Tyres are always a source of discussion amongst travellers. Many folk have their favourite brand and tread pattern, and woe betide anyone who questions it on Social Media! Sometimes this is a case of “First World Problems” – after all, if you travel in the developing world you realise that for many folk, tyres are just tyres, whether they are driving on rocky mountain tracks, deserts or through mud. You don’t find Bedouin stressing that they can’t find BF Goodrich! It’s also very apparent that as you travel through more remote settlements, or less monied countries, there are very viable alternatives to the established “Western” brands – just up the road from me here in Fujairah there is an outlet for very good Chinese copies of the Michelin XS desert tyre at about a third of the price of the French brand. Sure, the quality is considerably less, but it’s a good instance of availability of tyres in ways that might not be expected. If you’re really stuck for tyres on a long trip, find out where locals buy theirs!
A major point about tyres is how they can deteriorate in hot environments. Here in the Emirates, tyres must be replaced after five years on a vehicle, and some other nations have similar laws (worth checking if you are overlanding and want to avoid roadside fines). You can tell the age of a tyre from a four-digit code on the sidewall, the last two digits being the year of manufacture. This isn’t just a way to increase tyre sales! Tyres suffer from over-expansion of the air inside in hot weather, and sunlight itself (especially the ultraviolet component of the light) breaks down the molecular bonds in the rubber, causing weakness and brittleness. I learned this the hard way many years ago living in Egypt when I fitted a set of tubeless Federal Couragia mud terrains to my 110 – I didn’t realise they had been stored in the open air for a couple of years, and the intense desert sunlight of the Sahara had really eaten away at them. Almost immediately I started getting flat tyres with them. I tend to carry two spares in remote areas, and with these tyres I needed both! On one memorable solo desert trip I had one tyre go flat, replaced it with a spare, then a second tyre went, so I replaced that with my second spare, and then a third flat happened. Hmm. Awkward. I had no option but to take the tyre off the rim (with tyre levers – on a 285 mud pattern tyre you definitely need three Weetabix and a good grasp of swearing) and fill it as much as I could with sand to give it the ability to bear some load. I then refitted it to the rim and was able to limp back to Cairo through the desert at about 8mph. It took a while!
This tale has a funny ending – on getting back to Cairo, I headed for a tyre workshop to get inner tubes put in all six of the Couragias until I could afford to replace them. I speak reasonable Arabic (though having learned some in Cairo, some in the UAE, some in Lebanon and some in Morocco, to Middle Eastern ears my Arabic is a mix of dialects, a bit like someone speaking English with Glaswegian, Cockney and Australian slang all together) and so I asked the guy to fit tubes (shomba in Arabic) to each tyre. I was a bit tired (no pun intended) after the epic desert drive however and wasn’t very awake with my use of vocabulary – what I actually asked was that he put shorba in each tyre. The tyre blokey’s face did that “The-Brit-has-said-something-stupid-but-don’t-laugh-at-customers” sudden blank look, and I realised – in my knackered state I’d asked him in Arabic to fill each tyre with chicken soup – shorba. Soon sorted!
Tools associated with tyres are also something to think about – wheelbraces especially. With tools, cheaper is not better! More than once I’ve had cheap Chinese wheelbraces snap on me when I’ve tried undoing Land Rover wheelnuts. The standard Land Rover wheelbrace is fine – but could do with being longer. Almost 25 years ago a Moroccan friend in the oasis town of Erfoud gave me a short length of steel pipe to extend my wheelbrace, with and it still sits in the Landy ready for use. If this makes no sense think Physics and levers – a longer lever reduces your effort when moving a load. Longer wheelbraces mean less grunting and swearing!
The same “you get what you pay for” lesson goes for the quick-deflate valve caps that you can buy to air tyres down quickly, for example the excellent Staun or Trailhead brands. Avoid cheap Chinese copies. I bought a set as an experiment (branded Wintergreen) and tried them out – three aired tyres down to the specified 18psi, but one let all the air out of the fourth tyre almost immediately. Another failed experiment was a set of little valve caps (unbranded, Chinese) that change colour when tyre pressure falls to dangerous levels. Again, complete deflation of one tyre resulted.
Tyres are often neglected on trips – to the detriment of the trip!