How To Assemble A Beadlock Wheel (W/Video)
The simplest and least expensive way to improve any vehicles off-road performance is to reduce the air pressure in the tires. By lowering the psi (pounds per square inch), you effectively increase the footprint of the tire, which helps disperse the vehicle’s weight over the ground below. This increases the tire’s ability to conform to the terrain, which greatly elevates your traction odds. A byproduct of the low air pressure is also a smoother ride.
When running a stock or conventional wheel set, you can typically safely air down between 12-15 psi. While that pressure range is effective, it’s not going to allow you to get the full performance potential out of your tire. This is especially true when mounted under a lightweight vehicle where you actually need to get the tire into single-digit pressure territory to work efficiently. In order to get the most performance out of the tire, while safely running extremely low air pressures, a beadlock wheel is needed.
A beadlock wheel is designed to “lock” one or both of the tire’s beads to the wheel via some sort of mechanical clamp or locking element. By locking the bead to the wheel, it reduces the chance of you losing the bead when running lower air pressure off-road. The most common type of beadlock wheel works by placing the outer bead of the tire between an external ring that is bolted to the wheel. To get a better idea of how a beadlock wheel works, we documented the install a set of 37x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers, which were mounted on 17x9 ATX Slab beadlocks.
The cast-aluminum Slab beadlock secures the bead of the tire onto the wheel by clamping it between an outer ring and the wheel. By “locking” the outer bead to the wheel, it secures the tire in place so it will not become dislodged at extremely low air pressures.
The initial steps for mounting a tire to the Slab beadlock are the same as a conventional wheel. You’ll first install the valve stem, then apply a gracious amount of lube (usually a soap/water mix) to the tire. We used a tire machine, but you can actually mount the tire at home using a five-gallon bucket. Since there’s no outer lip on the front of the wheel, the tire goes on the wheel with just a little bit of force.
You’ll need to make sure that the bead of the tire rest properly behind the ridge of the wheel. There are a few techniques to get this done. Some like to use a dead-blow hammer, we prefer a smooth-blade flathead screwdriver. Obviously, you’ll need to be careful not to gouge the aluminum, but the lube on the tire generally makes this an easy process.
At this point, you are ready to start the marriage of the beadlock ring and the wheel. The ATX Slabs use a massive 3/4-inch-thick forged 6061 T-6 aluminum beadlock ring to lock down the tire, which is one of the beefiest on the market.
Since your beadlock bolts require periodic re-torqueing, be sure to use anti-seize on the bolts. This will make your service intervals easier, and make it less of a choir to swap out your old treads for new ones when you are ready.
To tighten the aluminum beadlock ring, you’ll work your way around the wheel in a crisscross pattern, starting each bolt by hand. As the ring becomes closer to the wheel, swap over to a torque wrench and tighten all the bolts to the recommend torque rating. In our case, ATX recommends a range between 20-24 lb-ft. Once you are finished, there shouldn’t be any gap between the rim and the beadlock ring. With the beadlock bolts torqued in place, remove the valve stem core and air up the tire to set the inner bead. A high-volume air compressor will help to set the bead faster, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Don’t forget to re-torque your new wheels after a few hundred miles and beadlock bolts after every ‘wheeling outing or when you change your oil (depending on which comes first). The safest way to re-torque the wheels is to raise the each tire off of the ground using a floor jack and jack stand. Then, deflate the tire completely. From there, work your way around the wheel clockwise, then re-inflate the tire.
To see this in action, check out the video of our friend Mel Wade of Off Road Evolution walk you through the process.