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Tire Truths - 4x4 Rubber Reviews

Posted in How To on June 1, 2013 Comment (0)
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Tire Truths - 4x4 Rubber Reviews
Photographers: Jp Archives

We’re all a little different. Not just humankind in the worldly sense, but more specifically, the staffers at Jp. We’re three different dudes who drive differently built Jeeps in different terrains with different driving styles. So right there we’re talking about a very broad spectrum of experience in terms of what does and doesn’t work for us. Toss in the fact that part of our job is to test all the new tires that hit the market, then consider how many years each guy has been in this business, and we’re talking tons of different types of tires brutalized on scores of different Jeeps on literally hundreds of trails.

If you’re tire shopping you may gravitate towards a specific tire type, style, price point, or what the guy at the tire shop is pushing on you. If you’re smart, you’ll narrow it down to a couple of options and then hit the ol’ Google search for some answers. The only trouble is that although the Internet can be a valuable search tool, a lot of opinion out there is not based on fact and it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. That’s where we can help. We’re not going by what a friend’s buddy’s roommate once told them about a set of tires their neighbor ran on his Super Duty. Nor are we out to settle a score against some tire manufacturer that didn’t honor a road-hazard warranty after a sidewall got gashed trying to climb up a rebar-encrusted drainage pipe. We’re just here to tell you what our all-time favorite tires are in the varying terrains in which we run them.

Slickrock
Hazel: Many areas of the desert southwest have this superbly grippy petrified sand terrain. Because of its nature, it’s not hard to get a tire to stick to slickrock, but even still, I’ve run a number of different tires across its unique surface ranging from old-school Dick Cepeks to Boggers to Swamper TSLs to BFG A/Ts to Yokohama M/T, and many more. Although it’s a close tie between my trusty flattie shod with 35x13.50R15 BFG Krawler T/A KX tires at 3 psi, believe it or not my favorite slickrock tire to date is the Kelly Safari TSR in a 31x10.50R15 size. I drop the pressure to about 10 psi front and 8 psi rear on my 3,200lb Wrangler and the highly siped knobbies just stick like glue no matter what the angle. I’ve folded and pinched the sidewalls pretty good and they’ve proven durable. The carcass is flexible and tough, and the spacing between the treads doesn’t pack and fill with rocks, sand, or mud.

Trasborg: If you’ve never driven slickrock, you owe it to yourself to give it a whirl. If we were talking only dry and clean slickrock, my tire of choice would be racing slicks. But we don’t live in a perfect world and rain, snow, dirt, and sand happen. While there is slickrock elsewhere, Moab, Utah, is where I spend my time wheeling on it and a lot of the climbs out there have loose dirt either at the top or the bottom making the slickrock less sticky than it could be. So, to deal with the junk at either end I tend towards a mud terrain tire, but to better work on the slickrock, I look for one with lots of siping to better stick to the rock. With that in mind, my favorite tires for slickrock have been my 33x12.50R15 Mickey Thompson MTZ. On my four-cylinder Wrangler I’d air them down to 7 psi front and 5 psi in the rear, and the Jeep basically became point-and-shoot. As long as my stock-height Jeep had the clearance, it went wherever I pointed it.

Simons: Ah, slickrock. With its 60-grit sand paper profile, it’s more of a question of what doesn’t work. As Pete points out, it’s the sand, mud and, occasional ice that you may also encounter that makes this stuff unpredictable. If I had my choice of any tire, it would be a set of older Goodyear MT/Rs. Yeah, that’s right, the ones just before the asymmetrical tread and Kevlar sidewalls. Why? Well they worked well and had beefy sidewalls. Since these tires are no longer available, I’ll give my nod to the BFGoodrich M-T KM2. For a couple of years now I have been running a set of these tires on my ’49 CJ-3A, and with the 35x12.50R15 tires aired down to about 6-8 psi on a set of 15x8 inch Champion beadlocks, these tires have performed admirably everywhere I have put them.

Rockcrawling
Hazel: Hands-down, the best tire I’ve ever used in the rocks is the BFG Krawler T/A KX. I’ve beaten the same now-ragged set of 35x13.50R15 tires mounted on 15x10 OMF beadlocks at a trail pressure of 1-5 psi depending on the conditions since I originally built my flattie back in 2003. That’s ten hardcore years of rockcrawling on the same set of tires. I have gouges in the sidewalls and the tread blocks are kinda rounded off by now, but they still grab better upwards, downwards, and sideways in the rocks than any other tire I’ve driven on. They’ve survived at least a hundred trips on the tough, sharp granite of Johnson Valley, rocky trails of Moab, slick granite of the Rubicon, and many more trails in the southwestern U.S. Despite their age, the sidewalls aren’t dry-rotted, and since it’s a trail-only vehicle, I have no plans on swapping them out anytime soon.

