UTV Tires 101 Crash Course

UTV Tires 101 Crash Course

Tires are a technological feat considering they are the only part of your UTV that connects with the trail. We take for granted how important tire technology, manufacturing techniques and durometer ratings are to the enjoyment of offroading. Let's take a deep dive into UTV tire basics.

UTV TIRES 101

UTV Tire Basics

Tread depth is a vertical measurement between the top of the tread rubber to the bottom of the tire's deepest grooves just before hitting the tire carcass. Tread depth can be difficult to measure without specific tools so we found the easiest way to measure is with a quarter. Simply insert the quarter into the void(s) next to tread. Using a pen/marker, make a mark on quarter at the highest point of tread. You can then measure this with ruler in inches, cm or mm.

All UTV tires are required to display a wear indicator icon on the shoulder of the tire which is in the shape of an arrow or triangle. If tread indicators are flush with the level of the tread, then the tire should be replaced immediately.

Failure to replace could lead to safety concerns, tire failure or vehicle damage.

Tread wear indicators, or wear bars, are spaced evenly on shoulder or through the main grooves in the tire tread. If they are flush with the level of the tread, then the tire should be replaced immediately.

Failure to replace could lead to safety concerns, tire failure or vehicle damage.

Several factors contribute to needing new tires. It is recommended that you check your tires every two months for wear patterns, tread depth and air pressure.

If you find that your tires are losing air pressure or have little to no tread left, it is recommended you replace your tires immediately as they can pose severe safety issues as well as property/vehicle damage.

It is recommended to keep the same overall diameter (OD) tires as the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). If you choose to increase your tire diameter (plus size), you run the risk of mechanical wear or failure as a result. An increase in OD results in larger rotations which affect your speedometer, braking and overall weight of your vehicle.

Keep in mind that most tires are not "true to height" which means the advertised overall diamater on the tire sidewall is not what the tire actually measures out as. It is an industrywide issue that most tires measure 1" to 3" shorter/smaller than sidewall spec. Look for tires that promise true to size like the Valor Offroad Alpha UTV Tire.

A gear reduction is not always requires (depending on tire OD), however we recommend discussing with dealership or accessory installer before buying or mounting plus sized tires.

Think of the tire sidewall as the specification list for that specific tire. You can find all important information about the tire on the sidewall including overall diameter, overall width, tire pressure/inflation settings, load rating, speed index, and in some cases what terrain the tire was intended for. The sidewall is the smooth section that starts after the tread ends to where the tire meets the lip of the aluminum wheel.

The sidewall also serves as additional protection to the most exposed part of the tire. The raised characters, artwork or logos help keep trail debris and puncture prone obstacles at bay.

If you are going offroad, we recommend running no more than 15 psi in your tires to ensure your tires flex and allow some crawling over obstacles. If you are running beadlock wheels you can drop your PSI to around 10 psi.

If you plan to do mostly hardpack or on-road travel, follow tire manufacturer's recommended pressure guidelines. Valor Offroad suggests maintaining 18-22 psi to prevent shoulder/sidewall roll which can quickly lead to pinch flats.

  • Maintaining correct tire inflation pressure helps optimize tire performance and fuel economy. Correct tire inflation pressure allows drivers to experience comfort, durability and performance.
  • Tire deflection (the tread and sidewall flexing where the tread comes into contact with the trail) will remain as originally designed and excessive sidewall flexing and tread squirm will be avoided. Heat buildup will be managed and rolling resistance will be appropriate.
  • Proper tire inflation pressure also stabilizes the tire's structure, blending the tire's responsiveness, traction and handling.

Disadvantages of Underinflation

  • An underinflated tire can't maintain its shape and becomes flatter than intended while in contact with the road. If a vehicle's tires are underinflated by only 6 psi it could lead to tire failure.
  • The tire's tread life could be reduced by as much as 25%. Lower inflation pressure will allow the tire to deflect (bend) more as it rolls. This will build up internal heat, increase rolling resistance and cause a reduction in fuel economy of up to 5%. You would experience a significant loss of steering precision and cornering stability. While 6 psi doesn't seem excessively low, remember, it usually represents about 20% of the tire's recommended pressure.

