Reducing tire pressure is a popular off-road “trick” that’s often used when driving on loose surfaces (sand, small rock, mud, etc.). “Airing down,” as it’s called, basically gives you more traction by increasing the amount of tread that makes contact with the ground. Provided that you have an air compressor (or CO2 tanks) handy to restore your tires to the proper pressure, airing down is often a good idea.
The problem is, some tires – specifically radial tires on standard rims, which is what we see on 95% of 4×4’s – probably shouldn’t be aired down below 15psi. This is because radial tires are somewhat likely to come off a standard rim at tire pressures lower than 15 psi, especially if you’re maneuvering over an obstacle. Not to mention, a tire that comes off a rim even at low speeds can be catastrophic, depending on when and where it happens.
Yet, airing down to 15psi isn’t always sufficient in terms of maximizing traction. Sandy surfaces can be difficult to traverse unless pressures can be dropped down to 10psi, which isn’t always safe with radials. Rock crawlers often air down to as little as 5-8psi, which is impossible with a set of standard radials.
The solution? Beadlocks and (ideally) bias-ply tires. This combination is technically “old” technology, as it pre-dates modern radial tires. However, beadlock rims ensure that your tires don’t come off the rim, and bias-ply tires have strong, tough sidewalls that resist damage just like the rest of the tire when aired down. Here’s what you need to know about beadlock rims, as well as the tire mounting process (which is unique for beadlock rims).
DIY Beadlock Kits vs. Beadlock Rims
There are two options when it comes to beadlocking your tires:
- You can buy a set of wheels that include actual, functional beadlocks (not faux beadlocks, which are increasingly common on wheels these days)
- You can buy a DIY beadlock kit, which allow you to mount beadlocks on most steel wheels, only the installation requires welding and often machining of the rim.
While the DIY kits are very affordable (especially if you can get your hands on a set of steel rims, which people often give away these days), they require great care during installation. Welds have to be well-executed, or they will be a source of air leaks (or worse). Most people will be better off choosing to invest in a set of beadlock rims.
Finally, keep in mind that some DIY beadlock kits have tire pressure limitations which make them unsuitable to road use. If you go the DIY route, you might be flatbed towing your rig to the trail from now on (which, depending on how it’s geared, you might be doing already).
Proper Tire Installation on Beadlock Rims
Radial tires are relatively easy to mount on a rim. Few people mount and balance their own radial tires these days, as it’s cheap and easy to let the tire shop do it for you. However, in the case of mounting tires on beadlock rims, many tire shops want nothing to do with it. What’s more, even if your local tire shop offers to mount your tires on your beadlock rims, you might feel more comfortable doing this process yourself. A tire installer who’s in a hurry or who doesn’t follow the right process can cause tire damage, or increase the risk of the beadlock failing.
The first thing you need to do with your beadlock rim is to remove the ring from the rim. With the ring removed, you can clean the bead mounting shoulder to make sure it’s clear of debris — this is especially important around the bolt holes.
Then you’ll push your tire over the rim — do this while making sure the beadlock side is facing up. Use some soapy water or silicone spray around the inner bead to help it make it onto the rim without issue — do not use grease as it can make the inner bead slip off when in use. Mounting should be possible with tire spoons.
Once the tire is over the rim, position the edge of the tire bead next to the mounting surface. The tire won’t sit flush in the corner of the lips, so don’t worry when it doesn’t line up.
Before you install the hardware, lubricate the beadlock bolts with anti-seize or like lubricant to prevent stuck bolts down the road. Then, start to tighten all of the bolts by hand until they’re all hand tight — making sure the tire is staying centered around the wheel.
In a crisscross pattern, use a small wrench to tighten each bolt with the same amount of force. Be careful to follow your pattern and not tighten one bolt more than the next, as that can cause tire damage and/or problems on the trail.
NOTE: Using an impact wrench is not recommended for beadlock wheels. You definitely want to use hand tools to ensure proper torque settings, as well as to protect your tires and beadlock.
Once all of the bolts are tight, inspect the bead of the tire to make sure it’s equal all of the way around the beadlock ring. Then, using a torque wrench, tighten all bolts in a crisscross pattern again. Generally, the rule is 10-12 foot pounds on a 8”, 9”, 10”, or 12” rim, and 20-22 foot pounds on a 14” rim. However, the rim should come with specifications for proper torque.
To get the tire bead to seat on the rim, liberally apply soapy water or silicon spray around the bead. With your air compressor, fill up the tire and pop the tire bead on the rim. Don’t exceed the maximum seating pressure, which you’ll either learn from the beadlock manufacturer or reference on the tire sidewall (defer to the rim manufacturer’s specs when in doubt). For safety, cover the tire and wheel with a large blanket while seating in case of wheel, tire, or valve steam failure.
Once you’ve got your bias play tires mounted on your beadlock rims, tackling the trail is easier than ever. You can air down to as little as 5psi without concern, as your tires are locked onto your rim, and their bias-ply design makes them tough enough to handle sharp rocks that would slice the sidewall of most radials.