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Monday, August 8, 2011

Some Random Thoughts About TIRES!

Let me say it again – “Tires are the single most important modification that you can make to your ATV or UTV!”

I’ll say this too! “Most ATVs – especially those coming from the Japanese manufacturers come with cheap, round, thin, biased-ply tires that are on the machine to save unsprung weight and save money!”

The proper tires will improve and enhance the performance of your ATV (or UTV) more than most people know simply because most people to not upgrade to the best tires for their machine and their riding. Most people upgrade to a tire they think looks good or their friends and other people say is good.

Have you ever run across a person that said they bought this ATV, or that truck, or in this case, this particular tire and it’s not the best? Let’s just look at tires; If someone upgrades their tires from the stock units, almost anything will mostly work better ;-)

If I may use a good friend as an example – he purchase a brand new Honda Rubicon. When the stock tires wore out at 800 miles, he upgraded to a set of Goodyear Mudrunners. They improved traction incredibly, but they didn’t steer as well or handle as well. He figured that was the trade-off necessary for the better tires. When those wore out he purchased a set of Maxxiss Bighorns. Now these were the best tires made because not only did they have great traction, but they rode better than the Mudrunners. He told all his friends that the Bighorns were the best ATV tire he’d ever ridden.

Then we met. I was incredulous with his choice of tires and perhaps more-so his opinion of them, and made him try a set of Carlisle ACTs. He was amazed at what he didn’t know before. Like so many others he could only make a measurement of a tire’s performance based on the tires that he was familiar with. Once he became more familiar with other tires he became aware of what he didn’t know before.

And that’s a typical case. The only difference is that Kenny was open-minded enough to want to know more, and a talented enough rider to be aware of the differences.

So, what makes a good tire?

Light weight. The lighter the tire, especially in relation to the weight of the machine, the better it will handle. A lighter tire will move up and down with less effect on the rest of the machine than a heavier one. A lighter tire will also start turning, continue turning, and stop with less effort than a heavier tire.

Tire compound. The consistency of the rubber that a tire is made from is called the compound. A harder compound will wear less and last longer. A softer compound will wear faster and therefore wear out faster. But, a softer compound will ‘stick’ or bend around objects like dirt, rocks and sticks and provide better traction whereas a hard compound will simply hit against it and somewhat like a bullet, ricochet off. The perfect combination of compound will make a tire have traction in dirt that is controllable.

Tread design. Here’s what seems to be a no-brainer. More tread is better. Wait, that’s not true. More tread can mean more weight, and more weight is bad. More tread with a soft compound can mean more flex and flex is bad. What then are we left with? The type of tread is important. An angled tread makes the tire clean the mud from it easier, but an angled tread can also make the tire less precise. A lateral tread makes for a smoother ride. Lateral is the tem for the tread being somewhat continuous around the circumference. A cut out tread – or a non solid rubber tread makes for a lighter tread and a tread with a bit more flex for superior traction without too much flex as with a deep tread with a soft compound.

Siping. Siping is the small slits in the tread of a tire. Sipes allow the tread to grip the surface better.

Sidewall structure. While a sidewall needs to flex for added comfort and the ability to give over irregular terrain, it needs to be strong enough to resist punctures. Just as important, the sidewall needs to be firm enough to not roll over while turning. Stock, bias-ply tires roll very easy when under lateral forces and that’s why ATVs and Rhinos can fall over so easy. A radial tire retains a constant contact patch and the sidewall does not flex with the tread so it is much more stable.

And since I said that these were random thoughts, here’s something else to mull over. A good part of traction and performance is based on a tire’s contact patch on the ground. When thinking of contact patch, most people only think wider and not longer. A longer contact patch comes from a taller tire. A longer contact area provides more traction. So you see, a taller tire can have more advantages than just more ground clearance.

So a good tire is as light as possible with as soft of a rubber compound as feasible with the tread designed to ride smooth and be self-cleaning. The tread should be just tall enough to provide forward traction but not so tall as to add too much weight or to bend while cornering. The tread should be somewhat flexible with siping or hollowed edges for better traction. The sidewall should flex slightly but be resistant to punctures.

And there you have it.