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Reinventing the wheel
Yuma off-roading enthusiasts are some of the first in the country to have access to a new state-of-the-art wheel and tire system designed by Dennis Franklin, former owner of Franklin Tire and Suspension.
The Interco Birddog was created by Franklin as part of a joint venture with Interco. It is now available for purchase at Franklin's FTS Automotive Center, 1845 S. Arizona Ave., and directly from Interco. It won't be available to wholesalers until November.
“Most consider a wheel a wheel ... This is not the case with the Birddog wheel as it is purpose-built to fit the needs of off-highway enthusiasts,” Franklin said.
The wheel was specially designed for “wheelers” who deflate their tires to improve performance out on the trail. When deflated, the surface area of the tread is increased, which creates a better grip on the terrain.
When properly inflated, the air pressure keeps the tire “bead,” or the edge of the tire that sits on the wheel, wedged inside a groove in the wheel. But some tires can become unattached from the rim when the air pressure is at extremely low levels. Without the air pressure holding it in place, the bead slips out of the groove.
To keep the tire attached to the rim when there is low air pressure, the Birddog has a patented Advanced Bead Retention System (ABRS) created by Franklin.
“A tire at very low air pressure, 4 to 10 PSI, under maximum lateral deflection distorts the bead package, which can allow air to escape between the tire and rim,” Franklin explained.
“To ensure that this won't happen, it is necessary to add a small but strategically placed ‘air retention rib' in both bead seats.”
Franklin was inspired to create the new wheel because “no one built what the industry needed, so I did,” he said, noting it took three and a half “years of pain” before he had a working prototype.
“Current aftermarket and factory provided wheels are not primarily designed for off-highway recreational use. The Birddog wheel has been designed to meet and exceed the needs of those using their vehicles in the intended off-highway environment.”
Not only does the Birddog design prevent the bead from slipping, it makes it easy for the driver to service the tire in the field, he added.
Wheelers “like to be able to mount and dismount in the field — on the beach in Mexico, the badlands of Peru or on a farm in Alberta, Canada,” he said.
The wheel was also designed to be used in conjunction with an environmentally friendly tire created by Franklin and built by Interco. The low-impact environmentally friendly tire is called the “LEAF.”
The LEAF tire was specially made to minimize the transfer of seeds. This helps to prevent the distribution of non-native plant species to areas where they could damage the natural ecosystem, a problem government agencies have been warning wheelers to be vigilant against.
Franklin created the wheel to be used by the average off-road enthusiast, he said.
“When you compare them in price (to other wheels), they come in the middle of the road. Part of the design was to make it affordable to everyone.”
The wheel is named after Franklin's father, Lt. Col. Dwaine “Bird Dog” Franklin, who was given the moniker in World War II when he served as a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot. Bird Dog eventually became an ace with seven confirmed enemy planes being shot down by him in combat.
Bird Dog moved to Yuma permanently in about 1959 and later opened Franklin Tire and Suspension Company.
Bird Dog “got involved in the tire business where he found a need to try and figure out ways to traverse the soft desert soils without getting stuck,” Franklin said.
“There were no off-highway tires or wide wheels and very few 4x4s. If you wanted a wide wheel, you cut and installed a 2- to 3-inch band in the wheel with a tube, or welded two Buick wheels together. For tires, you looked toward the farming industry and used ... non-highway rated flotation tires cut up with a grooving iron.”
Bird Dog later worked with Dick Cepek to convince the Armstrong company to create the world's first true all-terrain tire. He continued to work on new off-road wheel and tire designs for the remainder of his life. Bird Dog died in November 2011 at 91.
“It is through these visionaries ... that we now have the world's first purpose-built wheel for on- and off-highway use,” Franklin said about the Birddog wheel.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.