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The Tread Mill

Posted in How To: Wheels Tires on March 1, 1999
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Photographers: David Freiburger

What's round and black (mostly) and needed in fours? If you guessed tires, you're right, but if that's all you know about the tread below you, then you need to read on.

The current slew of off-road tires can be very daunting when you're shopping. Price and tire-size availability drive tire selection more than anything else. While these two points are important, many of the tires we've tested have some really strong traits and some really weak ones, both of which should be equally important in tire-buying decisions.

We shod five vehicles with different tires and clocked about 10,000 miles per vehicle on and off road. This gave us much more information than the typical "works well in mud" comments.

For the off-road information, we tested the tires over different terrain, including sand, rocks, and mud. Since the tires were on different vehicles, some received more off-road testing than others. For example, two sets of tires were treated to the Rubicon, while one set saw only a local ORV area.

On the street, the rubber was driven over typical surface streets and all of them have cross-country highway miles.

Mickey Thompson Baja Radial MTXs
The Mickey Thompson Baja Radial MTXs had the dubious honor of being the only all-season tires that we tested for this article. Going into the deal, we didn't have the highest expectations for their off-road performance, but we had to think twice about the potential of an all-season afterward.

The MTXs did all the things that all-seasons are supposed to: They were very quiet, rode well, didn't wander, and so on. But off road, the tires just didn't know when to stop. We aired them down to 10 psi, and they gripped the rocks better than some of the mud tires. The wide voids in the tread and distinct Mickey Thompson sidewalls helped the tires work in the sand too.

We didn't have a chance to drive these tires in the rain or in the mud. You'll have to decide for yourself about the performance in mud, but all the siping in the tread blocks led us to believe that they would handle adverse weather well.

The tires we tested were 31x10.50R15s, but Mickey Thompson just added 35x12.50R15 and P265/70R17 sizes.

•Good traction for an all-season
•Soft ride
•No wandering

Buckshot Mudders
If you drive your truck every day and are looking for aggressive tires that won't wear out before you pay them off, Buckshot radials are a great choice.

The 305/85R16 set of radials we tested came from National Tire & Wheel, and we mounted them on 16x8-inch steel take-off wheels from Stockton Wheel Service. The narrow tire size keeps the tires from wandering too much and tucks under the sheetmetal of most trucks. The Buckshots are one of the few tires that you can get in a 9-inch-wide, 36-inch-tall size.

Because these were radial tires, it didn't surprise us when they rode nicely, but we were extremely impressed with how well they wore on pavement. After a 2,800-mile combination roadtrip of state highways, interstates, and high-speed dirt roads, the tires still looked brand-new. There was very little tire chunking, and it was difficult to tell if there was any wear at all. The drawback is that they don't grip exceedingly well off road. In the dirt and mud they work fine, but the grip for rockcrawling could be better.

•Narrow Sizes
•Mediocre grip on rocks

An Inch Isn't Good Enough?
Buckshot Mudders are one of the few off-road tires sized only in metric measurements. We'll save you the frustration of trying to figure it out by providing this conversion chart from National Tire & Wheel. Buckshot radials are available in all the sizes shown, while the bias versions are available in all except the 215/85R15 variety.

Sidewall Outside Dia. Tread Width
Designation (inches) (inches)
215/85R15 29 6.7
245/85R15 31 7.7
275/85R15 33 8.6
315/85R15 36 9.1
265/85R16 33 8.6
305/85R16 36 9.1

Dunlop Radial Mud Rovers
We had very mixed emotions about the Dunlop Mud Rovers. The on-road manners of the 35x12.50R15s we tested were excellent. In fact, they endured an eight-hour (each way) highway trip, providing a great ride with no visible wear at all. Thus far into the test, we were in love. The tires didn't wander at all, were very quiet for a mud tire, and seemed to wear like iron. That eight-hour drive, however, was on the way to the Rubicon Trail where we learned the aspect of the tires that didn't impress us so much.

On the rocks, the tires slipped much more than we liked, even aired down to 12 psi. They just didn't have the bite of the other tires tested and caused a bit of frustration in tricky rockcrawling spots. In addition to the Rubicon, we also used an extremely gooey mud hole for our tire testing. None of the trucks were able to drive all the way through, but the Dunlops had the worst performance of the mud tires. The Mud Rovers weren't able to clean themselves, which left the truck stuck in a hurry.

In the sand and gravel, the tires shone once again. In this terrain, the lugs were able to keep the dirt moving and motivate the truck. We also found that the sidewalls would take a pretty good beating from rocks and tree limbs without puncture.

•Good value
•Quiet for a mud tire
•Awful in the mud

PhotosView Slideshow

Goodyear MTs
We've run Goodyear MTs in the past but learned even more with this set of 35x12.50R15s that came from 4 Wheel Parts Wholesalers and were mounted on 15x8-inch Rock Crawler wheels.

The sidewalls of the MTs are generally regarded as the weakest point, but we tried repeatedly to rip them on rocks and tree roots without success. The tires proved to be as sticky on rocks as anyone could need, and they dealt really well with sand, gravel, and mud as well.

The tires' asphalt manners were almost flawless. They provided the great ride that we've come to expect from radials and wore fairly well. We drove 17,000 miles on this set, which definitely put a dent in the tread depth, but tire chunking was minimal and they still handled the road well after the wear. The tires hardly wandered at all and were hands-down the quietest of the mud tires we tested.

The last comment we have is that we dig the look of the tread pattern. The military-looking tread blocks have a distinct appearance that set this tire apart from the other mud tires.

•Quietest mud tire on the road
•Very good traction
•Military-looking tread

PhotosView Slideshow

Super Swamper Radial TSLs
Just say the words "Super Swamper" and most enthusiasts start drooling, but do the tires really live up to the expectations? We ordered a set of 36x12.50R16 Radial TSLs from Tyres International to put through the wringer. We've used bias-ply Swampers in the past and looked forward to trying the radials. While the radial design didn't cure all of the quirks Swamper owners have come to love in their tires, it did mellow a few of them without creating any real drawbacks.

On-road performance is this tire's worst point. The ride is nice, but that's the only good thing we can say about these tires' asphalt manners. The only thing louder than a radial Swamper is a bias-ply Swamper, and the only thing louder than a bias-ply is a worn-out bias-ply Swamper. If you're considering these tires, however, noise on the pavement probably isn't too high on your list of demands. Other low points include a tendency to wander (which is exaggerated by the extra-large sizes available), and the tires wear out quickly if you put a lot of highway miles on your 4x4.

It's a real feat to beat a Swamper off road. Aired down to 12 psi, no other tire equaled the traction (dry or wet) offered by them on rocks. We also found that we could air down to 6 psi and keep the tires from pulling off the beads of the 16x10 American Racing Type 767 steel wheels. The truck shod with the Swampers was the first one through the mudhole, and we were all disappointed that it made it in only 18 feet before the tires dug down enough for the truck to stop. Disappointed, that is, until the next closest tire fell a full 7 feet behind that. The Swampers were still flinging mud when the axles hit the goo, while the other tires became packed.

•Great selection of large tire sizes
•Incredible traction
•Wears quickly on pavement


4Wheel Parts erferer
Compton, CA 90220
Buffalo, NY 14207
National Tire & Wheel
Wheeling, WV
Stockton Wheel Service
Stockton, CA 95203
Tyres Intl.
Stow, OH 44224

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