Hot Wheels

It’s one of man’s greatest inventions — the wheel.
Along, with celebrated discoveries like fire and sliced bread, the invention of the wheel has changed the way we live and do business. Quite simply: It enables us to roll to our next destination.

In the equipment business, wheels and tires truly carry the majority of the workload each day. Not only do they dispense the burden of the machine and its payload onto the ground, they also give your ride traction, flotation and comfort when moving from place to place. With the right set of wheels, your compact equipment can plow through almost any operation.

If your skid steer is tackling a recycling project with extreme prejudice, your loader will need a set of four solid tires. If your compact tractor needs to haul through muddy fields with speed, a set of R1 bar tread tires will work just fine. Whatever your application is, you or your crews will need to pick the perfect tires for the task at hand.

“When it comes to deciding between tire types, a
professional should remember that catering to their
primary application and its demands is most important,” says George Zafirov, marketing manager at McLaren Industries, an OEM of skid steer tires. “They should assess how the equipment is typically used — the challenges it must overcome — and make sure to choose a tire style that will at least meet those minimum requirements.”

Knowledge is power. So before stepping onto a dealer lot looking for a new set of wheels, roll over the options in your head. Get out a piece of paper, make some calls to dealers, check with buddies, surf the Internet or, better yet, read the summary below. CE investigated three key machine types and their popular tires choices — skid steers, compact tractors and compact utility loaders. Fit the right set of four tires to one of these three tool carriers and you can have the added versatility to accomplish jobs quicker and more efficiently. Roll on to skid steers …

Steering with the Right Set of Rubber

Skid steers are do-it-all machines. They’re like the compact equipment equivalent of Rambo’s gnarly survival knife (without the compass or fishing line). They’re a must have machine when it comes to surviving multiple operations out in the rough country. Digging, grading, loading, breaking, planing, cutting, augering — your skid steer can do it all.

But to accomplish each day of hard work, your small skid steer still will need to roll large. It will need the right set of four wheels to handle multiple jobsites and countless applications. The most common tire option sold with skid steers is a set of either 10.0 x 16.5 or 12.0 x 16.5 HD
traction lug flotation tires with wide sidewalls. This is a type of pneumatic skid steer tire — the kind you would commonly associate with your car tires.

“Pneumatic, or air-filled, tires are tires inflated with normal air to varying amounts of pressure in psi [pounds per square inch],” explains Kelly Moore, skid steer product manager for Mustang — a manufacturing pioneer of compact equipment based in Owatonna, Minn. “These types of tires are most widely used because they give the operator a very good ride in the skid loader in that the tires will float per the amount of air pressure in the tires. Tires will vary widely based on design of ply and durability.”

Pneumatic tires are the most common. This tire is basically designed to provide a smooth, cheap and durable ride in applications that do not involve encountering sharp objects. Big manufacturers of pneumatic tires for skid steers include Titan, Galaxy, Solideal, Michelin and also private brand names such as Extremedge, Bobcat and Caterpillar. Prices for a set can run anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Advantages of these common types of tires are cost (they are the least expensive) and comfort (they provide the smoothest ride due to their air-filled nature).

“The biggest disadvantage is the chance for flats and the resulting downtime,” says Zafirov.

If constant flats and severe applications have your skid steer on the blocks more than in the field, then a set of solid tires is probably your wheel of fortune. Just as the name suggests, a solid tire is one solid
piece of rubber. The biggest benefit of this style of tire is that flats are not
a problem. Solid tires also wear longer than other tires because they have no tread, which makes for a larger
contact area with the work surface.

Of course, solid tires are, well, solid, so they don’t give the most comfortable ride (there’s no give). Additionally, the lack of tread offers little traction on challenging jobsites.

Solid tire manufacturers include Setco, Solidflex, CEAttachments, TY Cushion, Bullman and Galaxy. Price per set can range anywhere from $1,800 to $2,500.

“Because they are immune to flats, solid tires are best designed for
recycling yards and other locations that present aggressive-wear obstacles such as broken glass, metal shards, etc.,” explains Zafirov. “Additionally, the applications should be on smooth, flat surfaces since the lack of tread will be an issue on jobs that require high traction.”

