Snow and Ice Trials: The Falken Wild Peak AT
A lot of people have asked about how the Wild Peak does in a winter environment; they're rightfully curious, as this far-more-capable-than-it-should-have-any-right-to-be-and-I'm-not-even-being-paid-to-say-so tread pattern seems to easily handle damned near anything that gets thrown at it. The slippery December mud of Uwharrie was the only terrain that's even started to slow these tires down, but mud is nothing compared to that great field-leveler among tires: ice. I was curious, myself, about how well the tires would handle ice, snow and sleet; a week or so ago I got the chance to test them out when a mid-winter thunderstorm rolled through and dropped a couple of inches of snow in as many hours.
Pictured: Sodium vapor, frozen water, and an LJ.
We were out in Annabelle's LJ when it all began to come down, and the above picture shows the results of a half-hour's passage. By the time the following morning came, we had three inches of snow under a crust of ice...but we also had clear blue skies, so the tire test commenced.
Pictured: The Heavy Machinery Facility here at RobCo.
Incidentally, that stretch of road is where most of Greta's brake testing is conducted; there's just
enough room between the curves to get her up to 50 and then slam down on the middle pedal to scrub the rotors. I should note, here, that such an activity on an icy road would likely result in some manner of accidental fatality because no matter how good one's tire traction might be, adding "ice" to the equation means that Greta's oversized brakes will IMMEDIATELY lock all four tires with the slightest pressure on the pedal. Here's a closer look at why that kind of thing happens; the fluffy bits of snow aren't that dangerous, but that base layer of hard-packed ice is nothing so much as a zero-friction/non-stick surface coating for the asphalt.
Pictured: Also, it makes for near-perfect "winter traction" test conditions.
With that said, I might as well state that I was hands-down amazed at how well these tires did on the snow/ice mix that coated the roads. I expected a solid filling of the tread, and what I got was...well, it was nothing close to expectation. The outer edges picked up a bit of the wettest and stickiest snow, but the center voids looked like they were rolling through puddles; keep in mind that the temperature was approximately 26° at the time the following pictures were taken.
Pictured: This probably explains how they handle water so easily, as well.
Pictured: The opposite face, also on an area that was mostly ice.
On untraveled/unpacked snow and ice, the tires will lift a bit of the material, especially along the outer edges...but they also tend to fling it off as it crosses the centerline of the axle at the rear face of the tire (if it even makes it that far). As a result, the top and - more importantly - the leading surfaces of the tires are mostly clean when they come into contact with the accumulations ahead in the line of travel. On the road - as seen here - only the outer edge lifted any measurable amount of snow at all. Acceleration and turning - even turning at speed - felt very predictable and stable. I didn't notice a huge difference between two-wheel and four-wheel drive; there was more than enough traction in both modes. Braking - as expected - was dangerous...but that's no different than what's to be expected when any
set of non-studded tires contacts ice; the general rule when driving through slick conditions is to only brake when you must do so, and to then be consistent and smooth in your movements. Even with these rules in mind, the Savvy stuff locked the front down right-f******-now, which thus allowed the rears to follow suit a microsecond later. This was the only time that the tires felt marginal to me, but I'm not sure than anything except a dedicated winter tire would make a difference.
I figured that some of you would want something a little more...Wastelandish...than an on-road test; to that end, I headed out to some suitably uneven terrain that was hard-frozen, powdery, slick and uncrossed by anything at the time I got there.
Pictured: I really and truly love that umbrella...
It's hard to tell because of the angle of the photo, but those of us that aren't hanging out with The Slow Kids In The Class will note that this is a steeper hill than it seems; you can tell by the unloading of the front suspension and the slightly-greater-than-normal tire clearance. In 3" deep powder the tread voids seemed to fill up to a rather significant degree, but there was no noticeable loss of traction; careful observance will show a tread pattern in the snow behind the tire. In driving through the hills and on the so-called "road" leading to the area the Wild Peaks did a great job; I actually tried to make
them break traction and they mostly refused to do so, although I had reasonable success with causing the rear end to swing around on me by dropping into two-wheel drive and flooring the gas. In four-by mode and when driving like I had a functioning brain, they were every bit as stable off-road as they were when on the pavement.
As if that wasn't enough of a test, we had a nice little ice-storm come through a few days later. Naturally, all of the precipitation fell when I was out and about and didn't have Greta all buttoned-up under her cover back at Site B; it was 19° and I was out driving around at 65 miles per hour with no enclosed top because there is something fundamentally wrong
Pictured: However, the deck cover looks pretty sweet, though.
Note the fact that there is barely any visible sign of passage behind the Jeep; that road is covered with solid ice. Be that as it may, the tires did as well as could be expected; they were reasonably stable unless radical maneuvering and/or braking was taking place and Greta could execute some nice return-to-center slide management after intentional loss-of-control was induced. All-told, I was impressed that she was as controllable as I found her to be, given conditions at the time. When the ice melted the next day and the roads were slush-covered it was no different than driving through heavy rain; excellent wet traction and a return to normal, predictably-excellent braking.
The Wild Peak AT's are a good winter tire for those of us that don't require a dedicated
winter tire. They offer surprisingly-nice traction and control in various mixtures of snow when both on- and off-road, and they suffer no exceptional penalties when pure ice is encountered. All-told, they continue to impress me and I will continue to recommend them.
Also, they're still wearing pretty nicely, and there's still more to come from Muppet Labs. Stay tuned.