Big Bear Lake, California. It’s a bit of a tourist town known best for its skiing and its namesake lake. However, it also features some of the best scenic off-road trails you can drive on. That’s why Nexen Tire had the Big Bear Jeep Experience lead us up to show the capabilities of the new Roadian MTX.
Disclosure and Paul Jho
Any time I don’t have to pay for food, lodging, or know someone personally, I am required to let you know. In this case, Nexen Tire paid for overnight lodging and food. This also means this article launches live for everyone at the same time. If I don’t spend money, it doesn’t come out of the Carbage budget. That means that here are other stories that I do and is why you should consider subscribing! However, if you know about my professional history, you may realize that I know Paul Jho, who used to work for Hankook Tire’s motorsports program and worked many of the events on the Formula Drift Tour. He continues that, but now he’s with Nexen Tire.
What surprised me was how much of an off-road enthusiast he is. Knowing him from his on-road and motorsports duties, I never got to see this side of him. I drove with him on this event in the TJ Wrangler, the vehicle I would use to help evaluate these Roadian MTX tires, and got to know him far better than I had during our time in FD. If you want to know a lot more about him, I recommend you listen to the Cars Yeah podcast that featured him as their guest.
The Roadian MTX
The Roadian MTX is Nexen Tire’s answer to the extremely competitive Mud Terrain (MT) tire segment. There are so many tires in that segment that it’s easy to get lost in the dust trail left by them. On Discount Tire Direct, for example, there are no less than 119 choices in just 17-inch MT tires ranging from 235 to 315 in LT metric sizes and 33- to 42-inches in diameter in flotation sizes. The top of the bunch, due to legacy as it was launched in Q1 2018, is the BF Goodrich Mud Terrain T/A KM3. It was one of about five major MT launches I know of between SEMA last year and when I tested these Roadians.
Suffice to say, Nexen has its work cut out for it.
A Surprise Guest
In the morning, just before we left, we picked up a new Jeep and a couple of interesting tag-a-longs. It was a brand-new Jeep Wrangler JL from FCA with a pair of engineers. Neither they nor the Big Bear Jeep Experience or Nexen had planned for this. The pair were out doing vehicle testing with a JL that was shipped out from Toledo for testing in and around the South West. They just happened to spend the night at the same hotel as we did and overheard that we were going on a trail run.
The engineers decided they wanted to experience the exact same trails in the area as most enthusiasts would. Gathering data to continue to improve the JL as it lives out its life cycle. They had all of us carry a Garmin GPS device, a small unit no bigger than a hand radio. It would track where we were going and give some simple GPS data about how the Jeeps were running in a 3D space.
After we got back from our run, I joined them for a bite to eat to talk more about Jeep and FCA in general. Turns out, this is something that’s very common for Jeep to do and it’s how they stay on top of JL development. The data they got from us will be used to help continue to evolve the JL chassis for the next several cycles. They couldn’t tell me exactly how this data was being used but that it’s part of the normal rigors of development.
The JL, by the way, was as factory stock as the one you see on the showroom floor. All the trails we hit, the JL stayed right with us for the entire time. Even though I didn’t get to drive it, knowing it was staying right with us had me impressed. I can’t wait for a chance to drive one. (COUGHHINTCOUGHFCACOUGHHINT)
Don Alexander and The Big Bear Jeep Experience
While Nexen was the one to set up the drive, it was Don Alexander’s Big Bear Jeep Experience that lead the way. Many of the people who joined us had no off-roading experience. No offence to them, but it was especially true for a few of the South Korean employees of Nexen Tire that flew over just for this drive. Those guys and girls wanted to get a feel for their Rodian MTX tire just as we did and talk to us after the event, too. Knowing that and seeing Don and his team in action teaching and guiding us, Paul and Nexen made the right choice.
