New Tires – A long time coming, but worth the wait

Without going into too much detail, tires for the LJ have been a sore point for me for the last year or so.  When I put together my plan the ultimate end game was to have the LJ rolling on a set of 33’s. The combination of the 1″ body lift and the 2″ JKS JSpec lift were chosen as part of that plan.

A pallet load of goodies.

Sadly a few unexpected issues in early 2016 turned into unexpected expenses and that messed with my budget.  As such I ended up having to borrow a set of tires.  I had to go bigger due to regearing the axles to 4.88’s.  The new lower gearing was way too deep for the 31’s I had been running.  Maybe I should have left well enough alone and left it stock.  Aww, who am I kidding.  You can never leave a Jeep stock, right?  Read on for the big reveal…

Welcome Cooper Tire!

First of all let me start off by welcoming Cooper Tire on board as the newest corporate partner for ECOA and the NHT book series.  They are super excited to be making inroads into the overland scene and I suspect you’ll start seeing more of them as time goes on.  That said, I warned them I won’t be going easy on the tires.  The overland adventure lifestyle is by no means a cake walk when it comes to tires.  In the past I’ve done long highway marathons (like to Maine for the start of the 2015 NHT trip or to Denver for the start of the 2016 NHT), some pretty gnarly rocky trails (like at Rausch Creek, in Uwharrie, or out in Moab), and of course miles and miles of dirt and gravel fire roads that are known to chew up lesser tires (like in Michaux, Allegheny, and Monongahela to name a few).  2017 will be no different as both planned NHT trips will see me returning to places like Moab in the spring and the Appalachian Mountains in the fall.

Christmas came early.

Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx

Choosing a new tire for the LJ this past winter was probably one of the hardest processes I’ve ever gone though.  The hamster wheel in my head started turning as early as the spring while I was on the 2016 No Highways Tour.  The LT 255/75R17 mud-terrains I was borrowing got me second guessing my predisposition to all-terrains.  However, after a few thousand miles on the highway and a few days in the rain I realized mud-terrains weren’t for me.  The increase in road noise got to me first.  The lack of tread siping also led to more than a few unexpected skids and peal-outs in the rain.  I also realized that in all my years running all-terrains I could never once say I had gotten stuck and be able to blame it on the tires.  All-terrains, for the most part, live up to their name was being suitable for all terrain conditions as well as all weather conditions… at least the ones I’ve found myself in.

Playing around with Phoenix’s S/T Maxx’s during a run through Bald Eagle SF.
Probably the genesis moment for my consideration of both Cooper as a brand and the S/T Maxx as a tire
He’s running a LT 265/75R16 on stock Toyota 16×7 wheels

As far as tire brand goes, I can thank Phoenix (aka @tokentacoma on Instagram) for getting me to consider Coopers.  He’s running the Discoverer S/T Maxx on his Toyota Tacoma and has been really impressed with them.  Confessing my lack of knowledge about the S/T Maxx, and Cooper Tires as a brand, I played close attention to his tires on our adventures last year.  I watched as he followed me through everything I was doing and took note of how his tires hooked up in the rocks and on the trails we traveled.  With ever mile we traveled together I became more and more impressed.  Eventually I knew I needed a set for myself.

The tread pattern of the S/T Maxx really intrigued me. It had many of the characteristics of an all-terrain (smaller inner lugs, smaller lug gaps, and sipes) but at the same time had more aggressive larger outer lugs with larger gaps like a mud-terrain.  For lack of a better description I’d say it’s a hybrid.  The shoulders of a mud-terrain and the center ribs of an all-terrain.  Best of both worlds.

LT 255/85R16

If I thought picking a new tire was hard, settling on a size was even harder.  The LJ came stock with 15×8 aluminum alloy wheels.  Those went away rather quickly and when I swapped over the 31’s from my ZJ. I opted to just leave them on the 15×8 steel wheels they were already mounted to. The original plan to run a 33×10.50R15 on the LJ.  Guess what… Cooper doesn’t make the S/T Maxx in a 33×10.50R15.  They make a 33 by 12.50 but that is too wide for me.  As it is I’m running the maximum fender width I’m comfortable running and I honestly prefer a tall skinny tire over a tall wide one.  Plus, after running the 255/75R17’s I was getting used to the narrower look even compared to the 31×10.50’s I had started with.

Switching to a larger wheel seemed inevitable.  As I looked at the current state of the tire and wheel industry I realized almost everyone, including OEM manufactures, seems to be shifting away from 15″ wheels.  It’s a combination of performance, cost, and aesthetics — all of which I won’t go into right now — but needless to say sticking with 15’s really wasn’t an option.

