BFGoodrich: On a trail-blazing mission

By JAY WONG | 14 December 2023


FOR those who use caterpillar tracks or anything but wheels for their daily drive, this article might not concern you.

For the rest of us who don't use a battle tank or vehicles of that sort, tyres are an essential component of any vehicle that uses a road (or runway).

Tyres have come a long way since the advent of vulcanised rubber by Charles Goodyear  in 1839.

The invention of the first motorcar by German-born Karl Benz  in 1885 brought about the first set of proper tyres a decade later by French brothers André and Edouard Michelin.

The KM3 fitted on the KTM Buggy.
The KM3 fitted on the KTM Buggy.


At that time, tyres were not known for their durability but in 1910, a US-based tyre manufacturing company founded in 1870 discovered that adding carbon to the mix helped to resolve the problem.

Thank you, Dr Benjamin Franklin Goodrich – founder of the B.F. Goodrich Company later known as BFGoodrich.

Acquired by Michelin in 1990, this 153-year-old company is the oldest known tyremaker to date. Today, it makes tyres to reckon with.

How so? Well as the mantra goes "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" and sell they did – especially among the off-roading community.

KM3.
KM3.


BFGoodrich has seen much success predominantly in endurance rally races such as the Baja (Ba-ha) 1000 with 28 overall victories and the infamously gruelling Paris-Dakar Rally (13-time winner).

Additionally, the company so happened to have had a helping hand in a rotary-powered Mazda Lola which drove to victory during the prestigious 24 hours of Le Mans (C2 class) race and was fitted with a set of BFGoodrich Radial T/A – all while the rest of the field drove on racing slick tyres.

So yes, it seems they are more than capable of creating highly competent tyres and for this brand to not be widely known in this neck of the woods is somewhat of a tragedy.

To find out more about some of their tyres, it's off to Khao Yai National Park located in Nakhon Ratchasima in Thailand where a sampling of four tyre patterns from this brand was prepared.

KM3.
KM3.


The 2,206sq km park is an Unesco World Heritage Site that's been deemed important internationally for its biodiversity.

This includes the seriously endangered Siamese crocodile as well as 19 vulnerable species and four endangered species such as the Asian elephant, tiger, leopard cat and a specific species of Southeast Asian cattle known as the Banteng.

Although the park is home to such animals, for a day, the regional event played host to 200 distributors including media and influencers from eight countries such as Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam for an exclusive driving event conducted on closed circuits.

The unique opportunity allowed for first-hand experience of four particular tyres including the BFGoodrich All-Terrain AT KO2 (RM930 - RM2,398) introduced in 2016 to mark the brand's comeback in Malaysia.

Trail Terrain used on 4X4 pick-up trucks.
Trail Terrain used on 4X4 pick-up trucks.


The three other tyres were the Mud Terrain T/A KM3 (RM1,662 - RM3,827) that's been available in international markets since 2018, Trail Terrain T/A (RM984 - RM1,690) and a dedicated road-going g-Force Phenom (RM438 - RM1,241) launched this year in Malaysia.

One of the best ways to start the day is with some mud-slinging and no other tyre but the KM3 would be the best to do so with.

The KM3 tyres sit at the top of the hierarchy when it comes to navigating through some seriously extreme off-road terrains with its tread featuring large blocks and gaping voids to prevent most things from getting stuck in between to hamper its grip/clawing performance.

Furthermore, it boasts of a 5% increase in mud traction over its predecessor (Mud-Phobic) and an 8% improvement for rock and slick surface traction with its Krawl-TEK compound.

Trail Terrain.
Trail Terrain.


It even possesses extreme sidewall protection, pinch shock resistance and chip-and-tear resistance against gravel.

To put the KM3 tyres to the test, the Wild Calling Farm Park located within this Unesco site would set the stage with KTM buggies at the ready and their wheels shod with these tyres.

Meant for the worst of conditions with their ability to "claw" at the terrain, its deep tread grooves disallow items from getting stuck in between.

