Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Those of you who live in the Southwest are probably aware of the fact that off-roading for us consists primarily of haulin' butt through hard-packed dirt, sand, and silt in terrain that is relatively flat but with a lot of deep whoop sections. We don't receive much rain out here, but we do receive tons of wind, which sculpts our terrain rather than drowning it. Although there is mountainous terrain available to romp through in your sport truck, desert racing is where it's at for many of us here. The reason we like desert racing so much is because it combines two things we dig: off-roading and speed. There's nothing like blasting across a rough section of dirt as fast as your truck's suspension will allow. A great suspension system is important for a fun trip to the dirt, but you also have to have adequate grip. A good set of tires is paramount for maximum grip in the dirt.
A few years ago, the folks at Nitto approached us for input on a tire design they came up with for the lifted-truck, off-road market. The tire would be aimed squarely at the type of truck owner who wanted good looks as well as high performance in the dirt. The result of the brainstorming session between Nitto and Sport Truck is the Dune Grappler Desert Terrain tire, a bitchen addition to the hugely successful Grappler Series.
The Dune Grappler's construction began with a computer simulation that aided in designing a tread pattern that isn't noisy on the street, which we really like, but at the same time offers an aggressive look and excellent traction in the dirt. You can see our input in the flame design on the sidewall of the Dune Grappler. We figured why not add some flash since this is a tire built for the guys who care as much about how their trucks look as they do about how they perform. Few of us will ever get to do any real racing, but with a decent suspension lift and a set of Dune Grapplers, we can at least pretend on the weekends.
The new tire is offered in higher load range ratings of D and E in certain sizes. These higher load ratings make the Nitto Dune Grappler Desert Terrain capable for use with heavyweight trucks, such as Ford Super Dutys and GM Heavy Dutys, as well as other large and midsize trucks on the road today. LT sizes are available with a three-ply sidewall construction for increased puncture resistance. The Dune Grappler Desert Terrain tires also feature Nitto's Bead Block technology, a rim-protector feature designed to offer increased protection to your valuable wheels when you're sliding sideways through the dirt. You don't want to scuff up those new rims against a rock, now do you? At press time, the Dune Grappler is available from 15- to 22-inch wheel sizes, with additional sizes coming soon.
The tire certainly looks cool, but how does it really perform? To find out, we strapped a set of 285/60R18 tires onto a set of 18x8.5-inch American Racing Fuel 8 Teflon-coated wheels and bolted them onto a Dodge Ram 4x4 for a thrash session. The Fuel 8 wheels are from AR's ATX-Series lineup of off-road wheels and are built just for heavy trucks. The eight-spoke design is strong, and the Teflon-coating resists UV-fading and will stand up to the harsh off-road environment. Here's what Mike Kim had to say:
"The Nitto Dune Grapplers are very quiet on the highway. There is very little road noise that can be heard in the cab. The tire's sidewall feels fairly rigid, so spirited driving is no problem even in a nearly 4-ton truck. Even under heavy cornering, the tire doesn't fold on itself, which is a testament to the strength of its sidewall construction. The tires have good traction during hard acceleration and braking, as well. Only when the pavement gets wet do the tires tend to slip a bit.
In off-road situations, the tires provide good traction on hard-pack surfaces, which make up much of the off-roading that I do. Braking and accelerating on hard pack inspires confidence as well as cornering. Since these tires were not designed for driving in deep mud, they tend to clog up a bit as soon as you hit muddy sections of dirt. Traction in deep sand was adequate, and the tires are more than capable of getting you from Point A to Point B, with smooth application of the gas pedal. Overall, these are great tires for street driving as well as the occasional off-road excursion."
So, there you have it. Nitto's Dune Grapplers look cool and get the job done in the dirt, no matter if you run through sand or hard pack. This is also a tire you can commute to work on because you'll still be able to hear your favorite MP3s without cranking the stereo to 99. These tires are extremely quiet, and when you spend 98 percent of your time on the freeway and not the dirt, that characteristic suddenly becomes very important. And this combination of American Racing's Fuel 8 wheel and Nitto's Dune Grappler tire looks damn good, even if you play in the dirt or on the street.