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Off Road Tire Performance Guide - The Hot Sheet

Posted in How To: Wheels Tires on August 1, 2007 Comment (0)
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Off Road Tire Performance Guide - The Hot Sheet
Photographers: The Jp Staff

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

Mickey Thompson MTZAnother relatively new arrival on the scene is the Mickey Thompson MTZ radial. Like most Mickey Thompson designs, the MTZ features big, biting tread lugs that extend part way down the Power Ply sidewalls. The thick, siped tread blocks provide excellent grip in the rocks and we've found their performance in most types of mud to be outstanding. The tires don't require a lot of wheelspeed to clean out and pull willingly. However, as seems to be the case with any tire that works well in mud, there is a lot of road noise. That isn't to say the ride is harsh, just noisy.

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

Nitto Dune GrapplerLooking more like a one-off custom show car trend than a production tire, Nitto's Dune Grappler features a mild flame motif both in the tire tread shape and in the sidewall lugs. On-road it's quiet. However, if you're in wet weather a lot, the tightly-spaced lugs and lack of evacuation channels allow hydroplaning over standing water. Also, if your off-road repertoire includes a lot of mud use, the tread will pack up easily and quickly no matter if the mud is thick or thin. The lack of large grabbing lugs to hold onto rock ledges and crevices resulted in a lot of slippage at pressures as low as 10-psi. It's a good tire choice for those looking for sand performance, desert running, or anyone just looking for a different-looking tire.

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

Nitto Mud GrapplersOne of the first things we thought after driving the Nitto Mud Grappler for the first time is, "wow, somebody finally made a round Bogger." While the Mud Grapplers may share the Bogger's legendary WWII bomber noise level, they also share the Bogger's legendary strength and ability to suck up abuse. With huge lugs extending down the thick sidewalls and huge, thickly siped treads, these tires offer stunning performance in soft, gooey terrain, handle rocks with ease, and even float well over sand. Most surprising for a tire with this aggressive build is its civil road manners. Sure they're loud as hell, but they roll round, don't require a lot of weight to balance, and wear slowly and evenly on the road.

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

Pitbull RockersIf you're into drifting have we got a tire for you! The bias-ply carcass of the Pitbull Rockers exhibits a pretty severe bulge, with almost a balloon-like crown. At lower off-road pressures it's not a big deal, but hit the dirt without airing down and the thin contact patch will have your Jeep's rear sliding out from under you before you realize it. You'll want beadlocks to wring the most out of your Rockers `cause once the pressure drops into the mid-single digits they start working exceptionally well in just about any terrain with their big, flexible lugs, hugely strong sidewalls, and traction as the day is long.

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

Pro Comp Extreme ATThe Pro Comp Extreme AT is offered in a wide array of sizes. As may be expected of an all-terrain tire with generously siped treads, noise levels and performance on the street, whether wet or dry were outstanding. The tires ride smoothly and quietly with no drawbacks. Also, as may be expected from an all-terrain, these tires offer abysmal performance in the mud, where the treads quickly clogged and showed reluctance to self clean. Sand performance was decent, with digging experienced only at higher throttle levels, but they tended to slip a bit in the rocks.

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

Pro Comp MTPro Comp Mud Terrain radials offer a tread pattern that works well all-around. We ran our 35-inch muds at 6-10 psi in the dirt, rocks, and mud. The sidewalls are only 2-ply on most models, some are 3-ply. The 2-ply versions are not suited to real sharp rocks and stumps, but the tire isn't really designed for crazy-extreme use anyway. The extra siping on the lugs help the Pro Comps stick to wet streets and rocks better than other mud tires. They shed mud fairly well, but not as good as more aggressive tread patterns. They also have pre-drilled stud holes for ice.

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

Pro Comp Xtreme M/TThe best way we can describe Pro Comp's Extreme MT is a very capable Joe Average. Our testing found that, while the tire didn't exactly excel in any one arena, it didn't do poorly in any one arena. They were pleasantly competent whether in the rocks, on the street, in the sand, or in the mud. The generous siping and decent lug voids, a strong 3-ply sidewall construction, a smooth-rolling radial carcass, the Xtreme M/T left little to be desired. However, the lack of any real biting surface on the sidewalls, the tire's propensity to become mildly clogged with mud and its desire to dig in sand when romped on hold it back from being a stellar performer in all areas.

