the TireBalls to 5 psi. Then we placed all of the cells inside the tire facing the same direction and evenly spaced before fully inflating them.
5. The good news is that TireBalls devised a multiport manifold that allows all the cells to be aired up to the same pressure at the same time. The bad news is that the multiport manifold is not commercially available. The alternative is to air up each cell individually.
6. We inflated the TireBalls to 12 psi with the tire mounted halfway onto the rim so we could still access the valves. Then we used all-thread and a ratchet wrench to mount the beadlock ring on our Walker Evans rim.
7. We started our testing on the Rubicon Trail by pulling the valve core out entirely (get it?). With the TireBalls inflated to 12 psi there was only minimal loss in ground clearance and traction was excellent.
8. The TireBalls did their job with the valve core removed, so we started drilling holes in the tire and puncturing the cells. (Only one tire was killed in the making of this article.) The look on the faces of people who passed by was priceless.
9. After drilling a couple of holes in the tire carcass, driving at freeway speeds, and puncturing numerous cells, we finally found the limits of the TireBalls.
10. During our test on the Rubicon we came across this Toyota with a blown-up transfer case. We pulled him off the trail with no air in our passenger-side rear tire!
11. A non–DOT-approved tire on a beadlock rim with no air in it driving down the freeway? Yes, and we should add that we were welding in sandals at the same time.
12. When we broke down the tire and rim at the conclusion of our testing we found that 11 of the 20 TireBall cells had been compromised, but we were still able to drive on the tire since the remaining cells spread out inside the carcass.