A driver I interviewed many years ago described an off-road race as “an all-day car crash.” That simple, but illustrative description tells so much about what the competitors, as well as the equipment, must endure during an off-road race in order to just finish the event successfully, much less win the race.
Off-road racing is like no other motorsport. The drivers and vehicles in an off-road race compete not just against each other, but against a course consisting of dirt, gravel, water, mud, deep sand, and rocks. Those rocks come in every shape and size from that of a marble to a basketball, some are round, while many have edges that resemble razor blades.
These formidable race courses can in some cases stretch 250, 500, and even nearly 1000 miles in length, and take a terrible toll on the bodies of the drivers, and every mechanical component of the race vehicle from engine to end link, as well as the tires.
So when BFGoodrich decided to get into off-road racing in a big way back in 1976 and introduce the very first BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A Radial, it was a bit of a challenge, to say the least. The sport was dominated by stiff, unwieldy bias-ply tires that were often times carry overs from agricultural-vehicle applications. The concept of a compliant, yet rugged radial tire that worked well in the dirt and on pavement was looked upon with suspicion by many.
That year BFGoodrich won races on its first-generation All-Terrain T/A Radial, and as they say, the rest is history. A year later, the company launched the original KO, defining the all-terrain tire category for decades. This year BFGoodrich has done it again, developing yet another generation of its All-Terrain T/A Radial, appropriately named the KO2.
Off Road Xtreme joined members of the BFGoodrich team, Miller Motorsports Ford Racing Raptor Assault School, and Wide Open Baja Excursions in Baja California to drive Ford F-150 SVT Raptors and Wide Open BC buggies outfitted with the new BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires over some of the most rocky and rugged sections of the Baja 1000 race course to see just how much punishment the tires could take.
Our guides instructed us to steer clear of the big rocks, large hazards, and to drive safely to avoid damaging the vehicles or endangering ourselves and our co-drivers — a darn good idea, since we were in Baja California, Mexico, where a mechanical or medical emergency, unlike in the US, is not simply a matter of a AAA or 911 phone call, and help is not minutes, but possibly days away.
While heeding their warnings in order to not damage the vehicles or endanger my co-driver, I can freely admit now, that while I did follow almost all of their advice, I did steer toward the rocks. Not the big ones, as I was not there to damage the vehicles or my co-driver.
It was the sharp rocks I was hunting for, the stones that looked like raspy files, the rocks that had razor edges, and the beds of gravel that would grind up the tread. I was there to prove a point. I was there to answer a question. Were these BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires as good as I had been told?
After two days and 300 miles torturing these tires, I had my answer. My co-driver and I never had a flat, were never able to cut a tire, never broke off the corner of a lug on one of the tires, and as my photographs throughout this article plainly show, we could barely scar up the tread, no matter how hard we drove these tires.
Here’s some facts and figures on the KO2. First of all, it incorporates BFGoodrich’s technology developed with the race-winning Baja T/A KR2 for split-resistant sidewall rubber and a thicker, extended shoulder to prevent sidewall failures that gives the KO2 the protection that kept us from tearing it open when we bounced it off sharp rocks.
Advanced computer modeling was used to predict object paths and that helped to create a sidewall design that was more likely to deflect protruding objects and reduce the chance of splitting the sidewall and snagging objects such as rocks and sticks that might cut the KO2’s sidewall.
The tire has been tested on industry standard 10,000-mile gravel road tests and shown to last twice as long as its predecessor on gravel roads. We couldn’t make a dent in the tread, sliding and scrubbing the tire through gravel- and rubble-covered roads as hard as we could during those two days.
The new tread rubber blend reduces chips and tears on gravel, and a new footprint shape and interlocking tread design provides more uniform wear over the long haul. Special stone ejectors push rocks out of the tread to reduce stone drilling into the tire. Stone drilling can damage a tire when a sharp rock gets trapped between tread blocks and digs a hole into the tire, allowing water and dirt to form corrosion inside the rubber.
Although we only found one decent mud hole along the way in addition to a couple of mucky stream crossings, the design of the new KO2 did show a slight improvement over its already legendary predecessor’s tradition of all-terrain performance with greater mud traction than the previous-generation KO tire.
There are a number of other features built in to the new BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 that help deliver traction in all kinds of off-road situations. Among these are the sidewall Side-Biter lugs that provide improved traction in mud, snow and rocks. These really help when you’re in a rut and the side of the tire can bite into the sides of the ruts to propel your vehicle forward instead of just digging deeper.
The raised bars inside the shoulders help release compacted mud for better traction in soft soil so that the new KO2 doesn’t clog up and become a slick when the terrain turns into muck. The new KO2 also has features that BFGoodrich calls 3-D sipes in the tread blocks with teeth down inside them that interlock and keep the blocks from moving around too much when the pavement is dry for good normal road traction, but open up when wet to create biting edges for better snow traction.
In developing the KO2, BFGoodrich engineers borrowed heavily from the brand’s legendary off-road motorsports heritage — 80 off-road race wins on the Baja peninsula (by far the most of any other tire brand) — and directly from the BFGoodrich Baja T/A KR2 racing tire, which was on nine of the top 10 finishers in the 2014 Tecate SCORE Baja 500.
The KO2 will be released to market on November 1, 2014, in 12 sizes initially, fitting a range of vehicles, including Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, Dodge, Toyota, and Nissan pickup trucks and SUV’s, as well as Plus Fitments for a wide variety of vehicles. The MSRP for the tire starts at $222. Additional sizes will be released in 2015. To get an even deeper look at the new tire, check out the video below; and for more information on BFGoodrich tires for your truck or SUV, go to the company’s website or Facebook page.