The average tire is made up of several different components. It is easily argued that one of the most important components is the tire bead. Without tread, a vehicle can still travel on an inflated tire, but without a functioning tire bead, a tire simply could not stay securely on the rim, rendering it useless. Even with minimal damage to a wheel or rim, a tire bead is able to hold tight to the inner groove of the rim and provide the seal which allows a tire to remain inflated. This is true for all tires, whether designed for inner tubes or tubeless inflation.
What is the Tire Bead?
The tire bead is the inner circle of the tire; the part of the tire that connects the tire to the rim, and holds the entire wheel together. This bead is a combination of a rubber band that is reinforced with a sturdy material such as steel cable. The rubber compound used in tire bead construction is very sturdy, and lacks flexibility. Because of this, specific machinery is necessary to properly mount tires onto a set of wheels or rims.
The rubber of the bead allows for a high friction point, and an excellent grip onto the inside of the inner and outer rim, preventing the tire from sliding as the wheel rolls. The bead is held tight by inflation. Tire bead performance is crucial on the power axle, as a tremendous amount of torque works through the wheel and tire to allow the tread to "grab" the road or ground surface beneath it.
Tire Bead and Tire Maintenance
In order for a tire to function and remain safe for travel on public roadways, the tire bead must maintain its integrity. Cheaply manufactured tires may fall victim to bead failure, and ultimately, tires will fail to hold air pressure, or simply blow out. Routine maintenance for tires will aid in the prolonged life of a tire bead. This maintenance includes regular rotations, tire balance, proper alignment, and most of all, appropriate inflation levels.
Another aspect of the wheel set up that can affect the tire bead is the condition of the rims. If the rims have been damaged due to anything ranging from an accident to a road hazard, a professional should offer a proper inspection.
Problems With a Tire Bead
Most passenger cars will rarely experience issues with a tire bead, other than in an attempt to mount or remove a tire. Sometimes, water can access the steel cable within the bead, and can create an issue with a tire that is mounted on a rim. The bead can literally become stuck to the rim, requiring a bead cutter to properly remove the tire.
Most tire bead issues occur in the sports of off-roading and rock crawling. Drivers of vehicles for these sports are known to decrease the air pressure in tires, in order to expand the tire's footprint or contact patch. Without an ample amount of inflated pressure, a bead can slip and detach from the groove in the rim. This is known as a lost bead. There are tools known as beadlocks that serve to hold the tire bead in place when the PSI is dropped for off-road activity.
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