Braving Baja: Testing the New BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2
It’s safe to say that many who’ve owned, or considered owning, a set of BFGoodrich tires don’t really know just how deep its roots run in the off-road world. As the first company to produce radial all-terrain tires decades ago, it’s very big news when BFG announced the launch a new tire in the all-terrain segment.
We just returned from an adventure through Baja courtesy of BFGoodrich, who invited us out to test its new All-Terrain T/A KO2. This is the fourth generation of its all-terrain tire, and marks the first upgrade in nearly 15 years when BFG introduced the T/A KO back in 1999. Although we’ve talked with BFGoodrich directly in the past few years about the launch of this new tire, which was maybe the worst-kept tire secret as least in terms of the knowledge of its development during that time, we didn’t know the exact changes the company had up its sleeve for the KO2. So what better place than Baja to learn more about it?
Legacy is a word that shouldn’t get tossed around lightly. That said, it’s no stretch to say BFGoodrich has a major place in off-roading racing’s past, present and future. BFG has quite a reputation in the off-road world, and that’s because nearly 40 years ago in 1975 BFG first sent engineers and a marketing crew down to Northern Baja to test its new off-road tire. The idea was actually hatched by a young Sal Fish, who was working with Mickey Thompson on the SCORE International series – the sanctioning body that runs both the Baja 500 and 1000, among other races – many years before he purchased it from Thompson in 1986 and ran it until just a few years ago. BFGoodrich was pleased enough with its results during testing in ’75 that it launched the Radial All-Terrain T/A in ’76, and then it followed up the launch by taking down journalists to Baja the following year to test the new tires on International Scouts.
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Since then, BFGoodrich has had somewhat of a love affair with Baja, and its tires are synonymous with racing south of the border and off-road racing in general. BFG notched its first overall Baja win back in 1979 at the SCORE Mexicali 250 with Bob Gordon behind the wheel of his BFG Blazer. In 2014, BFGoodrich earned its 80th overall victory in Baja. After decades of racing south of the border, numerous victories in the testing ground for its tire, it’s clear to see that BFG takes its tires very seriously, and clearly it has a lot at stake in introducing a new tire to the public. It has to meet the public’s expectations, but most importantly, it has to live up to the company’s expectations as well.
What New for the KO2?
With the release of the new T/A KO2 tire, BFGoodrich has big shoes to fill after a very successful run with its third-generation all-terrain in the T/A KO. Although the company plans to still offer the KO, the KO2 is no doubt the all-terrain of the future. With so much talk of Baja and its brutal terrain, clearly BFGoodrich is concerned with retaining the toughness for which the KO is known. Yet, much more than the idea of “toughness” went into the design of the KO2.
BFG really impressed upon us the idea of the “three Ts,” referencing the importance of the tire’s toughness, traction and tread life – three key areas of importance since it is three areas in which BFG improved the KO2.
When it comes to the toughness, BFGoodrich did extensive testing in tire failure, and it probably comes as no surprise that sidewall failure is the biggest culprit. BFGoodrich started off by incorporating its Coregard Technology into the KO2’ s sidewalls, which ultimately provides it with 20 percent tougher sidewalls. The previous generation KO tire has 15-plus years of standing up to serious abuse, but BFGoodrich still found a way to improve upon the KO's durability on the KO2 by using a new tougher rubber taken from its Baja T/A for the sidewalls – another indicator that what it learns from racing is incorporated into the tires that the rest of us use.
There’s more to the sidewalls on the KO2 than just new rubber, however, as the new design is also thicker and features an extended shoulder design that actually incorporates more rubber into the sidewall tread for more protection in this critical location – right where the tread ends and the shoulder begins. It might be easiest to think of the tread itself bleeding farther into the sidewall to added durability. The sidewall design itself is also new on the KO2, as it features a more slanted tread compared to the KO in an effort to prevent sidewall splitting and also deflect rocks and sticks while on the trail.
Tread-wear life is another key area for the KO2, as BFG looked to improve upon the KO’s lifespan. Aided by a specially formulated tread rubber designed to reduce chipping and tearing of the tire, BFGoodrich was able to improve tread wear by two times on gravel (they went as far as saying two times is a conservative estimate – they believe it’s more than that). For those who still plan to spend a lot of time on the asphalt, BFG says there’s a 15 percent improvement in road tread wear on the KO2. To aid in the prevention of stone drilling, or burrowing of rocks that get caught in the tread, stone ejectors were incorporated between the treads as well. Although it bears some resemblance to its predecessor, the KO2’s tread design is updated considerably, with one of the biggest changes being an increase in tread block stability by using a more pronounced interlocking tread design to resist irregular wear.
With toughness and tread life addressed, BFGoodrich also wanted to improve the traction (if you’re counting, that’s the third “T”) on the T/A KO2. BFG addressed mud traction and improved it by 10 percent by incorporating “mud-phobic bars” to help clean out the shoulder. More than anything, these small bars between the treads are designed to break the suction seal that can occur in muddy conditions. BFGoodrich also fitted the KO2 with more aggressive side-biting lugs on the sidewall, while the serrated shoulder is designed to improve maneuverability in soft soil and deep snow. This combines to provide a 19 percent improvement in traction in snow and earns the KO2 a 3 Peak Mountain Snowflake logo, meaning it exceeds the Rubber Manufacturer Association Server Snow Traction requirements.
One look at the tire’s tread and you’ll quickly notice quite a bit of siping, which are the little lines on the tread blocks themselves. BFGoodrich actually uses a unique 3-D sipe design where the sipes, instead of simply being straight cuts into the tread, actually zig-zag as they go deeper into the tread. What this accomplishes is it actually makes the lugs grip together better for improved traction in all terrain, but specifically in snow.