What’s The Bead Deal? The Importance of Beadlock Wheels
Take a look around our lifestyle, and you’ll see one that is inspired by the roots of off-road competition. From our suspension, to our rims and tires, much of the products available today were developed as a result of benchmarks and testing information obtained from hours of R&D and performance testing. This includes beadlock wheels.
That said, the “beadlock” movement is no different—and it has taken our industry and the global truck market by storm. Lifted trucks are all the rage, and most of them sport some sort of beadlock wheel. But upon closer inspection, many of these wheels are actually sporting the “beadlock look” — a style that was adopted from a rich heritage stemming from four-wheel drive, dirt track and rock crawling.
These beadlock-style wheels offer a look that is menacing yet refined, industrial but still elegant; and it borrows much of its main styling cues from true beadlock-style wheels used in off-roading.
What Is a True Beadlock Wheel?
If you’re wondering where this style originated from, it is said to have its roots in military applications, but was popularized by the off-road racing and rock-crawling communities. Originally, beadlock wheels were formulated to prevent wheels from dismounting when placed under tremendous torque loads and lower tire pressures.
In short, a “beadlock” is the clamping of a tire’s bead between an outer and inner ring that is attached to the wheel. This sandwich effect creates ample pressure to keep the “bead” of a tire locked into place—hence, the term “beadlock.”
Both the outer and inner rings of a beadlock wheel span the entire circumference of the rim. The outer ring is bolted against the inner ring of the rim. The inner ring is either welded onto a wheel after its been made (this is called a beadlock conversion) or it can be manufactured in place if it is a purpose-built beadlock wheel.
Why Use a Beadlock Wheel?
Standard wheels rely on air pressure to push the tire’s bead firmly against the rim in order to keep air from leaking out the tire, and to keep the tire rotating in sync with the wheel. As long as the rim and tire move together with no slippage, all is well. In normal use, this is a perfectly fine arrangement. Tire air pressures are high enough that even performance driving in the form of aggressive handling, acceleration and deceleration doesn’t tend to allow the wheel to slip on the tire, let alone pop the bead off the rim.
Off-road applications are a very different story, however. In order to gain better traction in loose dirt, sand, over uneven rocks, snow or other rugged surfaces, drivers often “air down” their tires. That is, they deflate their tires with the aim of increasing the size of the contact patch of their tire to the surface. This allows them to attain much better traction, and the extra pliability of the slouching tire’s sidewalls are less prone to puncture, since it will just flex around sharp rocks, versus being punctured by them. Another bonus is that it can be more comfortable to ride in a vehicle with gummybear-like, aired-down tires, as well.
When air pressure is decreased in a tire mounted to a regular wheel, the tire’s bead has less air pressure pushing it against the rim. If the pressure goes down low enough, the bead can start to slip against the rim, creating the danger of the bead actually coming off the rim, and inadvertently allowing the tire to slip off the wheel entirely. That’s a bad day right there.
This is where beadlock wheels come into play. Though it’s usually safe to air down your tires on your non-beadlock wheels to an extent (depending on tire size, type, wheel size, vehicle weight and terrain), but it’s surely not recommended to air them down to the level that beadlock wheels can handle.
Those who intend on driving onto terrain requiring serious traction may need to air their tires all the way down to as little as three to six psi, or even lower. If you’re going to do that, you’d better be doing it with beadlocks that will physically lock the tire bead into place, so that the rim doesn’t slip the tire off of itself.
Tightening Beadlock Wheels
01 SIMPLE FORMULA FOR TIGHTENING BEADLOCK WHEELS:
- UTV beadlocks should be tightened to 14 to 16 ft-lbs.
- Auto/ Truck beadlocks should be tightened to 16-18 ft-lbs.
02 BEGIN TIGHTENING BOLT HOLES, STARTING AT THE 12 O’CLOCK POSITION, THEN AT SIX, NINE AND THREE 3 O’CLOCK POSITIONS.
- Tighten them by hand, with three to four turns, to get them snug but not tight.
- This allows you to bump the tire and adjust positioning prior to final tightening.
03 CHECK YOUR TORQUE SPECS THREE TIMES.
- The tightening process creates stress in the ring, changing the torque on all bolts.
- To make sure you are to spec, it is imperative that you check the torque specifications three times per each beadlock wheel.
- Recheck the bolt specs after the first use.
More About Beadlocks
There are many different variations of beadlock wheels, but the most common to off roaders (which are the ones we refer to in this article) are beadlocks with outer-facing rings. The rings face outwards because, generally, if a tire slips off a rim, it usually comes off of the outside bead.
There are models that have rings on both the outside and inside of the wheel, but those can be much heavier, expensive, and more difficult to maintain and mount tires to.
Traditionally, beadlocks come with anywhere between 16 to 32 bolts, and sometimes more. These bolts are tightened down at around 16 to 18 ft-lbs, which, in turn, helps keep the clamp tight and the tire mounted in place.
When shopping for beadlock wheels, we prefer wheels that have 24 or more bolts, preferably with some sort of protection around the bolt heads. We also look for one with thicker outer rings for increased impact resistance, and a non-slick tire-mating surface (beware of over-zealous powder-coat applications) for extra bite on the tire bead.
RACELINE’S TRUE BEADLOCK
Raceline builds their wheels to “racing specification”—a standard higher than traditional D.O.T. standards.Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2016 print issue of Tread Magazine.