The folks at Dick Cepek/Mickey Thompson introduced a new hybrid truck tire just before the SEMA Show, the TrailCountry EXP. I love the appearance of this new tread, less aggressive than the Dick Cepek Fun Country I wrote about here Fun Country review, but with deeper tread and more void than the much more conservative Trail Country (no EXP) 5-rib design. I love hybrid light-truck tires, and have tested several of the EXP’s competitors.
Fun Countrys walked through every type of terrain with ease.
The Dick Cepek Fun Country
The Dick Cepek brand and the Fun Country tread: the names are icons. Mr. Cepek essentially started the aftermarket industry focused on enthusiast four-wheel-drives in the 1960s. Off-highway tires for the exploding Southern California and Baja desert scene were his initial product, before expanding to include shocks, tire-repair kits, jacks, and the other accessories that backcountry travelers needed and wanted.
At the time, the big rubber companies were content making very narrow and short tires for the OEMs, and were ignoring the burgeoning specialty market. Dick Cepek’s first offering was a farm-implement tread with a DOT rating, the Hi-Way Flotation, made for Cepek by Armstrong.
In 1978 Dick Cepek introduced the first Fun Country, a bias-ply design, which was huge by the standards of the day, 36” tall, 15” wide, made for 15” and 16.5” wheels. The first radial was introduced a couple of years later, and called the F-C.
Since 2003, Cooper Tires has owned Mickey Thompson and Dick Cepek, but these brands are independently operated, and the relationship predates the acquisition by several years. Also in 2003, Dick Cepek introduced the F-C II, which advanced the cult following of both their brand and their unusual hybrid tread design.
Moderate noise, any-terrain traction, and winter grip have been consistent attributes throughout the generations of the Fun Country. My built and heavy 2011 Tundra project ran a set of 33” F-C II during most of my stewardship and thereafter with the new owner. They were removed after covering 47,065 miles, with 5.5/32” of the original 18/32” remaining, for an incredible 3,765 miles per 1/32” of tread depth.
Dick Cepek F-C II tread wore like iron on my 2011 Tundra.
Comparing the Dick Cepek F-C II (L), and latest Fun Country (R).
The current Fun Country was introduced at the 2012 SEMA Show, where it won a Global Media Award. The tread and construction had been updated and improved, though the heritage was clearly visible, including the unusual shaped sipes (like little seagulls), which I’m convinced are part of the secret traction recipe. It was the first aftermarket tire I put on my 2014 Ram Carryall, which was covered in TDR87 (pages 91-92). They performed well but were removed to make room for larger rubber. After a couple years I circled back to the Dick Cepek Fun Country, choosing the much larger 305/70R18 size, 12.5” wide, and a bit over 35” tall.
More Void, Special Sipes, Premium Construction, Specs
Even a cursory glance at the Fun Country will communicate the traction potential. Not a full mudder, and proportionally less noisy (but not quiet), they offer substantially more void to handle sloppy conditions compared to typical all-terrain designs. The first Fun Country was probably the original hybrid design offered to the enthusiast market (decades before hybrid was in vogue), and the newest Fun Country leans toward the aggressive side of the category.
Fun Country is a high-void hybrid traction tire, but not a full-on mudder.
The Fun Country has copious siping for such a high-void tire, just like the previous versions. Every block has at least one of the unusually-shaped seagull sipes, and the bigger blocks have three. Like the tread blocks themselves, the sipes are placed at various angles, which provides biting edges in nearly every direction when compared to simpler designs.
The compound is more cut and chip resistant than the previous F-C II, all sizes feature three-ply sidewall construction and 18.5/32” of depth. The shoulder Sidebiters™ mimic the tread design; they are a whopping 6/32” deep and also have micro siping! Of course, the Fun Country is M+S rated.
Sidebiters™ mimic the tread design, and are a whopping 6/32” deep.
All sizes have 18.5/32” tread, more than some competitors.
The 305/70R18 size is a bit wide for an 8-inch-wide wheel; 8.5” is the recommended minimum. I had zero problems with the 305s on factory aluminum 8” wheels, but some shops might balk at mounting this combination. With a load index of 126, and a 65-psi maximum, each tire is capable of supporting 3,750-pounds, with a speed rating of 99 miles-per-hour. My scale said they weigh 71-pounds each.