If a contractor doesn’t want to invest that big money into solid tires, foam-filled tires are an option — although they are not cheap either. There are gel- and poly- or foam-type fillings that can be shot into your pneumatic tires as a substitute. The intention is to combine the benefits of pneumatic and solid tires, providing a smoother ride and a flat-free experience. Additionally, they offer the treads that solid tires don’t, meaning they are much more effective on demanding terrain. Prices for fill vary greatly. Quotes can range anywhere from $160 to $250 per tire or a $1 to $3 a pound (for 70 lbs typically) – manufacturers include Urethane International and Arnco.

“A poly-fill tire has a liquid material pumped into a tire, which is allowed to cure where the liquid becomes a poly- or foam-fill expanded material and inflates the tire to normal size and does not require
any air inflation,” explains Moore. “Poly-filled tires are used in the more severe applications where tire flats are common and are prevented due to the tire never going flat.”

Somewhere in between, semi-pneumatic tires are trying to gain some attention. The latest in skid steer technology, semi-pneumatic tires attempt to combine the benefits of all other tire types. These tires are not filled with compressed air, but instead built with strategically placed holes in the rubber to provide shock absorption. The result is a design that is flat proof and provides more cushioning than a foam-filled tire. The semi-pneumatic tire also allows for a deeper tread, which makes for a longer wear factor.

As far as disadvantages, some would argue that semi-pneumatics still don’t offer as smooth a ride as pneumatics. Major manufacturers include Airboss and McLaren. A set of four would price between $1,300 and $2,000.

Tacking on Tractor Tires

Some machines get raised on the farm — others get sent off to explore life in the big city. Tractors get the best of both worlds. Specifically, the compact tractor has evolved into one of the industry’s great utility machines for nearly any market. With a loader on the front, countless PTO attachments off the back and a diehard operator behind the wheel, a compact tractor can work all the live long day with a variety of implements — mowers, posthole diggers, snow blowers, landscape rakes, grader blades, sweepers and everything in between.

But to traverse those varied jobsites, your chore tractor will need well-picked wheels to glide with style, traction, flotation and the correct footprint. Today, most compact tractors are sold with what’s called R4 industrial tires.

“They’re estimated to be in excess of 70 percent of the market,” says Phil Jones, general marketing manager of compact tractors with Challenger — an AGCO brand of tractor, distributed by Caterpillar dealers. “The R4 industrial tire offers a lug style that provides the best combination of traction and road-ability.”

R4 industrial tires have both excellent traction and a soft footprint, which makes them the preferred choice for most compact tractor buyers. Titan and Galaxy are big name brands for R4 industrial tires, which range from $700 for a set of four on small tractors to $2,000 for a set on the largest compact models.

There are typically two more options when it comes to compact tractor tires — R1 bar tread tires and R3 turf tread tires. The R1 bar tread (or Ag style) tire is more aggressive than the common R4. R1 bar tread tires provide the best traction for your buck, but can cause damage on sensitive sites like green lawns or golf courses. As the name implies, this type of tire was developed for use in farming dating back to the 1930s. Ag tires mounted on rims range in price from $700 a set to $1,700 a set from manufacturers like Titan, Goodyear, Michelin and Firestone.

“Deep lugs are mounted in a 30- or 45-degree angle to
the centerline of the tire for maximum traction, especially when pulling an implement like a plow or disc that puts a heavy draft load on the tractor,” says Jones.

Going from tough to smooth, turf tires are the least aggressive of the compact tractor tires. Designed with one requirement in mind (to minimize damage to turf and grass), turf tires offer a significantly wider footprint than other tire designs. This reduces the ground pressure (psi) as the
tractor’s weight is spread over a larger contact area.

“Tread patterns on turf tires vary but typically feature hundreds of small, shallow lugs that are designed to
channel water and provide an appropriate amount of
traction without injuring the turf,” explains Jones.

Turf tires are popular for golf
course crews, landscapers and large property owners that need to traverse large plots of sensitive terra firma. Galaxy and Titan are popular options for turf tires, which can run between $800 to $2,000.

There is also a fourth niche category of tire for tractors — the so-called “Turf Special” R3 turf tires. These Turf Special R3 turf tires feature an even wider footprint or tread for even less compaction and improved flotation even in wet or soft ground conditions. They feature a shallower, flatter and larger lug for less turf damage and a more rounded or softer shoulder for less turf damage when cornering.

For example, the Titan low side wall (LSW) design features a larger wheel, while maintaining the same outer diameter of the tire. The result is a shorter side wall tire with less bounce, better stability and better traction.

