(Words by Lohnes and McTaggart) – Just about a year ago, Nutting and I went into the wilds of Maine with the fine people of BFGoodrich to test our their All Terrain T/A KO2 tire. This is the company’s flagship off road offering and it has been an absolute staple in the off roading world for decades. The tire has morphed and evolved over the years but even when the naysayers claim that it cannot get any better, the engineers at BFG prove them wrong. If you are wondering why we would go back and run the same test event that we ran last year we’re here to tell you that it was NOTHING like last year’s event. Nutting and I ventured out in the woods as the sun was setting and ran basically the whole course in darkness. It was also well below zero and there had been multiple feet of snow in Maine by that time last year. 2016? Different animal all together.
This time McTaggart and I we were out on the trails in the middle of the day and even better than that, there had been little snow in the area and temps were unseasonably warm for weeks before we got there. That meant we would get to test the rock crawling, snow traction, AND mud traction properties of the tire. Yes, the main point of the exercise was to get the KO2 out in the snow and put that three peak, snowflake rating to the test which we did but we also got to see and feel the tire work lots harder in conditions we simply did not have in 2015. We were taking Jeep Rubicons armed with 34.5″ All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires and a couple inches of lift to face that terrain.
Before we move along and talk about the drive, let’s talk about the tire a little. The upgrades made to this generation of the KO2 were made strategically. While the tire has always been effective in snow, the addition of LOTS of siping greatly increased its performance and it did earn the three peak, snowflake rating. That is far more than just a fun little graphic on the tire. If you live in a cold weather climate that rating is one of the first things you need to look for if you plan on rolling via the same rubber all year. Heck, there are entire regions of Canada where it is the LAW that you car must be equipped with snow rated tires through portions of the year.
The sidewalls of the tire were made far stronger to greater resist punctures and injuries from rocks and other obstacles. The proof in the success of that program was the flawless of tires right off the showroom at places like Baja in competition. Also on the sidewalls there is more side biting capability which you’ll see in action, there’s some mud ejection technology being utilized to keep the treads clear in the muck, and the compound used in formulating the tire has been updated to help promote treadwear on dirt and gravel roads. Less chipping and cutting into the blocks means that the tires will last longer on vehicles that spend lots of time rolling on rocky roads or those on dirt.
Because I got to drive last year and someone needed to run through the woods and the snow to take photos, McTaggart was the man behind the wheel for this portion of the program. We also tested to other BF Goodrich winter tires and we’ll tell you all about those in the coming days.
From the guy who was outside the truck the one thing I can say that impressed me most were how these tires bit and held in off-camber angle situations, especially those on slicker or snowy rocks, berms, etc. Anyone who has ever been four wheeling in the snow has likely struggled to keep their rig happy on the sorts of sideways inclines we’re referring to.
Since McTaggart was the meat in the seat for this one, he can take it from here:
Last year, I got an excellent shot of what the BFG KO2s could do from the vantage point of my computer as Lohnes and Nutting got to romp in the snow. Was I jealous? Yep, though I’ll admit that most of that was because of location: I was sitting in an office typing away while they were enjoying the nice, snowy scenes of Maine from the inside of a Land Rover Defender 110. When BFGoodrich brought me out to SEMA last year, I got my first up-close look at their new all-terrain and got a first-person view of what it could physically do during the Baja 1000 qualifier race out at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But some things have to be experienced hands-on to truly understand where the changes have occurred, to know what is different, and to know where the upgrades really help out. I’m actually pretty well-versed when it comes to off-roading. Growing up, mudding was probably my stepfather’s favorite hobby, so we would take fire roads out to pits in Washington State and sink whatever four-by-four he had that time. During my Army stint, I wheeled everything from LMTVs and HMMWVs to the commander’s personal Jeep Liberty on tank tracks, testing fields and the middle of freaking nowhere. (Sorry, sir!) And occasionally I would go find a trail and play around on it with my own trucks. I’ve had experience with BFG All-Terrain T/As before, and found them to be a perfectly fine all-terrain tire, but a little down on the grip side compared to others I had run, especially once the trail got sloppy and nasty. But BFGoodrich has all the confidence in the world in the new KO2s, bolstered by the results they got during the Baja 1000 this year, and wanted us to experience what these tires could do in person, first hand. I’m not one to shut down seat time in anything and couldn’t wait to see if their claims were true or not.