Rather, they're meant to sling them away.

Trail Terrain.
Trail Terrain.


The treads can be deemed as the most aggressively designed within the brand's family of off-roading tyres and it's no exaggeration when we say that they are some serious dredgers with the treads reaching about halfway into the side walls – allowing them to claw along the walls should it get submerged in some loose dirt, mud, gravel and the likes.

The KM3 tyres are large and heavy requiring some added throttling to get them moving, but such is the way it was engineered – to take on harsh conditions with its soft compound and a 20% more stiffer side wall.

Once on the move, the KM3s will provide a confident off-roading experience as it digs itself into the surface to find traction and provide a reassuring amount of grip for some serious dirt-filled fun.

While the KM3s are ideal for nature's more extreme conditions, don't expect too much from them when out on the roads.

KO2.
KO2.


On the other end of the spectrum is the Trail Terrain T/A which is touted as a premium tyre with superior on-road performance and light off-pavement capability.

The Trail Terrain tyres were fitted to pick-up trucks and SUVs that use a ladder frame and were presented with unpaved yet somewhat smooth dirt paths to mess around in.

Although these tyres are considered to belong to the all-terrain family of tyres, such an environment is where the Trail Terrain tyres prefer to be as their "natural habitat" rather than paved roads.

On loose dirt, these tyres accorded a good amount of grip, able to dig through and throw up some soil although its tread design isn't anywhere near generous nor as deep as the KM3.

KO2.
KO2.


Out on loose dirt, the experience was predictable enough to conduct Scandinavian flicks and maintain a more consistent drift through corners of this dirt course.

But hit any wet muddy sections and this is where you're along for the ride.

Predictability is what helps drivers manage throttle and steering inputs to maintain control.

The more of it the better, and to a degree, the safer it becomes.

KO2.
KO2.


Although impressive, this is the extent these tyres can handle.

Anything more, barring extreme conditions the KM3 tyres have been engineered for, then the KO2 tyres would be the ideal choice.

Sitting within the vacuum of the Trail Terrain and KM3, the KO2 is more capable than the Trail Terrain, but not as much as the KM3.

This is where avid off-roaders will need to determine the sort of terrain these tyres will need to endure.

g-Force Phenom is a high performance tyre.
g-Force Phenom is an ultra-high performance tyre.


The KO2 will have greater off-road capabilities than the Trail Terrain but its tread design and compound will not be able to rival the KM3's capabilities.

More grip and durability have been placed in the KO2's construction which will be able to take on large rocks as we found during an off-road trail trip up Khao Yai Tieng to take in its stunning view.

Moving on to the ultra-high performance road tyre g-Force Phenom currently available in Malaysia, this tyre will be one to consider for folks seeking predictability and consistency in grip in both dry and wet conditions.

Punishing it through the short 8Speed track located within the mountain range, the Phenom's dry grip becomes an extension of the driver while wet conditions will find it hard to relinquish its grip.

g-Force Phenom.
g-Force Phenom.


It becomes obvious that the Phenom is a tyre that's more than capable of tackling weather conditions faced in Malaysia.

Out on the track, drivers can expect high levels of predictability through quick directional changes.

Loss of grip in the wet due to a sudden change in direction will bring about a gradual loss unlike a competitor tyre which gave way suddenly once its grip levels were exceeded due to excessive speed levels.

This is undoubtedly an intriguing tyre to behold with an interesting tread design.

g-Force Phenom.
g-Force Phenom.


Large solid shoulder blocks would occupy the outer half of the tread while a more narrower design would inhabit the inner half.

Even with its large outer shoulder blocks, road noise wasn't noticeably present, but we'd dare surmise that it certainly provided a strong amount of cornering stability – it seems bigger is better...in this case.

With that, the choice is now yours with off-roaders having three products for choice while road-goers have the g-Force Phenom to consider which is being offered in a wide range of sizes that'll fit 16 to 20-inch wheels.

Regardless of preference, these tyres will certainly have their users wide-eyed and full of confidence.

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