Gear Essentials: Tires & Wheels

Gear Essential Header - Aug.png

August is tires and wheels month here at Overland Expo.

When we sat down as a group to pick our favorites for this month, we made a surprising discovery: Of all the types of gear, we overlanders harbor the strongest and most steadfast opinions about tires. Talk bad about someone’s choice of tires and you may be in for a fight (we had a few in picking this list).

It’s not surprising, really. Tires can make or break an overland journey — and they’re quite an investment to boot. So, it makes sense people would dig their heels in to defend their tires to the bitter end.

In short: We fought over the best overlanding tires so you don’t have to.

We picked several tires — from supple all-terrains to Kevlar-bound mud-terrain — that any overlander (4×4 or adv moto) can be proud to mount to their overland vehicle.

As for the wheels, they are as essential as tires — and just as contentious.

Picking a wheel can be a tough task. As an overlander, you want something that’s stylish without bordering on glam (unless that’s the look you’re going for). Nor do you want a set of wheels that appear hyper-modern or questionably outdated in their design. On top of aesthetic appearance, there’s construction quality to consider.

Sometimes, great-looking and affordable wheels are made of low-grade metals. If you’ve ever suffered a cracked rim, you know what a nightmare it can become.

So, we put our heads together and picked a few of our favorite tough-as-nails wheels to complement our tire top-notch choices. As usual, this month’s picks are listed in alphabetical order. Enjoy.

Cooper Tires— Discoverer S/T Maxx

The Cooper Tires Discoverer S/T Maxx has a name that is almost as long as its legacy in the overlanding space. These might not be the flashiest tires — Cooper doesn’t make the sexiest commercials. And they certainly don’t have the name recognition of other tires on this list. In this way, they kind of fly under the radar.

But for in-the-know overlanders who log as many highway miles as they do dirt, the Discoverer S/T Maxx are always high on their to-buy list. There are plenty of good reasons why.

First off, the Discoverer S/T Maxx is an all-terrain tire. However, they’re also M+S rated, which makes them capable in all kinds of weather conditions — from tarmac to muck to the snow.

They’re capable of competently competing in a ton of types of terrain thanks to their hybrid four-to-five block tread pattern. The aggressive treads themselves feature a dense network of sipes, which cause the Maxxes to grip even in the wettest conditions. Plus, they remain quiet on the freeway while avoiding uneven wear, which is a problem that plagues a lot of mud-terrain tires.

Designers added in stone ejector ribs to limit cutting and chipping. These are complemented by non-parallel groove walls that provide increased resistance to stone drilling.

The entire tire is shaped using Cooper’s proprietary Armor-Tek3 technology, which, Cooper claims, “helps reduce vulnerabilities in the tire’s carcass, strengthening the tire and reducing the likelihood of serious damage.”

Prices range from $189 to $399. That makes them competitive in the market, considering what you get.

Despite their being relatively unsung, the S/T Maxx are impressive performers. They appeal to overlanders who don’t need to impress onlookers by having the latest or coolest tire. However, they’re the go-to choice for those who want a tough tire that is as maneuverable on the freeway as it is tough on the trails. And that’s why we love them.

Dunlop — Trailmax Mission

What defines an adventure motorcycle tire anyhow? It seems like everything from big block knobbies to “how are you supposed to have a good time in the dirt with that?” slicks qualify as 50/50 tires these days. It feels like you’re always sacrificing longevity for off road performance or giving up this to have more of that.

Until now, that is.

After two years in development, Dunlop rolled out the Trailmax Mission: a true adventure tire that checks all the boxes for performance and durability for a wide range of riding. The Mission delivers knobby-like performance off-road, has impressive grip on the street, and promises great ride quality and stability everywhere it goes.

Adventure riding often involves polishing your precious knobbies off on the tarmac enroute to the gritty good stuff. With the Mission’s “Staggered Step” tread design with deep, widely spaced lugs, as the tread wears, the next biting edge “steps up” to grab hold of the substrate. These steps give the side knobs more rigidity and lug stability to prevent flex and create more biting edges.

The Mission addresses long-range durability with thicker sidewall construction to provide top-notch puncture resistance. The design is rigid enough to tackle seriously rocky terrain and the wrap-around side lug provides stability in sand and mud. Speaking from experience, these tires have an uncanny ability to allow riders to steer off-road, even on the heavy ADV bikes.

The wraparound tread blocks reach further up the sidewall, increasing puncture resistance and traction. Revised rubber compounds help extend the life of the tire up to an impressive 8,000 miles on the rear and far more than that for the front.