305/70R18 supports 110# more per tire at 65 psi than the stock 275/70R18 size at 80 psi.
LT305/70R18 First Spin
Highway manners were excellent at all speeds. The 12.5” wide and 35.1” tall 305s are the tallest and widest rubber I’ve run on my Rams; they did not appear to extract a drivability penalty. The stock wheels keep the tires narrow and tucked under the fenders. There was some minor rubbing on the radius arms at maximum steering lock that removed a little paint (they just barely touched), but this didn’t cause any problems. If the occasional, slight rubbing is a concern, aftermarket wheels are a simple solution. Fourth Generation Rams handle larger tires extremely well. Both Ram 2500 trucks used to evaluate these meats have stock suspensions, not even a so-called leveling kit in front.
On- And Off-Road At GVWR
The 1,400-mile roundtrip highway drive from my home in Northern Nevada, to Flagstaff, Arizona, to attend 2017 Overland Expo West was pleasurable and uneventful. With a truck and camper gross weight of 10,000 pounds, the tires also delivered me to the Southwest for an annual backcountry excursion with a buddy after the show.
Several days were spent exploring and camping in remote places, with hundreds of dirt miles passing under the tread. We started adventuring at Monument Valley, advanced to the Valley of the Gods, and then drove deep into the Manti-LaSal National Forest northwest of Blanding, Utah. It was in this forest that I was able to really test some of the off-highway traction and self-cleaning attributes of the Fun Country.
Off-highway flexing, 25 psi in the fronts with a maximum load.
The trip was in late spring after a wet winter, and we headed for a camp at Deadman Point, 8,700’ above sea level. The shaded spur to this site contained numerous muddy puddles that were from two to several truck lengths long and several inches deep. This was not just a little bit of mud or water; the road often swallowing half of the 35-inch tall tires, submerging my White Knuckle Off Road sliders, scraping crossmembers along the bottom, and packing mud on the differentials.
Chocolate pudding, several inches deep.
Exit on one of the many mud puddles we drove through.
My preferred finesse driving, putting along in low range with minimal fuel from the skinny pedal, combined with the outstanding sloppy traction of the Fun Countrys, pulled me through all of the soft spots. There was no need to spin the tires to help clear the mud-packed lugs after each dunking. They self-cleaned easily at normal trail speeds over the dry sections between the muddy spots.
Leveling the camper at Deadman Point, Manti-LaSal National Forest, Utah. Front tire at 25 psi.
Evaluating longevity can be difficult. The same tread can offer vastly different wear on different vehicles, while the driver and conditions are also likely to skew results, often dramatically. My extensive experience evaluating tires on modern diesel pickups provides a solid foundation.
The weight, diesel torque, and manual transmissions on my rigs all contribute to rapid treadwear regardless of what’s mounted. More wear is typically seen on the rear axle, with much less on the front regardless of the brand or design. During the first 2,000 miles logged, including hundreds off-pavement, wear was an equal 1/32” on both axles. The even wear was atypical, but likely reflected the high percentage of highway miles.
To give this set of Fun Countrys a bigger daily driving challenge after duty on the 2014 Carryall crew cab, they were mounted on a 2016 Ram 2500 crew cab that sees much more commuting and personal-use city driving than my outfits. Harder starts, stops, and faster turning, generally contribute to increased wear compared to steady-state, long-distance travel. After another 12,000 miles, for a total of 14,088 miles, they were down an average of 11.5/32” (two at 12/32”, two at 11/32”). Regular rotations kept the wear even, just a hair over 2,000 miles per 1/32”. This is good for the application, duty-cycle, and aggressive tread deign. With the same 2016 Ram and driver, the OE Firestone Transforce HT lost 8.5/32” of their original 15/32” in 9,942-miles, a mere 1,170 per 1/32”!
Swapping the 305 Cepeks onto the second Ram 2500 tester.
These 35” Fun Country treads are a tight fit on stock wheels, but look great and keep a Fourth Generation narrow.
Wearing evenly with about half the tread remaining.
Most light-truck tires are better than in decades past, yet there are still differences in quality and function. The Deck Cepek Fun Country is a premium traction tire, Made In USA by an American company. The LT305/70R18 we tested are $312 each online from tirerack.com, an exceptional value.
