If you’re tire shopping or you’ve been keeping up with our tire guides, you probably keep seeing the terms Radial and Bias Ply. What are the differences in the tires? Who needs radials and who needs bias ply tires? Here’s an easy guide that explains the differences to give you a better idea of what you need for your next set of tires.
A radial is the “regular” tire designed for the everyday pressures of highway use since the rubber is made of a hard compound that slowly wears away over time.
The tread patterns vary. Standard radials, even in off-road form have various benefits, including:
- Standard radials are more fuel efficient
- Radials are generally quieter
- Good handling on the road
- They have a smoother ride quality
- They can last up to 80k miles
However, they have limited traction in mud and the sidewalls are not reinforced. So what about off-road radials? Typically known as “All Terrain” or “AT” tires, they are made with different tread patterns for off-road use. Most people opt for AT radials when choosing a tire for mudding. The variations range greatly and many are geared towards mudders, making it pretty easy to identify a mud tire from the rest. Benefits of AT radials include:
- Good off-road traction
- Excellent pressure distribution in footprint
- Decent overall lifespan
- Extra sidewall puncture protection
The downsides are that they are more expensive than standard radials, they can wear out quickly, and they’re not perfect for off-roading.
This leads us to bias-ply tires, or mud terrain tires. These are made from a softer rubber compound and wear quickly on pavement but have extreme grip off-road.
For unmatched grip without concern on the road, bias ply isn’t going to be beat. Mainly, they appeal to mudders and rock crawlers because:
- Treads self-clean on the move due to the large tread design
- Have a lot of flotation so you can drop tire pressure down and widen your footprint (good for all types of off-roading, but especially sand and mud)
- Tread and sidewalls share the same casing pliers, which means sidewalls can’t get punctured while tackling sharp rocks
- Available in a range of large sizes
Additionally, they have a high resistance to damage and are extremely durable — standing up to the extreme conditions off-roaders are known to encounter. They even have a pretty decent off-road lifespan. There are some cons to bias ply tires though:
- Harder to find
- Wear quickly on pavement
- Not always stable at highway speeds, as they’re difficult to balance due to their large size and thick construction
- Higher fuel consumption compared to radial tires
In a perfect world, you could have a set of both types of tire, keeping the bias ply tires in the garage for weekend fun, but that’s not exactly realistic for most 4×4 owners.
Most people choose to go with radial type tires as the “average” off-roader has on-road traveling needs as well. Using a bias ply tire on a daily driven street vehicle could prove to be a poor choice — you’re looking at poor on-road quality, more expense, and a drop in performance.
However, if you have a dedicated off-road vehicle, bias ply tires may meet the needs a radial can’t.