I knew things were going to get dicey when ominous thunderclouds, which had loomed overhead for much of the morning, unleashed a fury of lightning. It fractured the sky and brought with it a deluge uncommon for the season. As bulbous drops began to splatter against our visors, I called over the intercom to my co-driver, Trevor: “Things are going to get greasy… easy now.”
He backed off the accelerator of our Wide Open Baja buggy, but only slightly. The straightaway terminated with a left turn into a now-flowing creek bed; a bushy tree lay dead ahead. I knew we were carrying too much speed as he turned the wheels and applied the brakes. The car went into a four-wheel slide – we weren’t going to make it.
“Easy, easy, back off, GO RIGHT, GO RIGHT!” We cleared the tree by a mere metre. I rattled off a slurry of rapid fire instructions: “Go right, go right, punch it, don’t stop, don’t stop!”
The tyres flung gloopy chunks of mud like a quartet of Gatling guns, which pelted us from all sides, and our adrenalin levels matched the haemorrhaging creek by the time we got back on track and plowed on.
We were in Baja Norte, Mexico’s frontier state, enroute to Mike’s Sky Rancho; an iconic enclave in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir. Our mission for the next 48 hours was to flog BFGoodrich’s new All-Terrain KO2 tyres – which they claim to be their toughest All-Terrains to date – through Baja’s best.
Many fellow scribes choose to run BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain and All-Terrain KO tyres. So, it was an incredulous surprise when on a separate test earlier in 2015, the KO didn’t fare so well in a tyre shootout against six other leading all-terrains tyres.
The new KO2 has wider tread voids with tapered vertical edges, “pyramids” in the larger voids called stone ejectors, and full-depth interlocking sipes.
My personal thoughts were (and still are) that the earlier KO was not a bad tyre, but the competition had since caught up and surpassed it. When I received word that the company was launching its next generation All-Terrain, the KO2, it not only confirmed our findings, but also reaffirmed my belief that BFGoodrich is committed to staying on the cutting edge of tyre technology.
The new tyre is said to be tougher and provide better traction and longer tread life. Short of performing a long-term test, Baja’s remote country would surely confirm or dispel the former two.
When it comes to improvements over the previous model, the company is boasting some formidable claims. The first is a 15 per cent increase in tread life on asphalt and a whopping 100 per cent on gravel roads.
BFGoodrich has presented a number of enhancements to the tread block and rubber compound to back up this claim, many of which come from technologies developed during its 40 years of racing at Baja. When I asked about the rubber and carbon cocktail, Senior Development Engineer Brandon Sturgis, who has been with BFG for 13 years, said: “It’s kind of like grandma’s secret recipe for lemon cake… she’s not going to tell you.” In short, the KO2 rubber has been optimally blended to reduce chipping and tearing without compromising adhesion.
Comparing the new KO2 to the previous KO reveals serrated, wraparound tread, extended shoulder rubber, and mud-phobic void bars.
The new interlocking tread block, which includes interesting little pyramids, or stone ejectors, at the base of the voids, is designed to keep small gravel from becoming wedged in the void and grinding away at the carcass with each rotation of the tyre. The overall effect is uniform wear and extended tread life.
BFGoodrich’s All-Terrain and Mud-Terrain tyres have long been regarded as a ‘soft’ tyre.
When aired down to the 10psi range they provide excellent deformation, which allows the tread block to wrap effectively around the tractive surface (mechanical macro keying).
The sidewall has been strengthened with CoreGard tech, however the KO2 remains very flexible at low air pressure.
The negative aspect is soft sidewall versus tough sidewall. The engineers addressed the ‘toughness’ dilemma by borrowing CoreGard technology from their race-only Baja T/A KR2 tyre. CoreGard implements a rubber formula that is more resistant to splitting and bruising, and a thicker, more pronounced shoulder to reduce sidewall failures.
After reviewing field data on sidewall punctures, the engineers implemented computer modelling to develop a wraparound sidewall tread that deflects intruding objects.
BFGoodrich’s claim is a 20 per cent increase in sidewall durability. Jeff Cummins, a 38-year veteran of BFGoodrich’s racing program, said: “No tyre is indestructible, but I think we’re getting pretty close.”
Attaining optimal traction and tread life is a delicate balance for any tyre. BFGoodrich is attributing their claim of a 10 to 19 per cent increase in traction (depending on the surface) to a combination of tread block design, rubber compound, a new SideBiter sidewall tread and an innovative 3D siping technique.
While many all-terrain tyres are siped these days, most have vertical, straight-cut sipes and few are full-depth. The KO2’s 3D sipes span nearly the full width of the tyre’s footprint and penetrate the lugs in a serpentine fashion, as if a piece of corrugated metal was drawn through the tyre laterally. At a surface level, the sipes work to enhance mechanical keying.
When under a load, the 3D component allows the sipe to interlock with itself, which reduces the possibility of chipping but remains flexible. The result is improved traction without compromising lug integrity. In mud, small ridges in the middle of the tread block voids (or ‘mud-phobic’ bars) are designed to reduce the suction effect and clear the void as the tyre rotates.
The KO2 has also been granted the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol, and a Rubber Manufacturers Association ‘snow worthiness’ certification that’s required in many mountain regions of the USA and Canada. I only logged a few dry-pavement kilometres with the KO2 in a Ford Raptor, but what I experienced was a smooth, well-handling tyre. It was quiet, had good line-holding properties in constant-radius turns and was predictable.
Baja’s off roads are unforgiving and I extend big kudos to the BFGoodrich engineering and marketing teams for allowing dozens of wing-nut journalists to flog the new KO2 with reckless abandon – rather than putting us on a finely manicured track with hazards removed.
We encountered high-speed graded dirt and marbled gravel roads, jagged shale outcroppings, steep and loose hill climbs, greasy and gloopy mud, soft-bottomed, bonnet-deep water crossings, and deep sand; everything but snow. As for our guides, they were all current racers. Each leg was fast and rough, like a mini Baja 25, 30, or 50.
This type of media program stands testament to the confidence BFGoodrich has in their product. Our 30-plus vehicles travelled roughly 480km each without a tyre failure (save one tyre that departed the vehicle with a broken wheel and steering knuckle attached).
Back in 1977, when BFG introduced the first All-Terrain, they distinguished themselves as being “the other guys”. Nearly four decades later, and with 80 Baja class wins and championships (more than any other brand), they simply stamp Baja Champion on the side of each tyre. Why not? The KO2 took a class win in the 2013 Baja 1000.
The BFGoodrich KO2 tyres are available now in limited sizes with more sizes becoming available as global production ramps up, and the initial world demand slows.
Check in with your BFGoodrich dealer for details and availability.