The original and still one of the best, Dick Cepek and sister brand Mickey Thompson don’t advertise as much as some of the competition, though their truck tires are better than ever.
Copyright James Langan/RoadTraveler All Rights Reserved.
A version of this article was also published in the Turbo Diesel Register magazine.
With all my posts about tires it’s not surprising that I receive mail asking for opinions and advice on tires. A gentleman named Guy from Washington recently asked for my input. Below are his questions and my replies. My review and comments on the 255/85R16 Toyo M/T on my old F-350 will continue.
Howdy, hope you can help me a bit with a tire selection dilemma: 2012 two-door JK, that I use as a daily driver here in Wenatchee, Washington. Also do a couple of road trips every year, 2000 – 3000 miles each. Hunting. Fishing. Some overlanding. Did the 600 mile WABDR this past summer. I’d like to use the same tires all year, snow, rain, heat.
The two-door JK is a nice platform, I was shopping Jeep JKs online just a few days ago, including the two-door models. Sounds like your Jeep sees a nice mix of uses. As much as I’m a tire aficionado who tests and often owns more than one set of tires for a particular platform, there are advantages to picking a set of all-around treads and using them until they’re ready to be replaced.
Very basic Jeep. Manual transmission, 4.10 gears, aftermarket air lockers front & rear. 1.5″ Teraflex leveling kit (springs).
Sounds nicely set-up. There’s much to be said for lower lifts, and I love manual transmissions. Aftermarket selectable air lockers, presumably ARB Air Lockers, are accessories that offer a level of control over traction and wheel rotation that is only available with selectable lockers.
ARB Air Locker and 4.88:1 gears during setup
I bought a set of used 16×9″ rims and E-rated 265/75/16 BFG AT’s a week or two after I got the Jeep. Killer deal, $1k for five rims and tires. I’ve put another 25,000 miles on those tires, and they’re getting worn. So I need tires soon. I could just replace them with more 265’s, but they’re a little short.
Several years ago the first aftermarket tires I put on my V8 4Runner were 265/75R16. I agree that 265s are a bit short, most are notably smaller than 32-inches tall. Depending on the tire and tread chosen and the actual height, the advantages to stepping up to a 33-inch-tall tire are quite noticeable. Even with a short thirty-three (32.8″) the approximately one-inch in overall diameter will lift your Jeep a solid half-inch, everywhere. The best lift is tire lift.
I like the 255’s, roughly 33×10’s. Nice! But, I’m afraid they won’t work with my 16×9’s.
You are correct, in addition to being too wide according to the tire manufactures, a 9-inch wheel is a poor choice for a 255 tire for our uses, while a 7–8 inch wheel would be prefect. A 9-inch wheel is also wide for a 265, I prefer to run a 265/7x tire on a stock 7–8 inch wheel. I’ve not shopped for Jeep wheels recently, but I’d image there are many high-quality, original equipment, aluminum take-off wheels for sale on Craigslist. I’ve been a huge fan of the 255/85 size since the early 1990s and have been using them steadily on at least one of my four-wheel-drives since 1998.
New Toyo M/T LT265/75R16E being mounted on 2-door 2005 TJ Rubicon Unlimited
Simple solution is just 285’s, but… I fear that’s an awful lot of tire for a little two-door JK… Maybe ditch the 16×9 wheels? I do like the way they look, but I could swap to a more narrow wheel & tire combo happily.
Surely 285s will work on your 9-inch wheels and that is a simple solution. Tread choices in 285/75R16 are almost endless. However, I’m not a fan of using wheels that are on the wide end of specifications. For 285s I prefer to run a 7.5-inch (the minimum) or 8-inch wheel, both for how the tire fits the wheel and the narrower overall width. I don’t care for tires and wheels that protrude further than necessary. I’ve run a few sets of 285 tires over the past several years out of necessity or a desire to run a particular tread that was not available in a 255, but I’d almost always prefer a 255/8x if I could get what I’m looking for.
Ditching the 9-inch-wide wheels would be my suggestion regardless of what tire you purchase. Choosing wheels that are at least 7.5-inches wide but no wider than 8-inches, will allow you run any of the tire sizes we are discussing here; 265/75R16, 255/85R/16, or 285/75R16.