One of the other things that make the Mission unique is that Dunlop did not create a one-design-fits-all tire. Different bikes impose different demands, so Dunlop had the brilliant idea of offering different sizes and shapes of lateral blocks depending on fitment, a direct result of their extensive testing.

Available in a wide size range, Dunlop’s Trailmax Mission fills a void in the line for ADV bikes that are ridden aggressively off-road. They’re priced between $131.21 and $285.23, depending on the size. Out of all the tires on the market these days, there’s nothing quite like it. And that’s why we love them.

General Tire — A/T X

General Tire hasn’t always been a household name — at least not for overlanders. But it’s becoming one. And, as they used to say, “Sooner or later, you’ll own Generals.”

Founded in 1915 in Akron, Ohio, General Tire has been around for more than a century. Though, its push into the off-road and overlanding space didn’t occur until more recently. Despite entering the space later on, it has made quite the impression — and not just in the trails around the U.S. A lot of overlanders are flocking to the brand. And the brand’s A/T X all-terrain tire is a good example of why.

Like any all-terrain tire worth its salt, A/T X are designed to excel both on- and off-road. No matter whether its pavement, dirt, or snow, the A/T X has the technology to keep you moving.

It starts where the rubber meets the road. The A/T X has a wide but stiff tread that distributes weight evenly ensuring stability. The five-row tread is also notched and siped for improved traction on dirt, wet conditions, and snow. It remains relatively quiet at speed thanks to an absorption layer — that General calls “Comfort Balance Technology — beneath the tread. What’s more, it’s rated “three peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF),” which meets the industry’s severe snow service requirements. How many all-terrains do you know of that can boast all of that and snow rating? We’ll assure you, not all. And if that weren’t enough inclement weather-battling tech, they can be studded, too.

The action continues around to the side of the tire. There alternating shoulder scoops add grip on wet rocks. And stone bumpers are staggered between shoulder blocks to help eject rocks.

Manufactured for a series of wheel sizes, ranging from 14 to 20 inches, General likely makes an A/T X that will fit your rig. Plus, they’re priced competitively, making them even more accessible.

That’s what we love about the A/T X. Not only is it available for all kinds of rigs, it’s suitable for most any overland build — from hardcore builds to daily drivers who see occasional dirt. Plus, General backs up the A/T X with a 60,000-mile warranty. That means you can put tons of trails beneath them without worrying they’re going to let you down.

General Tire — Grabber X3

If you’re the kind of person who needs the most — all the time — and you constantly worry that an all-terrain might let you down, let us introduce you to General Tire’s Grabber X3. The design of these meaty mud-terrain tires was derived from off-road racing tires. That means that, no matter what conditions you throw at them, the X3s should be able to handle it.

These are the kinds of tires for overlanders who blaze their own trails, rather than follow more established paths. In fact, Overland Expo’s Communications Director Nick Jaynes picked the X3 for this Jeep Gladiator build. You can read his review of the X3s here.

The Grabber X3s were constructed with what General calls “DURAGEN” (no, we’re not yelling — that’s how General writes it) technology, which is a three-ply composition type that — backed by ultra-strength steel belts — gives the tires race-proven toughness. Like the A/T X, the X3s feature lugs to protect the sidewalls, siped tread, stone bumpers, and alternating shoulder scoops. However, they differ in the tread pattern, design, and depth.

The aggressive Grabber X3 tread is laid out in a multi-pitch design that is capable of being both incredibly capable off road while remaining quiet on pavement. Channels run through the tread that allow the tires to naturally clear mud as they roll.

Careful observers will notice that a lot of the most carefully planned overland rigs built lately are rolling on General Tire’s Grabber X3s. That’s not a coincidence. Overlanders choose the X3 when they need an accessible yet aggressive mud-terrain tire that is as capable in the muck as it is smooth on the freeway.

And that’s why we love the Grabber X3 tires. They can toss mud and stones as easily as they can soak up highway miles. Plus, with sizes compatible with wheels ranging from 15 to 20 inches, in both metric and flotation sizes, there’s a size and ratio right for your rig. If you don’t like them, General back the X3s with a 45-day satisfaction trial period.

Goodyear — Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar

Now we come to perhaps the oldest tire on the list: Goodyear’s Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar. Although the MT/R are getting on in years, these tires reinforce the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s because they remain tried, true and torture tested — and proven — by many an overlander for the better part of a decade. And if they’re still conquering thousand-mile tracks with ease, why reinvent them?

