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 Robot Wheel Comparison Guide

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  • Comparison of over 2 dozen wheels
  • Industrial caster, R/C airplane, and R/C car wheels
  • From McMaster-Carr and Tower Hobbies catalogs

STORY: After acquiring drive motors and gearboxes for Dr. Inferno Jr., I needed to find the best wheels to put the power to the ground. In past robots, I generally used crazy custom wheels tailored to the application. I didn't have much experience picking out appropriate wheels from a catalog, so I ordered a whole bunch from McMaster-Carr and Tower Hobbies and did a qualitative, subjective comparison (that is, I didn't actually mount & test most of these wheels on bots--many of my comments are based on impressions I got from handling & studying them).


  • Light weight: makes it easier for your drive motor to quickly speed up, slow down, and reverse direction; heavy wheels also use up valuable weight that could be better used in other components
  • Sturdiness: needs to take a beating and not break up
  • Tread: the stickier the better for pushing and high acceleration/deceleration
  • Diameter: for a given drivetrain setup, smaller wheels give more pushing force and lower top speed, larger wheels give less pushing force but higher top speed; using smaller wheels should also tend to draw less current, letting your robot run longer on a battery charge and taxing your speed controller less
  • Tread Shape: flat gives more contact area (better), rounded gives less contact area
  • Core/Hub: want it to be sturdy yet easy to machine, with enough area to attach to driveshaft or hub
  • Stiffness: cushy wheels will have a larger contact patch, give your robot a smoother ride, absorb shocks, and accommodate mounting flaws (tweaked chassis, bent axles, etc.) but may wear faster than hard wheels
  • Cost: try not to let cost influence your decision too much; then again, you always want to be able to afford to have spares on hand; all prices quoted below are from March 2000
  • Application: wheels designed to support push-carts or to catch landing model airplanes are not designed to be driven by motors--reworking of the hubs is necessary. Any text below in "quotes" is taken from the catalog descrption, explaining its features or application.

If you want to learn about other drivetrain issues or want to see a rough rule of thumb for preferred wheel/tire size, visit Coolrobots' builder's corner.


Aluminum hub, rubber tread

McMaster-Carr 2322T31


Rubber tread on aluminum core (solid or spoked), smooth tread (thin or standard thickness), 150+lb capacity, size: 5"-14" dia x 1.5"-5" wid

Example: 3" dia x 1.25" wid, 0.5lb, $22.24

light, quite grippy tread, tough hub, small hub bore on larger sizes, easy to machine aluminum smaller sizes have large hub bore, pricey, raised central ridge on tread, rounded tread

Recommended Easy-to-remove bearings, easy to machine, light & grippy. Suitable for all sizes of bots.

Colson cushiony casters, plastic core

left: McMaster-Carr 2829T11

right: McMaster-Carr 2829T54


Polyurethane tread interlocked on smooth or ribbed polyolefin core, gray tread or black tread available (gray appears softer), 75+lb capacity, size: 2"-12" dia x 0.125"-3" wid

Examples: left 3" dia x 1.5" wid, 0.3lb, $9.89; right 3.5" dia x 1.25" wid, 0.3lb, $7.13

light weight, quite grippy tread, small hub bore on larger sizes, tread compresses, reasonable price, easy to machine, flat tread smaller sizes have large hub bore, plastic may not be durable enough

Recommended Easy-to-remove bushings, easy to machine, light & grippy. May not be suitable for huge bots. "Tread will not break up when rolling over debris." Dr. Inferno Jr. was upgraded to Colson wheels after the CB ones shredded.

Aluminum hub, rubber tread

left: McMaster-Carr 22865T11

right: McMaster-Carr 4996T11


left: Rubber tread on aluminum core (solid or spoked), smooth tread (thin or standard thickness), 150+lb capacity, size: 5"-14" dia x 1.5"-5" wid

right: Neoprene molded on solid aluminum core, smooth tread, 200+lb capacity, size: 4"-10" dia x 1.5"-2.5" wid

Examples: left 5" dia x 1.5" wid, 1.5lb, $22.24; right 3" dia x 0.9375" wid, 1.3lb, $18.69

average weight, small hub bore, fairly grippy tread, very durable average weight, average tread grip, raised central ridge on tread should be removed first, not cheap

Pretty decent for a heavy duty bot. Overkill for a small one. Tread needs a little work to remove ridge.

Heavy & durable iron core

orange: McMaster-Carr 2351T97

red: McMaster-Carr 2351T98

black: McMaster-Carr 2319T11


orange & red: Polyurethane molded on cast iron core, smooth thin tread, 290+lb capacity, size: 3"-12" dia x 1.25"-4" wid

black: Rubber molded on solid or spoked iron core, smooth tread (hard high capacity or less hard lower capacity), 170+lb capacity, size: 3"-16" dia x 1.375"-5" wid

Examples: orange 3" dia x 1.25" wid, 1.5lb, $12.45; red 3.5" dia x 1.25" wid, 1.3lb, $13.21; black 4" dia x 1.5" wid, 2.6lb, $7.52

cool colors, bulletproof, small hub bore not-so-grippy tread, heavy!

Too heavy & not grippy enough. Not well-suited for robot drivetrain.

All plastic lightweight light duty

blue: McMaster-Carr 2472T21

gray: McMaster-Carr 2497T121


blue: Solid polyurethane, smooth tread, 300lb capacity, size: 3"-8" dia x 1.25"-2.5" wid.

gray: Polyurethane tread mechanically locked on polyolefin core, smooth tread, 125lb capacity, size: 3"-12" dia x 0.9375"-3" wid

Examples: blue 3" dia x 1.25" wid, 0.3lb, $12.89; gray 3" dia x 0.9375" wid, 0.2lb, $3.56

light, small core bore, 1-piece models are simple skinny, not grippy, all plastic (durability?)