Trasborg: While I’ve had other tires that I like in the rocks over the years, such as Boggers and Nitto Mud Grapplers, since the new Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar hit the scene it always manages to squeeze out the next closest comer. The sidewalls like being shoved into walls and I’ve climbed quite a few things by wedging them in sideways and using the sidewall as tread. I’ve got a set of 315/75R16 mounted on 16x8 Ballistic Off Road wheels under an ’01 Wrangler. Wheeling pressure varies from 8 psi to 12 psi depending on how loaded down the Jeep is at the time. To be frank, I’m not sure if it’s the tread or the rubber compound that makes ’em work, but I’ve run a few sets of various sizes and while I’ve gouged the hell out of sidewalls and chunked tread off, I haven’t popped any yet. Despite the Kevlar sidewall, I’m sorry to say I haven’t tested to see if they are bulletproof.

Simons: For heavy rock work I want something brick-simple, anvil-strong, and as close to bullet-proof as possible. Give me a set of Super Swamper TSLs mounted on beadlocks, and I am a happy rockcrawler. The big outer lugs work like little hands to grab onto rocks. I also have a way of forgetting the exact location of jagged rocks and thus like to have stout sidewalls to make up for this unintentional drive-by-Braille style.

Sand
Hazel: Paddles. They’re the best, but we’ve never actually tested them at Jp. So, although it’s a close tie between the 38x13.00-16 Super Swamper TSLs I ran on my M-715, the 33x10.50R15 BFG Baja T/As I ran on my ’99 Cherokee, and the 33x12.50R15 Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTCs I have on my ’78 Cherokee Chief, ultimately it’s a coin toss between the 35x13.50R15 Krawler T/As on my flattie again and the 37x13.00-16 Boggers I ran on my old Ramcharger. I have to take into consideration the flattie is light weight, the Krawlers are wide, and at the 0-1 psi I run them at in the dunes they have a massive contact patch. Many tires would perform very well set up like that. For that reason, I have to give it to the Boggers. It’s not a Jeep, but my old Ramcharger was a heavy, underpowered pig of a vehicle, but when wearing the Boggers at 8 psi, it’d scoot up dunes like a much smaller, lighter rig. The great forward bite of the Bogger isn’t just for mud.

Trasborg: I go back and forth in sand and it largely comes down to what kind of a mood I’m in that day. Some days I agree with Christian in that paddles are the way to go. But since I’m generally driving my Jeep to where I’m wheeling, that ain’t happening. So when I’m in a paddle kind of mood I tend towards the 35x12.50R15 Dick Cepek Crushers on DC-1 wheels on that same ’01 TJ. I’d air them down to 10 psi front and rear and I could even holeshot it on hills. It just went. Yeah they would dig, but would usually claw themselves out of whatever holes they dug. On other days I want something that won’t dig but will keep me going forward. To that end, I’ve been really happy with the 35x12.50R17 Dick Cepek Fun Country II on Trail Ready HD17 beadlocks on a ’91 Comanche. They might not climb big hills quite as well as the Crushers, but everything else they do just as well and keep me going forward without the fear of them digging to China. I usually air them down to 8-10 psi in the front and 6-12 psi in the rear, depending on how much junk I have in the bed at the time.

Simons: Believe it or not, through an odd set of circumstances I actually first learned to drive a Russian 4x4 in the Sahara Desert in Egypt. That’s a great story for another day, but I have done most of my sand wheeling in that area of the world in basically stock Toyota Landcruisers. In the Sahara we drove vehicles with everything from mild road tires to bias-ply NDTs. Airing down in one of the world’s largest deserts is huge, as is maintaining speed. Back stateside I love heading to Glamis and any loose sand I can drive on. Last time I was in Glamis, I had a blast slinging sand in my ’49 flattie while it was wearing a set of 35x12.50/15 bias-ply Mickey Thompson Baja Claws with about 8 psi on steel wheels. That’s about as close to a road-drivable paddle as it gets, and they work well.

Mud Holes
Hazel: I’m not that into mud, but I have found some surprisingly good performers in my limited mud travels. One of which is the BFG Baja T/A. A set of 35x12.50R15s mounted on my flattie scooped themselves out of taffy-like slop with little drama. Another is the tried-and-true Swamper TSL and LTB. Both of which really point out why the Swamper name is still going strong. But of course, the king really has to be the Bogger. On my 5,500lb ’85 Ramcharger with Dana 60s front and rear at 8 psi and a manual transmission, there was almost no mud hole that thing couldn’t chew its way out of. I imagine those tires on a similarly set up FSJ or Cherokee would perform with equal aplomb.