Trying to narrow down potential tire sizes from Cooper Tire sizes and specs sheet
These sheets are available via manufacture’s websites and help give you accurate numbers to help select the right size

While the 17″ wheels I was borrowed looked cool they did seem a bit much for me.  I also wan’t keen on running the spacer-adapter I needed to use to adapt the stock 5×4.5″ bolt pattern of the LJ to the 5×5″ bolt pattern on the JK wheels.  With 17’s seeming too big and 15’s too small the logical, and only, conclusion seemed to be running 16″ wheels.

Once I decided on 16″ wheels the selection process of deciding on a tire size began.  If it would have been as simple as picking a LT 33×10.50R16 it would have been a less stressful process.  Sadly once you jump to 16″ wheels pretty much everything is done via the metric aspect ratio tire size system.  To be honest I cheated and just printed out the master tire size list with all the specs and began highlighting ones that fit within my parameters.

The parameters for me were obviously going to hinge on that 33×10.50 size.  Truth be told though the 33’s I had originally planned my build around only spec’ed out at 32.5″ tall.  Not exactly a true 33.  There weren’t any true 33’s for a 16″ wheel either.  Since the first number of the size is the width I decided to just start there and highlighted every 16″ tire with a 9.5″ to 11″ width.  That gave me more than a few options most ranging from 32″ to 33″ which was my size range for hight.  After narrowing things down (no pun intended) I settled on 255/85R16 because it worked out to be (roughly) a 33x10R16… or at least as close as I was going to get (I believe exact specs per Cooper Tire’s site is 32.8 overall diameter with a 10.2″ section width).

LT 255/85R16

LT = Light Truck

255 = 255mm = 25.5 CM = a smidgen over 10″(section width)

85 = 85% of 10″ = 8.5″ (sidewall height)
R = Radial construction
16 = wheel size in inches

Tire diameter = 16+(2×8.5) = 33″
Making this (roughly) a  LT 33x10R16 for normal people
(I hate metic aspect ratio tire sizing)

An added bonus to this tire size, and switching to 16″ wheels in general, was the ability to up the load range of the tire from a C load range (common to most 15″ LT tires) to an E load range (more common at the larger sizes).  While a C load range is more than acceptable for a smaller SUV like my LJ was in stock form, the increase in tire strength is nice given the added weight of all the accessories on the LJ, the gear, plus towing a trailer.  The thicker sidewall and tread plies of an E load range tire are a nice piece of mind to have while in the remote backcountry.

But wait, there’s more!

As the late great Billy Mays (R.I.P) used to say at the end of every product pitch, “But wait, there’s more!”  As if having new wheels and tires spec’ed out for the LJ wasn’t exciting enough another opportunity developed in late 2016.  After some long conversations I was able to make contact with Coyote Enterprises.  If that name doesn’t sound familiar don’t worry.  They aren’t a big name in the overland corner of the world yet.  They are, however, a big name in the off-road racing and rock-crawling world.  The reason is they manufacture internal boltless beadlocks.

One of the many mystery boxes from my Instagram feed
Very excited to be trying these out in the overland environment

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “Dean, overlanders don’t need beadlocks.”  Normally I’d agree with you.  For starters, there are a host of issues trying to run beadlocks on a street legal rig.  Most beadlock wheels aren’t DOT approved and therefore are not street legal.  In a state with tough inspection and motor vehicle codes (like my state) it’s just not worth the hassle to try and skirt the law.  Also, most beadlock wheels only lock the outer bead of the tire.  While helpful, it’s not a perfect solution and low-pressure tires can still burp and/or slip an inner bead.  If you do manage to find a DOT approved beadlock wheel that locks both the inner and outer bead (yes, they do exist) be prepared to pay a LOT of money.  That kind of cost is prohibitive for someone like me and for any of you who are on a modest budget.

The Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlocks are relatively easy to instal.
Attention to detail (such as prepping the beads on the tires and drilling the secondary valve stem hole) may seem intimidating, but taking the time to do things properly ensures success.
 

That said, I opted to partner with Coyote Enterprises for a few reasons.  First, their product allows you to retain your stock wheels rather than buying large clunky aftermarket wheels.  Many people take pride in the aesthetics of their vehicle.  Some prefer OEM wheels while others spend money on aftermarket wheels solely for their unique looks.  Others, like me, switch away from OEM cast aluminum alloy wheels (which are prone to cracking) to a stronger and more trouble-free steel wheel.  Plus, if you do end up bending a steel wheel they can usually be “persuaded” back into shape with a BFH (I’ve actually done this a few times myself).  Second, this is a prefect opportunity for Coyote Enterprises to get some real world feedback about using their product in the overland adventure lifestyle.  I had planned from day one for my LJ to be a triple-purpose daily driver, overland adventure vehicle, and a rock crawler.  Even as an overlander they will be an asset given how much time my rig spends off-pavement with the tires aired down.