Directions from them were clear and direct. Their experience made sure that everyone made safe paths through the trails and anyone who didn’t feel confident would have one of them take over. Don himself has been driving in Jeeps and racing for nearly 50 years (including driving the Banks Sidewinder Dodge Dakota Diesel to 222-MPH in Land Speed Racing) and began his career in go-karts in 1959. He’s done oval racing, drag racing, road racing, and a lot in between. He also teaches classes on driving Jeeps in all conditions, including snow when Big Bear Lake gets it. His experience was certainly on display on our drive and I look forward to driving with he and his team again soon.
What made this different from the Yokohama Tire Geolandar X-MT test was how it started. Instead of driving straight off the dirt, we left from our hotel, The Holiday Inn on Village Drive. So, the first leg of our journey was all on paved roads. We went from the 18 heading East and crossed over Big Bear Lake at Stanfield Cutoff. Then we headed back west on the 38 to Polique Canyon Road to make our way towards John Bull East, better known as Little John Bull.
We then climbed up to the Gold Mountain Jeep Trailhead to stop for Lunch before cresting out at 8156-feet above sea level to see the entirety of Big Bear Lake. We went down from there, taking on mud, rocks, loose dirt, and the challenge of keeping your eyes on the trail. The view was just so beautiful to take in and it makes you realize that there was more to California’s Jeep scene than the Rubicon and Johnson Valley. If anything, it was proof that there was more to Big Bear Lake than snow season, too.
The part that impressed me the most was the on-road section of the drive. Every Jeep we drove had its doors off and we were exposed to the elements, you know, proper Jeep stuff. With that, you’d expect the noise level to be outrageous considering how MT tires are designed. The large tread blocks squish air into the pavement and when the tire rotates to expose it again, it comes out at supersonic speeds. That is where the characteristic “howl” of a MT tire comes from. The Roadian MTX tires had a howl, but it wasn’t any louder than the air rushing into the cabin from the open doors.
I asked Dean Rogers, Nexen Tire’s Section Manager of Engineering Services, about it and he explained that it was from the tread block design. If you look at those blocks, they aren’t the same size. They shrink to three different lengths and are done so to tune the noise. So, instead of hearing you coming from over a few miles away, your friends and neighbors will hear you about the same time you’re in their sight.
Another trick of the tread design is how they are molded. Dean compared it to a piece of paper. A single sheet is easy to tear away and punch a hole through, but once you compress it down it becomes a tougher material. Rubber is similar and the rubber in the mold of the Roadian MTX is filled in such a way to compress the material at the tread blocks. Combined with their compound, the Roadian MTX has shown to resist a lot of the sharpest rocks you’ll encounter on the trail.
The next feature is the carcass design. It’s a three-ply tread cap with a F-load weight rating with six to 12-plies in the sidewall. At tire pressures above 15-psi, you’d expect it to not flex much. However, as you can see in the photo above, these tires flex like they only have 10-psi. This means that you aren’t required to need to air down to beadlock pressures to get useable flex out of the tire. The tread conforms to rocks and the surface but, when you get out on the road, you don’t have to stress about air pressure if you happen to forget. Still not good to go very long on any tire on surface roads below 20-psi, but the Roadian MTX will allow you to get to the next closest air pump from the trail. Finally, the sidewall has two distinct designs: the “Beast” and the “Machine.” This allows users to choose which one they want to run instead of being stuck with either.
Again, much like the Yokohama Geolandar X-MT test, this isn’t an in-depth review. I don’t know the long-term capability and wear of the Roadian MTX other than the experience of Don and his Big Bear Jeep Experience Team. However, it is a tire I feel comfortable saying that it is something you should be looking into if you’re in the market for new MTs. However, I can’t sit and honestly say you must buy them without further testing. I am impressed so far from the brief experience I’ve had with them to this point.
Thanks to Paul’s direction and listening to enthusiasts, the Roadian MTX comes in nearly all popular sizes and include 15-inch varieties (33X12.50R15 and 35X12.50R15) while LT metric sizes start at 16-inch diameters all the way up to 20-inch. Floatation sizes start at those 15s to 22-inch rim sizes for a total combination of 35 size options. So, if you’re a classic Jeeper or a modern lifted show truck, the Nexen Roadian MTX most likely has a size for you.