I was already awake when the first light of day crept through the strategically opened blackout curtains. Without ambient natural light, there is no waking me until my body is good and ready. However, on this particular trip, there was no need for my tactical curtain placement. Given what the next 12 hours were going to be like, it’s a wonder I slept at all. I was about to be helicoptered out to drive one of the toughest sections of the legendary off-road playground that is The Rubicon Trail.
We had been assembled to get an idea of what the new BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 off-road tire was like, not to test our mettle on the Rubicon. But in hindsight, I’m pretty sure the folks at BF Goodrich enjoyed the idea of putting a bunch of journalists through the wringer just as much as they enjoyed the idea of launching a new tire — especially when mounted to contemporary, modified Jeep Wranglers and classic Land Rover Defenders we were provided.
Slapping one of 54 different sizes of KM3s on your vehicle won’t make it unstoppable and they won’t magically imbue you with talent on the trail. What they will do is give you a sizable cushion for error which is about as much as any driver, amateur or professional can ask for — something I found out firsthand in a variety of off-roaders supplemented by the new, badass-looking rubber.
I started the drive behind the wheel of 1994 Land Rover Defender 90 that had been properly modified by The 4×4 Center in South Burlington, VT (who also brought their Bond-esque remote satellite communications Defender so we could have WiFi in the middle of nowhere). Since my experience with rock crawling was basically non-existent prior to this experience, I was fully relying on the equipment and the team of guides to keep me from banging vehicles around the trail like a teenager hopped up on Code Red. The steady burble of the V8 from the custom exhaust comforted me as we rolled out onto the trail — my guide in the right seat explained that “patience is key with this vehicle.”
Fortunately, as technical as rock crawling is, I could also rely on driving senses that I’ve developed plenty of over the years driving on trails in the woods of New England and on sand dunes. The same principles — being smooth with all your inputs and making deliberate decisions — apply to rock crawling, so with those basic instincts in place and the KM3 to assist me, I managed to not make an ass of myself.
By the time I moved into a highly modified JK Wrangler, I was listening to the radio, one hand on the wheel, the other resting on the window frame just cruising along. Make no mistake, it was challenging, but in an exciting way, never stressful. You arrive at an obstacle, make a plan with the guides and execute it as best you can. The ebb and flow of rock crawling isn’t for someone who enjoys the sensation of immense speed. I found myself enamored with watching a tire sidewall flex as it slowly rolled over razor-sharp rock at a ridiculous angle. Still, the sense of accomplishment that I got upon receiving a thumbs up or “well done” from a guide after navigating a climb or descent was equal to any solid lap time result I’ve turned in at the track.
Slapping one of 54 different sizes of KM3s on your vehicle won’t make it unstoppable — what they will do is give you a sizable cushion for error.
Just before lunch, thankfully, I rode along in the passenger seat of an Ultra 4 vehicle to go for a ride with one of their pro drivers. You know the way a child picks up a Hot Wheels and holds it semi-airborne while moving it over any obstacles? That’s essentially what an Ultra 4 does. I have heard my fair share of incredible exhaust notes over the years, but nothing like the unrestricted hellacious growl that came from these things. The only reason I wasn’t laughing like a madman the entire ride was because I didn’t want to bite my damn tongue off. We scrambled up and down rock faces with such ease that I began to wonder what these things can’t do. A quick scroll through YouTube will show the answer is, not much.
Following the adventure on the Rubicon I drove a Tacoma TRD-Pro from Tahoe back home to Los Angeles and found, surprisingly, that the KM3 is a good road tire too. Not only is it far quieter than you would ever expect, even at highway cruising speeds, it also hangs onto a paved corner respectably and doesn’t have any frightening amount of “squish” when braking under duress. In short, for those that need to drive a fair distance to enjoy off-road playtime, getting there won’t be a miserable affair. This is a product that gives the consumer the best of both worlds.