“If you don’t make it to the top of this hill, that’s OK,” blurted Jake, one of the expert BFGoodrich off-road instructors at The 4×4 Center in Burlington, Vermont, as I tested out the BFGoodrich KM3 mud-terrain tires. “Expect a good bit of smack-talk over the radio though,” he grinned.
I’m sitting in the Jeep’s driver seat concerned that, with the front locker engaged, I’ll slide the Wrangler’s front end squarely into That Big Tree on my left. Fortunately, my guide’s definition of a slide is when the driver is so far off course they cannot see in their intended direction without twisting their head to a degree not recommended in the Journal of American Medicine. His ministrations gave me confidence, as my definition of a slide is when the box of donuts flies off my passenger seat and two or more adhere to the glovebox lid.
With the transfer case squarely in 4Lo, the mildly lifted V6-powered Wrangler makes its way up the steep hill that’s covered in mud bearing the traction properties of snot on a doorknob. At all four corners, the BFGoodrich KM3 tires find traction, chewing up the mud and tossing it through the air a distance sufficient to earn Air Miles.
We’re at the summit. Smack talk averted.
BFGoodrich spent the better part of two years developing this tire, employing the experts at The 4×4 Center to help tell them what works and what doesn’t. After trying numerous iterations, the engineers at BFG settled on the rubber hoop you see here, saying it provides 5% better mud traction and 8% better rock traction than its forebear. This will satisfy the portion of the market who buy these tires to actually use them in conditions like these.
Make no mistake, though, there are folks who buy these and similar tires simply for their looks, never to turn a wheel in anger on any surface rougher than a gravel driveway. BFG estimates two out of every five buyers – very nearly 40% – of customers in the market for a tire like the KM3 buy it simply for the aesthetic purposes.
This helps explain why the KM3 is now available in no fewer than 59 sizes, about half of which are new compared to the old KM2 tire. Brodozers are usually equipped with 18-inch or 20-inch wheels, so BFGoodrich has sensibly decided to cater to this market. No sense in leaving cash on the table, after all. There is even a 22-inch option … for those feeling the need to compensate for a lack of size elsewhere.
On the other end of the spectrum, BFG wisely decided to apply lessons learned developing the KM3 to UTV-sized tires. They will be available in five sizes – two 15-inchers and trio of 14s, all ten inches wide – and branded as a KM3. These steel belted radials will have a slightly different tread pattern than their larger counterparts but will have much of the same mud-flinging goodness built right in.
Speaking of tread pattern, the BFGoodrich KM3’s large tread blocks are staggered in a near diagonal pattern, allowing rubber to grip the ground from just about any angle of approach. The spaces between those tread blocks, called a ‘linear flex zone’, allow the tire to envelop objects in aired-down situations. BFG’s lowest recommended air pressure without beadlocked wheels is about 15psi.
There’s more than just empty space in that linear flex zone. Small triangular-shaped nubs are designed to flick stones out of the tread, a lesson learned with the company’s KO2 tire. However, as the KM3 is primarily designed to take on muddy conditions, the BFG engineers added a pair of extra tricks.
Aggressive treads spill out over the tire’s shoulder and onto the sidewall, designed to deflect debris and prevent a tear or puncture, contributing to a 27% tougher sidewall than their old tire. BFG deployed this technology in last year’s Baja 1000 plus this year’s Dakar and King of the Hammers races, taking the win in all three events.
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Those who off-road in mud know full well if the space between a tire’s tread gets packed full of gunk, the flush and smooth surface created renders a tire unable to deploy all its gripping surface. To address this, BFG has invented what they call “Mud-Phobic” bars, slim streaks of rubber standing upright between the tread blocks. These Mud-Phobic bars are designed to flex like a weightlifter, breaking the vacuum that’s holding the mud, flinging it outward and away from the tire.
On the trail, that Jeep mentioned earlier is equipped with a 3-inch lift and KM3s sized 35×12.5R17, while the natty blue Land Rover Defender wears 37×12.5R17 meats. Equipped with front and rear lockers, the Wrangler JK and its KM3s had no trouble scampering over and through the slick trails in which it was stuffed.
From inside the Jeep, it was easy to feel all four corners digging in as the mud-terrains searched for and found traction. As with all off-road trips, planning one’s line was essential to a clean run. No tire will help if you wantonly rip into a new mudhole without checking its depth or plow into an off-camber turn with too much speed. Combined with a dose of good sense, these KM3s will easily get you through the slick stuff with an appropriate level of loud pedal and a basic understanding of gravity.
The Defender was even more like the proverbial mountain goat, with its V8 engine giving off biblical amounts of heat into the cabin and cooking its operators like a couple of hot dogs. Its controls are definitely more agricultural than the Wrangler’s, and the driving position is comfortable only to Ralph Kramden, but the Landie and its BFGoodrich KM3 rubber simply laughed off all obstacles.
Sitting at the summit’s peak gave a great vantage point for watching the other cadre of KM3 equipped machines to wend their way through the sluice as the Mud-Phobic bars and staggered blocks went to work. There was more mud between my teeth than between the tire treads, a sure sign of a well-designed mud tire.
Smack talk? Not today.
The BFGoodrich KM3 Mud-Terrai tire is available in 59 sizes. It is on sale now.
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