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BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 Tire Test - Baja Proven

Posted in Product Reviews on December 31, 2014
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You can’t get into much of a discussion about truck tires without mentioning BFGoodrich. The company is one of the major players in the light truck market because it offers an excellent selection of tire designs and sizes that appeal to different aspects of the market. The company is also heavily involved in many forms of racing, but none more so than Baja. With 26 of the past 27 overall winners of the Baja 1000 riding to the podium on BFGs, it is obvious that the company puts a lot of time, energy, and money into desert racing. The good news for consumers is that much of the cutting-edge technology that goes into BFG’s race tires trickles down to the regular tires that get us to work during the week and up the trail on the weekend. So when it came time to update the All-Terrain T/A KO, the company naturally drew on what it had learned in Baja and combined those lessons with some new technology that improves an already good design with the new All-Terrain T/A KO2.

The Same But Different
At first glance the All-Terrain T/A KO2 doesn’t look a whole lot different from the old T/A KO. The sidewall looks more aggressive, but the tread pattern itself looks largely the same. This isn’t really that surprising, since the KO and the previous generations of the BFG All-Terrain have all been extremely popular. BFGoodrich wisely didn’t see a need to fix what wasn’t broken. But looking more closely at both the tread design and the construction of the tire reveals some significant differences.

As already mentioned, the sidewall of the KO2 looks very different from the KO. We feel it is a welcome change. It’s much more aggressive, with Side Biter lugs that protrude away from the sidewall. These lugs are also offset from one another, which results in significantly more bite at the edges of the tire. These are features you would expect in a more aggressive mud tire, and as a result, the profile of the tire looks meaner from a distance. In addition to more bite, these gnarly shoulder blocks are constructed of an exceptionally strong rubber compound that was developed for BFG’s racing tires, so there is additional protection for the shoulder and the sidewall of the tire. The engineers even designed the new shoulder lugs to deflect objects away from the sidewall rather than snagging an object that could cause a sidewall split. In short, they beefed up the tire’s “kill zone,” which BFG equates to 20 percent tougher sidewalls than the KO.

The most obvious visual difference between the new All-Terrain T/A KO2 and its predecessor is the sidewall, which we really like. Not only does it give the tire a much more aggressive look in profile, but the offset lugs and the extra-thick shoulders contribute to strength and traction improvements.

The changes to the tread pattern of the KO2 may be more difficult to see unless you compare one side-by-side with the KO, but the focus for BFG was improving both traction and tread wear. If you look closely you’ll notice that the tread blocks have a more interlocking shape than the old tire, which BFG says increases the stability of the individual tread blocks and results in more even wear. This is especially good news for trucks that spend most of their time on the pavement hauling heavy loads. The tires also incorporated the same raised bars between the tread blocks we first saw on the Mud-Terrain T/A KM2, which are designed to break the suction of mud packed between the tread blocks so that the tire can clean itself out more easily. This, plus some cool new siping features and some other items, give the tire more traction in the mud and significantly more traction in the snow.

How Do They Work?
We could go on spouting all the specs and stats that surround this new tire, but most of you probably just want the bottom line. We had the opportunity to go down to Baja with BFGoodrich and spend two days flogging on Wide Open Baja buggies and Ford Raptors shod with the new KO2. BFGoodrich intentionally went light on the marketing hype and heavy on the experience—we put nearly 300 miles on the tires, the vast majority of which were off-road. In other words, BFG let the tires speak for themselves. We’ve spent quite a bit of time behind the wheel of a variety of vehicles equipped with the previous generations of All-Terrain T/As, so our expectations were high on what the tires could do.

What better way to show off the capabilities of a new off-road tire than by testing them in the Baja peninsula? We spent two days flogging on the All-Terrain T/A KO2 in Baja Challenge buggies. Powered by four-cylinder Subaru boxer engines, these nimble machines have gobs of front and rear suspension travel and the strength to stay together when the driver runs out of talent.

