Mike Brandl reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly about converting his 2017 Ford F-450 truck to super singles. The advantages are considerable and the look is incredible, but so are the costs and potential maintenance. Are super singles right for you?
Uber expensive overland rigs have long employed “super singles” as a means of improving off-road performance and giving their vehicles a heavy dose of the go-anywhere aesthetic.
Most famously, Earthroamer converts their trucks from the factory 32-inch diameter, 6-inch wide, 10-ply dual rear wheel tires to single 41-inch diameter, 12-inch wide, 22-ply military tires. This gives their motorhomes better tracking on off-road trails and eliminates the dreaded rock stuck between the duallies.
Truck camper owners have long studied this concept for a properly demountable rig. For example, in August of 2020, we showcased Avi Myers’ Cirrus 920 and Ford F-550 rig with a Fury 37-inch tires and 20-inch Hutchinson rims. From Avi’s example and others, you can build a truck with Earthroamer-like upgrades and put it under a truck camper. The result is perhaps the best of both worlds.
Technically, super singles are single tires that offer the capacity to replace the capacity of a dually set. Most commonly the term refers to wide-base tires (their proper name) used to replace dual-wheels on semi-trucks and trailers. This approach turns 18-wheelers into 10-wheelers.
In an overland vehicle or truck camper context, the term, “super singles” usually refers to heavy military-grade tires designed for AM General Humvees and Oshkosh JLTVs.
This can all get very confusing as the term “super singles” gets thrown around a lot between the different marketplaces; semi-trucks, pickup trucks, and overland camper builds. What’s important is the idea of replacing two rear truck tires with one while retaining the capacity of the two.
Opinions of the advantages of super singles run the gamut. In the semi-truck world, super singles can reduce rolling resistance and weight of a truck and trailer and have been shown to improve fuel economy by up to 3-percent.
For a pickup truck and camper, the preferred larger and beefier military tires add a significant amount of weight and reduce rolling resistance, but improve off-road capability and (arguably) rig aesthetics.
As you’re about to read, the real-life pros and cons for super singles in a truck camper build are many, and quite involved. Given the complexity of the conversion and the related cost, this is not a change anyone would make lightly. And yet, there is a lot of interest about this subject.
What better way to learn about it than to talk to a fellow truck camper who not only went through a dually to super single conversion but actually did the bulk of the work himself?
Introducing Mike Brandl. Mike’s first article discusses the pros and cons of super singles and his ownership experience. We will follow up with a second article on Mike’s installation process. Both stories are critical for anyone who’s even curious about going with super singles.
Above: Mike Brandl’s 2017 Ford F-450 and 2018 Lance 975
You just recently bought a Lance 975. That is commonly known as a good candidate for a one-ton dually truck. So why did you opt for a Ford F-450 instead of an F-350?
I bought a Ford F-450 so I wouldn’t need to worry about the payload capacity or straining the truck. I also considered an F-550, but the F-450 has more than enough capacity to handle a Lance 975. The F-450 gives me a sense of security when driving.
I was in an accident with my previous Lance 855S rig. I thought that it was my camper model for life. After the accident, I was searching for another 855S.
I headed to a Lance dealership and looked at their campers. That’s where I saw a Lance 975 with a more open feel, more windows and a mid-bath.
Then I randomly came across a pre-owned 975 about ten-miles from the dealership. It was stored inside an airport hanger and in excellent condition. It was a great deal and I bought it before I had the truck to haul it. I actually had to borrow a friend’s truck to get it home.
I was looking for an F-450 and was about to go to Minnesota to grab one that I found. A friend of mine had a 2017 Ford F-450 and wanted to upgrade to a 2021, so I put the pressure on him. He sold me his truck and bought a 2021. It had about 76,000 miles on it with good records. I like to buy trucks where I know the history.
Above: Mike’s F-450 before the super single installation
The Ford F-450 comes standard with 19.5 wheels, which many truck campers consider to the best option for larger truck campers. Why did you want to change from 19.5 wheels to super singles?
This was my first dually truck and the ride was much rougher than I was accustomed to. The stock tires were hard like a semi tire, so if there’s a crack in the road you feel it. I also felt like the second wheel in the rear would track and pull from grooves in the road.
Now my rig has a smoother ride when unloaded and loaded. The larger sidewalls absorb more of the bumps and vibration. I can air the tires down to 40psi and it rides like a boat. They can be aired down even lower for sand. Aired down, the super singles perform better than dual rear wheels on the sand. And with super singles, I have two fewer tires to maintain.
I was wanting to build an F-450 super single truck even before the accident. I couldn’t afford it at the time, but I’d been researching super singles for about a year. I found a truck with super singles online and thought it was a great idea. I also love the look.
What make and model of super single tires did you end up getting?
I bought five Goodyear G275 MSA 335/80/R20 military tires. They are 41-inches tall on 20-inch rims. All of the super single conversions I’ve seen use a military-grade tire. The tires are 14-inches wide, so they are also wider than a stock tire but not necessary a wider footprint in the rear.
That is wide. For reference, the 235 80R17s on our 2018 Ram 3500 dually are 9.3-inches wide. What did the Goodyear super singles cost?
About $600 each without rims. My Toyo Load F Mud-Terrain tires on my previous Ford were $500 each, so it wasn’t that big of a shock for me. The price seemed reasonable considering that they are military tires.
Keep in mind that the F-450 is not my daily driver. I’ll get 60,000 miles from the super singles lasting several years. They are more expensive, but I feel safer with military-grade tires.
