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Off Road Tire Performance Guide - The Hot Sheet

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JP Staff | Writer
Posted August 1, 2007
Photographers: The Jp Staff

Tire Performance At Your Fingertips

Asking the tire store guy about real trail performance of a given tire is likeasking Ryan Seacrest what he likes about women. Fortunately we spend a lot of time rolling down the highway on tires suitable for off-road use. We don't have commuter cars and the other fact is pretty much every vehicle we own can be and is used off-road frequently. So as usual, if you're reading about it in this article we wheeled the snot out of it. Rather than regurgitating manufacturers' press releases or going by word of mouth, we get our hands on these tires, wring `em in the rocks, slide them in the sand, and maim 'em in the mud. While we may not test more tires than Motor Trend, we do test more of the tires you care about.

Tire RatingsWe've indicated performance with cute little tires on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being sucksville and 4 being the best.

OOOO This is the tire you should be running.
OOO It’s a good choice and will work well
OO There are better tires available, but it’s acceptable if you need to compromise.
O We’d choose a different tire.

BFGoodrich Baja T/AThe BFG Baja T/A is purely a desert survivability tire. It's not about trail traction, flexibility, or light weight. It's built to stay in one piece at max psi and hit rocks at 120mph. The Baja T/A features a virtually bomb-proof sidewall and there is a full race-only version that's even stouter (you'll have to be on the sponsored list to get a set of those). The BFG Baja T/A rolls down the street fairly smoothly but the stiff sidewall can cause some flat spotting on cold mornings. These are hand-built, purpose-bred tires that don't do much else than what they were designed for. They pack up in mud, don't flex enough or stick well to rocks and are worthless in snow and ice. But you can't beat `em for high-speed desert use. Only three sizes are available.

Street: OOO Heavy Rock: OO
Sand: OOO Snow: O
Mud: O Ice: O

BFGoodrich Baja T/A DTSurprisingly, if you air them down to about 5psi they do very well in rocks, and their strong 4-ply sidewalls aren't likely to tear. In mud and sand, they clean easily and the outer lugs act like little paddles to keep forward momentum. However, the shorter tread depth hurts sticky-clay mud performance. Naturally, they do exceptionally well as a prerunner tire; giving superb forward and lateral traction, while maintaining a high-survivability rate. While the ride on the street is very loud and rough, we've put about 30,000 miles on a set of 33x10.50-15s and still have an acceptable amount of tread left. Only three sizes are available; a 33x10.50R15, 33x12.50R15, and 35x12.50R15.

Street: OO Heavy Rock: OOO
Sand: OOOO Snow: OO
Mud: OO Ice: O

BFGoodrich AT KOWe think of the BFG AT as the little sister to the MT. While it may not be able to do the same heavy lifting as its MT brother, it's smarter and more civilized. The BFG AT features a 3-ply sidewall with a tread pattern that has become the Swiss-Army knife of off-road rubber. It's works well almost everywhere without providing extraordinary performance anywhere. The BFG AT KO tends to clog in heavy mud and is vulnerable to sidewall damage in heavy rock. However, the mild tread pattern works well in the sand without digging to China and excels at delivering a quiet, smooth ride on the street. The tiny sipes on the tread blocks help grip on wet pavement, ice, snow, and even in some rocky terrain.

Street: OOOO Heavy Rock: OO
Sand: OOO Snow: OO
Mud: O Ice: OOO

BFGoodrich MT KM2The BFG MT KM2 may look similar to the company's low-production high-cost Krawler, but this is a much more streetable version that is significantly lighter. The BFG MTs of yesteryear had decent 3-ply sidewalls, but the company really stepped up sidewall durability with the new MT. It's still 3-ply, but a new sidewall compound and 33-percent stronger cords increase carcass rigidity and protection. This addition makes the BFG KM2 even more of a jack-of-all-trades that is perfectly happy in mud, sand, heavy rock, snow and street (wet and dry). About the only place it doesn't do well is on slick ice. But that's to be expected of pretty much every mud terrain tire with large lugs and very little siping.

Street: OOO Heavy Rock: OOOO
Sand: OOOO Snow: OOO
Mud: OOO Ice: O

BFGoodrich Krawler T/A KXThe BFGoodrich Krawler is a low-production radial tire that shares more in strength with a bias-ply. It's a heavy tire but in the rocks the big lugs grab like gangbusters, especially when the tires are at sub-teen air pressures. The tread and sidewall flex and readily envelope obstacles but resist tearing and damage to an impressive degree. They are relatively expensive however they do well in most terrain. They're one of the best rock tires we've driven bar none. They also do well in mud and deep snow but the lack of siping makes them a poor choice for ice sheets. On the street you can feel some lug slap and they drone loudly, but the ride is not overly harsh. Some flat spotting should be expected at lower pressures and temperatures.

