We've all heard of Mickey Thompson - one of the first companies to enter the automotive aftermarket with tires designed specifically for the off-road enthusiast - and we're all used to seeing the rugged bias-ply construction that this company has championed for so many years. Lately, however, we hadn't been thinking of cutting-edge designs and technology when we thought of the company's tires, and some of the newer players in the industry were becoming more contemporary. You can imagine our surprise, then, when these radical-looking monsters arrived at our office. Obviously the people at Mickey Thompson have been busy looking into the present and the future of four-wheeling and working on new products to meet that demand.
We've never experienced the kind of attention these tires generate. This combination of tread width, gnarly directional tread pattern, and sidewall lugs (Sidebiters) make this one of the most unusual-looking tires on the market, and the results were love it or hate it, with about 99 percent in love. Either way, during a recent trip to Moab, no one who saw them could resist asking about them or staring. Even on the freeways of Southern California, we had guys driving next to us for miles trying to figure out what they were and asking how we liked them. Don't buy these tires if you're nervous about being watched.
Our first impression was that this tire was just too big, too stiff, and too heavy to work well on the trail. Sure, we thought, you don't have to worry about a puncture or a sidewall tear, but what good are they if they don't flex? They appear about as robust as they come and even a little intimidating to lift by yourself. An un-mounted one is almost impossible to deflect by hand, making us wrongly assume that there was no way these tires would perform as well as the super-soft and flexible (although delicate) trail tires we have been using lately. It required the trip to Moab to prove us wrong.
The main concern was that the six-ply sidewall construction and jumbo-sized lugs would inhibit flex, even with low air pressure. Fortunately, these tires were designed for low-pressure use and include a hinge point below the Sidebiter lug area to keep those bulletproof sidewalls compliant. At the first trail head, we aired down to 9 pounds, and there was no noticeable change in ride height. After a quick trip through Hell's Revenge, we realized that less air was necessary, so down to 7 we went. At 7 pounds, we drove the Moab Rim Trail (one we consider to be a pretty good tire test for rockcrawling), and everything started to work. Once this tire enlarges, its contact patch puts all 20 inches of tread pattern in contact with the rocks - you're seriously connected. In fact, when all the other tires in our group were slipping enough to make noises (if you've ever driven the trails in Moab, you know the strange sound of tires on slickrock we mean), the Claws were completely quiet. After the Rim Trail, we went back up to 9 pounds, and the tires retained their flexibility; it appears they just require a short break-in period before they start to work well.
On the two other trails we drove while in Moab - Steelbender and the Lion's Back - we were very impressed with the performance in sand, mud, and other loose materials, and pleasantly surprised by adhesion to slickrock. These tires floated in sand almost like a paddle tire and hooked up so well that they made it difficult to spin the tires in four-wheel drive. On slickrock, the only negative thing is that they require more steering input than some tires to take the line you're looking for; this is a little disconcerting in places such as the Lion's Back. The Moab Rim Trail has some severely off-camber sections, however, and sideways slip was not a problem. Those lugs on the sides really do more than just get looks; this tire will climb rocks on the sidewall alone, as we later found out during some very difficult trails in the Sierras.
On the street, well, you don't buy these tires for the street. Actually, on the street, these tires perform much better than we would have expected from a wide bias-ply tire with such large and continuous lugs. Usually straight-line stability is seriously compromised with a tire this wide, but tracking was as good or better than the narrower tires we've used on this vehicle in the past. Cornering was flat and quiet, gradually breaking away at the limit with no surprises or tail-happy experiences. The noise level is higher that a typical all-season, but just barely, and it doesn't seem to elevate with mileage as most tires do. We even lived with these tires daily for six months with a 50-mile round-trip commute and were very pleased with their performance. In short, don't buy these tires for road racing, but don't be afraid of them if you use your vehicle every day on the street as well as for trail use.
We have to hand it to Mickey Thompson for taking a risk with a tire that's this different and radical looking. It looks like that risk has paid off with a product that's well received for many uses as well as scored in the hard to predict cool quotient. Also, look for the new radial version to work even better in all situations. Hopefully we'll bring you a test of a set soon.
Baja Claw Highlights
*Looks like an agricultural tire - super aggressive
*Six-ply sidewall laughs at rocks
*Wide contact patch when aired down (20 inches including Sidebiters)
*Great traction in sand and muck
*Quiet, grippy compound
*Lugs on sidewalls like to grab rocks and go
*Looks like an agricultural tire
*Lateral traction not as good as straight-line
*Noisy on the street
*Uses rig in a variety of conditions (sand, mud, and rocks) and goes 'wheeling in areas that normally damage sidewalls