Why did you get Goodyears and not Continentals?
I chose Goodyear because they had the highest speed rating of 81 miles per hour at 6,395 pounds. A lot of the other tires had a 50 to 60 mile-per-hour speed rating.
The Goodyears are sand and highway hybrids, like what they use for Hummers and military transport trucks. Some of the other super singles have more aggressive mud tread and would have a louder and rougher ride.
Finally, the Goodyears have a capacity of 6,395 pounds each. In total, I have 25,580 pounds of tire capacity. I will never be that high with my truck camper rig.
Per tire, what do the super singles weigh?
210-pounds each mounted with the rim and tire together.
Wow! That’s nearly five times more than our stock 44-pound tires. When we had 19.5s, our speedometer was significantly off because of the increased tire diameter. Have you adjusted your speedometer?
I have not adjusted my speedometer, but I could with a programmer. When I’m going 56 miles per hour on my speedometer, I’m actually going 70. The faster I go, the more it’s off. If I see 60 on my speedometer, I’m actually approaching 80 miles per hour.
The way I monitor my speed is the Waze app. It functions as a GPS and shows the speed I’m traveling. If I’m in an area that I don’t know the speed limit, the app shows my speed and the speed limit. It’s very helpful.
You’ve covered a number of the advantages of super singles. What are the downsides?
Super singles make the truck a little taller and they raise the center of gravity of the rig.
The most challenging part of owning super singles is getting the tires balanced. Even though they ride smooth, they have a little shake out of balance. It took me three different wheel shops until I found one that had a balancer strong enough to hold the wheel and fit the 41-inch size.
Traction is another important consideration. In the rain, you could hydroplane easier with the wider footprint. The tires have deeper tread and the truck is quite heavy, so it’s unlikely. In thick snow, a fellow super single enthusiast up north said super singles would track better than dual rear wheels. However, on a slick road, dual rear wheels might be better.
As you stated, the super singles raise the height of your rig. What is the total height of your truck and camper?
I’m 12’6” to my highest point. Nobody believes me, but I measured.
The bed height with the stock 19.5 wheels and tires was 37-inches. With super singles, the bed height is 40-inches.
Did you need to add a lift to the truck to fit the larger super single tires?
I had to lift the rear 1-inch to give more clearance for the rear tires. The F-450 had a low center of gravity, to begin with, so it’s not overly high now, even with the bigger tires.
Does the spare super single fit where the spare 19.5 wheel and tire did?
No. The super single will not fit where the 19.5 wheel and tire did before. That area is now free for my onboard air system. To bring the spare super single, I built a custom spare tire mount that goes on the front truck hitch.
The mount swings down to the ground so that it can be easily loaded and unloaded from the hitch. I can also lock it in place so that it doesn’t get stolen.
If I’m in-state, I will leave my spare at home. I have an onboard air and a plug kit, so I can get myself home. Of course, I know that anything can happen at any time.
If you have a breakdown, do shops typically have super singles in stock?
No, nobody stocks these tires. If I have a problem my spare is my lifesaver. Forget Pep Boys and the other chain tire shops. However, tire shops that deal with semi-trucks have strong enough machines to work with my wheels and tires.
I learned this the hard way. I had to true the super singles. Truing is the process of spinning the tire and shaving down the high spots to make it round. Once that was done I also needed to have the tires balanced. I wanted to avoid bean bags or beads, so I chose to do standard wheel weights.
Most shops couldn’t handle the super single because it was too heavy. Fortunately, I found a shop that handles dump trucks, semis and large mud tires.
Are all five wheels and tires identical, even the spare?
Yes, all five of my tires are exactly the same, even the spare. The tires are non-directional, so all four can rotate. My front rim is the same as my back. It’s just turned backward.
What did the conversion from 19.5 wheels and tires to super singles cost?
It cost roughly $10,000 in parts, but that doesn’t include labor. I did all of the work myself except for painting the fenders and balancing the wheels.
If you hired a company to do the conversion, it could be around $20,000 including shocks, airbags, lift kit, fenders, painting the fenders, bumper spacers, cutting and welding of subframe and cab, and the super single rims and tires themselves.
Holy smokes. That’s quite the investment. Where did you purchase the rims?
I bought the Goodyear tires and rims from Stazworks Extreme Offroad. I also found a company in Texas called DBL Design. They’ll send you a packaged kit for the conversion. You can get a kit from a shop or you can piece buy the parts. I chose to do all the work myself by researching and purchasing piece by piece.
I’m lucky that I grew up with a dad who worked on cars. I am also an air conditioner mechanic by trade, so I’m handy. I am by no means a tire professional. I am self-educated and learn from my mistakes.
I also talked to anyone I could think of. I talked to my diesel mechanic. I talked to the wheel guy at Stazworks. I asked questions like, “What do you think about beads and balancing?” I picked a lot of brains. YouTube also helps.
If you do the super single conversion yourself, you have to know how to weld and be mechanically inclined. If you don’t have the required skills, a shop is the way to go.
How about tread wear with super singles versus dual rear wheels?
With super singles, I am probably going to run into more wear issues than dually trucks. I’m sure I will also have to get my tires trued again as they wear. My tires can be shaved because they have very deep tread.
Did you need to make any other modifications to the truck for the super singles?
I am often asked if I needed to change the axles. I did not. I actually did not need to change the truck much. I’ve kept it pretty stock.
What I did change is detailed in Part 2, Installing Super Singles on a Ford F-450. As you will see, that process was extensive.