A wheelbarrow is a valuable asset to any gardener, and having the right one with the right wheelbarrow tires makes all the difference to one's back. Here is a guide to illustrate some of the differences you'll find between different wheelbarrow models and wheelbarrow tires.
Number of Wheels
One Wheel: The one wheel wheelbarrow is classic. It is the most maneuverable and easy to dump, but requires more upper body strength than a two wheel type or a garden cart. The Industromart made-in-USA wheelbarrow ($115) is an example.
Two Wheels: More reminiscent of the garden cart, double wheels provide much more stability than a single wheel, which helps with especially heavy or unbalanced loads. However, two wheels are not as maneuverable as one wheel. They are also inconvenient to use if you'll be hauling loads laterally on an inclined surface, whereas a single wheel has no problem. A great example of an affordable double wheelbarrow is the Ace Two Wheel Contractor Steel Wheelbarrow ($85). Its metal frame and double wheels make it a convenient workhorse.
Wheelbarrow Tire Types
Pneumatic: Pneumatic wheelbarrow tires have an internal air-filled tube which you inflate like a bicycle tire. The benefit is that the air acts as a shock absorber, which provides a smoother experience in general, and is especially useful if wheeling on stairs or over rocks. One disadvantage is that the air pressure needs to be checked and maintained on an occasional basis and they are liable to go flat. One example is the Jescraft Steel Wheelbarrow with 16” pneumatic wheelbarrow tire ($100).
Semi-Pneumatic: Semi-pneumatic are wheels with built-in air pockets which provide some of the shock absorption of pneumatic tires without having to worry about pumping air into them.
Non-Pneumatic: Solid rubber tires have no air tube inside and cannot go flat. This makes them lower maintenance and better for rough terrain, which might pop a pneumatic tire, like when working in extreme temperatures or in areas with a lot of cactus. Sterling's made-in-USA wheelbarrows ($300) with flat-free tires are an example (the tire goes for around $30). They cannot go flat but otherwise perform like a pneumatic tire. Keep in mind that when your pneumatic wheelbarrow tire does go flat, you can probably replace it with one of these.
Steel: Steel wheelbarrows can handle light or heavy tasks and have a reputation of lasting decades. Steel is tough, won't crack from exposure to cold or fall apart from heavy loads being tossed into it. Although metal is liable to rust eventually, this can be avoided by not leaving your wheelbarrow exposed to the elements and repainting it occasionally. But even then, a rusty wheelbarrow can still function perfectly well, while a cracked plastic wheelbarrow is basically useless. The only drawback is that steel is heavy and can be unwieldy if you don't have enough upper body strength. Jackson steel wheelbarrows ($100) are reputed to be well built and last a long time.
Plastic: Plastic is lighter than metal which makes it easier to transport loads and is great for light garden work. It probably won't last as long and is not as tough as metal, but it won't rust like metal and usually costs less, but don't let cost fool you...if you have to buy two “cheap” plastic wheelbarrows in five or ten years, when one steel wheelbarrow would have lasted longer, you're not actually saving any money. Ames True Temper wheelbarrows ($80) are a popular example of a plastic bucket wheelbarrow.
Motorized: Perhaps only a wheelbarrow in name, motorized “wheelbarrows” like the Troybilt Motorized Wheelbarrow ($1200) allow you to carry heavy loads with ease. The drawbacks are, firstly, the price tag, and secondly this is much more “wheelbarrow” than most gardeners need. And if something breaks, it's going to be more difficult to fix than with a traditional wheelbarrow. However, if it's very difficult for you to push heavy loads, then a motorized wheelbarrow is a great option.
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