We knew going into this situation that there wasn’t nearly as much snow on the ground and that there was a huge likelihood for mud and ruts. The BFG guys seemed lightly concerned. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicons they had ready for us were certainly a choice pick and looked badass. These are the 285 horsepower, 3.6L Pentastar-powered models, all running the same NAG-1 five-speed shiftable automatic that you can find inside of a Chrysler 300. The front and rear axles are Dana 44s, are equipped with 4.10 gears and lockers, all of them were four-doors, and all of them were soft-tops. That didn’t seem like a sane choice in a place where temperatures were expected to be well into the negative numbers, but with the mercury in the thermometer edging into the mid-30s, that didn’t present a problem. Besides, Jeep heaters are known for having a “roast” setting that works just fine. The small lift to clear the 34.5″ tires and Method wheels, the aftermarket bumpers, winches and the factory transmission reprogramming took away from the “stock” aspect of the Rubicons, but overall these were very mild trail rigs, nothing out of the ordinary on American roads and certainly not the wildest thing I’ve ever driven off-road. Capable, yes, but the Rubicon is a capable vehicle off of the showroom floor that is begging for small mods to go from good to great. With tires aired down to 15 PSI, we were ready to go.
We were broken up into groups and I slid behind the seat of the first Jeep I could get my hands on. With Lohnes in the backseat, we started off up a lightly snowy trail. At the first off-camber sections, we still had plenty of powdery and packed snow on the ground and a couple of bare rocks that looked like they could be slippery. I lined up, fully expecting a mild slide once any kind of power was fed in, but the Jeep refused to have any of it and made a completely drama-free crossing. We progressed on, and the trail progressively got rougher and rougher. Ruts became prominent, mud and slushy water was everywhere, and the more I tried to get the JK to do something stupid, the more it refused. Unless you were sitting on snow and just mashed the throttle, the KO2s were not going to break traction for anyone, anywhere on flat ground. The only times I stopped was to let Brian bail out to shoot photos. When I found myself in a slushy rut with the axles crossing up, wheelspin was at a minimum, and you could feel each tire doing it’s damnedest to bite into something, anything, for a little bit of forward momentum. Except for one seriously gnarly ice/slush/rock/rutty uphill section, I had the lockers off, the transfer case in 4-Lo, and the automatic in either 2nd or 3rd gear. By the end of the trail ride, the trail was genuinely nasty…the ground was soft, the snow was melting, and the ruts were now ditches that became honest obstacles. Towards the end, one of the other drivers got stuck and had to be yanked backwards. The location couldn’t be worse: transitioning from a downhill left-hand corner into a slushy swamp with rocks was going to present a challenge. The answer? More throttle. Once his Jeep was freed up I pushed through and with the V6 roaring away and the tires fighting the slop for traction, I came out of it no worse for the wear.
This was not a gentle drive through the woods…BFG might have wanted a winter wonderland to show off ice and snow capability, but they got a pretty broad range of terrain types that would be a challenge to any tire. At no point in time, even in the worst sections, was there a major concern of getting stuck due to a lack of traction. Every obstacle, I kept thinking, “Wow, these things bite!” and that’s no joke. The Jeep Rubicon is a very capable vehicle off-road…arguably one of the best you can buy straight off of the dealership lots. But the Jeep doesn’t deserve all of the credit for the success of our trail run, and neither does the lift kit. The tires just flat worked, far exceeding my expectations. Compared to Brian and Dave’s run through the woods last year, this was a torture test and the BFG’s made it through without drama.