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

Pro Comp XterrainThe Xterrain is a radial tire with up to three polyester sidewall plies. The plies are said to be thicker and woven tightly to provide a more puncture-resistant sidewall than other 3-ply tires. We didn't gouge ours, even though we tried. The tread is appealing and aggressive, with large siped blocks that don't take away much from the tires' road manners. The sipes help provide some traction on wet and icy surfaces and the sidewalls have proven flexible in the rocks. We've found performance in slightly hard packed mud to be phenomenal. Gooier mud and sand running are capably handled, but it's not this tire's main forte.

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

Super Swamper BoggerLook up mud tire in the dictionary and you'll be looking at a bias-ply Bogger. It's the kid that comes to town and wrecks the place. Making no excuses for its poor road manners, incredible street howl, or near inability to take a balance, the Bogger simply rules the roost in the mud and sand thanks to its paddle-like construction. Likewise, in the rocks the Bogger's long, wide treads act like little hands or tank treads to provide forward traction up just about any rock face or ledge it can get a grip on. But lateral stability does suffer due to the tire's lack of biting edges. Usually Boggers that have met the grooving iron exhibit better lateral traction in the mud and rocks. As with all bias-ply tires, expect flat spotting in the morning.

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

Super Swamper IrokThe Super Swamper Iroks are aggressive bias-ply tires that still provide good wet pavement traction thanks to a soft compound and siping in the tread. The sidewalls are durable but compliant; however they still flat spot on cold mornings at low pressures. Like most Swampers the large scooped lugs on the Iroks grip well on jagged rocks and dry surfaces but also move forward momentum when in the soft sand and mud. The soft tread compound seems to wear a little quicker than we had expected, especially on the edges of the outer lugs, but that's the price you pay for traction. Irok tires are good for all-around off-road use as long as you don't spend too much time spinning them in on the street.

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

Super Swamper SXThe Super Swamper SX is probably one of the most bulletproof tires available, but at a price. It sucks on the street. But you probably already knew that just by looking at its huge lugs, aggressive sidewall tread, and bias-ply construction. On the street and at higher speeds off-road the SX will develop cracks in the outer sidewalls. They won't leak air, but they look kind of spooky. Very low air pressures in the single digits are needed to get the SXs to stick to off-road terrain, so think beadlocks. As with all bias-ply Swamper tires, flat spotting and excessive balance weight are common traits.

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

Swamper TSLIf Noah's Ark had had tires they would've been Swamper TSLs. The classic TSL (three stage lug) has sidewalls that aren't as thick or well protected as its SX cousin, but they are extremely durable and will bulge ably at low pressures. Offered in just about any size under the sun in sizes up to 44-inches in diameter and with huge hand sized gripping lugs, it's no wonder they're a staple in mud and heavy rock venues. However, while they're one of the best performing tires off road, they're one of the most miserable driving tires on road, requiring huge amounts of weight to balance and are often out of round and louder than hell.

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

Tread Wright Tires MTWe liken owning a set of Tread Wright tires to getting into Disneyland on half price day. You're not too upset if you don't get on every ride, but it's a bonus if you get on all the roller coasters. We got on all the roller coasters. While sidewalls change based on carcass availability, we were extremely surprised at how much performance we mustered out of a dirt-cheap set of MTs. The medium-sized lugs were quite soft and supple, so performance in the rocks was good. Street noise was moderate to low, and mud and sand performance was dead middle of the pack. They proved to be an all around good performing tire that were fun to run. With no sipes to speak of ice performance is hindered unless studs are added to the pre-molded holes in the tread.

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

Yokohama Geolandar MTThe Yokohama Geolandar MT is a highly-refined tire. It's offered in a variety of sizes up to 40 inches in wheel sizes you use most. The computer-designed directional tread does a good job of self-cleaning in mud and sticking to wet pavement, and it offers phenomenal grip in the rocks. The sidewalls are only two-ply, but we never experienced a rip or puncture and they exhibited a nice bulge at lower pressures. We tested two sets of 35s, a 35x12.50R15, and a 315/75R16. The 15-incher was a load range C, while the 16-incher was a D. We found that the 15-inch version exhibited more tread wear on the street than the 16-inch version, even though the 16s were on a heavier rig.

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

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