Beadlocks – Are they worth it?

If you recall, at the beginning of the year I had a set of Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlocks installed when I got the new Cooper S/T Maxx tires mounted.

Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlocks
What do they do and are they worth it?

Although beadlocks are common in the rock-crawling world, the question we are seeking to answer is whether or not their beadlocks would be appropriate for the overland adventure lifestyle.  Let’s find out…

What is a bead and why does it need locked?

The bead of tire is probably the most overlooked part of an tire.  It does so much work and yet doesn’t garnered the same attention as tread and sidewall of the tire.  It’s very important though.  It’s the point of contact between the tire and the wheel.

Bottom right of the photo.
The bead of the tire is where it makes contact and seats to the wheel.

Now that we’re refreshed on tire anatomy, let’s look at how they mount on a wheel.

Here you can see a cross-section of a tire mounted on a wheel.
As you can se, the only points of contact between the wheel and tire are the beads.
Although they do make contact for a full 360 degrees, it’s still a small contact point.

Under normal circumstances you should never <knock on wood> have any issues related to the bead of the tire.  Most bead failures are caused by a manufactures defect (not common with most reputable brands, but they do happen) or excess heat (heat can build up in a tire due to hot brakes or if tire pressure is low which causes excess sidewall flex).  Both such issues are common with larger semi-truck retread tires which is why you see so many dead tires along the side of the highway.

Type of Beadlocks

There are two main groups of beadlocks.  The most common and well known type are external beadlocks.  These are mechanical in nature and consist of a metal ring that bolts to a beadlock wheel. These wheels can be manufactured with a locking ring (such as race wheels) right from the start, or you can modify an existing wheel to accept a locking ring.  For you DIY types, if you have steel wheels you can by a kit like these from our friends at AtoZ Fabrication.  For those of you with deep pocket that like your OEM alloy wheels, there are companies out there that will do the conversion for you (it’s expensive because of welding aluminum).

Here you can see how the beadlock ring (left) bolts to the beadlock wheel (right).
It pinches the bead between the two.

Purpose built DIY wheels come in steel (like the one picture) or in aluminum.

An existing wheel can be modified into a beadlock wheel with a little patience and a lot of welding
Here a set of the AtoZ Fabrication DIY beadlocks are being added to a set of black steelies

The other option for a beadlock is an internal beadlock.  These were first developed by the US military as a way to not only provide the advantages of a beadlock wheel but the modular construction of the wheel allowed for them to be serviced in the field.  The most common of these found today comes off the HMMWV (HumVee).  The HMMWV wheels feature a two-piece modular wheel with a rubber and magnesium run-flat insert that also doubles as a beadlock.  The availability of used HMMWV wheels make them a popular option for off-road enthusiasts.

There’s a lot going on in this image, but if you follow along you can see how the modular wheel and run-flat fit together.
Bolts. Lots and lots of bolts.

The main advantage of an internal beadlock system over an external beadlock ring is that an internal beadlock locks both the inner and outer beads of the tire against the wheel.  A traditional beadlock wheel with an external locking ring only locks the outer bead of the tire.  Although there are beadlock wheels available with dual rings they are usually only found in racing applications such as drag racing or extreme off-road racing like Baja or Ultra4.  Their limited production and high cost makes them rare in the off-road enthusiast world.

The alternative method for internal beadlocks is using a pneumatic system.  This is the style of the Coyote Enterprises boltless beadlocks.  It is comprised of an inner-tube and a liner to provide positive pressure on both beads.  The biggest advantage of this type of system is it can be used on any wheel (steel or aluminum) and only requires drilling one hole (for the valve stem of the inner-tube) making installation quick and easy.

Here is a cross-section of the Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlock system and how it works

Aside form working on both aftermarket and OEM wheels, there are two other advantages to a pnuematic systems like this.  First, the inner-tube and liner doubles as a “bumps top” protecting the wheel in the event the tire looses pressure.  It also can be used as a “limp flat” to help you get to a safe level location.  Again, it’s not a true run-flat, but if a tire lost pressure the inner-tube would provide enough support to back off an obstical, pull out of a mud hole, and pull off the main trail to somewhere safe (relatively speaking of course).