The trouble with any all-terrain tire is that it is supposed to perform well on every type of terrain, but features that make a tire better on one type of terrain come at the cost of performance on another. Compromises have to be made, and when they’re poorly executed you end up with a tire that is underwhelming everywhere. It’s similar to a universal product that universally fits nothing. A really good all-terrain like the old T/A KO will do pretty well in most environments but have notable shortcomings in one or two areas. We are happy to report that the on-road manners of the KO2 are every bit as good as the old tire’s, and the build quality is just what you would expect from BFGoodrich in terms of construction and balancing. This was to be expected. The performance on dirt roads is also very good, as we were soon pitching them into corners at speeds well above normal. Cornering traction in the dirt seems much improved over the previous tire, which had a tendency to wash out once traction broke loose and would not return until enough cornering momentum and speed had been scrubbed off. The KO2s were surefooted and confident in hard-pack dirt and did an great job of floating on loose dirt, silt, and sand without digging in like a mud tire would do.

In addition to the buggies, we also spent some time behind the wheel of Raptors shod in KO2s. Though obviously heavier than the buggies, the KO2s were equally impressive and had no problem keeping all of the extra weight and inertia under control. It was in the Raptors that we noted the improved cornering traction and the absence of the annoying clanks of small rocks getting picked up and thrown into the wheelwells. The KO2s kept biting when pitching the trucks into corners, where the old A/T would often lose traction entirely and simply want to slide.

The one area in which we have always felt the old KO fell short was in the mud; once things got a little sloppy, they had a tendency to pack up and not want to clean themselves out. As if on cue, Mother Nature provided an impromptu mud test with a series of torrential downpours midway through day one that had our group negotiating flash floods, roads that became mud bogs, and water crossings that were above the door openings on the Wide Open Baja cars. Though we ended up throwing away all the clothing we were wearing that day, it was during the rains and the resulting mud when the KO2 really stood out. In both the lightweight buggies and the heavier Raptors, the KO2 provided plenty of traction in everything from slippery clay to seemingly bottomless mud puddles. Though BFGoodrich claims a 10 percent increase in mud traction, we’d be willing to bet it is actually a lot more. Though the performance is probably still short of what you’d get with a dedicated mud tire, the we feel the KO2’s mud performance was the most improved feature over the KO.

The tread pattern is different from the old All-Terrain, but it’s subtle. The raised ribs between the lugs visible on the shoulder are borrowed from the Mud-Terrain and help break the suction that can cause mud to pack into the lugs. The small raised triangular nubs between the tread blocks are the stone ejectors. This tire had already been flogged on for several days by journalists and industry types, yet it still looked brand-new.

We were also happy to see that BFG addressed our one complaint with all of the previous All-Terrain T/As. Referred to as stone drilling by the tire engineers, the old tires had a tendency to pick up small rocks; they would get wedged into the sipes and in between tread blocks. These stones would either eventually get ejected with annoying, paint-chip-inducing clunks once up to road speed, or they would bury themselves in the tire crevices and degrade tire life. They fixed this problem with a combination of small triangular nubs called stone ejectors strategically placed between the tread blocks and revised 3-D sipes. Instead of the sipes in the tread block running straight down and perpendicular to the tread face, they now have an S-shape when viewed in profile. The design not only prevents small rocks from burying themselves in the sipes but is also said to improve the stability of the tread blocks and reduce chunking. Due to these and other design improvements, BFGoodrich says is has been able to double the tread life of the KO2 on gravel—and after examining a set of them that survived the Baja 1000 and a few thousand subsequent off-road miles, we have no reason to doubt this.

Midway through our testing the skies opened up with a tropical storm, and things quickly got real with flash floods, trails that became rivers, and huge mud holes. The KO2 passed the impromptu mud test with flying colors and kept us churning through the soupy clay and mud all the way to our destination for the day. The outside of the buggy was probably cleaner than the inside. Yet no one needed a tug, and the tires kept digging even when water was up over the 35-inch tires.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to talk about the new KO2 without sounding overly critical of its predecessor. In reality, we felt that the All-Terrain T/A KO was one of the best all-terrain tires on the market, and we often recommended them to people with dual-purpose rigs that spend much of their time on the street with the occasional off-road excursion. With even more off-road traction on tap, tougher construction, and a more aggressive sidewall, the KO2 is well suited to just about any application that spends a lot of time off-road but still needs good pavement manners.

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