Test Drives

February 3, 2012

ITP Mud Lite XTR tires on a Foreman

Photo: Alain Assad

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Obviously, tires are of great importance to any off-road vehicle. Your tiers constitute your last line of defense against the elements, before the winch is needed. No use having the strongest Big-bore engine you can find, if you’re just going to spin those ordinary, half wor-out rubbers. Tires are as important to your ATV, as shoes can be important to humans.

When a friend asked for help in choosing an appropriate tire for his Honda, I simply replied that we needed to sit down together, for some ATV story-telling. Although I know him very well and see him on a regular basis, we rarely have the necessary timing to enjoy trail rides together. Where and how you ride is crucial information, to analyse when making the right tire choice, and I needed to, at least, familiarize myself with what this quad would be used for.

After a few hours of quad talk, it all was clear to me. Our passionate trail rider friend wanted tires that would somewhat improve traction on his showroom condition 2003 Foreman, without affecting the handling and steering effort too much. Basically, what Martin was saying is that he liked very much how his quad rode and didn’t want to feel too much of a change in normal trail riding conditions. He also pointed out that these would be his winter tires, an important factor to consider. I told him I would spend the rest of the evening thinking it over and would find him a great match for his impressive night ride savvy Honda.

There are a lot of brands and even more models to choose from, not to mention the various dimensions each of them is available in. Maxxis, GBC, Duro, Dunlop to name just a few. I knew about the Bighorn 2.0 from Maxxis being a good tire for various conditions, Rockers from Pitbull would be a bit too heavy for the ride, and many other choices were going through my mind, but I finally let myself be inspired by the pristine condition of this used ATV and the very square-like design of the overall look, with rounded corners on most stock elements, as well as the numerous additions to it that keep the same feel. So, I decided to look at numerous tires and narrow it down to a few that had that same sort of square with smoothed out corners theme, both in overall shape and maybe even with each thread. Technical aspects were of greater importance though, and I wanted my final suggestion to be the right one in every way, but more importantly in efficiency than in looks.

Since this quad has a basic straight axle rear suspension setup, why not suggest something a bit on the extreme in terms of size. An important fact I had discovered during our close observations on the quad, before this simple yet significant mod, was that Martin was running on OEM sized tires but on aftermarket wheels with a 3 inch offset, considerably widening the stance, which must have made his ride noticeably more stable in high speed turns, but also caused a bit more steering effort. I figured he could go for much larger tires and mount them on his stock wheels, which he still had unscathed, stored in a box somewhere. We could maybe go for wider 27" diameter mud tires, since those more basic wheels would subtract the offset, meaning Martin might get just about the same feel in steering effort and stability, while gaining a whole lot in traction. Not to mention that such big rubbers would surely have a positive impact on the entire look of this already very unique trail machine. 

I had observed so many different tire models on my laptop that I could still see tire thread patterns when I would close my eyes for a break. For many reasons going through my head, my eyes would come back to one particularly interesting model in ITP’s line of products. Their very successful Mud Lite XTR, which is actually the industry’s first extreme terrain radial tire. These rubbers are available for a snug fit on 14" wheels, popular on Side x Side vehicles and some ATVs, but luckily ITP also has some for 12" rims, which do offer a bit smoother ride and before flotation in deep mud. I called Martin the next day and we discussed this possible choice. He wasn’t thinking on such big rubbers, scared that it might change the handling too much or cost him an arm and a leg. So, I told him that our friends at Kimpex would send us a set, so we could document the whole experience and share it with you, the readers. He had nothing to lose. If he didn’t like them, we could replace them after our test.

The XTR's are a 6 ply tire, which means that they are as puncture resistant as you can get, but the very open thread does make most mud tires more vulnerable to punctures from big sharp rocks. That’s only a factor if there are some where you ride. For Martin, my friend, that just won’t be a problem, there aren’t all that many such rocks where he rides. Plus the fact that they use a more aggressive lug pattern with a 1 1/8" depth helps the structural strength of the tire, and debris will be pushed away efficiently. Light in weight yet still 6-ply tough, the Mud Lite XTR tire model is built standard with narrow fronts and wider rear tires. Funny story is when Martin saw his son Mat struggling to get the bigger rear tires from off the back seat of his old but pristine Cressida, they looked monstrous! We all burst in laughter and for some reason this prompted a series of funny jokes in sequence which made me laugh until that my face hurt.  "That’s not going to fit on my quad!" He screamed. His reactions turned out giving us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves and man’s love for extreme things in general. I suggested we just slip them on those stock rims and see how it goes.

I felt obligated to justify my choice and told my sceptic friend a bit more about this specific tire choice. I knew about the Bighorn 2.0 from Maxxis, which could have also been adequate for Martin’s needs, but even if the Bighorn might last longer and offer a bit more puncture resistance, with a tighter lug pattern, they do weigh more, which was a concern with this 450cc equipped ATV. You need an ATV with good enough power to pull forward such big tires, but since these ITP tires are lighter than most mud tires, it shouldn’t be that much of a problem. Another interesting aspect to consider is that a radial tire’s foot-print will actually grow under load. The XTR’s deep, angled and grooved lugs, can achieve an exceptional level of traction, yet flex enough to grip well on dry ground.

