EXPERIMENT: CAN A NEW SET OF BRIDGESTONE A/T DUELERS IMPROVE THE FORTUNES OF A DUSTY OLD RIG?
Words Jimmy O’Keefe / Pics: Kelly Smith
We thought we’d do something a little different when reviewing rubber this time ‘round.
Usually we’ll put them on on a pristine vehicle, fresh off the lot, and of course they’ll look amazing, surrounded by all that sparkly new metal, the latest matched with the greatest.
But when was the last time you saw any after-market gear reviewed on an older rig? I mean surely that’s where you’re going to notice advantages the most.
Enter ‘The Banger’, a petrol Jackaroo, almost 20 years old, which is in decent nick despite the treatment it gets from its owner. The grille has the Holden badge on the front, but on the vin plate, and on every other continent on earth, this was an Isuzu Trooper.
Although it’s a model rarely celebrated (perhaps because it’s boxier than a cubist exhibition, and there were problems with an earlier diesel model), it’s been one of the more capable sand machines I’ve had.
And I’m certainly not worried about sharp branches or salt spray. It’s for going up the beach, to surf and to fish, and that’s it.
But this is also a beach that can cause all sorts of issues for the unaware— wash outs, king tides, lagoons, big south swells, erosion from a dumpy shore-pound, and, in recent years, shiploads of traffic.
I’m fortunate to live where I do, I can be splashing through fresh water or salt water within half an hour of snap-shutting my computer. So, if it’s a quick arvo trip, The Banger will often get the call up.
The Banger’s wheels were previously clad in another well-known brand, which, like the car, were generic but plenty capable in this terrain.
This test was just as much about my own curiosity: will spending a little extra on your all terrains make that much of a difference anyway?
It’s been a month behind the wheel with the new Duelers and they’ve actually been a revelation.
First off, I’m not a showy kind of guy, so was kinda wowed by The Banger with such spunky tyre walls. But hey, now I can understand, people are proud of their Duelers, and they have a reputation for damn good reason, so why not have the name on the sidewalls? Of course, I could have asked for them in black, but now I really like ‘em.
The first time I took them on the beach, the biggest blue tongue I’ve ever seen crossed in front of The Banger at the cutting.
The oversized skink is endemic to the area, little feet gripping into the deep sand to get over to his hutch on the other side of the track. His jagged paws and shingly skin powered him across the grit almost too easily. His path was so smooth and seamless I thought he was a snake at first.
And it’s the word ‘endemic’ that kept jumping into my head to describe the debut of The Banger’s new rubber shoes.
From the moment they hit the chopped up high-tide embankment, the V6 dug deep, and the tread moved forward with supreme intent, it was smooth and seamless, the blue-tongue in rubber form.
They’ve got a thick tread, but it’s not absurd, you don’t look like you’re trying to scale El Capitan with them, and they’re library quiet on the highway, unlike my last set which whirred on the tarmac in a muffled hum.
When it came to shooting the tyres, because we’ve shot so much on this particular beach, we mixed it up a bit and took a tricky inland route behind the tree-line to see how they’d go in some deeper chalk and twistier bends.
The words that stuck out for me were ‘strong’ and, once again, ‘endemic’ to the sandy terrain they were driving on. And if these terms seem a little airy fairy, hey, I’m a writer not a mechanical engineer.
Then we took it half an hour up into the mountains and crossed a few creeks. The Duelers were impressive here too.
The floors of these flowing fords are constantly moving. When the vehicle drives along the creek, it sinks enough into the creek-bed for the rocks in front to collapse into your path.
There were a couple of deeper holes where this was really noticeable, yet it was no drama whatsoever. The tyres felt really grabby; they’d find purchase over the stable river rocks, and then just power over the rolling ones.
I’d say the starkest example as to whether the A/T 697 Duelers were vastly superior to the vehicle’s previous shoes, came during my annual leave two weeks ago, when I was without camera.
As per usual, I found myself in a jam, this time on the Coffs Coast when following a power-line track to get to a remote headland. It was only 5km in. We did the first kilometre easily, but then hit the greasiest swamp this vehicle has ever sunk into.
Shin-deep in mud (it had been my idea to take this route) my brother pointed to the top of the tyres and said “OK, let’s see if these things actually work.” I guess I’d been talking them up the whole way down from Queensland. Irritatingly so, it would seem by the tone in my brother’s voice.
And so they helped get the boxy old rig up and out of the gloopy molasses. It wasn’t over though. To get back to safety we still had to negotiate a high-wire act, two sandstone wheel ridges with a half-metre washout between them.
Due to my poorly chosen line (cue second eye-roll from my brother), the passenger side started sliding into the morass…
Before it could cause any damage and slip any further, the tread bit with a firm chomp and didn’t let go of the inside of the ditch, not for long, just 5m or so, but it was enough to get back onto the next stretch.
Now, I could explain the specs, about why this worked, and why I didn’t get a sidewall puncture from any of the tree roots sticking out like Vietnamese Punji Sticks, but I would just be rehashing Bridgestone’s own R&D report.
All I can say is this, if I had my old tyres on, I might still be there. OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration (it’s been two weeks), but at the very least, part of The Banger would still be out there in that primordial soup.
And, to me, that’s the real reason why you upgrade anyway. Because it’s going to make your life easier, because it’s going to save you drama, because it’s going to expand the limits of where you and your vehicle can go.
We’re all going to make the wrong decisions now and then, haha trust me. It’s just that having new A/T Duelers means I can get away with making a few more of them than I used to. Now that’s freedom.