We test BFGoodrich's new offroad tyre in South Africa

We test BFGoodrich’s new offroad tyre in South Africa

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Let’s be honest, tyres aren’t sexy. They might be arguably the most vital component in your vehicle -– seeing as they provide the sole contact point between it and terra firma -– yet they’re probably not something you devote a whole lot of thought to.

On the face of it, they’re just round black rubber hoops with a tread pattern running around their outer circumference, and an assortment of numbers and letters stamped on their sidewalls. However, delve a little deeper and you’ll see that the modern tyre is actually quite a complex entity.

Contemporary tyres have many layers in their construction, and reinforcing materials such as Kevlar and steel are used to provide the requisite strength and firmness required to withstand the pounding they receive over their lifespan.

When the tyre in question is designed for off-road use, the challenge for the manufacturer becomes that much more complex, as not only must said doughnut deliver high levels of traction across mud, sand and rocks, it also has to repel the assault of sticks, sharp stones and other nasties -– that, too, with inflation levels of just 12-16 psi when dune-bashing or rock-crawling.

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To find out more about the subject, this DriveArabia.com correspondent travelled to the Gerotek test track on the outskirts of the South African capital of Pretoria, where BFGoodrich is hosting the regional launch of its new All-Terrain T/A KO2 tyre.

Although owned by French giant Michelin, BFGoodrich is an all-American company that forged its reputation from the 1970s onwards through dominating punishing endurance events such as the Baja 1000 race in California and the Dakar Rally.

If you’ve been anywhere near the desert, you’ll have noticed All-Terrain T/A tyres affixed to all manner of vehicles, ranging from Jeep Wranglers to Toyota Land Cruisers. They’re one of the default choices for off-road junkies, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for improvement.

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The key upgrades to the KO2 vis-à-vis its predecessor include 4.5mm of extra reinforcement on the sidewalls, which is claimed to make them far more puncture-resistant in tough conditions. Helping in this regard is a ‘deflection design’ tread pattern on the outer edges, and it’s designed to do exactly that -– deflect foreign objects away from the tyre.

There are also triangular-shaped ‘stone ejectors’ spread across to the tread to minimise the odds of stones getting wedged in the grooves. In addition, you’ll notice ‘Side-Biter’ lugs in the sidewall to improve traction in mud and rocks. Meanwhile, ‘mud buster bars’ in the shoulder help release compacted mud for better traction in soft soil.

BFGoodrich claims the KO2 offers twice the tread life of its predecessor on gravel, and 15% more durability on tarmac, in addition to providing greater resistance to sidewall damage and splits.

Now, for us to form a meaningful conclusion, we’d ideally need to drive across a particular section of tarmac, gravel, dunes, mud, etc with the KO2 fitted, and then repeat the process with the same vehicle fitted with competitors’ tyres. We don’t have that opportunity today, but it’s still interesting to glean just how much abuse a modern all-terrain tyre can withstand without any ill effects –- none that are visible or tangible, anyway.

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The Gerotek facility is used primarily for testing of military vehicles, and it has an assortment of off-road trails (some of which are concreted for repeatability of tests), a high-speed bowl, a skidpan and various other ramps and obstacles.

We’re using vehicles such as the Nissan Navara, Isuzu KB and Chevrolet Trailblazer across soft soil and rocky terrain, and there’s even a slalom exercise on tarmac. What I can confirm is that none of the vehicles manages to get stuck, and nor are there any punctures. Would the outcome have been the same had the vehicles been fitted with Goodyears, Coopers, Bridgestones, Yokohamas or Hankooks? Quite possibly. In fact, more than likely.

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There’s no scope for head-to-head comparison today, but what does prove particularly enlightening and enjoyable is a high-speed, off-road taxi ride in a Dakar-spec, V8-powered Nissan Navara piloted by veteran racer Terence Marsh. The vehicle is fully set up for Dakar race duties, with the sole exception of the tyres, which are standard, off-the-shelf, All-Terrain KO2s.

The latter fact doesn’t deter Marsh from flinging the raucous Navara across the narrow, winding gravel track at a mind-boggling rate of knots, and he later tells me (and I believe him, despite the fact that I have a pretty keen B.S. detector) that there have been no punctures even after 400 laps of the tortuous 6 km track.

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This is an impressive feat, but the true test for the new All-Terrain T/A KO2 will come in the hands of the actual owners and off-road fleet operators who fit these tyres to their own vehicles and use them on a day-to-day basis.

They now have the opportunity to do exactly that, as the KO2 range has just landed in Middle East tyre outlets, with 30 dimensions catering to a wide range of models from Toyota, Nissan, GM, Jeep and various others. An additional 12 dimensions will be added over the coming months.

Photos by Michelin/BFGoodrich.

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