Where's Your Sweet Spot?
What’s the best off-road tire? We’d love to tell you that there’s one perfect tire for everyone and every condition, but that tire doesn’t exist. Instead, the perfect tire is the one that’s perfect for you. It’s the one that fits your sweet spot.
Your sweet spot is determined by the terrain you encounter and by your personal performance preferences. Because it comes down to personal preference, only you can tell where your sweet spot is. This story aims to give you enough information to make that choice.
How does personal preference come into play? Let’s be hypothetical for a moment. Say you drive a trail that includes sand, rocks, hardpack, and a bit of mud. Furthermore, let’s say that you drive your trail rig straight from your driveway to the trailhead; no trailering whatsoever. If you value optimum highway, hardpack, and sand performance over rock and mud performance, you’d pick an entirely different tire than if you valued mud and rock performance over highway, hardpack, and sand. You’d willingly sacrifice performance in some areas in order to gain performance in others.
For most of us, the optimum tire is either an all-terrain or a mud-terrain. We’ve highlighted a number of driving conditions and explained what tread works best where. Once you’ve found your sweet spot, picking a tire is much easier.
The Nitto Terra Grappler is a prime example of an all-terrain tread. Note the closely spaced tread blocks and the generous siping. The alternating shoulder blocks are designed to improve sidewall grip when you’re navigating ruts and off-camber sections. Numerous grooves shed water easily.
Reasoning: Closely spaced tread blocks put more rubber in contact with the road, and the siping lets the tread blocks flex better, further improving grip. The siping and the closely spaced tread blocks (low void ratio) have two more benefits: first, the tire runs fairly quietly on the street, and second, the tire is able to shed water well. Finally, having more rubber in contact with the road means an all-terrain will last longer on the pavement.
Mickey Thompson’s Baja Claw TTC embodies the mud-terrain tread perfectly. The tread blocks are bigger, and the space between the individual blocks is greater compared to an all-terrain. The tread carries over onto the sidewall, a feature Mickey Thompson calls “Sidebiters.” Also note the skinny ribs that protrude from the casing in between the main tread blocks. These are called “stonekickers” and they’re designed to prevent pebbles from getting lodged between the tread blocks. Some of the blocks are siped in order to increase traction in wet conditions and to allow the blocks to flex a little better.
Terrain: Snow on top of hardpacked desert (yes, it snows in the Mojave under the right conditions).
Reasoning: The low void ratio means that snow has less space available to pack into. Siping lets the knobs flex better, improving grip in this slick trail condition. Relevant side note: All-terrain tires aren’t the same as dedicated snow tires, which have a softer compound for superior winter grip over snow and ice. Snow tires will wear quickly if you leave them on too late in the year.