Disadvantages of Overinflation

  • An overinflated tire is stiff and unyielding and the size of its footprint in contact with the road is reduced. If a vehicle's tires are overinflated by 6 psi, they could be damaged more easily when running over potholes or debris in the road.
  • Higher inflated tires cannot isolate trail irregularities well, causing them to ride harsher. However, higher inflation pressures usually provide an improvement in steering response and cornering stability up to a point.

A UTV's tire's size is expressed in the format AAxBB.BBRCC (i.e. 35x10.00R15) where AA is the tire's overall diameter in inches (35"), BB.BB is the overall width of the tire in inches (10.00") and CC is the diameter of the wheel that the tire is mounted on in inches (15").

"R" stands for Radial ply construction. Note that the width does not measure the tread, which can vary significantly between tires with the same nominal width, even within product lines from the same manufacturer.

The majority of experienced technicians advise at least once a month you need to check your tire pressure, and always before long drives or if your vehicle is carrying heavier loads.

If you check the pressure when the tires are cold (unused), before the temperature rises and the tires are exposed to direct sunlight, you'll get a more precise reading.

As you drive, the pressure in your tires rises as they warm up so you’ll get a false reading if you check tire pressure right after a drive. If you forget to check before you drive, allowing the tires to cool down for about three hours will improve the accuracy of your reading.

Step 1: Determine manufacturer's recommended PSI for your tires. If you have the original equipment tires (not aftermarket) You can find the recommended PSI on the door jamb or door ledge on the driver's side. Double check with owner's manual if you still own. If you have aftermarket tires, read the sidewall of the tire to ensure you do not over-inflate.

Step 2: Locate the tire valve. You can inflate or deflate the tire using this valve. The tire valve is a small tube with a threaded cap protruding through a gap inside of the wheel spoke/lip. Carefully remove the threaded cap, taking care not to lose it.

Step 3: Press the tire pressure gauge against the tire valve. Each tire valve has a spring-loaded valve core that closes on its own using pressure from the tire's air chamber.

Step 4: Keep the tire pressure gauge firmly in place against the open tire valve to prevent air leakage. In order to prevent hearing any hissing sound from air escaping, adjust the gauge's angle. Simply read the slide ruler on manual pen gauges, the dial on dial pressure gauges, or the digital screen on digital pressure gauges to verify the reading on the tire pressure gauge.

The tire bead is the reinforced section of the tire that comes in contact with the wheel rim. The bead is responsible for creating and maintaining a seal between the wheel and tire to hold air.

The seal is achieved with the friction created between the wheel and the bead. A steel, copper, or other robust bands within the rubber bead help it to retain its shape, maintaining the seal as the tire is subject to distortion and vibration.

The bead is easy to spot on a dismounted tire as it sits at the base of the sidewall and has a slightly wider profile. The bead is the thick circle that connects to the wheel. Just like sidewalls, your tire has two beads to meet the wheel (front bead, rear bear).

If everything is in great shape, you won’t see the bead of a mounted tire. It’s actually hidden behind the raised edge (lip) of the wheel.

You break the bead of a tire by breaking the seal between the wheel and the tire.

Special machines, a dedicated bead-breaker, or special tire irons, all of which require unique steps may be required to break a tire's bead. Tire and wheel shops offer this service and are incredibly affordable. It can be dangerous to attempt breaking a tire bead yourself without the proper equipment/experience.

The best UTV tire is the tire that follows this priority list:

  1. Within your budget
  2. Has appropriate tread pattern for your terrain
  3. Was properly stored (UV light can damage tire rubber if left in sunlight for long periods of time)
  4. Is the correct size for your vehicle
  5. Again... is it in your budget?