One of the times having a team of professionals on tap is well worth it.
Although they had never done this kind of install they took a few days to do their homework.
I talked with them a few times (since I did my homework too) and we hammered out a plan.
They took their time, we knocked our heads together to make sure t’s were crossed and i’s were dotted
In the end all five went on without a problem.

Test fitting the first finished wheel.
Key area to watch out for is the inner valve stem clearance around the brake caliper.
With going from 15″ to 16″ wheels I had plenty of clearance.
Still a good idea to check.

These internal boltless beadlocks basically function like an internal air bladder putting pressure on both the inner and outer beadlocks.  This is an obvious step up compared to most beadlocks wheels on the market.  Also, the internal air bladder can double as a “limp flat” feature.  While by no means a true “run flat” like you would find on high end tires (or military spec vehicles like a HMMVEE), Coyote Enterprises claims their inner-tube and liner system can withstand ‘some abuse’ when needed. This is nice because in the event the tire does lose pressure (say from a ripped off valve stem or a puncture – both of which I’ve experienced) the internal air bladder remains inflated. This makes it less likely that the tire will be totally destroyed by driving on a totally deflated tire (which I’ve done <hangs head in shame>).  The inner liner gives some support and added protection to the sidewall and bead area of the tire making it more likely the tire, as a whole, can be salvaged.  This is essential when out in the backcountry when access to a replacement tire isn’t a guarantee.  Being able to field-repair a slightly damaged tire is a much better alternative than writing off a trashed tire.  Given the success of Coyote Enterprises boltless beadlocks in the off-road racing scene I personally don’t doubt they’ll hold up in the overland world.

My biggest fear was how the tires would balance.
Balancing off-road tires is hard enough, let alone the added weight of an internal beadlock liner.
However the team at Coyote Enterprises knows their stuff.
All but one wheel required between 2oz and 4.5oz of weights.
The worst of the bunch took 7 ounces.  Still not bad.

Conclusion

This wheel, tire, and beadlock combination has me so excited.  With a grand total of eight Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx tires for the LJ and the trailer, and five Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlocks for the LJ I can’t wait tackle some tough terrain on my adventures.  The goal is to step things up a notch this year and I can now wheel with a new degree of confidence that I haven’t had (to be honest I was saying a prayer every time I drove the LJ last year with those old mud-terrains).

The last picture of LJ on the LT 31×10.50R15 all-terrains.
As nice as these tires were, I won’t miss them.

I’m also excited to be a part of their Cooper Tires family now and put their tires through a litany of torturous terrain both here on the east coast and out west.  Expect ongoing reviews of the tires and some pretty epic photos of me doing everything but taking it easy on the tires.  That’s not implying I’m going to abuse them.  Not at all.  I’m still going to be a responsible owner operator and monitor things like tire pressure and drive in a responsible manner.  It just means no more kid gloves when I’m out on an adventure.  I’m not going to do things like play passenger or take it easy at events like MAOF, VOR, or the Rendezvous because I’m on borrowed tires.  It means I’ll push the LJ as far as I can to showcase how capable a modestly built rig on 33’s really is.  This ought to be a good year!

The first photo of the LJ on the LT 255/85R16 Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx
I cannot wait to put these tires through their paces.
(Pardon the baby powder residue on the rear tire. It’s leftover from the beadlock mounting process).

Stay tuned for more photos of the LJ in action rocking the new Cooper Tires out in the wild!

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0 thoughts on “New Tires – A long time coming, but worth the wait

  1. I've got the stock 18-inch rims on my Jeep right now and I actually quite like how they look. That being said finding tires for them sucks! and I mean sucks! I've got a set of 285/60R18 NITTO which are about the same size as the stock tire just wider. They look skinny and you have to go really really low on pressure to get enough sidewall flex. I'll be moving up to a 33.2-33.5 tire that is slightly narrower this year. I'd move up to a 34 or 35 if it didn't mean regearing. I've got the stock 3.21 gears and know they are going to have to go, but 4.10s are not in the budget right now.

    The internal bead lock idea is cool but like you mentioned not terribly important unless you plan on doing a lot of rock crawling at really low pressures. Of course, there is always the reassurance knowing that you can run at 5 psi if you have to.

    Great blog. I am really glad to have run into you on reddit.

  2. Friend of mine ran into the same issue. Her JK Sahara had the 18" wheels and she found it was cheaper to just order 16" steel wheels and a 265/75R16 (I that is around what you're thinking, maybe a size smaller) than it was to buy tires for the 18" wheels. The price jump for 18" tires is ridiculous.