Have four heavy-duty old style tire chains that are a little big on 265’s and fit 285’s real snug.
One old set of tire chains I have fit both 265/75 and 255/85 tires similarly, I believe both tire sizes use the same chains. My chains are too small for 285s.
And of course I haven’t quite made up my mind re tire type either. The AT’s have done surprisingly well, but I find myself looking hard at the Toyo MT’s and Mickey Thompson MT’s. My son runs 33×12.50 Mickey Thompsons – and they’re terrific off-road, but I’m not that impressed with them on pavement.
When I finish telling the story of using the Toyo M/T on my F-350 the rapid wear might surprise a few readers. I’m a fan of Toyo tires, but when I can, I much prefer a tire that will offer less noise and longer wear. Of course tire wear is often specific to the platform, driver, and use.
There are a set of Mickey Thompson MTZ tires sitting in my shop mounted and ready for use on my Tundra, but have only seen about 2,000 miles of travel. I like them, but I’ve preferred the Dick Cepek FC-II treads I’ve been running for most of the Tundra’s miles. The FC-II (replaced by the Fun Country) has less noise, excellent siping, and have been slow to show wear on everything from an F-350 diesel, the Tundra, and a built V8 4Runner. Of course neither the Fun Country nor the Mickey Thompson MTZ tread are available in the 255/85R16 size.
The biggest decision you have to make is tire size. If you chose either a 265/75 or 285/75 your choices are many, both a blessing and a curse. If you decide to try a set of 255/85R16 rubber, then it will be relatively easy because the choices are relatively few.
If the 255 size wins, and you decide you don’t want a loud or faster wearing mud-terrain tire (Maxxis Bighorn, Toyo M/T, or BFG KM2), I’d suggest you consider a set of Cooper S/T MAXX. The S/T MAXX has only been manufactured in the 255/85R16 size since the first quarter of 2014. I’m currently running a set in the 255/80R17 size on my 4Runner.
Some of the great load-range (LR) D enthusiast tires are going to be improved to load-range E designs. This is only an improvement if one needs the higher load rating, and can be a negative if you don’t (see Wheels, Tires, and Sidewalls from Jan. 2012). I understand manufacturers’ position, if they make all or most of their heavy-duty light-truck (LT) tires load-range E, the tire can be used for stoutest pickups down to the smaller, lighter rigs. I argue that these stiffer, less flexible tires are not ideal for many lighter 4WDs which are typically daily-drivers that rarely haul or tow maximum loads, and would benefit from the better ride and off-pavement traction that more flexible tires offer. There are many applications where a load-range D or C (remember those) are the best choice. I view the reduction and possible elimination of the LR D tire choices similarly to the needless super-sizing of everything in the USA.
Bed full of load-range D, 255/85R16 tires.
I also see similarities to the slow death of the LT255/85R16 size. There is still a small market for this fantastic 33×10-inch tire, and many 255/85 tires that were all LR D five years ago, have become LR E designs. In support of this 255/85R16 change, I do think most trucks running this size are heavy-duty, full-sized pickups that are used as such, and the added capacity and reduced flex is a positive. Unfortunately narrower tires don’t appeal to the masses (strike 1), few new trucks are made with 16-inch wheels (strike 2), and the perfect 17-inch 255/85 replacement, the 255/80R17, is available in one tire (strike three), the BFGoodrich KM2 mud-terrain.
Dick Cepek Mud Country LT285/75R16D, with 3-ply sidewalls.
The Sea Change In Load-Range Continues
Recently I noticed that two of my current favorite mud tires, the Dick Cepek Mud Country and the Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ, are losing their load-range D rating in favor of the LR E in a couple popular sizes.
The Mud Country in 285/75R16 and the MTZ in 285/70R17 are switching to a load-range E rating. Both of these tires/sizes were load-range D, with 3-ply sidewalls, a perfect combination for many enthusiast applications. I currently own a set of each of these treads and love the 3-ply sidewalls combined with a load-range D casing. The new LR E offerings will surely offer less sidewall and/or tread flex (bad off-highway, good for tonnage) and be firmer riding during lightly loaded daily use. How stiff is the question, as not all LR E tires are created equal. Some are pretty flexible like the BFG KM2, while others like the new Cooper S/T MAXX and Toyo M/T are quite stiff.