Another view of the Coyote Enterprises pnuematic system.
From left to right:
Liner
Liner mounted on tire around inner-tube
Liner, inner-tube, and tire sidewalls show how they pinch the bead
The tread of the tire is obviously missing allowing you to see how the liner and tire beads interact.

Why would an overlander need beadlocks?

I know what you’re thinking.  “Dean, you keep saying beadlocks are common in the racing and rock-crawling worlds.  I’m not a racer nor a rock-crawler so why would I need beadlocks?”  Trust me, I totally hear you on that.  So let’s look at a typical overland adventure.  You leave the house, drive on highways or at least main roads that are paved.  You arrive at a trail head and proceed to air down.  You travel down a fire-road or some other dirt road at a reasonable off-pavement pressure.  You then reach an obstacle.  It could be a rocky technical section, an unexpected washout, or maybe a sandy or snowy section requiring a little extra floatation.  Part of you says you should air down a little bit more to give you a little more grip but there’s a little voice in the back of your head the whispers a word of caution about airing down too much.  I’ve been there.  I’ve had that happen.

This was the start of this section of the 2017 NHT
Doesn’t look too bad, does it?
Just wait…

The two major risks you run with lower tire pressure are burping the bead and spinning the wheel inside the tire.   Both are hard to notice.  In the first case you drive all day and with each revolution the sidewall of the tire flexes enough that a little bit of air escapes from inside the tire.  Once or twice isn’t bad, but when you factor in thousands of revolutions even a small tiny fraction of air pressure eventually adds up.  In the later case you get into a situation where the traction of the tire overcomes the grip of the tire’s bead to the wheel and the wheel actually rotates inside the wheel.  While it doesn’t damage anything this can often throw the wheel and tire out of balance.  I’ve had both problems happen to me while at low tire pressure.  I once started a trip at 15 PSI only to find out by lunchtime I was down to 10 PSI.  On my way home I had a nasty vibration due to the tire spinning on the wheel and knocking the clamp-on style wheel-weights loose.

Same trail as above, just deeper in and more technical.
This wasn’t even the worst of it.
Knowing I could air down more and not risk burping or slipping a bead was priceless.

More recently, in 2016, on the No Highways Tour, I was out west in Utah hitting some pretty technical terrain along the Utah Back Country Discovery Route.  The mixed terrain of paved roads, unpaved roads, and trails had me adjusting my air pressure multiple times a day.  I think my record for one day was six times.  I didn’t have any problems, thankfully, but there were a few times I knew I was flirting with some lower-than-comfortable tire pressures.  In contrast, when running through Arizona on that BDR earlier this year I didn’t have to worry.  I knew the inner beadlocks would do their job and I wouldn’t have to worry.  Ultimately, that’s what you get when you run beadlocks – peace of mine.

Is the peace of mind worth the price?

If you’re like me you hate spending money you don’t need to.  I always hate when I buy something and the sales person tries to up-sale me some sort of extended warranty.  Do I really need a two year warranty on a $20 toaster?  Naw, I’ll pass.  However, in some cases the peace of mind is well worth the price.  For instance, let’s look at tires.

First time airing down brand new Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx’s equipped with Coyote Enterprises internal beadlocks.
Was I nervous? Not in the least bit.
For more information on the benefits of airing down, check out the writeup on tire pressure management.

The going rate for the Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx 255/85R16 tires I’m running is about $200 a pop.  The going rate for a 16″ Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlock is about $200 a pop.  I know what you’re thinking, “HOLY SHIT! THAT’S DOUBLE THE PRICE PER WHEEL!”  You’re not wrong.  It is a bit of a shock.  However, let’s look at two factors.

First, tires wear down.  In a few years I’ll be replacing the tires and spending another $200 a tire.  I won’t need do buy another set of beadlocks.  They’re reusable.  So as a longterm investment it’s not that bad.  Second, the last time I checked there weren’t tire stores in the remote deserts of Utah and Arizona.  If I had experienced a tire failure while on the No Highways Tour I could have had major problems.   “But that’s what a spare is for,” you say.  True, but I’m only carrying one spare.  “Well then you should carry two! Two is one and one is none after all,” I’m sure you’re saying.

255/85/R16 Load Range E Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx
Four on the Jeep, plus a spare, and two on the trailer.
The peace of mind of a good tire and an internal beadlock helps me push my Jeep harder and further.