Street: OO Heavy Rock: OOOO
Sand: OOOO Snow: OOO
Mud: OOO Ice: O

Dick Cepek CrusherThe Crusher is the closest thing we've come to a round Bogger. It excels in mud, sand, deep snow, and heavy rocks. Off-camber on slippery slopes isn't stupendous, but it isn't nearly as bad as we were afraid of either. As might be expected, ice can get downright scary with these tires. If you commute in an area that freezes, these likely aren't for you. If you a pinching every penny just to put gas in your Jeep, you'll have to pinch harder `cause these things will lower your gas mileage. However, if you want an extreme off-road tire that wears well, balances well, don't care about noise or lug-slap, and goes like gang-busters off-road, this is it.

Street: OO Heavy Rock: OOO
Sand: OOOO Snow: OOOO
Mud: OOOO Ice: O

Dick Cepek Mud CountryIn driving the Cepek tires we've tested one thing that's struck us is the company's apparent attention to building a round tire that rolls nicely on the street. Nothing is different with the company's relatively new Mud Country tire. While you feel the knobbies a bit, the great off-road performance more than makes up for a little road buzz. In our review we likened them to a trials bike tire, offering phenomenal grip in hard packed dirt and rocks. While our time with these tires didn't allow much mud testing, what little we got didn't prove all that impressive. Clearly, if mud is your game there are other more aggressive offerings. Aside from the mud performance, the only real criticism we had performance wise was the lack of a biting sidewall tread.

Street: OOO Heavy Rock: OOO
Sand: OOO Snow: OO
Mud: OO Ice: OOO

Firestone Destination MTWe're seeing more designs that offer great off-road performance in a package that won't make you hate your Jeep on-road. Case in point is the Firestone Destination MT. With a strong, yet supple sidewall that bulged like the Hulk when aired down, the Destination MT made short, comfortable work out of moderately rocky trails. Grip was good, slippage was low, we were happy. In sand and loose dirt, we could get the tires to spin and deliver wheelspeed when needed, but the lugs were mild enough that they didn't dig holes and kill momentum. While there was some appreciable noise on the highway, the tires did ride smooth and predictably on pavement with no flat-spotting or funny tread wear exhibited during our time with them.

Street: OOO Heavy Rock: OO
Sand: OOO Snow: OO
Mud: OOO Ice: O

Goodyear MT/RWith roots in the extreme rockcrawling competition world, the MT/R was designed to be one of the toughest tires out there. With an exceptionally durable 3-ply sidewall and sizes up to 40x13.50, these tires excel in razor sharp rock. Another bonus we've found with these tires is that their delivered size is pretty close to what the sidewall says. That's a nice distinction in a land of 36-inch tall 38s. On the road, we've found that the tires get noisier over time and are quite noticeable once they get over 10,000 miles on them. Frequent rotations every 3,000 miles or so will help the tread wear more regularly and helps with sound levels slightly.

Street: OOO Heavy Rock: OOOO
Sand: OOOO Snow: OOOO
Mud: OOO Ice: OO

Kumho Road Venture MTFor a tire that appears more aggressive than a cougar at a frat party, the Kumho Road Venture MTs actually delivered a very smooth and relatively quiet on-road ride. The huge tread voids channeled water away and made wet pavement and mud driving a non-issue. Off-road we found the sidewalls required a little breaking in, but once they did, rock envelopment was good and the tires' tread that extends down into the sidewall give a good sense of security. They did prove a bit aggressive for sand and soft dirt use, as we found the need to moderate throttle to keep from digging, but otherwise these directional-tread tires proved their worth.

Street: OOO Heavy Rock: OOO
Sand: OO Snow: OO
Mud: OOO Ice: OO

Maxxis Creepy CrawlerThe Maxxis Creepy Crawler is a gnarly-looking bias-ply tire that excels in a lot of terrain. Like most modern tires, it exhibits decent road manners without giving up any off-road performance. We found them ready to go with little to no break in time required. The tread compound is a little on the hard side, so there is some chunking of the rubber in hard, sharp rock, but the firm tread also translates into a more stable ride on dirt roads and on the street.

Street: OO Heavy Rock: OOOO
Sand: OOOO Snow: OOO
Mud: OOOO Ice: O

Mickey Thompson Baja Claw RadialThe Mickey Thompson Baja Claw radial features the proven tread pattern of the old bias-ply M/T which is no longer available outside of a 46- or 38.5-inch-tall version. The sidewall is 2-ply and not well suited for sharp rocks and stumps but good for general 4x4 use. The tread wraps most of the way around the tire, offering extra traction and a little extra protection at any angle. The Claw radial comes in plenty of sizes but the lack of sipes and tread design make it less than favorable in snow or icy conditions.

Street: OOO Heavy Rock: OO
Sand: OOOO Snow: OO
Mud: OOO Ice: O
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