The Gates Commando XT Special had a tread of sorts far down the sidewalls in the early '70
There is an enormous selection of radials available, and in an amazing amount of sizes. Exotic tire-building techniques and multi-segment molds allow for rounder and even better tires than just a few years ago-and much bigger ones. Computer-aided tread designs have helped produce mud tires that emit less noise than what some all-terrain tires did-or do, for that matter. Handling and tread life have also increased quite a bit lately. At the same time, special, sticky tread compounds are becoming available, not just for the "professional" rockcrawlers. Tires are being made especially for 'crawling, which is very impressive when considering the relatively small portion of four-wheelers who are dedicated to rockcrawling-and even more so since trail-type tires are only a really small piece of the tire market in the first place. But, it seems we're in a transitional period again and about to (at least partially) backtrack to old-tire technology.
While radials are steadily improving, more and more four-wheelers are returning to the bias-ply construction. A step in the wrong direction? No, not at all. Or, at least no more than replacing an IFS with a live axle-some of the old stuff simply works better for demanding four-wheeling. Consequently, the bias-ply tire is making a comeback because of its trail-friendliness, superior conformability, and sidewall strength. Plus, tire grooving is back in fashion, but this time it's to achieve even more tread flex, and in search of the perfect contact pressure.
Whether bias or radial, with much improved tires there's no longer much of a need to shove a couple of sleeping bags into a mortally wounded tire to get back to camp. Better sidewalls, good glue-less plug kits like Safety Seal, and affordable compressors are standard trail equipment now, making the spare tire largely ornamental.
...That tire was proudly displayed in an ad in the January '82 Four Wheeler, in nine sizes
With tire technology improving by the week these days, we'll surely see lots of interesting innovations and improvements. Unfortunately, we'll also end up with some less desirable things: Government-regulated tire pressure monitors, for example-an anti-Darwinism device meant to save the butts of lawsuit-happy people who don't know to keep correct tire pressure in their street-only SUVs. These monitors will likely set off all kinds of alarms when we air down for the trail. We can only hope that, at the very least, the manufacturers will see fit to make selecting low-range shut them up-or there actually will be a reason for loud stereos on the trail.
Hopefully, the trend with ridiculously short sidewalls will go away, and the corresponding overweight large-diameter wheels will go the way of angel-hair interiors. Of course, those tires you can still (but probably shouldn't) air down, which isn't the case with the new "Tweel."
Yes, Michelin is working on a combination wheel/tire that doesn't hold any air, or even have sidewalls. OK, no more sidewall failures is a positive thing, and we understand that it's possible to chrome the elastomeric polyurethane spokes that replace the traditional tire casing, but is that really what we want for trail use? A tire that you can't air down isn't exactly the most traction- or comfort-friendly trail invention we've heard of.
Shown is a partial sampling of trail tires available at the time of our 1983 Tire Guide.
Perhaps the above will become a moot point as we may all have to run Low Impact Environmentally Friendly (LIEF) tires soon to even be allowed to 'wheel in certain places. More trail-friendly treads could become a must and, ironically, they could very well be constructed and look much like the Armstrongs and Deltas of the early 1960s.
Whichever way things go, it's a safe bet that we'll have an even larger selection of ever rounder and more capable tires as they become more specialized yet for their intended use-and luckily, that includes trail tires.