Yes, the MT/Rs might not have the softest ride. Your ears may ring from the drone they make at freeway speed. And they’re eye-wateringly expensive in the larger sizes. But what they lack in a supple ride or auditory subtleness, they make up for in toughness and reliability.

If you want a go-anywhere, do-anything tire, one that you can practically set your watch to — ride quality be damned — there are few better choices than the Wangler MT/R.

Why are they so formidable off road? The Kevlar-reinforced sidewalls are a good starting point. Then there’s the asymmetrical tread pattern. This helps ensure that, no matter that you aim these tires at, they can find traction. Plus, that tread pattern will make your rig look like it’s prepared for the apocalypse.

Get ready to pay to play with these tires, though. They run from $219 to $564 per tire — a price tag that might total some older trucks. But, if it helps, you can think of these less of a tire purchase and more of an insurance policy for when you’re way out in the wilderness. And that’s why we love them; they’re the old faithful of the overland tire market. In a world that’s constantly changing, it’s nice to know a couple things remain the same.

Kanati — Mud Hog M/T

There’s no mistaking the pretensions of the Kanati Mud Hog M/Ts — the name tells you everything you need to know about these beefy mud-terrains.

You just have to love that name, right? Mud Hog — it’s the kind of name you can jubilantly shout out of your driver’s window, as you flat-foot it through a mucky water crossing with ease. “Mud hog!”

The Mud Hogs are formed from high-quality and durable rubber compounds. These Kanatis have an overlapping center line that enables a smooth and quiet ride. The tires feature an aggressive, angled tread with powerful treads that aid in both off-road grip and on-road stopping power — don’t forget, tires need to help you slow the rig even more than help it go.

The Mud Hog’s have 10-ply tread and three-ply sidewall construction that increases their strength and puncture resistance. Kanati designers shaped high-ratio voids in the tread to ensure effective clean-out as they roll. Available in sizes ranging from 15-inch up to 22-inches wheels, there is a size of Mug Hog for most any overland rig — big or small.

Contributor Rick Stowe recently found that the Mud Hogs were expertly capable even in rock gardens at full inflation. You can read Rick’s report here.

More than the name and the kind-of-old-school, aggressive tread pattern, we really love the Mud Hogs for their industry-leading four-year limited manufacturer warranty. Imagine putting thousands of miles underneath these determined tires without fear that a failure will leave you out of your investment — anywhere between $148.99 to 338.96 (depending on the tire size). That’s a lot of weight off your shoulders.

Maxxis Tire — RAZR AT

The Maxxis RAZR ATs barely made this list — not because we don’t love them (we do). But because they’re so new, the RAZR AT tires were barely on the market when we were compiling this list. So, aside from the set mounted on CJ Greaves’ race-winning Off-Road Pro 4 truck, you likely haven’t seen these ones in action.

So, let us be your first introduction to these exciting new tires.

Let’s start with the tread. If you’re thinking they look like something an algorithm might create if you tasked it with crafting an all-terrain tire, you’re not far off. Well, to be fair, we can’t claim any artificial intelligence designed the RAZR. But it does feature cutting-edge 3D tread blocks — with bridge reinforcements that minimize noise and irregular wear — that definitely give off an A.I. vibe.

That fancy 3D tread pattern is backed by a dual-cord casing that improves strength. And the entire tire is formed from a new compound created specifically for off-road use. This state-of-the-art compound maximizes durability and tread life. The RAZR AT looks more like a mud-terrain tire than an A/T. Despite that, though, they are mountain snowflake 3PMSF certified (in load range C, D, E, and F).

We love them for exactly that reason. They are that new kind of tire that blends genres. It has the look of an aggressive M/T, the quiet on-highway ride of an A/T and the mountain rating of a snow tire. Although we’ve not (yet) logged any miles on the RAZRs, if they’re stout enough for CJ Greaves, we know they should be good enough for our overland rigs.

Mayhem — Voyager 8303

Whether you’re building a traditional ladder-frame-based 4×4 overland rig or something a little less conventional like a Subaru Outback, for example, there’s definitely a little room for some mayhem in your life — that is, in high-strength wheel form. That’s where the Mayhem Voyager 8303s come into play. [Note: We don’t actually condone seeking mayhem in your Subie. That might not end well.]

The handsome but incredibly sturdy Voyager 8303s boast a class-leading — and downright shocking — 3,640-pound load rating. That means you can toss a ton of weight on your rig and then bash these wheels off some serious terrain without making them flinch. [Your suspension might not be so happy, though.]

