PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
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January 14, 2020

The world is a complicated place. Things that seem straightforward at first glance can turn out to be overwhelmingly complicated when you dig into the details.

Tires are no exception. They’re just chunks of rubber inflated with air, right? Wrong. The technology behind tires is advanced and filled with confusing lingo. Just try to read the technical description on the sidewall of any tire—you practically need a codebook to figure out what it all means.

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Let’s say you’re a hobby farmer looking to equip a tractor, trailer or hay baler with a new set of tires. Now let’s cut through the jargon and address one of the main factors to consider—should you purchase radial or bias tires? Both types have proponents, and each offers different strengths and weaknesses.

Without going too deep into the technical details of tire design and construction, here’s what you need to know to make an informed decision:


Radial Tires

The primary difference between the two comes down to construction—radial tires are constructed with steel belts that crisscross underneath the tread. This results in some advantages, as well as disadvantages.

Pros

The advanced design of radial tires allows the tread to flex independently of the sidewall.

This means radial tires maintain greater traction with the ground, increasing fuel economy while reducing soil compaction and promoting consistent wear across the entire tread. As a result, radial tires tend to maintain a quality tread for longer than bias tires.

In many cases, another benefit of radial tires is their flexibility. Allowing the sidewalls to shift independently of the tread means radial tires absorb bumps better and provide a less jarring journey than bias tires.

Cons

A big con with radial tires is their price—they’re more expensive than bias tires, and equipping your farm machines with radial tires can be a significant investment. A few other cons include:

    • They’re less suited to negotiating hilly or extremely rough terrain.
    • Their flexibility can allow machinery to shift uncomfortably on slopes.
    • The thinner sidewalls can be vulnerable to damage if you hit something unforeseen in a field.

Bias Tires

Bias Tires differ from radial tires in that nylon plies crisscross under the rubber, at an angle 30-45 degrees to the tread line. The effects of this difference are:

Pros

In addition having crisscrossing plies, bias tires are also built with many overlapping layers of rubber, making them sturdy and durable.

If you’re driving yours through rough terrain with rocks, branches, tree stumps and similar obstacles, bias tires are more likely to survive the trip without damage. Because they’re so stiff, they’re also an ideal choice when negotiating slopes.

Cons

The stiff nature of bias tires can be a benefit in challenging conditions. But it can be a detriment in less formidable circumstances. Because they’re so stiff, they don’t absorb bumps as well, so on uneven terrain you and your equipment will be jostled around more.

And since the treads aren’t as flexible, how much of the tread is gripping the ground varies with the terrain. This can decrease traction and increase soil compaction.

Which Should You Choose?

Whether you choose radial or bias tires is dependent on many factors.

First and foremost, how do you intend to use your equipment? A trailer for hauling equipment and supplies will benefit from having radial tires, thanks to the smoother ride radials provide.

Do you use your tractor heavily for field work? The long lifespan of radial tires (coupled with their greater fuel economy) might save you money in the long run, even factoring in the increased upfront cost.

On the other hand, maybe you’re more of a hobby farmer using your tractor once a week for a wide variety of tasks. If so, bias tires can be a great general-purpose alternative at a much lower price point.

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