How fast do you really need to go on the trail? With only 60 hp and 5.38:1 gears, our project Willys cuts the mustard on the trail just fine, thank you very much. Big power may be nice for those short bursts, but you have to understand that it starts a vicious cycle by shortening the life of components, which you can compensate for by beefing up components, only to find that you have added more weight, which in turn could mean you need more power. And don't forget to think of the fuel economy penalty for big power, especially if you have a small fuel tank and limited cargo space for extra fuel.
Gears give you the mechanical advantage and are the correct way to get the most power to the ground through torque. Think of it this way: You are trying to loosen a tight bolt in your garage, but just can't seem to make it budge with your short wrench. Would you rather have to offer your juiced neighbor a beer to come over with his giant bratwurst arms and risk humiliation, or would you rather just get a pipe on the end of the wrench and do it yourself?
When it comes to my trail rig, I'll choose gears over power any day of the week.
-Sean P. Holman
Bias-ply tires are a good choice for specific applications such as muddin' or hauling, but
Better Be Bias
When it comes to trail-only machines, bias-ply tires are the way to go. By design, a bias-ply's tread flexes much easier than a radial design, allowing it to conform and grip uneven surfaces commonly found in the backcountry. Sure, they won't provide the same sure-footed high-speed stability as a radial tire, but neither will a radial tire flex and conform to the terrain where most wheelers actually use their purpose-built rigs. And bias-ply tires tend to be less expensive than radials, too, given identical sizes.
While you can expect increased rolling resistance on pavement from a bias-ply tire, it is important to remember that most of the trail-only rigs out there typically remain on a trailer until the start of a trail.
Real, Righteous Radials
This really is not a fair fight-the number of advantages a radial has over a bias-ply tire are too numerous to mention. Here's one that's especially timely, however: because a radial uses a dedicated set of steel belts across its tread-versus a bias-ply, where tread and sidewall share the same overlapping belt pattern-the tread and sidewall can act "independently" of each other, which allows a radial's sidewall to flex more readily than a bias-ply. More relevantly here, tread deformation is minimized with a radial as the sidewall flexes, allowing the tread to maintain a more constant contact pattern, which in turn equals more consistent traction and greater flotation. And greater flotation in dirt equals Treading (More) Lightly, with less tire-spinning, rooster-tailing, rock-flinging, and all those trail behaviors that certain eco-killjoys find objectionable. So among its other virtues, a radial tire is much more of a (dare we say?) "rock hugger" than a bias-ply ever could be.
That same spirit of "independence" also works well on the street, allowing the tread to maintain better contact with the road surface while the sidewall absorbs lateral forces, as in corners. This of course translates into superior directional stability, and with it, more predictable handling. And that additional "gription" comes in handy not only in corners, but on rain-slicked roads and other low-traction surfaces. Want more? Less slippage and less tread deformation equals less rolling resistance, hence better mileage and-you guessed it-a cooler-running tire that should outlive a bias-ply in any similar application.
Now it's true, for certain setups-pro rockcrawlers, for example-bias-plies come in handy when aired waaaaay down, due to their greater puncture resistance. And rigs that haul mega-heavy loads can certainly use that stiffer sidewall, too. But for just about everyone else, radials are golden. And now that companies like Michelin are making them in sizes up to 53s, there's really no excuse anymore for not making the swap to radial rubber.