The stopping distance of a UTV tire varies based on several factors such as the UTV it is fitted on, the durometer rating of rubber used in tire manufacturing/construction, and tire tread patterns.

Other considerations:

  • Weather
  • Terrain (loose gravel, sand, hard-pack)
  • Depending on the UTV model the tires are mounted on, braking systems, transmission assists, and vehicle weight should be factored.
  • Tires that are geared toward high performance are generally made with softer compounds that are more capable of gripping the terrain.
  • The tread patterns of these high-performance tires can also decrease their stopping distances.

The tire ply cannot be seen just by looking at the outside of the tire. Tire plies are the internal layers that make up most of the inner workings.

These reinforcement layers are covered with rubber compounds and made with steel cables, nylon, or other sturdy materials that help a tire maintain shape and structure under pressure from inflation and load.

Tire ply technology was developed by the Michelin brothers in the form of bias tires. Constructing tires with tire plies immediately became the standard in tire design.

Radial Tire Ply

Tire plies that run horizontally to the tire bead are known as radial tires. The rolling resistance of tires with radial plies is lower, allowing for a more fuel-efficient ride. The roll of these tires is smooth, and a radial tire ply is most often incorporated into high-performance tires and all-season tires. Radial tire ply technology results in tires with additional stability and longer tread life.

Bias Tire Ply

A tire ply or a set of tire plies that run diagonally within a tire's construction can be found in tires known as bias tires. The plies in these tires are sturdy and are known for offering a very smooth ride on rough surfaces. On the other hand, the drawback of bias tire ply design is their poor rolling resistance. That's why these tires are common on entry-level offroad tires.

All offroad tires generate noise as air flows through their tread grooves and they roll into and out of contact with the trail. Wild looking tread designs that deliver aggressive off-road traction may offer the best traction in the world on an obstacle but are notorious for growling on hardpack.

Balanced Design

Tire noise is dependent on a partnership between the tread pattern and the surface it's driving on. Changes in audible sound can often be heard as tires drive from hardpack to loose gravel, or from smooth to coarse surfaces.

While some drivers think their tires are noisy, they may not realize it's the road surface that's actually responsible.

Pitch

The tire industry uses the term pitch to describe the number of tread blocks around the circumference of the tire. As a general rule, hard pack tires feature larger tread blocks and fewer pitches to enhance steering response and handling, while rock crawling tires feature tread blocks with more pitches to increase the number of biting edges that enhance traction. All-Terrain tires fall in the middle.

Pitch Sequencing

It's not desirable for all pitches to be created equally. If every tread block (pitch) featured the exact same size and shape, each one would generate the exact same sound tone and intensity as they rolled through contact with the trail. This would result in all four tires contributing to an unpleasant monotonous hum.

In order to keep that from happening, tire designers sequence multi-pitch tread designs that subtly vary in tread block size and shape to randomize the terrain contact and resulting noise.

Preventative Maintenance

Depending on their diameter, tires roll about 800 times per mile. And on every revolution, the leading edge of each independent tread block collides into contact with the trail, followed by the rest of the block until the trailing edge is released from contact a fraction of a second later. Happening about 1 million times in just 1,000 miles, this recurring in-and-out-of-road contact has been shown to promote irregular tread wear. If not stopped, irregular wear is likely to change the size and shape of the tread block contact and undo the engineering that made the tire design quiet in the first place.

Since it's important to promote even wear, periodic tire rotation is important preventative maintenance that every tire needs. Periodic tire rotation shares the work and the wear between all of the vehicle's tires and results in non-directional tires rolling in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions.

Tire compounds are made up of a combination of natural and synthetic rubbers, as well as carbon black and other chemicals. This makes their rubber compounds susceptible to damage from direct contact with gasoline, oil and antifreeze, as well as solvents often found in family garages. Extra care should be taken to avoid spilling gas, paint thinner or bleach near tires.