Frankly, with that kind of load rating, we really don’t need to explain any further why they’re on this list. But we will, because the Mayhem designers didn’t stop at a high-strength design. So we shouldn’t either.

The fine folks at Mayhem also crafted these brawny-looking 10-spoke wheels to accommodate larger aftermarket brakes. And that’s a good thing. After all, by offering the stoutest wheel in the segment, you’re enabling overlanders to load their rigs up with weight. So it stands to reason you’d want to support them in upgrading their brakes as well. Thankfully, they did.

Mayhem offers the Voyager 3803 in satin bronze or black and in a slew of offset specs from a more modest positive 38 offset to a more radical, stanced positive 15 offset. If you choose the latter, we hope you’re ready to coat the side of your rig in grime. That’s because your fender flares won’t be of much use with that kind of kick-out.

You might think that, given the Voyager 8303’s robust weight rating and stylish design, they might be worth their weight in gold. Delightfully, you’d be wrong. Mayhem has set the starting prince at a modest $187.

And that’s why we love them. Rather than match the wheels’ segment-topping load rating with a segment-topping price tag, they went the other way and made them accessible. Kudos, Mayhem.

Mitas — E-07+


Being the demanding bunch that we are, we adventure riders are always on the hunt for  high-performing, durable tires. Mitas heard our pleas and responded by rolling out a number of useful sizes to its E-07 range alongside the successful E-07+. That’s right: the tire you know and love is back and better than ever. 

“The E-07 is a true 50% on-road and 50% off-road adventure tire. Over its long years of service it has continued to be one of the most desirable choices for adventure riders, as it combines road riding performance and wear with more adventurous off-road trips. Due to its hard-wearing compound and optimal performance on- and off-road, the E-07 remains a preferred choice on many journeys across the world,” explains Gustavo Pinto Teixeira, Vice President Two Wheels and Specialty Tires.

And then there’s the E-07+. This is truly a class-leading 60% on-road and 40% off-road adventure tire tuned for larger adventure motorcycles. When you’re looking for great off-road performance combined with darn good handling on the street, the E-07+’s bigger knobby design provides plenty of open space between the tread blocks to displace sand, mud and water from the contact patch, while keeping enough rubber between the road and the rotating tire.

Starting at $119.95, select sizes of E-07 and E-07+ are available in the “Dakar” version featuring a reinforced carcass, higher puncture resistance and harder compound. The Dakar version is ideal for higher loads, longer adventure trips and extreme conditions. Both patterns remain fully interchangeable and compatible between front and rear, thereby offering a degree of personalization to suit your journey. 

Mitas uses an aggressive tread pattern that lends itself well to battling through gnarly off road terrain that miraculously provides relatively smooth cruising on the pavement. It’s the kind of multi-purpose rubber that you can count on for demanding adventure rides. When you’re looking for a tire that will do its darnedest to keep your bike upright when you’re in over your head off road while reducing the pucker factor of coming into a paved corner a little too hot, the Mitas E-07 is a perfect choice.

Raceline — 947B Scout

If you want a strong and affordable rim that’s easy on the eyes, check out Raceline’s 947B Scout wheels. If you’re imagining a bit of old-school styling, a bit of new-age tech — that’s what you get with the 947B Scout wheel from Raceline. Looking at it, it’s not hard to see why it made this list.

Raceline has been around for more than 20 years. It’s a part of the Allied Wheel Components family of brands which also includes Raceline Forged, Raceline UTV and Kansei Wheels.

The 947B is formed from high-strength A356 aluminum, which enables the wheel to meet all DOT load ratings. The classic eight-spoke design is accented by a distinctive vented barrel feature. The wheel is finished in a satin black coating. And the center cap is bolt-on, so you won’t lose it in a rock garden nor will it shake loose after 35 miles of washboard road, which is excellent.

Available in sizes ranging from 15 to 20 inches in diameter, with several bolt patterns and offsets, there is a good chance that Raceline has a set of the 947B Scouts for your rig. Prices range from $152 to $277 per wheel. They’re backed by a Lifetime Structural Warranty.

The 947B Scouts have a classic but clean look that will be appropriate on rigs from the 1960s to the 2020s. It doesn’t matter if you’re rolling a classic FJ40 or a brand-new Jeep Gladiator, the 947B Scout has the kind of design that fits with any sort of era. That’s a rare achievement to claim and that’s one of the reasons we love it.

Header photo credit: Nick Jaynes @nickjaynes

Photo by Brett Willhelm


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