Are Bias Ply Tires The Best Off-Road Option?
In the 1960′s, the idea of a radial tire was a foreign concept.
Foreign as in, literally, foreign. French, to be exact. Yet by the mid-70′s, nearly every new car had radial tires. The story of the switch to radial tires is intriguing to be sure, but so is this: old-fashioned bias ply tires might just be the best trail tire you can buy.
How Radials Replaced The Bias Ply
By nature of their design, bias-ply tires are unstable at highway speeds unless they’re carrying a very heavy vehicle. In the 1960′s, most bias-ply tires had only 2 plies, which made them relatively easy to pop. For these reasons, they were a poor choice for most passenger cars….but it wasn’t until the 1970′s that the superior radial tire finally got it’s due.
According to American Heritage magazine, it all started with a man named Andy Bush who was a buyer for the Sears and Roebuck catalog company:
ANDY BUSH DROVE A MERCEDES, WHICH WAS UNUSUAL in the United States in the early 1960s. More unusual still, the tires on his car never seemed to wear out, even though they always looked flabby and underinflated. He loved the durability of his peculiar French-built “radial” tires.
Bush was a buyer for Sears, Roebuck & Company, and it happened to be a time when Sears needed something to give it a competitive edge…Sears made a corporate decision to find a way to abandon the unpopular two-ply tire, but the question of what to substitute for it remained. Bush thought he knew. He had already tracked down the source of his radial tires…when he had visited the offices of the Michelin company, in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
[When Andy Bush arrived there was] no warm welcome. Michelin’s management, stern, paternalistic, and secretive, had its attention focused on automotive insiders and knew almost nothing about Sears…François Michelin, the head of the company, put off any suggestion of a meeting…Bush “threatened not to leave France until he had received a final response.” In the end, that stubbornness won out. Sears archives contain an initial handwritten “treaty” between Michelin and Sears dated July 30, 1965
Odd that a Frenchman was arrogant and dismissive of an American, isn’t it?
Anyways, Sears went on to sell millions of radial tires, auto manufacturers started to make them standard equipment on all new vehicles, and the bias-ply tire slowly began to disappear. Today, a very small number of bias-ply tires are available to consumers, and they’re usually found on websites like 4WheelParts.com that sell parts to 4-wheel-drive enthusiasts.
Why The Bias Ply Is Best For The Trail
The short answer goes like this: the tread and sidewall of a bias-ply tire are one solid piece. As a result, sidewalls are very resistant to puncture on bias-ply tires. That means that they can be dramatically under-inflated without losing any structural integrity.
SO, if you’re mudding or rock crawling and you need the biggest tire footprint possible, you want to deflate your tires. If you do this with a radial tire, you risk a sidewall puncture or failure. With a heavy-duty bias ply tire, not so much.
Bias ply tires are also better at low speeds because they’re made from a softer, more maleable material that conforms better to the trail.
Of course, it’s not like radial tires are bad. While a good set of off-road radial tires are expensive and not quite as good as bias-ply tires in most off-road situations, they’re superior to bias ply tires in the following ways:
- They’re much more stable on the highway
- They’re more effective at higher speed off-roading
- They last longer
- They perform more consistently (no flat spots, less flex)
If you want to read a great break-down of the pro’s and cons of bias-ply tires on your off-road rig, check out this article about Tire Construction on FourWheeler.com.
If you want to buy a set of bias-ply tires for your Toyota Tacoma, consider this summary from the folks at FourWheeler:
With the advances in radial technology, we’d have to side with the majority when we choose radial tires for our own rigs. Not only are radials very good on the trail, AND exceptional on the pavement, their all-purpose nature fits the multi-purpose use of today’s four wheelers that see both daily driver and weekend-warrior duty.
However, if you are a hardcore wheeler who has a trail machine that is used solely for trail work, a bias-ply tire is worth considering. In a trail environment, you can’t go wrong with the durability and capability of a bias-ply tire.
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Filed Under: Wheels and Tires