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Bug Out Blazer Part 5: ROBAR Coated Beadlocks

ROBAR Poly-T2–coated TrailReady HD17 beadlocks for B.O.B.

Ben BattlesPhotographer, Writer

In the process of waiting for parts and pieces to fall in line and show up at our doorstep, we had to hit the pause button on the Bug-Out Blazer project for a spell. Lucky us, however, the apocalypse has held off accordingly, and B.O.B. hasn’t been looted of its high-dollar parts yet.

We left off last buttoning up B.O.B.s suspension in preparation for mounting our wheel and tire combination of choice. After considerable hemming ’n hawing over what we thought might work best on our ’88 K5 Blazer, and considering every abusive scenario it could possibly encounter, we ended up reverting back to what we knew was a proven component recipe: the super durable Toyo Open Country M/T tire and ultra-rugged TrailReady HD17 beadlock wheel (i.e.: the cockroach equivalent of wheel/tire combinations for end-of-the-world conditions,)

The basis of this story involves avoiding inadvertently separating the bead of your tire from your wheel. Doing so is much like getting a really nasty double-feed malfunction in your AR-15—sometimes they can be a super pain to rectify, and it’s far from an ideal situation if you’re absolutely counting on it to do its job without fail. Case in point: We were reminded of just how fun blowing a bead was on a recent trip to Rocky Mountain Terrain Park in Carthage, Maine, in our ’04 Grand Cherokee (Project Grand Score). While poking our way through a downhill, off-camber rock garden, the weight of the Jeep suddenly shifted heavily to the right-front tire, producing the unmistakable “poof” sound of a tire’s air being evacuated quicker than you can say “Damnit!” This particular instance was a pretty random occurrence, one that would’ve been real hard to predict and, in turn, avoid. We were also surprised that it happened with a fairly conservative 15 pounds of air pressure (what we considered safe), but it just goes to show you that tire beads are never truly secure until they’re locked in.

This is what a bad day (or night, in this case) looks like unless you’re fully equipped with the tools to deal with it. This particular blown tire bead happened on our ’04 Grand Cherokee (Project Grand Score) and was a two-hour, ill-equipped nightmare before we had it rolling on all fours again. Since B.O.B. is being built as a life sustainment vehicle, beadlock wheels are an essential part of the plan to help ensure uninterrupted forward progress.

We spent the next two hours on the hillside trying to rectify the situation with the factory scissor jack (thought we were being smart leaving the Hi-Lift back at camp to save weight), winch cables running to both the front and rear of the Jeep so it wouldn’t slide off the trail or roll over when we jacked it up, and a couple of ratchet straps to help compress the tire and reseal the bead while trying to air it up with an inexpensive Slime-brand compressor. The reason I elaborate on this experience—and why it relates to the B.O.B. plan of a coming as close as humanly possible to a “zero failure rate”—is that we wouldn’t want to be tasked with the chore of reseating a tire bead if staying safe meant constant, uninhibited forward progress.

To make sure B.O.B.’s tires stay attached to its wheels, we’ve enlisted the bead-holding capabilities of the TrailReady HD17 beadlock wheels. Built from a rugged one-piece casting and 3/8-inch-thick, billet-aluminum beadlock ring, these wheels have earned a solid reputation for holding up to a severe thrashing. The fitment we chose was the 17x8.5-inch, with an 8-on-6.5 bolt-pattern and a 3.5-inch backspacing, but other bolt patterns and backspacings are also available.

The same durability that applies to ROBAR’s Poly-T2 finish in the firearms world also lends itself nicely to an off-road application. The low-visibility earth tone may be the biggest attribute to B.O.B., but our TrailReady wheels are also now easier to clean, have a higher level of chip and scratch resistance as compared to powdercoating, and—important if your rig does battle with the white devil (road salt) over the winter months—a much higher level of corrosion resistance.

So what’s the plan with B.O.B.? TrailReady’s proven HD17 17x8.5 aluminum beadlock wheels will be heading up our defense systems against blown beads. Industry friend, Stephen Watson, owner of Offroad Design and diehard fan/aficionado of vintage GM iron, originally turned us onto the TrailReady line of beadlock wheels. He also sells them, but as a testament to the product, he runs what he sells in some of the harshest wheeling environments known to man, such as one of the most punishing of all: the annual King of the Hammers (KOH) race. When I asked Stephen to offer up a sum of his experiences with TrailReady beadlocks, here’s what he had to say: “I’ve run lots of flavors of Trail Ready wheels, starting with its first 16.5-inch beadlock back when that was a thing. They’ve all been good, but the HD17 is developed to the point I’m not sure what else we could ask for. We currently have six rigs here on HD17s and have used a lot more than that over the years—we do have some experience. We’ve raced rocks and desert (or both at KOH), driven tens of thousands of highway miles, and have daily driven on them, and the only problems we’ve had involved what most people would call crashing. We rarely even balance the combo since the centering ring makes any reasonably concentric tire run true.”