Prolonged contact with gasoline may accumulate in the tread sipes and dissolve some of the tread rubber in the tire footprint.

Probably the most common contact with petrochemical products is made at gas stations where inattentive motorists have spilled gasoline when returning the fuel nozzle to the gas pump or by overfilling their gas tanks.

Warning: Avoid driving through or parking in gasoline when you are refueling your vehicle. Drive to a different gas pump if you see dark pavement, all-purpose absorbent or a rainbow on the pavement.

Capillary action will draw the fluid up into the tire sipes if you drive/park in gasoline. While the gas will evaporate from the tread surface relatively quickly, it may remain active longer in the tread sipes.

A tire's section width (also called "cross section width") is the measurement of the tire's width from its inner sidewall to its outer sidewall (excluding any protective ribs, decorations or raised letters) at the widest point. This measurement is made without any load placed upon the tire and has been inflated to recommended tire manufacturer's spec.

Because a tire's section width is influenced by the width of the rim upon which the tire is mounted, the correct industry assigned measuring rim width for the tire size being measured must be used.

The width of a tire mounted on a narrow rim would be "narrower" than if the same tire was mounted on a wide rim.

Quick answer = Yes

Significant changes in altitude affects tire pressures when traveling from one elevation to another. Fortunately, this influence is relatively small and can be easily accommodated.

Atmospheric pressure is the force exerted on objects by the weight of the air molecules above them. While air molecules are invisible, they have mass and occupy space.

However, as altitude increases, atmospheric pressure decreases. For example, atmospheric pressure pushes against the earth at 14.7 pounds per square inch (1 kilogram per square centimeter) at sea level, yet drops to only 10.1 pounds per square inch at 10,000 feet as indicated in the following chart.

When it comes to measuring tire inflation pressure, it is important to realize there is a difference between atmospheric pressure and gauge pressure. Most pressure gauges (including all tire pressure gauges) are designed to measure the amount of pressure above the ambient atmospheric pressure.

Imagine removing the core from a tire valve and allowing the air to escape. Even after the air has completely stopped rushing out of the valve, the tire is still experiencing 14.7 pounds per square inch of atmospheric pressure. However, a tire pressure gauge would read zero pounds per square inch of tire inflation pressure because the pressure outside the tire is equal to the pressure inside.

Since a tire mounted on a wheel essentially establishes a flexible airtight (at least in the short term) pressure chamber in which the tire is shaped and reinforced by internal cords, it retains the same volume of air molecules regardless of its elevation above sea level. However, if tire inflation were set with a tire pressure gauge at sea level (where the atmospheric pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch is used as ambient atmospheric pressure by the gauge), the same tire pressure gauge would indicate the pressure has increased at higher elevations where the ambient atmospheric pressure is lower. Those measured at the 5,000-foot level (where an atmospheric pressure of only 12.2 pounds per square inch is the ambient pressure) would indicate about 2-3 psi higher than at sea level. On the other hand, traveling from a high altitude location to sea level would result in an apparent loss of pressure of about 2-3 psi.

However, the differences indicated above assume that the tire pressures are measured at the same ambient temperatures. Since tire pressures change about 1 psi for every 10° Fahrenheit change in ambient temperature, the tire pressure measured in the relatively moderate climate typically experienced at sea level will change when exposed to the colder temperatures associated with higher elevations.

This means that in many cases differences in ambient temperature may come close to offsetting the differences due to the change in altitude. Depending on the length of their stay at different altitudes, drivers may want to simply set their cold tire pressures the morning after arriving at their destination, as well as reset them the morning after they return home.

Quick Answer - Depends

Tire duromoter ratings differ per manufacturer, and in most cases between specific tire tread designs within a manufacturer's product collection.

Tire engineers develop specific rubber compounds that enhance the quality of ride, in-motion guide, and grip/traction of a tire tread. As enthusiast's expectations evolve, so must tire compounds to keep up with trends.

