Monday, April 20, 2015

Are Tires Too Good?

Many years ago Patrick Bedard wrote one of his columns in Car and Driver that he thought modern tires were (to paraphrase) too good. His point if I remember was that their limit of adhesion was so high that they instill confidence that the average drive couldn't equal.

At the Western Automotive Journalists after party at the Perry House in Monterey I posed the same theory to two driving instructors from Hooked On Driving. They seemed to agree.

Tires today, even run of the mill tires for your family sedan, are probably better than the performance tires Bedard wrote about years ago. They stick. Heck the average Toyota Camry probably handles better than most sports cars of yesteryear. And folks is a problem.

Performance cars today are so much better all around than cars of twenty years ago and a large part of their ability to corner at speeds well above the posted limits is due to the tires they wear. My opinion, and there was some agreement on this, is that cars and tires perform at limits far over the heads of average drivers. Probably even many above average drivers.

The problem is that when a tire today loses adhesion the vehicle is going so much faster than "back in the day." (I hate that phrase but ...) This was brought into focus this morning when I watched a video of the 1966 Gallaher 500 (later to be known as the Bathurst 1000) in Australia. The race tires used then wouldn't qualify as economy car tires today. If you watch the race (http://www.motorsportretro.com/2013/10/mini-cooper-s-1966-bathurst/) you'll see cars sliding around corners. Watch a modern race and when the cars slide they are going much faster.

If you are an average driver, and I include myself in that group, when a modern car starts to slide your chances of recovering are slim. Not because you are such a poor driver but because the car is going so fast that by the time you feel the slide its too late.

I have other concerns about modern tires. When did a 15" tire become small? Econoboxes are shod with 16" tires today. Why? I'm not advocating a return to what auto writer Jim Kenzie used to call "rim protectors" (cheap tires). But on a family sedan do we need tires that grip the road at race speeds or tires that give a good ride, work well in a variety of weather and last a long time?

Even on performance street cars it seems to me that the tires really aren't suited for the real world. Hit a pothole with a super-low profile tire and you not only may ruin the tire but the wheel may end up on the scrap pile. It's nice that your performance car will pull more than 1 g in a corner but how many roads in this country are smooth enough for that level?

Just some thoughts.


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