ROBAR’s Poly-T2 coating is available in the tan-color our wheels were coated in, as well as black, burnt bronze, gunmetal gray, and dark OD green colors (the latter being the only one not represented here). Poly-T2 is one of many coatings offered by ROBAR. One of our other favorites is its silver-colored, self-lubricating, and astronomically durable NP3 (used by extensively by NASA and the aerospace industry), which we like to use on high wear areas of firearms, like bolt-carrier groups, triggers, and semi-auto pistol barrels. We can easily think of a few automotive applications what would benefit from it as well.

The HD17s come supplied with some pretty nice, heavy-duty angled valve stems, which feature double-nut retention on the inside of the wheel for added insurance. The valve stems sit well inside the face of the wheel, minimizing the potential of one getting ripped out by rocks or trail debris.

TrailReady HD17s start life as a rugged one-piece casting and feature an extra-thick inner bead lip. Ours measure 17x8.5-inches with 3.5 inches of backspacing, and if our measurements are correct, they should sit right about where we want them to under B.O.B.’s sheetmetal (after some strategic trimming). Clamping the outer bead of the Toyos between the HD17’s outer rim lip and beadlock ring are a total of 24 Grade-8 5/16-inch bolts. Like most true beadlock wheels, the TrailReady HD17s don’t feature a DOT stamp. We don’t expect to get pulled over by the fuzz for an equipment violation during the apocalypse, though, so it’s a non-issue for us.

One of the awesome things about beadlock wheels is that you can mount your tires on them at home without a tire machine. Apply a healthy dose of lube around the inside tire bead to help it slide over the wheel lip. We had actual bead lube on hand, but a little dish soap will do the trick. The Toyos have a rugged and thick carcass and needed a little convincing with a large chrome-plated tire spoon (avoids damaging the finish) to slide over the lip. If we weren’t doing this in arctic New Hampshire winter temps, an alternative would be to just let the tires sit in the sun for about 30 minutes to become supple.

To avoid eye-catching bling and help our wheels fly under the radar, we shipped ’em off to ROBAR, a company well known for its high-tech and durable firearm finishes. Editor Hazel and I have both had firearms finished by the talented hands of ROBAR gunsmiths, and not only do they look great, they’re now protected beyond the capabilities of any factory finishes. Because of its available earth-tone color options and nearly flat sheen—as well as our past experiences in firearm applications—we choose the company’s Poly-T2 finish in “Tan” (since it was a close match to the Blazer’s top) for B.O.B.’s wheels.

With the tire over the wheel rim, we indexed the beadlock ring onto the outer rim lip, started the bolts and washers (both of which were also coated by ROBAR), and snugged them up semi-tight in a crisscross pattern. We used an electric 3/8-inch impact on its lowest setting to save some time here.

Now begins the time-consuming process of torqueing down all 24 bolts evenly and in a crisscross pattern. We find that it usually takes four or five hits on each bolt to finally reach the point where the beadlock ring has settled into its happy spot and the torque value will hold at the specified number. In this case, that number was 20 lb-ft. When fully secured, the bolts are recessed in counter-bore holes to protect the bolt-heads from trail garbage.

Poly-T2 is one of the best solutions we’ve found to weatherproofing guns, but firearms aren’t the only application that can take advantage. Poly-T2 is a Teflon-based, modified epoxy coating specifically designed to prevent corrosion in harsh environments. Available in black, tan, dark OD green, gunmetal gray and a new burnt bronze, it provides corrosion protection that beats the ASTM-B-117 standard for 1,000 hours of salt spray exposure. It also provides maximum lubrication and resistance to galling, seizing, impact, abrasion, and chemical exposure. Poly-T2 is so tough that Robar provides an unconditional warranty against corrosion or flaking of the finish for the life of the gun to which it’s applied.

The last step in the process is air-up the tires—seating the bead and then stopping at whatever pressure you want to run at. We’ll end up playing around with air pressures on the street to make sure our Toyos wear evenly, but unlike a non-beadlocked wheel/tire, now we’ll be able to take advantage of the traction capabilities afforded by single-digit air pressures off-road without fear of blowing a bead.

Will a 5.56mm round chip the finish? Yep, it sure will (as it would most any finish we’d imagine), but the Poly T2 is measurably more-durable than a standard powdercoat finish, and as such, it will stand up far better in any off-road environment or to salty rust-belt roads during the winter. And thanks to its self-lubricating properties, zombie guts are only a stream crossing away from being completely rinsed off. It’s a little pricier than standard powdercoating, but if you want your wheels to stand out and be better protected at the same time, we’d highly recommend one of the specialized coatings from ROBAR as an alternative.

Poor B.O.B. This is how we left it after our last installment post-suspension install, looking ridiculous rolling around on borrowed 32-inch Dodge rolling stock. If vehicles had feelings we don’t think it’d be too happy about it. However, B.O.B. is about to gain back some self-respect with the battle-tested wheels and tires it’s about to get fit with, so stay tuned. In the next installment we’ll be giving you an in-depth look at what it’s gonna to take to properly fit the 40-inch Toyos under this Blazer’s sheetmetal.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the next installment for an in-depth look at Toyo’s legendary Open Country M/T tire and what it going to take to fit these 40-inch sneakers underneath B.O.B.