I boarded the luxury bus on that late-August morning, completely unaware of the adventure I was about to experience. After all, riding in a tour bus with fellow journalists was nothing new. Looking back, though, I should have rested up a bit more on that air-conditioned bus during the three-hour ride to Mexico. This would be no ordinary business trip.
I was one of about a dozen journalists from all over North America invited by Michelin North America’s BFGoodrich Tires brand division to travel to Baja California in Mexico for a three-day off-road-racing adventure.
On the way to the Baja, Gary Enterline, light truck category brand manager for BFGoodrich, told us that, in just a few hours, we would arrive at the “Kings of the Off-Road Fantasy Camp.” Enterline, recently named one of the top-five most influential people by an off-road magazine, was joined by Rafael Navarro, field marketing manager for BFGoodrich, Frank DeAngelo, manager of motorsports development, and Christian Flathman, public relations manager. The four would be our desert guides for the next few days.
Once we arrived at a place fittingly called the Horsepower Ranch, near the town of Ensenada, Enterline said we would each experience first hand what it’s like to drive a four-speed Baja buggie at nearly 100 miles an hour through grueling, dusty desert terrain. I admit to being a bit intimidated, but, at that point, there was no turning back.
The Fantasy Camp was a way for BFGoodrich to showcase its light truck tires in action in real-world situations. BFGoodrich’s full lineup of light truck tires includes the All-Terrain T/A KO, Mud-Terrain T/A KM, Radial Long Trail T/A, Open Trail T/A, Rugged Trail T/A, Baja T/A and the Krawler T/A KX. (T/A stands for Traction/Advantage.) The focus that week was on the Mud-Terrain, All-Terrain, Krawler and Baja tires, but the brightest spotlight shone on the All-Terrain and Krawler tires.
At the crack of dawn, we ventured out into the vast desert on Wide Open Baja racers. I brought only a backpack, helmet, water bottle and kidney belt. (I was told the belt would keep my internal organs in place during the rough ride a comforting thought.)
The buggies were fitted with BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, which are available in 24 sizes, three of them new. This year, BFGoodrich introduced sizes LT285/55R20LRD, LT325/60R20LRD and 37×12.50R20LRD. Overall, the tire is offered in 37 SKUs.
For more than 400 miles, I rode in and drove these high-speed off-road vehicles through dirt, sand, mud, dust clouds and over sharp rocks, boulders and cliff edges. (I would like to thank the inventor of the five-point harness.)
Though Michelin focused on the exotic, off-road application of its BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, I learned that these tires are also used on the road, in daily-driver SUV and pickup applications. In fact, the tire is already original equipment on the Hummer H2, and in 2005, the 17-inch size will be OE on the Dodge Power Wagon.
What makes the All-Terrain tire rip through rough terrain, according to my BFGoodrich hosts, is its unique tread and shoulder design, which they call “ShoulderLock technology.” It incorporates upper sidewall traction bars and wide shoulder grooves for traction and durability. The tire’s dual-compound tread, three plies and two steel belts enhance its ability to handle the rigors of desert racing. Additionally, the tire features a rim protector and stiff tread for response, cornering and protection from road hazards.
Next, I took a break from desert terrain to experience something even more extreme rock crawling. BFGoodrich wanted to show off its Krawler tire, designed specifically for the heart-pounding, relatively new extreme motorsport, which involves driving straight up vertical rock surfaces and over huge boulders.
Enterline developed the Krawler tire in 2002. The KX in the tire’s full name stands for “Key Feature: Xtreme,” and, in 2003, the tire won eight out of 12 rock crawling championships.
The Krawler tire features “ultra-aggressive” lugs in the tread and sidewall area for traction and puncture resistance. It is available in two sizes 35×13.50R15 and 37×12.50R17. The 17-inch is available in two versions, one of which can be custom grooved. The tire also has a four-ply nylon carcass with slightly angled alternate plies for puncture resistance and a tri-polymer tread compound for gripping rocks and dirt. During aired-down situations, the tire’s wheel and rim protection features help avoid off-road hazards.
By the end of the trip, I had developed a new appreciation for the dirt and dust. There truly was no turning back.