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Moore’s Tire Law: Bigger, Better, and Better Be Bigger

Posted in How To: Wheels Tires on February 12, 2018
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I think everybody has heard of Moore’s Law, although not everybody knows where it originated. No, it isn’t just an expression that means if some is good then more is better. Here’s a hint: There are two Os in the name. And that’s not because if one O is good then two must be better. Moore’s Law comes from the world of computers, transistors, and integrated circuits. In the 1960s, Gordon Moore observed that every two years or so, the physical size of integrated circuitry would be cut in half while at the same time performance would be doubled. In a nutshell, you’d be getting twice the performance out of half the real estate for roughly the same consumer cost. At least, that’s the super-dumbed-down 4x4 guy summarization.

But I have been a player in the 4x4 game long enough to realize there is an inverse law in play when it comes to off-road tires. Unfortunately, there is no guy named Les to propose my new “Les’ Law,” but the way I see it, every couple of years the tire manufacturers step up their game to make sure you are getting less for your money. Here’s how Les’ Law breaks down in my mind.

Les Size Restrictions
First let me cinch up my old man pants and begin with, “Back in my day.” When I was just getting into 4x4s, a 33x12.50R15 was a huge tire for a daily driven 4x4. If you were running 35s you were the hardcore lunatic fringe. And forget about those cats running bias-ply 36s, 38s, or even 44s. Is Monster Jam in town or something? Nowadays you can find a streetable 37-, 38-, 40-, or even 42-inch radial without breaking a sweat.

Les Tread & Sidewall Damage
Only 20 years ago if you were running a radial on the trail you pretty much took it for granted that you were gonna be shredding tires like nobody’s business. Bias-ply tires offered the height of off-road survivability. With the exception of one or two brands, all off-road radial tires had paper-thin two-ply sidewalls that fell apart just looking at a smooth rock. Now there are sidewalls with additives like Kevlar or special computer-designed polyester belt weaves that resist punctures and damage. And the same goes for the tread belts, offering an impressive blend of flexibility, stability, and survivability.

Les On-Road Tradeoffs
Any old-school mud tire over 36 inches in claimed sidewall diameter had to be square and rattle every bolt loose on your 4x4. Nowadays you can go buy a 40-inch mud-terrain tire with a radial construction that runs perfectly smooth down the highway at 75 mph while emitting only a whisper of a hum. That was the stuff of full-on James Bond sci-fi dreams 20 years ago. And some all-terrains nowadays provide grip like no tomorrow with tread life warranties exceeding 50,000 miles. Crazy.

Les Off-Road Compromises
If you haven’t driven dozens of old-school mud tire designs off-road like I have, you may not agree, but many of today’s all-terrain designs, and the ’tweener tread designs that split the difference between all-terrain and mud-terrain, offer the off-road performance of many “hardcore” mud-terrains from the past. And today’s mud-terrain designs flat-out kill it in the rocks, sand, and dirt compared with even some of the most aggressive offerings from 20 years ago.

Les Buyer’s Remorse
I used to get a set of tires to test and would come up with as many negative attributes as positive ones, but nowadays I really have to stretch the test envelope to find a tire’s deficiencies. It’s not that my test criteria have gotten easier. Actually, my testing has gotten a lot harder. It’s that tire manufacturers are just making a vastly superior product with the ability to do most things they’re designed for really, really well. It’s almost hard to find a really bad tire these days.

So, that’s my Les’ Law in a nutshell. I think I nailed it, Moore or Les.

—Christian Hazel

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