Imagine for a moment that a NASCAR driver has a healthy lead going into the second half of a race. He pulls into the pit for a quick tire change, and his team switches his racing tires out for off-road tires. How do you think that driver is going to perform in the second half of the race? In short — probably not well. This is an extreme example, but it’s one that demonstrates the importance of selecting the right tire for the job, and backhoes are no exception to this rule.
“Determining where and how a backhoe will be used is really the key consideration that needs to be made when selecting tires,” says Dave Green, OTR Product Manager at Titan Tire Corp. “As I see it, there are three main types of backhoe operators: those who work on hard surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete and rock; those who work on soft surfaces, such as mud, snow and sand; and those who work in some of both. What may be a good tire for one type of operator, probably wouldn’t be as good a tire for the others.”
There are a number of tire design characteristics that determine how well a tire will perform in different applications, including tread pattern and tire construction (radial or bias). These characteristics can greatly impact traction and tire longevity.
Choosing a Tread Pattern
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the vast number of tread pattern options on the market today, but Green breaks it down into several design characteristics that will help backhoe owners sort through the clutter.
“When choosing the rear backhoe tire, one of the first things you want to look at is the tire’s lug-to-void ratio,” says Green. “Tires with a higher lug-to-void ratio are typically better for hard surfaces, whereas tires with a low lug-to-void ratio are better for gaining traction on soft surfaces.”
Green goes on to explain that the higher the lug-to-void ratio, the more rubber there is on the road. More rubber on the road means a stable, smooth ride and a long, even wear. These tires, however, wouldn’t have as much traction in mud, snow and sand as a tire with a low lug-to-void ratio. Similarly, a tire with a low lug-to-void ratio would wear more quickly and cause a rougher ride on the road.
Most backhoe operators don’t want to compromise performance in one area to get performance in another, so for those who split their time between hard and soft surface work, choosing a happy medium is often the best option.
“There are some pretty innovative hybrid tread designs on the market for backhoes,” says Green. “For operators that want all-around performance, I’d suggest using a tire with a high void-to-lug ratio in the center of the tire and a lower lug-to-void ratio toward the shoulder. This will provide the best of both worlds for the operator.”
Though Green stresses that choosing the correct tread pattern is of utmost importance for the rear tires, choosing the front tires should not be considered a trivial decision.
“Most front tires on backhoes use either an open-bar lug design, such as a skid steer or I-3, or a rib design, such as an F-3,” says Green. “The open-bar lug design of a skid steer or I-3 tire will provide better traction on soft surfaces, whereas the ribbed design of an F-3 will provide excellent longevity and a smooth ride on hard surfaces. For all-around performance, I’d go with either an I-3 or a skid steer tire.”
Choosing Between Radial and Bias
Simply put, bias tires are less expensive than radial tires, and for that reason, operators who have a lot of tire damage or are price-sensitive often opt for the bias option. While the upfront cost savings of a bias tire may make sense in some applications, Green suggests looking at the cost of a tire over its lifespan as opposed to what it costs upfront.
“Radials have a number of benefits that can lead to a longer life when compared to a bias,” says Green. “The main things to consider with radials are their longer tread life, increased load capacities and cooler running temperatures.”
Green goes on to explain that radial tires have a flatter footprint which provides for longer tread wear. So, for operations that run tires until they’re worn out, radials will provide a better cost per hour or cost per mile than a bias tire.
Additionally, radials will provide higher load capacities and cooler running temperatures than a bias. This is important, because if a tire is consistently pushed at or above its load capacity, it becomes susceptible to premature failure. Similarly, if a tire is consistently running longer distances or at high speeds on hard surfaces, its running temperature will be high, which can lead to premature tire fatigue and wear. So, for operators who carry particularly heavy loads or regularly operate on roads, the cost of a radial is well-justified over time.
Maintaining Backhoe Tires
As with any tire, proper care of backhoe tires can vastly increase their lifespans. One of the most important things to regularly monitor is inflation pressure. Doing so, however, isn’t as simple as matching the pressure to the number on the sidewall.
“Many people don’t realize that the number on the sidewall is the maximum inflation pressure that tire is rated to handle — not the recommended level of inflation at all times,” explains Green. “A mistake commonly made when adjusting inflation pressure is not accounting for the loads the equipment is carrying.”
An overloaded and/or underinflated tire will widen the footprint and cause extra wear to the shoulders, while an overinflated tire will cause the center to wear more quickly. No operator is willing to inflate or deflate every time a load is carried, however, so Green recommends consulting with your local tire dealer and/or the manufacturer’s handbook to determine the appropriate inflation pressures for the application.
For many contractors, selecting tires for a backhoe may appear to be a trivial decision, but when considering the amount of times tires are replaced throughout the life of a backhoe, it equates to a major investment. In the end, selecting the right tire for the application will not only increase performance on the jobsite, but will decrease the amount of times the tires will have to be replaced — both of which will positively impact the owner’s bottom line.
John Krantz is a Features Writer for Two Rivers Marketing.