BFGoodrich KM3 Mud-Terrain Tire Testing

Jun. 07, 2016 By Josh Burns
BFGoodrich invited us to Utah to test its in-development KM3 tire in comparison to its current KM2 mud-terrain.

We get plenty of bizarre emails in our inbox every day. Whether it’s messages from “U.S.” pharmacies, Middle Eastern Sheiks looking to give us their fortune if we simply reply with our address and social, or Asian parts suppliers looking for distributors, we tend to see some interesting stuff in our inbox.

One message we received last year from BFGoodrich Public Relations Manager Tom Sullivan especially caught our attention – and unlike many others, we’re glad this one didn’t go into spam. BFG was inviting us to test its next-generation mud-terrain tire, which sounded like an amazing invite and one that surprised us a little. Although we journalists often get to see products ahead of the general public, typically by the time we see them they are completed – no more testing, design changes, name changes, etc. This test, however, would be in conjunction with BFG’s on-going development for its next-gen mud tire. This was certainly a trip we couldn’t pass up. 

Although can't show show off the KM3's tread design just yet, BFGoodrich did allows us to provide a closer look at the new sidewall design.

We tested the dry traction and rock-crawling ability of the KM2s and KM3s on the different obstacles at the Utah Motorsports Campus.

Last December, after accepting the invitation, we found ourselves on a plane to Georgia. Our small group discretely drove through sections of the Durhamtown Off-Road Resort and plowed through plenty of fresh mud (thanks to recent heavy rains) on the current KM2 Mud-Terrain tires and the in-development KM3 (which we now have permission to officially call the KM3). The experience was great, provided us with insight into the tire design and exactly what BFGoodrich engineers are looking to accomplish with the new tire, and it provided BFG with a gauge on their progress from racers and journalists. 

Fast-forward into 2016 and we received another e-mail. This time, BFGoodrich wanted to test its latest version of the KM3 in Utah to gauge its dry traction ability. Shortly thereafter, we were on a plane and headed to Salt Lake City, and then from there to the Utah Motorsports Campus just outside of SLC. Since the facility has a rock park, the location provided us with a great chance to test the dry traction and rock-crawling ability of the new KM3. Similar to our first testing session, a few select off-road journalists were in attendance, along with a few racers and brand ambassadors for BFG. Although this was the second event of its kind for the KM3, the format of these events is still a bit of an experiment for BFG.

Comparing the KM2s (shown) to the KM3s gave is an idea of the difference in compound and tread design of both tires. Although the KM2 is a great tire, we did find that the KM3 was a little more composed in regaining traction at times.

“We obviously do our internal tests that take us to a certain point in time in our development, and I think putting them into the hands of folks like you who do this for a living and have done it with our tires and other tires can really give us objective feedback in how we’re doing with the development of this tire,” Sullivan said.  “We have heard from folks that have the KM2 now and what they want to see in the next-generation mud tire, so when we took you all down several months ago to do some mud testing I think we demonstrated increased mud performance there, and what we’re doing out here is performance testing the dry traction and toughness of this tire.”

BFG is taking a unique approach in looking for outside input beyond its engineers and test team, but it comes down to the value BFGoodrich places on our collective group opinion. We wondered: How did you come up with the small group?

All of the testing we performed on the KM3s and KM2s were in Jeep Wranglers. During out time at the Utah Motorsports Complex, to truly gauge the traction of both tires we kept the tires inflated to proper on-road PSI. We did, however, at the end of the day, defalte one JK's tires to see just how the KM3 wrapped around some of the rocks in the park.

“Well, it’s guys we’ve worked with a lot and guys and women we trust,” Sullivan said. “There’s a mixture of ambassadors and journalists here and it’s kind of a unique approach. The idea started with our marketing and development program. We said, ‘How about we bring in these guys that we’ve worked with a long time and let them tell us how they feel?’ And the fact that we don’t worry too much about things getting out, there’s a trust factor there too.”

Sullivan also had a little more detail as to how BFGoodrich sees the KM3 differing from the current KM2.

We stepped out of the more controlled environment of the rock park and out onto the trail - specifically Rattlesnake Gulch Trail - to check out the tires.

“I think there are a couple of things that we want to do with this tire, and one thing that we keep hearing is people want to see some increased strength in the sidewall, so that is one thing that we’re looking at addressing with this tire as well,” he said. “Even from our last test to our most recent one, the tire has evolved and will continue to do so.”

There are a few things we’ve learned about the evolution of the KM3 from our last test to now. As Sullivan noted, the sidewall strength is a clear objective for the BFG team, and the KM3 has more wrap-around tread on its sidewalls similar to the KO2. Aside from tread design changes (which we’re not allowed to show just yet… remember, trust factor!), the compound of the KM3 differs from the KM2 as well. On some of the rock-crawling obstacles at the Utah Motorsports Campus, we could note subtle differences in how each tire gripped rock. Both tires offered good traction on the rock-climbing slopes, but we noticed when the KM2 lost grip the tire struggled to regain it, causing the tire to hop a bit more; whereas when the KM3 would lose traction it would tend to regain that grip in a more composed manner (a little more spinning, a little less hopping).

Although our testing at the Utah Motorsports Campus was with tires at full air pressure, we did get to perform some aired-down testing out on the trail. We ventured away from the Motorsports Complex to tackle Rattlesnake Gulch Trail, which is interconnected with a number of other trails that wind through the mountains outside of Fairfield, Utah. This gave us the chance to compare the difference in aired-down performance of the KM2 and KM3, as well as the toughness of the tires since the trail featured rock piles to scale, weather-rutted roads, and even a few sand hill climbs. 

A little ways into the trailer we came across some sand hills. Both the KM2 and KM3 performed well in this particular area, but the KM3's harder biting edge gives it the better score in the sand.

From what we can gather, the KM3 looks to be on the right. Most of the Jeep Wranglers we had in attendance only had moderate 2-inch lifts, and we weren’t testing giant tires (265/70R17s). We did, however, have a set of 37s on one of the BFG Wranglers in attendance that was far more built up. After scaling a few obstacles and trying to scale a few others (we even ended up with one broken axle), the KM3s were no worse for the wear. The aired-down KM3 were up to the challenging of tackling challenging obstacles, and they aggressive sidewalls offered additional protection and grip in the rocks.

The hardest part to wrap our heads around is the fact that the KM3 won’t be available until next year. The KM3 appears closer to completion than further from it, and yet there are still potential changes it could undergo. So after this round of testing, it left us wondering: What’s the next step in the evolution of this tire?

Where does the KM3 development go from here? Or will the final tire even look like this? We're not entirely sure, so we'll have to wait like everyone else to find out ... unless, BFG calls us for another secret trip!

“So for this tire to perform at its best there’s several different characteristic it has to have. It has to have dry traction, mud performance, and it also has to have strong tread wear,” Sullivan said. “So that’s going to be the next thing we do is some endurance testing. There’s a possibility we’ll bring it to some off-road pro races and see how they perform in that grueling environment, so that’ll be kind of the next development. And then early into next year I think we’ll have a lot of information both from our internal testing and the things we’re doing here with you all, and we’ll be able to put together a really good product.”

We’re looking forward to seeing, and driving, the final product. For now, we’ll have to be patient and wait to see what BFGoodrich comes up with in the next version of its KM3 tire. Newsletter
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