Trasborg: I spent the first decade of my Jeeping life wheeling in mud and mud-covered rocks. Unless there was a drought that summer, there was mud. Unlike many of the other people here in the Southwest, I don’t drive around mud if I find it on the trail, and I make it a point to take every tire I run out to the mud of Asuza Canyon or Little Rock Dam. Sure, neither is clay-sticky mud, but both areas give me a good idea of how well a tire will work in the mud. Again, I don’t trailer much, so I look for a round tire that balances well and can sling some serious goo. The Dick Cepek Crusher is round, balances well, yet still cleans out like no one’s business. Even with minimal wheelspeed, the tread stays fairly clean and a quick blip of the throttle usually finishes it up. Of course the Bogger is a great tire in the mud, but low on-road mileage and possible out-of-round issues take it out of the running for me on a street-driven Jeep.

Simons: Recently I spent quite a bit of time chewing up what muddy wheeling spots there were in Southeast Ohio. This was done in either an ’01 XJ or a ’98 TJ both alternately wearing the set of 35x13.50/15 bias-ply Mickey Thompson Baja Claws mounted on 15x8 stamped steel wheels. Those tires were stupid tough and grabbed at the wet mud and rocks with abandon all while shirking off pointy sticks that would have destroyed other tires thinner sidewalls. The massive chevrons on the sides of the Baja Claws also allowed the tires to climb out of ruts that other tires would have been hopelessly mired in. The directional tread does seem to work better forward than backward…that’s good until you have to back up.

Snow
Hazel: One of the best snow tires I ever ran was the Sears Trail Handler A/T. They remind me a lot of the Kelly Safari TSR, but since the Trail Handlers aren’t made anymore, that’s neither here nor there. Since there are so many different types of snow it’s hard to track down one tire on one vehicle for one terrain, but overall I’ve had good luck in the white stuff with the Toyo Open Country M/T. Its large lugs, generous voids, and siped-tread blocks strike a nice balance between having the nails to claw through deeper sticky or powdery stuff and the ability to maintain control on hard-packed snow and ice. I’ve run many different sizes on a couple different vehicles including 33x10.50R15s on a ’99 Cherokee, 265/75R16s on my old F-250 tow rig, and the 31x10.50R15s I currently have on my J4000 vintage hauler project.

Trasborg: Growing up in the Northeast with my first car being a Jeep, I got a lot of snow action until I moved west. Then I was shocked to find people went snow wheeling here for fun, which was totally weird to me. But the other thing that I found was that even in the beginning of summer, snow is only about an hour away so it is really easy to get out and run tires in the snow, almost regardless of the time of year. Even though Goodyear will tell you the Silent Armor is the go-to snow tire, I prefer the Goodyear Duratrac as my go-to snow tire. I’ve run everything from 31s to 35s with several sets of 33s mixed in, and whenever I end up in the snow, I’m either really glad I was driving on them or wishing I was. They have the perfect amount of void and siping, and I am always amazed how far down the trail I can get with them—usually passing or pulling out others.

Simons: With my limited snow experience I’d have to give my snow tire nod to a set of Goodyear Duratracs that lived on my ’01 WJ for a year or so…in Arizona. They have nice sharp tread blocks and tons of siping. Even the sipes are zigg-zagged, effectively increasing their functional length. In a very rare Arizona snow day I drove the Duratrac-clad WJ up some mining trails, where we dealt with everything from ice to fresh deep snow, icy rocks, and even some sloppy wet mud. The Goodyears, aired down to about 12 psi, did great taking the WJ as far down the trail that day as other rigs wearing larger dedicated mud tires. I was really impressed.

Mild Trail Driving
Hazel: From trails like the Rubicon to desert exploring to putting down a dirt wash, it’s hard to narrow my choices between Falken’s phenomenal Wild Peak A/T, the civilized, yet imposing Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC, and the Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar. All three are quiet on the road so your ears won’t be buzzing as you air down. All three offer crazy-good grip and super strong sidewalls. And the Falken and Goodyear are lightweight for low rolling resistance. Despite these factors, the high survivability of the strong sidewalls and the awe-inspiring grip in virtually any terrain make me tip my hat in favor of the Mickeys. Even though I’m no great fan of directional tire treads, the Baja Claw TTCs are nearly flawless in just about any terrain I’ve put them in.