The LT285/70R17 Mickey Thompson MTZ: Stout 3-ply sidewalls, serious sidebiter lugs, and load-range D construction all in one package. I’ll miss this combination when my current set needs replacing.
If you think I’m some kind of tire nut who likes fetish tires (well…) there has been and likely still is plenty of market and demand for good, load-range D tires. The currently popular, practical, and useful 285/70R17 size has several load-range D offerings. A search on www.trierack.com recently listed twenty-eight 285/70R17 tires; 14 of which were LR D treads, 7 were LR E, and 7 were P-rated tires. These LR D designs were not duds, and included some of the best or most popular off-highway enthusiast tires currently offered, including: Dick Cepek F-C II, BFGoodrich KM2 and All-Terrain, Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar, and Goodyear DuraTrac. For years BFG has offered their ever-popular All-Terrain in both load-range D and E flavors in both the 16-inch and 17-inch 285 mm sizes. I respect BFG for seeing and filling this need, and not forcing everyone who wants a 285 to run a load-range E tire. There is a difference.
Does this mean that I will no longer buy certain niche tires once they’re not available in LR D? Probably not. While I prefer a LR D tire for most of my uses, my primary criteria for light-truck tires is that I like the tread and overall characteristics, they balance well, and the chassis I put them on likes the tire. All of these are equally important, any missing ingredient can make a tire undesirable for the specific application—a deal breaker. After these metrics I prefer and will take a load-range D if I can get it, but will accept a load-range E if it’s not overly stiff.
RoadTraveler, enjoying the tire wear to get there.
This blog will not always be so tire centric, but it seems a popular topic so I’ll continue in this vein for now.
Dick Cepek F-C II
This is a review about one set of Dick Cepek F-C II tires I have been tracking. Longevity is only one consideration when choosing a tread, and needs to be balanced with other criteria, but everyone always asks about wear. Some might argue that long wear is the most important characteristic, however that really depends on how you want your tires to perform. Some off-highway enthusiasts care much more about traction or noise.
Hummer H2 with 38" Dick Cepek F-C II
A few years ago this Hummer H2 was lifted several inches, and at the same time these 38×15.50R20LT Dick Cepek F-C II tires were mounted. I’m aquatinted with the owner and he’s not a conservative driver, or maybe he is now but he didn’t used to be. Admittedly this H2 is a street queen, though it has traveled a few fire roads when goin’ fishin’. The tires were rotated with each oil change, about every 5,000 miles.
When doing the photo shoot the owner knew the tires had logged several thousands miles, though not exactly how many. After he confirmed the date and mileage of the installation, I had the data I needed for this story.
Dick Cepek F-C II 38x15.50R20 with 20/32" tread depth.
The F-C II is no longer offered in this size, but came with 20/32″ of tread, as seen here on the still new spare.
Dick Cepek F-C II after 40,000 miles, with 10/32" of tread remaining.
Slow Wearing Tread Design
After 40,000 miles of driving, the rate of wear was nothing less than exceptional. Four thousand miles per 1/32″ of tread wear on a heavy, modified utility wagon running a fairly aggressive traction tire is outstanding.
Still plenty of tread and siping after 40,000 miles on a 38" F-C II.
Without prompting, the owner shared that the F-C II is a great winter tire, which is a common accolade. While not a dedicated winter design, the shape and density of tread sipes, combined with the layout of the center tread blocks helps make the F-C II an outstanding winter performer. This tire does well many places, that’s why Dick Cepek Tires calls it an any-terrain radial.
All thirty-threes are not created equal, because they’re not all exactly thirty-three inches tall. The very common 285s are typically 32.8-inches tall while 255/85R16s are almost always 33.3+ inches; the Toyo M/T is 33.5-inches! Removing the Dick Cepek F-C II 17-inch 285s, slapping-on the 18-inch Cooper S/T MAXXs, and taking a few measurements showed that the taller 275/70R18 MAXXs were good for 3/16″ of additional clearance under the rear differential. Nice.