Ok for a very light bot, perhaps not for larger ones. Easy to work with. 2497 series is low cost!

Mega-wide silly

black: McMaster-Carr 2670T14

maroon: McMaster-Carr 2670T83


Polyurethane tread on steel core pallet and lift truck wheels, smooth tread, size: 3"-8.5" dia x 2"-6" wid

Examples: black 3.375" dia x 3.9375" wid, 3.0lb, $19.56; maroon 3.25" dia x 5.9375" wid, 3.5lb, $24.24

extra wide, very durable large core bore, not very grippy, heavy, not cheap

Crazy! Maybe good for a giant bot, especially if a stickier tread could be applied. Silly for a smaller bot. "Abrasion resistant."


Foam-filled cushy airplane wheels

top: Tower Hobbies CBAQ3020

bottom: Tower Hobbies CBAQ3010



C.B./Tatone foam-filled wheels, "support airplanes weighing up to 100lb", treaded wheel size: 3.5"-4.5" dia, smooth wheel size: 4"-5" dia

Examples: top smooth, 4" dia x 1.5" wid, ~0.2lb, $21.39/pair; bottom Bow-Tie, shallow tread, 3.5" dia x 1.5" wid, ~0.1lb, $21.39/pair

light, grippy, cushy, fairly hearty hub disassembles easily, durable foam-filled tire can take some abuse price, rounded profile (on both smooth and treaded models), a little skinny, tires wear noticeably during heavy use Recommended Good all-around model. Reinforce the hubs or make beefier ones. Not cheap but worth it. Good for small bots, not big ones. I used 3.5" ones on Dr. Inferno Jr. with custom aluminum hubs. The wheels ended up wearing somewhat on Overpowered Box & totally shredding themselves on Dr. I Jr.

Foam-filled cushy airplane wheels

top left: Tower Hobbies DAVQ5540

top right: Tower Hobbies DAVQ5730

bottom left: Tower Hobbies DAVQ5740

bottom right : Tower Hobbies DAVQ5035



Dave Brown Lite Flite foam-filled wheels, "for large scale airplanes", smooth & flat or treaded & rounded, size: 4"-6" dia

Examples: top left 4" dia x 1.125" wid, ~0.1lb, $8.59/pair; top right 3" dia x 0.75" wid, ~0.1lb, $4.99/pair, bottom left 4" dia x 1.25" wid, ~0.1lb, $8.59/pair; bottom right 3.5" dia x 0.875" wid, ~0.1lb, $5.49/pair

light, seem grippy, smaller models squishy, smooth wheels have flat tread, cheap price

larger models stiffer, treaded wheels have rounded tread, plastic hub durability questionable

Recommended A good all-around model. Reinforce the hubs or make beefier ones. Very high profile tires. Very inexpensive. Good for smallish bots, not for big ones.

Air-filled & foam-filled airplane wheels

Left: Tower Hobbies DUBQ0775

top: Tower Hobbies DUBQ0895

bottom: Tower Hobbies DUBQ0843


left: Low Bounce, captive air rubber tire on nylon hub, smooth tread, size: 1.75"-3.5" dia

top: Low Bounce captive air rubber tire on nylon hub, shallow lined tread, size: 1.75"-3.5" dia

bottom: Lightweight foam-filled rubber tire on nylon hub, shallow lined tread, size: 1.75"-6" dia

Examples: left Low Bounce smooth, 3" dia x 1" wid, ~0.1lb, $5.49/pair; top Low Bounce treaded, 3.5" dia x 1.25" wid, ~0.1lb, $5.99/pair; bottom Lightweight treaded, 3.25" dia x 1.25" wid, ~0.2lb, $8.59/pair

seem grippy, captured air model cushy, very inexpensive, teeny hub bore, light weight, foam-filled model more durable captive air versions may puncture, spoked plastic hub offers little support, foam-filled model very stiff, overall durability a concern Some potential if they can be mounted well and do not get damaged. Small bots only. Captive air models have good tires but potential puncture problems, foam-filled is more durable but stiffer. Hubs are minimal & skimpy.

Inflatable airplane wheels w/ valve

Tower Hobbies DUBQ0790


Du-Bro Big Wheels Smooth Tire with positive seal valve, size: 4"-6" dia

Example: 4" dia x 1.5" wid, 0.3lb w/ hub, $11.59/pair

mega-grippy, very cushy, low cost, teeny hub bore, light weight air-filled tire can pop or leak, rounded tread, air valve near tread could get damaged, weak plastic hub Much potential if they can be mounted well and do not get damaged. Small bots only.

Car tire tread

Left: Tower Hobbies PROC9002

right: Tower Hobbies PROC9004


Pro-Line Road Rage & Bow-Tie, tire only--no hub, diameter, "fits any 3.2"-3.4" front or rear 1/8 wheel"

Examples: left Road Rage off-road knobby, 4" dia x 2" wid, ~0.1lb, $18.39/pair; right Bow-Tie, street tread, 4" dia x 2" wid, ~0.1lb, $18.39/pair

light, wide, flat tread, sticky, Bow-Tie well-suited for flat surfaces need to purchase or make hubs, questionable durability, Road Rage tread suited for off-road use Not good for a beginner (need to buy or make wheel/hub), nice piece of tread if mounted properly.

Car tire tread

Missing Link with screwed-down vacuum cleaner belts


Available at any vacuum shop, hardware store, or department store.

Examples: Precision "traction" belts, $1 each

cheap, super grippy, customizable (number and arrangement of belts) not durable, assembly required, need to be attached to a correct-sized wheel hub Good solution for a smaller robot if custom wheels are desired, not good for a big bot.
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