Trasborg: I’m weird. When I see “Mild Trail Driving” I think of what tire will I trust to get me there, through the trail, and back home. This is kind of my non-specific category where if you told me I had to pick one tire to go wheeling on, I’d go with the Cooper Discoverer S/T MAXX. The set on my ’91 Comanche would still be on there today if I didn’t step up to a tire size Cooper doesn’t make. I ran a set of 285/75R16 on Ballistic Off Road wheels and just beat the hell out of them. Once I realized the beating they could take, I was not even a little bit nice to those tires. Slinging shale, loose rocks, warming the tread up on a sharp rock so it would climb, bombing through mud-covered rocks, and smacking them into things at high speed in the desert was the norm. From the three-ply sidewalls to the rubber/silica compound to the compound tread this is the tire I’d take for an all-around trail tire every time. That is, if I can find the size I need to run.

Simons: In my opinion, something that will get used for mild trail use must perform well on-road, too. Recently I have been happily flogging the pee out of three generations of Pro Comp mud tires on my relatively light four-banger ’97 Jeep Wrangler. I started with a set of 32x11.50R15 now discontinued Pro Comp MTs then went to a set of 33x12.50R15 Pro Comp Xtreme MTs and now have a set of 35x12.50R15 Pro Comp Xtreme MT2s. I loved the old-school MTs—I beat on them till they cried for mercy and then beat on them again. When I moved to the Xtreme MTs, I was pretty sure they would only be an improvement on the older style MTs. Their traction was better, but the outer tread blocks chunked on the sharp Arizona rocks I frequent much more than the older MTs had. So far The Xtreme MT2s have taken a beating like the last two sets of Pro Comps. Like the Xtreme MTs they replaced, the compound seems a little stickier than the old MTs, but so far the MT2s have resisted any chunking. If that fact remains the same after a few more hundred miles of trail beatings, then they will get my nod as one of the best trail driving tires, mild or not.

Street
Hazel: Smooth rolling, great wet or dry weather, and long life it’s hard to beat the old standby BFG A-T. I ran a set of 265/75R16s on TJ Rubicon wheels at about 28 psi on my ’97 TJ for several years and many tens of thousands of miles. Despite the high mileage, the tires looked virtually brand new after years of commuting and wheeling use. While not as grip-happy in varied off-road terrain as many of the more-modern tread designs, for a street-friendly, off-road all-terrain, the classic BFG A-T is hard to beat.

Trasborg: On the street I deal well with loud if the tire is worth it off-road, and I deal with mileage loss because it’s a Jeep, it isn’t going to rival a Prius for MPG. I’m OK with that. What I’m not OK with is a tendency to hydroplane, chase grooves in the asphalt, or get unnaturally loose in snow and ice. After thinking about it, the two rigs with Duratracs on them always get tapped for longer road trips, and that should tell me something. Both the ’06 LJ and the ’98 XJ are running 33x12.50R15 Goodyear Duratracs. They are a lightweight tire, run quiet, and deal with adverse road conditions with aplomb. Over four different Jeeps and about 100,000 miles, the tires wear well if you keep them rotated.

Simons: One thing the people in my family are well known for is their hardheadedness, stubbornness, and I’ll be nice and call it loyalty. I carry some of that characteristic in my personality, too, and I have a strong love of BFGoodrich’s All-Terrains. Maybe I am a nostalgic fool. Sure, the tread pattern is basically the same as it was 12, maybe 20 years ago, but that’s because it still works, and heck, now it’s basically an off-road icon. The squared-off shoulder, the curved finger-like tread blocks, and rubber compound all worked and still do. Also, the sidewalls, while not bias-ply tough, were some of the first radials with decent sidewall strength. I will admit that modern technology and years of development has allowed several other tire companies to now match and exceed the performance of the BFG A-T, but I am still attracted to them.

Tow
Hazel: When it comes to crazy load carrying capability on an E-rated tire, Toyo’s Open Country A/T in a 285/75R17 size is hard to beat. With a 3,970lb-rating at 80 psi and measuring in at a true 33.6-inch diameter, it’s a great tow rig tire if you haul heavy. The only bummer is that the sidewalls are so gnarly and the weight rating so crazy you really have to drop the pressure uncomfortably low to prevent the center of the tread from wearing when the vehicle is unloaded. I ran several sets on my ’07 Dodge Mega Cab 2500 diesel tow rig, and although stability, grip, and noise levels were all excellent, the tires did wear quite fast. I ran the rears around 28 psi with the truck empty, upping them to between 45-55 psi depending on my load.

Simons: My WJ does occasionally spend time flat towing my ’49 CJ-3A and a borrowed trailer around town when that new project follows me home. This Jeep and others like it that see a dual-purpose life should wear high-quality, dual purpose shoes like the D-rated 295/75R17 Nitto Terra Grapplers that my ’01 WJ now wears.

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