It's not often that I use this column for my own torpedo of truth, but I have answered more than enough questions about bias-ply tube-type tires on multi-piece rims. People are constantly complaining about Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations requiring them to deflate the tires before removing them from the almost-antiquated cast spoke wheels or the fact that the components must be in good condition and have matching identification stamps. And I'm equally fed up with the questions regarding the quality of low-cost, offshore bias-ply tires. To me, that's like complaining about the quality of VHS tapes and the price of DVDs.
Which brings me to my first point: Multi-piece rims are not illegal (but they should be). According to OSHA, all multi-piece rims must be in good condition and include an identification stamp that enables the technician to consult a chart to determine if the side ring (or lock ring and flange) is a match for the rim base. Components that are mismatched or not identifiable can cause serious accidents and someone could be killed. Because of this, OSHA passed a law that says they must be visible and they must match. The Dept. of Transportation agrees by saying that a truck will fail an inspection if the multi-piece rim parts are not matched, although they're rarely checked. On the other hand, the 22.5-in. tubeless rim requires no matching components; therefore, it creates no imminent danger of a disabling or fatal injury. Why would anyone choose a more dangerous and less reliable rim?
In this case, the answer has been the price of the tire. Bias-ply tube-type tires used to be a lot cheaper than the safer and more reliable tubeless radial truck tires that go on single-piece rims. Don't get me wrong. Every inflated truck tire has enough force to cause a serious or fatal injury. But the multi-piece assembly is by far the most dangerous because metal fatigue cannot always be seen during a visual inspection. That didn't matter to the holdouts. Even though old school fleets could still use the same cast spoke wheel, the transition to tubeless radial tires was just too expensive — until now.
The last holdout for bias-ply tires has traditionally been the intermodal industry, but it appears that long-term supplies of the old 10.00-20 tube-type are starting to look bleak, which means the tide may be turning. Even the most budget-minded overseas tire companies are starting to recognize that tubeless radial truck tires are the key to the future. More new investment is going towards this growing market instead of sustaining the one that's dying. This, along with rising raw material (natural rubber) costs, has started to drive up prices. The gap between a new 10.00-20 and a new 11R22.5 now doesn't look as bad as it used to.
Around 10 years ago, you could buy a 10.00-20 with a tube and flap for under $100. That same tire today has risen closer to $150 without much of an increase in quality or reliability when compared to an 11R22.5 “cap and casing” at the same price. The writing has been on the wall since the turn of the century, and now we've reached the critical stage where supply is starting to become an issue. There are no signs of the situation improving, so it's time to do the right thing and put an end to the era of multi-piece rims by making the switch to tubeless radial tires before someone else gets hurt.
Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at [email protected]