Off-Roading 101:

Finding balance in the force

Fitted with Saffiro Max Trac all-terrain tires, these 4WD vehicles prepare to enter the muddy slopes of Rizal.

Fitted with Saffiro Max Trac all-terrain tires, these 4WD vehicles prepare to enter the muddy slopes of Rizal.

No, this is not some tag line for a science fiction movie. This is about finding the balance between momentum, traction and the right gear selection to use when climbing and descending steep, slippery slopes.

In a recent foray to the boonies with some new off-road players including Atoy Llave of Atoy Body Kits and the Hyundai drifting team, the newbies had the general impression that if the surface is muddy and slippery, it is assumed that a mud-terrain tire should be the default tire selection. Nothing can be truer than that, but we should still explore other options on tire tread choices, even if there is a specific tread pattern for a particular driving surface. Studying the options on tire choices boils down to the real world needs of every off-road driver.

There are off-roaders out there that use their vehicles for various purposes: as a daily commuter; a weekend toy; or as a work vehicle for use in difficult terrain. With the onset of the rainy season, putting on mud terrain tires would be a good way to go. However, mud terrain tires are quite expensive. Also, when used on-road, they perform poorly and are extremely noisy. Most people do not have the luxury of maintaining two different sets of tires, or would have the stomach to use mud terrain tires for both on- and off-road use.

In this column, we sample a set of all-terrain tires that gets the job done both in on- and off-road conditions.

To prove the point that all-terrain tires can get the job done, Sam Liuson of Wheel Gallery outfitted two vehicles with Saffiro Max Trac All-terrain Tires; the first one, a 1999 Defender 110; and the second, a current-model Hilux Pickup. Both had different tire widths. The Defender had tall and thin tires while the Hilux had wide tires. The test route was more than a kilometer long that snaked through mud, with hill climbs ranging from 20-50 degrees slopes. The mud surface was recently laid out the day before and has not been compacted.

As the group was about to begin the test, mother nature helped in making the route wet and slippery with a heavy downpour. To make matters worse, the Defender encountered problems with the gears as it could not switch over to the low-range gears and could only be used in the high-speed range mode. This limited our option on which gear to use in the climb. Nevertheless, the Defender stayed on first gear all the way up the climb.

Some air reduction was required from the tires to maximize the tire footprint for increased traction. We let out about 20 seconds of air from the tires, or about 10 to 12 pounds per square inch, with the final tire pressure at 20 psi.

Despite the limited gear choices and lack of torque to spin the tires, the Defender stayed on track by maintaining constant momentum, just enough to defeat the pull of gravity all throughout the climb. More caution was required on the way down. Any loss of traction will lead to side drifts that will lead to an uncontrolled descend and disaster. It must be noted that the older Defender is not assisted by any electronic aids found on newer 4WDs, so it was up to the tires and the driver to bring the Defender down safely.

Next on bat was the Hilux, with more torque and a huge lead in horsepower with its common rail diesel engine, a working low-range gear and a seasoned off-roader, Olson Camacho, behind the wheel. It appeared that the Hilux, in all-terrain tires, would make easy work of the climb with little or no excitement at all. As it started its run up the hill, the wider tires started slipping sideways, grappling for traction because of the wider weight distribution. The Hilux had less downforce contact on the driving surface. Fortunately, it had the horsepower to sustain proper speed to defeat the pull of gravity against it. But constant attention was required from the driver to prevent drifting sideways and ending in disaster. On the way down, the Hilux pilot required a bit more speed to keep the Hilux running straight and on the safe side with no violent braking action to maintain a straight direction. Needless to say, the Hilux pilot had his hands full.

In the end, both vehicles, with their different performance characteristics, made it up and down the hill unscathed, maybe with both drivers’ nerves shaken but not stirred. It also proved our point that to a certain degree, through proper preparation, a good pat down of driving knowledge and a desire to learn, an all-terrain tire can do the job.

A day later, I returned to the site in a current Subaru Forrester equipped with X Mode and road-rated tires, but this time under worse weather conditions. The Subaru made the climb and descend with ease – but that’s another story for an article later. Till the next time. Happy Trails!


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