WJ Project: Mickey Thompson Sidebiter II Wheel, MTZ Tires

Apr. 22, 2014 By Josh Burns
First, the stock tires and wheels get pulled off our WJ – good riddance!

We’re progressing along nicely with our WJ Project. Now it’s time to take the next major step, one that many off-roaders look forward to the most – tires and wheels. Mickey Thompson recently introduced its new Sidebiter II wheel, a clean black wheel that will nicely accent the black and anvil grey colors of our WJ. We’ll also be installing a set of MT’s popular MTZ Radial as well, an aggressive mud-terrain tire that’s ideal for the trail but still quite capable on the road.

Our project started after finding a relatively inexpensive WJ on Craigslist. We then went to work on installing Bushwacker Cut-Out Flares for added space for larger tires, and we also found a reasonably priced MAACO paintjob to update the oxidated paintjob on our ’99 Grand Cherokee. Next, SoCal SuperTrucks helped us install a BDS 4-inch lift kit and steering stabilizer to get our Jeep off the ground. So now it was finally time to get wheels and tires on to see if our modifications will work as planned.

The Mickey Thompson MTZ dwarfs our road tires. It’ll be nice to have some real rubber under the WJ now.

We were excited to get the new Sidebiter II wheel from Mickey Thompson installed on the WJ. The Sidebiter II not only looks impressive, but the wheel is built to withstand serious abuse on the trail. With a satin-black finish, the seven-star design of the wheel features a high-strength, low-pressure casting that is accented with an embossed center cap with the M/T logo (though the center cap is not available on certain applications). The new Sidebiter II is offered in a number of sizes for Jeeps, trucks and other 4x4 applications, and Mickey Thompson provides a lifetime guarantee against structural defects.

Cladding & Trim Cleanup

BDS 4-Inch Suspension Install at SoCal SuperTrucks

Bushwacker Flares, MAACO Paintjob

Gary gets the MTZ tire aired up once it’s mounted on the new Sidebiter II wheel.

There was a little bit of variance in the weight needed for balancing the wheels and tires. One wheel only took 1.5 ounces, while another took 5 ounces. None of this is uncommon, however, with a mud-terrain tire.

We installed a 17x9 Sidebiter II on our WJ, since it fit our 5x5 bolt pattern on the Grand Cherokee. We then installed Mickey Thompson’s proven MTZ Radial, which is an aggressive mud-terrain tire that’s still great on the highway. Featuring the company’s PowerPly three-ply sidewall construction, the MTZ is designed for great handling on and off road, better puncture resistance as well as improved towing capability. We went with the 285/70R17, an E-rated 33-inch tire that is 11.5 inches wide and can carry a max load of 3,195 lbs. Mickey Thompson designed the MTZ for use in dirt, mud and snow, as its self-cleaning high-void lugs provide traction in both muddy and snowy conditions. The deep shoulder lugs for traction and an aggressive look, and the enhanced Sidebiters provide both traction and protection against rocks. 

Gary put the Sidebiter II with the MTZs back in place to check for fit.

We headed over to SoCal SuperTrucks to help us mount and balance the Mickey Thompson wheels and tires. Shop technician Gary Loper helped with with the install. He started by removing the stock tires and wheels, which weighed approximately 42 pounds in total. We were happy to see the new Mickey Thompson Sidebiter IIs and 33-inch MTZs only weighed 88 pounds in all. Obviously adding rubber, and quite a bit more of it, would be an increase in weight, but for a mud-terrain tire we were impressed we were well under the 100-pound mark. Once the tires were mounted on the Sidebiter IIs, the wheels ranged in the amount of weight needed for balancing. One only took a mere 1.5 ounces of weight, while others needed closer to 5 ounces, which isn’t out of the norm for a mud-terrain tire.

Once the wheels were balanced it was time to put them on our WJ. They all fit in place just fine, which was a bit of a relief, but there was some trimming needed in the front. The stock front bumper needed some additional trimming as did they rear of the wheel wells – though not much.

Although we did quite a bit of trimming during the installation of the Bushwacker flares, the 33-inch Mickey Thompson MTZs still rubbed on the stock bumper and the rear of the wheel well slightly, so some minor additional trimming was needed.

The wheel well lining doesn’t need to be completely removed but it does need some healthy trimming once our 33s were installed.

The Bushwacker Cut-Out Flare installation covered most of the sheet-metal trimming, but we still need to cut a little bit of the pinch weld at the rear of the wheel wells.

We haven’t taken our WJ on the trails just yet, so we’ll have to update our impression of its performance then, but we were pleasantly surprised that the MTZs had great on-road manners. On the freeway drive back from the shop, the MTZs tracked straight and true at highway speeds. The mud-terrain tire does have the additional road noise expected of a more aggressive tread design.

Although we plan to replace the front bumper eventually, for those who intend to keep it we wanted to show the mods needed for this setup. Not a massive amount of trimming is required on the front, but part of the underside needs cutting to clear our 33-inch MTZs.

On road, the 4.0-liter motor doesn’t feel sluggish on the bottom end but its midrange and top end acceleration are not ideal – which is not surprise considering our 3.55 gear ratio. Although our Grand Cherokee is still drivable on the road right now, we’ll be looking to re-gear it for better all-around performance.

A few months back, this is what our WJ looked like after the initial fender flare cuts.

Our WJ has quite a different stance now with our 33-inch Mickey Thompson tires and new Sidebiter II wheels.

Slowly but surely, our WJ Project is coming along. Soon we will address the bumpers, gearing, axle reinforcement and locker upgrades, storage and more. We’re looking forward to getting on the trail soon.

Mickey Thompson Tires

SoCal SuperTrucks

Cladding & Trim Cleanup

BDS 4-Inch Suspension Install at SoCal SuperTrucks

Bushwacker Flares, MAACO Paintjob

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