Driving on the beaches and dunes in Namibia this past December clearly brought home to me the fact that my fair amount of theoretical knowledge is no match for my serious lack of practical experience and practice. By far the most dune and beach driving that I have done was in my FJ Cruiser, arguably one of the best dune driving vehicles around. The FJ has many of the required fundamentals to enable it to conquer most beach and dune driving challenges with more ease than most other unmodified vehicles. I found it to be very capable and very forgiving. This can easily make you somewhat of a dune hero notwithstanding a relatively low level of true prowess.
I returned to Namibia full of expectation in my recently acquired Land Cruiser 76 V8 diesel wagon to re-conquer the sand. The LC 76 is a very different vehicle to the FJ. Obvious differences include more weight, especially over the rear axle. The V8 diesel has much more torque but a lot less power. Being a big V8 diesel, it does not enjoy sending the needle far up the rev counter face. You therefore have to have a very different approach to your sand and dune driving in the Cruiser that with the FJ.
The most telling difference for me however was my tyres. The FJ was shod with Bridgestone D697 Dueler All Terrain tyres. This has been my tyre of choice for many years. The single reason for this has always been the performance of this tyre on a wet road in suburbia. Big heavy 4wd vehicles do not possess great handling. Fitting them with a plethora of heavy off-road equipment and a raised suspension merely exacerbates the problem. Add rain and slippery tar to the mix and you have a sure recipe for disaster. The Bridgestone tyres always filled me with a huge amount of confidence in their wet weather ability with regards to water displacement, handling and braking performance in rain conditions. I live in the city and spend most of my driving time here. The Bridgestones were never good with puncture resistance. I would however sooner change to the spare in the case of a puncture than risk an accident in the wet.
When I changed to the Cruiser, I was convinced by a tyre expert Mate to try out the Cooper ST Maxx all terrain tyres. The internet is full of mixed reviews about these tyres but I have over time come to realise that most user review information on the internet is very opinionated, non-factual and ultimately, unreliable. I have thus taken the plunge with the Coopers and I am thus far very impressed. They are noisy and rather uncomfortable compared to the Bridgestones. Their wet weather performance is very acceptable to the extent that I do not really have any concerns in the wet in town. Where I was most impressed however was in their toughness. I did about 1000kms of really punishing gravel road travel while in Namibia. On most of these roads I was convinced that a lesser tyre would give up and let me down. The Coopers just ate up the rocks, ruts and corrugations with ease. Once home, I cannot see any telltale trace on these tyres indicating what they had recently been through.
I did however get quite stuck in the dunes, even with my tyres at pressures that I used to use successfully on the FJ. Curiosity lead me to investigate some of the science behind sand and dune driving. Next blog post we will look at why sand driving is much more than just the pressure of your tyres.