Most custom off-road builds list beadlock wheels as one of the countless upgrades the trucks receive; yet what exactly these wheels are can be something of a mystery to many. To understand what beadlock wheels are you first need to understand the basics of a tire as well as how they mount to a wheel.
Curious if beadlock wheels are for you, or just interested in how these staples of the off-road world work? Either way, here are the basics of how beadlock wheels work.
The Basics of a Tire
Wheels aren’t much good without tires, which is why it’s important to understand the basics of a tire before you can effectively learn about beadlock wheels. While there’s quite a bit of science and engineering that go into tires today, this image shows the basic parts we’re concerned with:
Most importantly, we’re interested in the item shown in the bottom left, known as the Bead. The bead on a tire is the end of the sidewall on a tire. On a traditional wheel, the bead is forced against the wheel rim by air pressure, making the tire and wheel rotate as a single unit.
Proper air pressure makes sure the tire doesn’t slip or dislodge from the wheel under normal circumstances, but when running with lower pressure or extreme off-road situations, the bead can become dislodged and basically come off of the wheel. Even though most manufacturers use a soft rubber formulation on the bead, conditions that are not typical driving situations can easily cause the tire to slip or totally come off of the wheel. As you can see, this is far from helpful under the best of conditions, but when you’re on the trail this is pretty dangerous.
In short, a beadlock wheel locks the bead between two pieces of the wheel that are bolted together. A traditional wheel is one single piece to which a tire is mounted, but with a beadlock wheel there are two pieces with a number of bolts that hold them together. It’s these two pieces that literally sandwich the bead of your tire, making air pressure inside the tire and lateral movement mostly unimportant.
In the image above, the black ring around the inside of the tire bolts to the rest of the wheel with the tire’s bead in the middle. The bolts don’t go through the tire, but next to it and help to sandwich the tire’s bead.
Why Beadlock Wheels are Used
While beadlock wheels look pretty cool, this is only a secondary function. The key purpose of a beadlock wheel is to allow you to use any air pressure you want. This is very useful when driving in mud and snow, which require a lower PSI to give your tires a larger footprint. This is also very useful for rocking. If you’re driving over large rocks, lower air pressure gives you more rubber on the road, so to speak. Keeping tires at a lower PSI using traditional wheels can also allow the tire to spin on the rim, which is a quick way to knock your wheels out of balance. By locking them in place, there’s no worry about the tire spinning on the rim.
The other important use for beadlock wheels is off-roading that results in heavy lateral movement of the tires. Climbing over rocks and other obstacles can easily dislodge a tire, but by locking the bead in place, the tire stays on and you keep moving on the trail.
Downsides to Beadlock Wheels
With every bit of good there’s usually some bad, right? When talking about beadlock wheels the bad mostly comes in the form of price, as they are generally more expensive than their traditional single-piece cousins. Beadlock wheels are also heavier than standard wheels, which is fine for off-roading but not so great if you’re going for speed and weight savings.
Maintenance is also more intensive with beadlock wheels, too. The bolts are what hold the tire in place, so they must be checked regularly for tightness. This is far more maintenance and upkeep than other wheels, but the benefits outweigh the extra work.
Finally, some states and manufacturers list beadlock wheels as not being for highway use. This means you can run into some issues with inspection and daily driving, but these need to be balanced with your needs off road.