Like the skid-steer loader market itself, the tires used on these machines are more diverse than ever. Today, you have a choice between pneumatic bias and radial tires, polyurethane ("foam") filled tires, solid tires and "aperture" tires.
"The skid-steer market has exploded in the last several years with the number of attachments that have become available," says Mike Tolman, Michelin earthmover segment manager for ports and terminals. "These machines were primarily used in construction, but now they're being used anywhere a small, versatile machine is needed."
That demand has in part led to new tire offerings. Determining which of these tires is right for your skid steer is based on where and how you use your machine. "There is a time and place for each type of tire," says Neil Ganz, executive vice president of GPX International Tire Corp., which markets Galaxy and MITL tires.
"If you are a contractor doing landscaping on an established lawn, you'll want a different tire than a contractor who is using a skid steer on a new jobsite or one who is working in demolition," says Tolman. "Sometimes there are trade-offs. For some contractors, they may need exceptionally good traction. For others, absolute puncture resistance may be more important."
When shopping for pneumatic tires, you have a choice between bias and radial construction. Bias remains the overwhelming market leader. Not only is it less expensive, it has a strong, stiff sidewall to protect against construction debris, as well as the skidding action placed on the tire each time the machine turns, says Ganz.
But radials have become more popular since their introduction to the market about five years ago. To protect their characteristic sidewall "bulge", some radials are constructed with multiple layers of steel belts in the tread and sidewall to repel nails, staples, etc., Tolman explains. "With the steel belts, we can maintain puncture resistance without sacrificing suspension," he states. "And radials have a long life because with the suspension they provide, it's no longer a case of the ground gives or the tire gives. The radial is able to flex to the surface it's on. It conforms and gives less resistance to objects to decrease the wear of the tire."
Both radial and bias provide better traction and a softer ride compared to filled and solid tires. "As soon as you fill a tire, you basically turn it into a solid," says Ganz. "Unless you have fill that acts as air, the tire doesn't flex. A tire gives its best traction when it flexes so it can clear the mud from the tread."
As for ride quality, the only suspension on a skid steer comes from the tire itself. "Without any air, you'll feel every bounce and bump and every rock you roll over," says Tolman. "Your load can also be affected. If you hit a rock, it can shift and you risk dropping it."
"When you have a concrete-hitting-concrete approach, you can increase the maintenance of the machine," adds Ganz. "There is no give, and all the bolts work a little harder."
But the "softness" of a pneumatic tire comes at a price: greater susceptibility to flats.
Filling provides a radial or bias tire with increased puncture resistance. Fill, such as that provided by Arnco, is actually a solid polyurethane core rather than "foam," explains Bob Giasson, director of marketing and OEM sales at Arnco.
"It's a solid urethane elastomer that acts as a flat-proofing agent," he says.
Polyurethane fills are gauged on a hardness scale, or durometer, from 0 to 100 to provide desired ride and tire deflection characteristics based on the application. A tire filled with a low durometer, such as an 8 Shore A hardness, will have a softer ride than one with a higher durometer, such as a 55 Shore A hardness. A solid rubber tire has a hardness rating comparable to about 70 Shore A.