One of the most popular trends in offroading these days is pushing the limit on how soft a compound can/should get as these tires, known as "stickies", work exceptionally well in rock crawling/climbing. Rock crawling customers now expect a specific durometer rating or range to be considered a "sticky" tire.

So how soft is "too soft" when engineering sticky tire compound?

Our recommendation is, any rating below <50A on a professional durometer is officially "too soft". Here's why.

  • Wear. Rubber compound will break down too fast, requiring replacement tires every 200-300 miles. For the $, you should expect to get more miles out of your expensive tires than a tank of gas.
  • Cost. Although tires that are ultra-sticky may be great on the few rides you get out of them, you'll be paying much more for them in replacements. Sticky tires also come with higher price tags in comparison to balanced durometer rated tires >60
  • Safety. Soft compounds flex and give differently than balanced compounds. You will be unable to go high speeds or corner at speed as <50A tires will fold/fail much easier putting you and your passengers at risk.

Since heat and exposure to the elements are the important factors that influence a tire's aging process, drivers can prolong their tire's life by minimizing their impact. Here are some tips for storing tires.

  • Keep the tires out of direct sunlight whenever possible. The sun's ultraviolet rays and radiant heat are detrimental to rubber.
  • Before storing, use a tire brush to clean each tire with soap and water to remove brake dust, dirt and grime. If the tires are still mounted on wheels, use a wheel brush to clean the wheels with an approved cleaner as well. Dry with a towel and let any remaining moisture thoroughly evaporate.
  • Do not apply any tire dressings. Tire compounds are formulated to resist ozone cracking or weather checking.
  • Place each clean and dry tire in its own large, opaque, airtight plastic bag (such as lawn and garden bags) for storing. Avoid allowing any moisture to remain and remove as much air as practical. Close the bag tightly and tape it shut. This places the tire in its own personal mini-atmosphere to help reduce oil evaporation.
  • Place the tires in a cool, dry location. It is better to store tires in a dry basement or climate-controlled workshop than in a standard garage, storage shed, hot attic or outdoors. While basement and shop surroundings tend to remain cool and dry, conditions found in typical garage, shed, attic and outdoor locations often include a wide range of hot and cold temperatures, as well as seasonal precipitation and humidity.

Tire manufacturing is a difficult process requiring five essential stages:

  1. Sourcing of materials
  2. Manufacturing of components
  3. Building the tire
  4. Vulcanization
  5. Quality control 

Learn more: Read our full blog post on "How is a tire made"

Valor Offroad

Valor Offroad is a leading manufacturer of products developed exclusively for the powersports industry. Our wide collection of utv wheels, utv tires, and accessories are designed to enhance the performance and appearance of your offroad vehicle. Whether you're a seasoned offroader or just starting out, Valor Offroad has everything you need to take your powersports experience to the next level. Our utv wheels are crafted with precision and durability in mind, ensuring that they can handle even the toughest terrains. With a variety of styles and finishes to choose from, you can customize your offroad vehicle to reflect your personal style.

But it's not just about looks - our Valor utv tires are engineered to provide optimal traction and stability, giving you the confidence to conquer any trail. From trails to rock crawling, our tires are designed to withstand the harshest conditions, so you can push the limits of your offroad adventures.

At Valor Offroad, we understand that offroading is more than just a hobby - it's a lifestyle. That's why we are committed to providing top-quality products that not only perform well but also enhance the overall appearance of your offroad vehicle. With our extensive selection and dedication to customer satisfaction, you can trust us to be your go-to source for all your Polaris, Can-AM, Honda, and Kawasaki utv accessories.

So whether you're tackling the trails or hitting the dunes, choose Valor Offroad to equip your offroad vehicle with the best wheels, tires, and accessories on the market. Experience the difference that our products can make and elevate your offroading adventures to new heights.