My initial S/T MAXX drive was on a test loop I typically travel after any tire, wheel, air pressure, alignment, or other drivability changes are implemented. It’s several miles long and includes city streets, rural highway, interstate freeway, and sometimes just a minuscule amount of dirt for photos. The route and terrain are familiar, as is the vehicle platform, what’s being evaluated is the change, in this case, tires.
LT275/70R18E Cooper S/T MAXX, slightly taller than most 285s.
What noise? Articulating tire noise can be a challenge, as vehicles have different levels of insulation and sound deadening, and drivers have their biases and tolerance or lack thereof for noise. With several back-to-back tire tests under my belt the S/T MAXX is clearly one of the quietest traction tires I’ve ever had the pleasure to drive on. The volume and tone is similar to my beloved Dick Cepek F-C II, but a bit quieter, and the MAXX is certainly quieter than the standard Cooper S/T. Comparing the S/T MAXX to the super popular BF Goodrich A/T is tough. While I currently have a set of used BFG A/Ts, I have few personal miles on them and I’m not a BFG A/T fan. I’ll go out on a strong limb and say the new S/T MAXXs are louder than the BFG A/T, but not much. For a tire that offers as much traction and void (much more than the BF Goodrich A/T) the Cooper S/T MAXX is an amazingly quiet tire and well worth the little noise it makes.
LT275/70R18 S/T MAXX on Tundra SR5 wheel
As noted in my introduction, the ArmorTek3® carcass construction and 3-ply sidewalls of the S/T MAXX are stiff. This can be great if this is a feature you are looking for, or a negative if you prefer a more compliant ride and/or a lighter tire. (If you are new to this blog or subject, read Wheels, Tires, and Sidewalls from Jan. 30, 2012.) In addition to the intentionally rugged design of the S/T MAXX, using 18-inch wheels with only a 33-inch tire adds to the lack of sidewall flex.
One of my strong dislikes for tall wheels on light-trucks is manifested by this situation: a relatively tall tire (33+), with a relatively short sidewall doesn’t offer the same off-highway flex and performance available from a taller sidewall. The same height tire on a 16-inch rim would yield an additional inch of sidewall to drive and flex on; this is not a small difference. If you already use and like the firmness of a load-range E sidewalls then the stiffness of the S/T MAXX (similar to the Toyo M/T) may not bother you, particularly if you don’t have to run it on a tall wheel. However, if you prefer a more compliant ride or a lighter tire you might reconsider the MAXX. What do you want, and what do you need for your application?
S/T MAXX with Old Man Emu (OME) suspension.
Pulling To The Right
Several years ago I rarely experienced tire pull problems with my trucks, however they are all live-axle 4WDs. Starting with my 2006 V8 4Runner and now continuing with this Tundra, I’ve experienced a pull (or drift) to the right with certain tires but not with others. Both of these IFS four-wheel-drives have alignment settings and geometry that are equal to or better than when new.
Aftermarket upper-control-arms are employed and expertly adjusted, though invariably some tires cause a very noticeable drift or pull to the right. I’ve spent countless hours and dollars to try and understand, identify, and combat this situation on these Toyota 4WDs. In short, my work involved many trial-and-error alignment adjustments, tire & wheels swaps, rotations, and tire pressure changes, all of which did not correct the problem. Some tires would still pull right, some terribly so.
How bad is the pull or drift? On a straight section of freeway with little road crown, at 65 miles-per-hour, releasing the steering wheel will result in crossing the right lane-line in about 3-seconds. Three seconds! I’m a strong advocate of keeping one, if not two hands on the wheel, and paying attention to the task at hand when driving. But I also like my vehicles to have very neutral handling, heading straight down the road unless instructed otherwise. Modified or not, I require my vehicles to drive almost perfectly on-highway. For comparison, depending on the road, wind, and other variables, with the same alignment settings Dick Cepek F-C II tires would continue straight for 8–10 seconds with no-hands.
Some readers may observe that the wheels are not identical. OE 17-inch forged TRD wheels are being used for the F-C II, while the MAXXs are mounted on 18-inch SR5 wheels, and there is probably a slight difference in backspacing. Is that part of the problem? I doubt it, though I did consider of this difference, and have a plan.
After an interlude, there will be more Cooper S/T MAXX commentary in the future—first we have to drive there.