Reader Question: Why Are Radials Better?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Sandy asks: Why are radial tires better than bias-ply tires? I have often wondered about this and figured you might have and answer.

My reply. That I do!

Bias-ply tires were once the usual tires almost all cars came with, through the early ’70s – when radial tires began to supplant them. Today, bias-ply tires are kind of like contact points; you don’t see them much outside of classic car shows.

The chief reason being that the radial tire absorbs road imperfections and handles much better (more predictably) due to the way it is constructed. The tire’s sidewall design allows for more flex, without transferring shock to the rest of the tire (and to the car, the driver). The tire’s contact patch is more consistent under loads, such as when cornering; finally, the radial also dissipates heat from friction better, which decreases heat-induced failures.

It achieves all this by different internal construction; the tire’s plies – the underlying structure – are laid out in such as way as to allow the surface of the tire that touches the road – the contact patch – to respond independently of the sidewall plies whereas in bias-ply tires, the plies run (connected) from the crown of the tire (the contact patch) to the sidewall/bead – such that the ability of the tire to isolate road irregularities is more limited.

A more detailed explanation can be found here.

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  1. I’ll never forget my first tow truck…. I got it for $1000 (In the mid 90’s) because it had a noise in the motor; rebuilt the motor in the back of my pick-up truck, and VIOLA[sic]! But the darn thing had bias-ply tires…and because of the size of the rims, those were the only kind of tires ya could get for for it. I swear, I’d get a flat almost every. Single. Day of the WEEK!!!!!! Nothing makes ya appreciate radials like having to live with bias-plies for a while! (My next old tow truck had radials…and I don’t think I got so much as one flat with THAT truck!)


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