With a versatility and popularity that’s unmatched in the marketplace, skid steer loaders are the Swiss Army knives of compact equipment machines. You can throw on whatever tool is required to get the job done — buckets of all shapes and sizes, augers, pallet forks, rototillers — easily and in no time. This versatility can also present challenges from a tire perspective when you don’t know precisely what the machine will be doing or where it will be working.
Tires are typically the most expensive consumable item on a skid steer loader, so it pays to acquire some knowledge before tire shopping. Whether you’re a weekend warrior digging a swimming pool in the backyard or a professional building a road, choosing the right tire from the options out there will minimize your costs and headaches and maximize your machine’s performance.
Tires for skid steer loaders fit into three broad categories that we’ll look at. Actually, make that four categories, more on that later. First, there are two pneumatic (air) tire options on the market. Of those, there are bias ply tires, which are the most popular tire option found on the majority of the more than 1 million skid steer loaders in North America active in the field today. Second, there are radial tires. These are typically more expensive, barely used, rarely purchased and tend to be more of an afterthought in the market these days.
Third, there are solid tires, which are a rising trend and becoming increasingly relevant. Together, bias ply and solid tires constitute approximately 98 percent of the market for skid steer loader tires, so we’ll focus on them. Before that, it’s worth mentioning that there’s another type of tire out there (the “plus one” we alluded to). They’re called non-pneumatic tires, and models include the recently launched Michelin Tweel. Picture rubber bicycle-like spokes supporting the tire tread around it, and you’ll start to get the idea behind this new breed of tire. Although they haven’t been adopted in any broad fashion yet, their cutting-edge design could provide a glimpse into the future of tires.
Bias Ply Pneumatic Tires
Bias ply tires have earned their popularity because they’re a cost-effective solution and offer a wide selection in terms of different styles and tread pattern options. For your average landscaping or construction job and other general purposes, bias ply is the go-to tire choice.
Solid tires are all about durability. As their name suggests, they’re solid all the way through. You would be looking to these tires for your more extreme-duty environments where an air-filled tire would be insufficient to handle the demands of that particular application. You’ll find solid tires rolling in scrap yards, mines and demolition sites among other more severe locations where what’s required is durability, longevity and a flat-free operation. Many solid tires are designed with embedded small holes (or apertures) to allow for more suspension and increased ride comfort.
When it comes to pneumatic tires, some users opt to have them filled with a polyurethane compound. This is what’s known in the industry as foam-filled tires or simply filled tires. A two-part polyurethane is mixed together to create a thick maple syrup-looking blend that’s then pumped into the tire to completely replace the air in the cavity. Once cured, you’ve basically turned your pneumatic tire into a solid tire and can expect it to perform like the latter in terms of ride quality and flat-free operation.
Foam fill can be an aftermarket add-on later at your local tire dealer, so you don’t need to make that decision at the time of machine purchase. The process is not cheap (it can range between $170 to $300 per tire), so you would need a real flat tire issue or flat tire aversion to have it be a viable option to consider. It’s also always best to foam fill when the tire is new, or nearly new, to get the most out of them and your investment. When a machine is purchased from a major manufacturer, like Bobcat or Case for example, it will typically come with bias ply air-filled tires. But just like ordering a car from a dealer, there are many options available, including tires. If you’re clear what you’ll be using your machine for, you can spec it with your tire of choice.
When it comes to tire price, there’s a whole spectrum for both bias ply and solid. Toward the cheaper end, you will have lighter-duty tires with less rubber and typically lacking most of the added performance features found in more mid-range and higher-end models. They’re priced aggressively because they serve a part of the market that’s more about upfront price than longevity or solving problems. As you move up the spectrum toward more premium products, you’ll start to see heavier-duty tires with different tread options, deeper tread thicknesses, sidewall protection options and the use of more premium rubber compounds. Performance, durability and longevity benefits are what really set higher-end tires apart from their lower-end counterparts.
Technically, they’re not tires, but over-the-tire track (OTTs) systems deserve a space on this list. With OTTs you basically wrap and then connect a rubber track around both sets of front and rear tires. In as little as 20 minutes, you can convert your skid steer loader into what’s essentially a track loader. It’s an easy on/easy off attachment that gives you all the performance and benefits of what a track machine can do, but only when you need it. With a wider footprint, tracked machines have increased maneuverability and stability and thrive working in deep, off-road muddy conditions where traction and flotation solutions are required. At $2,500 to $3,500 for a rubber track system, it’s no small investment, so again, you want to have some valid reasons to justify the cost.
Finally, Talk to Your Dealer
The best advice for a skid steer user, whether you’re a one-machine operator or you’ve got a whole fleet on the go, is to work with your local tire provider. Develop a good working relationship with them and engage in a conversation about what it is you’ll be doing with the equipment. Talk openly about past experiences with brands and any pain points you might be feeling. Are you someone who’s intolerant of flat tires? Are you having traction issues? Do you want to have the longest lasting tires on the market or do you just want cheap, round and black?
Remember there’s no perfect tire for every application, and there’s usually trade-offs involved. But if the dealer has a robust understanding of the various conditions and variables that are at play, he’ll then be in a good position to zero in on an optimal recommendation for your needs.
Mike Dembe is the market development manager at Camso.