TIRE-MOUNTING
Before starting, you must carefully check that the tire and rim size match exactly. Mismatched tire to rim applications, can be a dangerous mistake that must be checked prior to mounting, and  an explosion might happen while inflating the tire, that may lead to serious personal injury.

Safety guidelines should be followed to the letter, if you want to save the 20 or so dollars that it should normally cost to have them mounted by a pro, which I strongly recommend. Be warned, mounting of tires on wheels can be dangerous, if done improperly. Only trained personnel, using the proper tools, safety equipment, and safety precautions, should attempt to mount tire and wheel assemblies. A clip-on style air chuck with a long extension hose, remote filler, and inflation gauge is used to keep your hands as far as possible from the bead area. A tire-mounting lubricant is necessary, to lube both the tire and rim bead seat. Determine the tire's maximum recommended tire inflation pressure. You should work away from other people and have something solid like a block wall or a tire-mounting cage, placed between the tire and wheel assembly and the installer. During the inflation process, the assembly must be out of "line of sight". The tire has to be inflated until you hear the beads’ seats loud snap, or until you reach the tire manufacturer's maximum recommended tire pressure. Never exceed the tire manufacturer's maximum recommended tire inflation pressure. Once the tire bead is seated, disconnect the chuck, re-install the valve core, and inflate to proper operating pressure. If the tire beads do not seat, stop! Release all the air, and call your tire manufacturer or ITP for advice (909-390-1905).

Inspect the tire and wheel for defects before mounting. A tire that is worn or has defective beads has the same danger potential. Never attempt to mount a worn or defective tire. Tire failure under pressure is hazardous. A tire changing machine is not intended to be a safety device to contain exploding tires, tubes, wheels, or bead sealing equipment. Always use approved tire bead lubricant for mounting and inflation.

The operator should keep hands, arms, and entire body, away from the tire during the bead seat and inflation procedures. Do not stand over the tire; NEVER increase air pressure to exceed 40 PSI when attempting Bead Seat. If you can’t obtain Bead Seat, something is wrong. Deflate tire completely, inspect tire and wheel, and correct any problems found, re-lubricate both tire beads and the wheel, and reattempt Bead Seal and Seat procedures. Tire changing safety also requires wearing safety glasses and gloves when operating a tire machine. Do not wear long hair, loose clothing or jewellery while changing tires. NEVER lean over the tire during inflation. Never over-inflate the tire, even if the bead doesn't seat. Never inflate over 40 PSI. If the tire wasn't seated, something is wrong. Deflate the tire and inspect the rim and tire once more.

Ready to roll
We concentrated on dry surfaces, in the first of this two-part article. By the time we get to our next issue, we will surely have had time to dirty that shiny old Honda quite a bit more, and maybe play in deep snow, if we are lucky.

While playing around for a few hours, swapping riders and observations for almost every different type of manoeuver and obstacle, Martin was gaining confidence, as well as finding great pleasure in discovering new talents to his ride. The most important find was the smoothness on hard-packed dirt, which made the ride feel more normal than expected. In normal riding conditions, for such big and aggressive mud tires, that was quite impressive. The XTRs hold laterally very well. I think even better than with the Bighorns. The improved ground clearance was also noticed as the ride didn’t rub its belly in spots Martin said usually did. The Mud Lite XTR tires, that combine technology of the Mud Lite and the 589 M/S tires, do cost a little more, but seem to more than make up for that in owner’s satisfaction. My friend, Martin, is very happy with our wide trails and flat surface testing experiences with these monstrous ITP rubbers. I totally understood him when he explained that hard to cross obstacles are few throughout his ride days but the thing is you want to have what it takes to conquer them, yet at the same time you spend most of your day travelling long distances getting from one such challenge to the next. He was thoroughly pleased with the fact that his big new ITP tires didn’t really make their imposing stature felt, right up until they needed to do their magic and grip out of ruts in a precise yet smooth fashion.

This tough 6-ply radial is definitely a good tire to go with for our tough Quebec trails and our harsh Canadian winters. Surveys show that owners are generally very pleased with the performance enhancements offered by these tires. In the end, our host rider for this revealing test said this modification to be the single, biggest upgrade, he had so far made to his glorified Honda Foreman. Don’t miss part 2 of our Kimpex sponsored test of ITP’s Mud Lite XTR tires in our next issue! Next step, is to bring the transformed Honda beast at our very special test bed at Saisons Express, to really put these to the ultimate test.

Rim sizes and offsets explained
Tire size example: 27x10-12

  • 27 is the height of the tire in inches.
  • 10 is the width of the tire in inches.
  • 12 is the diameter of rim the tire fits on in inches.

This tire would typically be mounted on a 12x8 or 12x9 wheels.  The tire width is typically 2-4 inches wider than the wheel width.  So a 10", 11", or 12" wide tire could be mounted on an 8" or 9" wide wheel.  The last number in the tire size and the first number of the wheel size must always match.

Wheel size and offset example:12x8 5+3

  • 10" diameter x 5" wide wheel.
  • 5+3 is the offset which means 5" of the total 8" width is on the inside of the hub and 3" is on the outside of the hub.
  • A 3+5 wheel will sit wider on the bike than a 5+3.