By Karen Scally
Did you know that the success of your utility job can hinge on selecting the right treads for your equipment?
If you pick the wrong tread, it can slow down production and delay projects. You could also damage the site and cause unnecessary wear, leading to early replacement of your rubber tracks.
However, with a variety of rubber track tread patterns available for all heavy equipment, including skid steers, compact track loaders, backhoes, excavators, and more, it can be difficult to determine which one makes the most sense.
“Each tread pattern has its own strengths and weaknesses,” says Jim Lehman, vice president of Romac Industrial Parts, a supplier of ground engaging tools and rubber tracks in Woodstock, Georgia. “Which one is best for you will depend on your typical work conditions.”
Lehman says you need to consider both the types of tasks you frequently perform in your utility work, as well as the terrain.
While it’s important to have a qualified product expert assist you in your rubber track selection, this general guide will help you evaluate which tread pattern is the best fit for you.
Staggered Block Tread Pattern
The staggered block tread, which features very large pads in a staggered pattern, is one of the most popular and commonly used tread pattern types. It is the standard option for compact track loaders direct from the factory for Bobcat, Case, Gehl, John Deere, Kubota, Mustang, New Holland, Takeuchi, Volvo, and other brands.
While this tread design is as all-purpose as it gets, it works best during frequent turns on hot, paved surfaces, Lehman says.
“It is particularly well-suited for use on hard and abrasive surfaces, such as paved highways and gravel,” he says.
Though other tread patterns are made for specific terrains, Lehman says utility contractors can expect staggered block treads to:
- Operate smoothly on hard surfaces
- Cause minimal ground disruption to finished lawns
- Generally be acceptable for use on sand, clay, dirt, mud, gravel, and asphalt
C-Lug Tread Pattern
For utility contractors that need to navigate both on- and off-road surfaces, the C-lug tread offers the most flexibility across multiple terrains, Lehman says.
The C-lug pattern actually looks pretty similar to the staggered block tread, except that it has notches cut out of each block to create a sideways “C” shape.
“Its high number of cutting edges provides increased traction and superior handling to improve the performance of the rubber track,” Lehman says.
Because of this, the C-lug tread pattern is:
- Extremely durable
- Designed to operate smoothly over a variety of surfaces
- Appropriate for clay, mud, asphalt, concrete, gravel, and sand
Straight Bar Tread Pattern
If you are frequently operating your heavy equipment on wet or muddy ground conditions for utility work, the straight bar tread is the best pattern for you.
It’s designed to maximize traction and reduce the risk of getting stuck in challenging terrains, Lehman says.
“The straight bar tread is the least likely to tear up finished turf thanks to its lower durometer rating,” he says.
A durometer rating is a measurement of the hardness of a material, such as rubber. The lower the rating, the softer or more pliable the material is.
“This allows you to pivot, as well as operate, at low or high speeds without scarring the underlying lawn,” Lehman says.
He says utility contractors should be aware that the increased traction can result in a rougher ride than either staggered block or C-lug treads.
To summarize, the straight bar tread:
- Works well on wet or muddy terrain
- Minimizes damage to finished grounds
- May produce a more uneven ride
Zigzag Tread Pattern
When utility contractors must move between hard and loose surfaces throughout a particular job, they should select the zigzag tread pattern, Lehman says.
“This tread is able to switch quickly between the smooth ride that operators desire on paved surfaces and the increased traction they need for loose ground cover,” he says.
The zigzag tread pattern handles more evenly across terrain types compared to the straight bar design, Lehman adds.
As a bonus, the zigzag tread works great in the snow, in order to extend the capabilities and seasonality of your heavy equipment.
In short, the zigzag tread pattern:
- Works between hard and loose ground
- Provides a more even ride across terrains
- Efficiently handles snowy conditions
In addition to finding the applicable tread pattern for your job, Lehman says the quality of the rubber track also makes a big difference in its performance.
He says utility contractors should look for rubber tracks that are made from specially formulated rubber compounds and feature all-steel links and drop-forged steel inserts that are dipped in a bonding adhesive. These characteristics will enhance the rubber tracks’ durability and ensure smoother operation.
When it comes time to select the right tracks, there are dozens of OEM, genuine, and aftermarket rubber track brands to choose from. With the information from this guide, you should be better prepared to find the tracks that work best for your utility fleet.
About the author
Karen Scally is the content director at Gearflow.com, the first online parts marketplace built for the construction equipment industry, and an experienced journalist who has covered the construction and utility equipment industry for more than a decade. This article was adapted from its original version, “The Top 4 Rubber Track Tread Patterns and When to Use Them,” on the Gearflow.com blog.