At a certain point in the pursuit of performance you hit a decision that requires you to make a compromise. Get more extreme parts to make tackling obstacles safer and easier, or keeping your vehicle more balanced for road and trail use.Your wheels used to be an area of major compromise. Stay with a street wheel that doubles for trail use or go with a purpose driven beadlock wheel offering maximum off-road performance.
Beadlock wheels were first used on Dodge military trucks and they were called “combat wheels” The wheels were a divided-rim, that used a bolt-on retaining ring replacing the normal split ring wheels.
This allowed for a rapid tire change in the field where they earned the name “combat wheels” for their unique design.
Marsh Racing developed the first civilian version of the beadlock wheel for racing applications in 1980. The concept was years in development and is the precursor to the wheels we have today. Marsh still makes beadlock wheels to order.
There are three main types of beadlock wheels. We will break down the three styles and some possible pros and cons of each.
The most common beadlock uses an outer ring to squeeze the tire bead between the ring and the inner lip of the rim. Today’s designs trace their history directly back to those “combat wheels” and their very effective design.
One of the major drawbacks of the design is the maintenance. Unlike the original wheels there are many more bolts used on modern beadlock wheels. When used on the street or trail constant monitoring of the bolt torque is required. Because they only pinch the outside bead there is still a higher chance of pressure loss versus other styles of beadlock wheels. The flipside of that is the simplicity of the design makes them easy to use, easy to install, and still offers that simple tire change process of the original.
An internal beadlock uses a stiff rubber insert between the tire beads to press them against the lip of the rim. The rim is still bolted together or uses an outer ring but both beads are captured. This allows for more aggressive use and very low air pressure without fear of losing pressure or slipping a bead.
The internal beadlock is more complicated and not as easy to do a field tire change. They require less retaining bolts, the bolts pass through the entire wheel mating the two sections together and because the internal ring applies constant pressure the bolts maintain their torque much better. That means less maintenance to keep everything tight and holding proper pressure.
We currently run the Hutchinson beadlock wheels and after initially checking bolt torque weekly we have extended that interval out to each oil change with spot checks monthly.
This isn’t intended to be an ad for B.A.D. wheels but their internal system is different enough to warrant a third category.
You can see from the picture above how they approach the internal beadlock. The tire mounts normally to the rim and then these internal half moon shaped plates are installed. You tighten the bolts to compress the bead and sandwich it between the lip of the rim and the inner plate. The cotter pin prevents the bolts from backing off.
The setup is inherently low maintenance, it is also complicated and not easy to field swap a tire. The mounting requires installing a tire normally and then breaking the inside bead to allow you to articulate a ratchet through the wheel to tighten the bolts for the beadlock plates.
It also does not address the inside bead retention.
What’s right for you?
I won’t be able to answer that question for you. You have to look at budget, off-road needs- and on-road performance. Both the B.A.D. wheels and the Hutchinson wheels are D.O.T. certified compliant. The standard style beadlock is not.
For our money we would go with the internal beadlock wheels. Low maintenance, D.O.T. certified, both beads are held securely, and that additional piece of mind off-road means a lot. Pricing is higher for internal beadlock wheels sitting right around $400 per wheel and up. Standard wheels can be had for $300 and up.
Tell us what you think in the comments below!