Bold School: The Basics of Tires, Part 1

I am not a tire expert, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Sure, I know what to do with a car when it is fitted with decent set of tires, but selecting the right set of rubber often escapes me. That was until I chatted with Tom Sullivan and Andrew Koury of BF Goodrich. The latter broke it down into the simplest terms (I told him it was for the noob readers, but I was learning as well), “the main reason that tires matter is because they are the only things that physically touch the road.”

That seems like a straightforward concept, but tires are anything but simple. There are three major components that factor in to tires:

Compound: The tire’s “chemical grip,” is derived from synthetic compounds such as silica carbon to deliver chemical adhesion. These are made in a lab and are the latest frontier in tires

Tread Design: Otherwise known as the “mechanical grip,” this is the physical tread block that is touching the road. You can’t employ the chemical grip without the physical contact.

Internal Structure: A tire is more than just a big rubber donut, and the tread design is backed up by layers that help to optimize the contact patch (that point where the tires meet the road).

All three are important in their own right. The third might be a little overlooked or misunderstood. The internal structure is merely a way to optimize the tire, not support it. Remember, the actual air supports the tire, but the internal structure uses that support to make sure the contact patch get to the road in the way it was intended by the tire’s designers.

That only happens through proper inflation, and this is where people tend to slip up for one of two reasons:

Misreading Tire Info: The inflation rate on the side of the tire is NOT where you should be getting your inflation info. There is usually a chart on the inside of the driver’s side doorframe, and almost always in the car’s manual.

Just Plain Forgetting: Hey, we’re busy people, so sometimes we overlook checking for the proper tire pressure.

According to Andrew Koury, both of these will result in poor treadwear: “Poor air pressure misuses the tire basically. If a tire is underinflated, you wear out the shoulders. Cutting your grip by half. If you overinflate, the tread rises in the middle; cutting the amount of contact you have with the road.

He pointed out that while new cars have tire pressure monitoring systems, older vehicles do not. You should probably pick up a tire pressure gauge and become familiar with the recommended tire inflation rates.

So what kind of tire should you choose? Well, there are a handful of major categories from which to choose:

Summer: An aggressive tread and a focus on dry performance. Tires like the BF Goodrich G-Force Rival is a great example. They are terrific in performance driving, but traction falls off when it rains.

Winter: These are perfect for; you guessed it, snow and ice. They channel water well and have the appropriate grooves to grip at road conditions with poor traction

All-Season: Combines attributes of the summer and winter tires. The most common form of tire.

Off Road: Big, knobby, and with deep grooves, these tires are meant for getting through deep mud and sand as well as climbing over rocks

Race: For track, or near-track conditions. Will be great in racing environments, but not much else.

Koury says you want to find a tire that fits your driving style, but admits that for the driving enthusiast, you may need to pick two, “Swapping between summer and winter tires is the best option. You’re getting the best performance from both. Even though all seasons are good, if you want optimized performance, put on dedicated seasonal tires. But for the average driver, a set of all-seasons will do just fine.

So those are the basic concepts behind tires and tire choices. There’s a whole lot more to go through. Next time, we’ll decode for you what those damn numbers mean on the sidewall!

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