Okay, so let’s do the math.  I have four tires on the Jeep, plus a spare, two on the trailer, plus a spare.  If I double my spares I’m now buying ten tires in total with a total of four spares.  That’s $800 in spare tires and an additional $240 in spare wheels.  How is the price of those beadlocks looking now? Looks pretty good to me.

Aired down and flexing the sidewall.
That bead isn’t going anywhere.

So, here’s the deal.  I honestly can’t speak for anyone else but in my eyes the peace of mind is worth it. Case in point, In 2016 I was a good overlander and traveled with two spares – one for the Jeep and one for the trailer.  It was already a lot of extra weight. Doubling up my spares would have been impractical.  In the entirety of my time as an off-road enthusiast I’ve only ever lost one tire and it was completely my fault (don’t facebook and rock crawl kids).  As such, I just don’t see the need to double up on spares <knocks on wood> <no jinx>.  In fact, when I set the Jeep and trailer up with matching wheels and tires earlier this year, I made the decision to carry only one spare from here on out (one for the Jeep and none for the trailer).  Not only did this lighten my load it also made things a lot easier logistically speaking.  Now, don’t worry, I still have a spare for the trailer at home – just in case.  I just don’t expect to need it any time soon.

Conclusion

To put it simply, you don’t NEED beadlocks to go overlanding.  Probably not the statement you were expecting.  Then again you don’t need a lot of the things we take with us.  It comes down to risk mitigation.  If you travel infrequently or in terrain that isn’t all that technical, then you probably don’t need beadlocks. However, if you’re a long-term overland adventurer, or someone such as myself that enjoys rock crawling, then beadlocks are a smart investment.  Being out in remote areas of the world means putting more emphasis on your tires to not only get you there but get you home when all is said and done.  Beadlocks go a long way in helping protect your wheels and tires and keep them mounted together.

The LJ was built to be a daily driver, an overland adventure vehicle, and a rock-crawler.
This is a prefect time and place to put the Coyote Enterprises beadlocks through their paces.
Lots of steering in the rocks which cross-loads the tires.
No burping.  No slipping of the wheel.  Just lots and lots of traction.

As far as what kind of beadlock (mechanical or pneumatic; external or internal) it’s a question of flexibility and cost.  A conventional beadlock wheel runs around $200-$400 per wheel depending on if you want steel or aluminum.  DIY kits for steel wheels run around $50 per wheel not including cost of installation if you pay a shop to do it for you.  The Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlocks run around $200 each and are relatively easy to install.  They have the advantage of working on either OEM wheels or basic steelies, and since they are internal this means they are all but unnoticeable making it less likely some nefarious person will be enticed into stealing your wheels.  At least that’s my hope.  From a distance my Jeep looks like every other Jeep out there on black steel wheels rather than one rolling on some race-inspired shiny beadlocks.   That’s another peace of mind that’s worth the price in my opinion.

However, there is one thing I haven’t mentioned yet.  It’s an advantage that I hadn’t expected but something that has become priceless to me.  Since the Coyote Enterprises beadlocks are a pneumatic tube inside a liner it means the overall volume of each equipped tire is lower than a non-beadlock equipped tire.  The time to air each tire up from trail pressure to street pressure is about half of what it was before.  While it may not seem like much, spread that time out over multiple tires (four for the Jeep), over multiple times a day (remember my record is 6 times in one day), over multiple days and multiple trips a year and it adds up quick.  Time is money, after all, and its something that’s not easily bought.

As I said, I can’t make the decision for you.  However if you find yourself considering beadlocks I’d seriously consider the Coyote Enterprices Boltless Beadlock System.  You can run them on stock or aftermarket wheels with a modest investment of time and money.  In return you get the peace of mind of having an internal double beadlock and limp-flat insert that won’t draw any additional unwanted attention to your rig.

Visit the Coyote Enterprises website for more technical information and product specs.
https://www.coyoteents.com

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A huge thank you to Corporate Partners Coyote Enterprises and Cooper Tire for their help and support of the ECOA mission to educate, encourage, and inspire.  They represent the best this industry has to offer in not only the quality of their products and their high level of customer service, but also their passion for us, the off-road enthusiast, is unmatched.  Please visit their websites for a wealth of information on tires and beadlocks.  Also, if you ever see them at a show make sure to stop by their booth and tell them Dean from ECOA says hi!

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