If there is a downside to the Turf Special, it is that it has limited load carrying capability due to the fact that the side walls are not as strong.

Fillings or ballasts can be used on tractor tires (mostly in the rear tires) primarily for added traction (i.e. to minimize wheel slip), but fillings can also help to counterbalance the weight lifted by the front-end loader.

“Although a better way to counterbalance a loader is to add weight beyond the rear axle such as a weight rack added to the three-point hitch
or the weight of an implement as
cantilevered weight reduces the load on the front axle,” says Jones.

Urethane foam can be substituted for the air in your tractor tire, to decrease punctures and flats. It is expensive — typically $40 or more for a small tire. Foam-filled tires are
several times heavier than air-filled tires and can create dents and ruts in the ground. They are only recommended for the heaviest uses.

Spin the Wheels of Your
Compact Utility Loader

Even little loaders need solid rubber. While your compact utility loader is small, it still has a big Napoleon complex. Sometimes dubbed mini skid steers or compact skid steers, compact utility loaders are one of the smallest tool carriers on the market, yet they require a brawny wheelbase.

While compact utility loaders with dedicated track undercarriages are popular, the wheeled versions were the original models and are still popular in a myriad of market segments.

Today, there are four main types of tire options for
compact utility loaders — aggressive (Ag-style), turf,
standard lug and narrow tires. The most common (as you probably surmised) are the standard lug tires. A new set of standard lug tires typically costs about $400 to $500, including both wheels and assemblies.

“These are traditional skid steer style tires that are designed for general purpose use and provide long life,” says Greg Lawrence, marketing product manager for Dingo wheeled and tracked compact utility loaders at The Toro Co. “They can be used on all terrains. Toro’s loader style tire is a run-flat tire, meaning it can run with less than 5 psi in it without coming off the rim.”

If sensitive ground conditions are more standard
procedure, turf tires are aimed at giving compact utility loaders added flotation and less of a footprint. These turf-friendly tires leave minimal damage or disruption to
existing landscape (similar to the tires found on a zero-turn mower). Their tight tread gives them the necessary traction to tackle wet conditions, yet their soft durometer rubber minimizes damage to landscapes. These tires can be used on turf of all types. Typically, a set of turf tires will cost $400 to $600 with rims and assemblies.

“Turf tires have a smoother surface area in relation to a lug tire,” explains Jon Kuyers, Compact Solutions manager with Vermeer (a manufacturer of both wheeled and tracked compact utility loaders). “When a unit turns on an
established surface, it does not dig into the ground due to the less aggressive surface. Many contractors use them where traction is not desired such as an established lawn.”

The last two types of compact utility loader tires are niche rubber wheel alternatives. Aggressive-tread or Ag-style tires are ideal for harsh conditions that demand additional traction. “This style of tire approximates a tractor tire and can be used on muddy, sandy or rocky terrains,” says Lawrence. Four aggressive-tread tires go for approximately $350 — with rims, running around $600. Narrow tires are aimed at the smallest of compact utility loaders, allowing units to fit through small 36-in. gates. These tires are similar to the standard lug style of wheel, but with a narrow stance for your loader. A set of narrow tires typically cost around $340; with rims, they will run around $540 for four.

If so desired, foam filling can be added to your compact utility loader wheels (around $300 a tire to foam-fill and $75 a tire for soft-fill with a liquid sealant). These tires are good in settings where they may be prone to punctures such as a construction site containing nails. The drawback to this style is that the tires are not too forgiving; they offer a very rigid ride that some users may find uncomfortable. Also, foam filling is not recommended for tires that will be used with over-the-tire tracks

“Foam filled tires provide additional weight, which may be needed for greater tractive effort or when operated on construction sites where the probability of tire puncture is great,” says Kuyers.

Continue to Roll On …

With a brand new set of wheels, your skid steer, compact tractor or compact utility loader can ride to the next jobsite with confidence. Options abound for each tool carrier and there are many niche options we could not cover in this
article (next time). Just remember, the crux of the tire
purchasing decision will be your machine’s exact applications. Be sure you know what you want your machine to do before you send it back out in the field without the right rubber.

“Before buying a new set of tires an owner/operator
must know what application the tires are going in to,” says Jones. “The application will determine what type of traction is required of your tire.”

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