Are Larger Tires and Wheels Better for Offroading?
If you spend as much time offroad as you do on, why are you riding on stock tires? Are larger wheels and tires better for offroading? You bet! It’s even worth the price of a lift kit to get better performance. Pick your tires first and then select your wheels. Here’s why bigger is better.
Don’t go offroad on stock tires. The factory installs small tires for fuel economy. They’ve got CAFE standards to meet you know. But fuel economy isn’t the most important factor in an offroad vehicle. Performance is. So, pick the right tire for the best performance. If you put on larger wheels but only slightly increase the tire size, you reduce the height of the sidewall. That equals a rougher ride. If you plan on running with lower air pressure in the dirt, you lessen the margin of error for damage. So, for the best performance go big and pick your tires first.
Tire Type. Pick your terrain and match the tire to the terrain. If you want to be a mudder, get mud tires. They aren’t terribly comfortable on the highway, but you’ll be more uncomfortable stuck in the mud. Something like Nitto’s Mud Grappler would do the trick. Mud tires are designed to channel away mud to keep you from getting bogged down. If you will be on a variety of offroad surfaces, go with an all terrain tire like Nitto’s Terra Grappler. All terrain tires (ATs) are generally the best choice for offroading. ATs go where you steer them, not the other way around. That’s important when riding after the pavement ends.
Tire Size. A good rule of thumb to follow to pick larger tires is never have a wheel that is more than half the diameter of the tire. That means don’t put more than a 40” tire on a 20” wheel or a 35” on a 17” wheel or 30-inch tires on 15-inch wheels, you get the idea. By doing this, you manage the sidewall height. It balances squirm with flex, so the tire can soak up bumps offroad. Now that you’ve got those larger tires picked out, it’s time to get larger wheels.
Larger wheels are definitely better. The wider the wheel, the wider the tire. That increases the patch (the part of the tire that touches ground). You get better traction. When you are offroad, traction is the name of the game. Whether you are climbing rocks, mudding, or driving on gravel or sand you need traction.
When picking a larger wheel, keep these things in mind:
Intended Terrain. First and foremost, consider the terrain you will ride. All offroad wheels are made to be durable, but if you are rock crawling, you need extra durability. All KMC wheels are durable, but the XD Series is made to handle rock crawling in style.
Vehicle Weight. Your truck or Jeep’s total vehicle weight includes the weight of all of its parts. As you increase the weight of the wheels, you decrease acceleration because you are increasing weight. That’s not a big consideration unless you plan on offroad racing. The rotational weight is the weight of all the parts that spin. When you increase wheel weight, you increase rotational weight. That is important because it takes more energy to move more weight. More energy requires more fuel. To get larger wheels without adding an extreme amount of weight, select a cast alloy wheel and stay away from steel wheels.
Brake Clearance. If you aren’t lifting the suspension, pay particular attention to the offset. You need to make sure that those larger wheels will clear the brakes. For the best handling and steering offroad, keep the wheel offset close to stock. If you are upsizing much, you may need to move the wheel out away from the truck or Jeep. This decreases the offset, but keeps tires from hitting the frame, inner fender panel, suspension, and brakes. If you are going to be serious about offroading, get a suspension lift kit installed.
Future Tire Size. If you see yourself getting even bigger tires in the future, it might make sense to go ahead and get those larger wheels now. That way when you buy the larger tires, you will already have the rims. For instance, if you are deciding between 15” and 17” wheels, it might make sense to go ahead and get the 17” now if you are planning on much larger tires in the near future.
A Word About Lifts
If you are serious about going offroad, you need to get serious about a suspension lift kit. Lifting the suspension gives you extra space. You won’t bottom out when the going gets rough. Speaking of rough, you actually have a more comfortable ride on rough roads and trails. Lifting the suspension also gives you more flexibility to get bigger tires and wheels. So, if this is your first foray into the world of 4×4’ing, start with the lift, then pick your tires and wheels. Have fun out there! There’s a whole lot of world to explore once you leave the pavement behind.