The type of tyre you choose will depend upon the type of expedition you are undertaking, and more specifically the terrain and weather conditions you will encounter. Brand is important – while many of the big name tyres manufacturers have their champions you should be aiming for a quality branded product that will last the expedition – trying to skimp on cost now will definitely cost you later.
As tyres wear they become more prone to punctures, and punctures can be time consuming – especially if you’re carrying out the repairs yourself. A typical London to Cape Town run will wear out a good set of new tryes to the point where, while still serviceable, they are going to be prone to punctures. A cheaper brand may not even get you all the way. For this reason you should consider setting out with six new tyres, assuming your budget allows this.
- Set of locking nuts
- Vehicle wheel-nut spanner, and a spare socket to fit the nuts in case you loose it.
- 2 Tyre Irons – actually used for lots of things other than ironing tyres
- 2 x Tubeless tyre repair plug kits – Make sure you practice before you set out.
- Assorted Tubeless patches and adhesive
- Abrasive pad or paper to prepare surfaces of tubeless tyres for patches
- 4 x Inner Tubes
- Tube repair kit, including patches and adhesives
- Bottle Jack
- Hi-Lift Jack
- Silverstone Compressor
- Foot pump
Specialist expedition planning books can help you choose a brand of tyre that is suitable for sand, mud, snow, or all-terrain. Remember that once you leave Europe replacing tyres will be prohibitively expensive – and that’s assuming a matching tyre is available.
For this reason you should choose a tyre that is of a common size, so that replacements may be found if tyres are damaged beyond repair. Six tyres are essential – especially for desert excursions where support may be days away.
Alloy or Steel Rims?
Many modern 4x4s are fitted with alloy rims and tubeless tyres. Alloy rims offer performance advantages as they are light, and place less of a load on your suspension, but removing tyres is difficult once you leave behind the luxuries of hydraulic machinery. In Africa most tyres are repaired by hand, using crude tools that will inevitably damage rims.
Steel rims on the other hand are far easier when you need to “break the bead”, and when damaged can be hammered back into shape, unlike alloys which require specialist repairs.
Tubes or Tubeless?
Tubeless tyres are excellent at handling thorn punctures – you can continue for days with multiple punctures, as long as you can periodically inflate the tyres. The ideal combination would be tubeless tyres on steel rims, with tubes in reserve for damage that can’t be easily repaired.
Off-road driving is a skill that has to be learned like any other – and sand driving is an art in itself. You will become expert at choosing the best line to protect your tyres, as well as selecting the correct tyre pressures for the conditions.
Tyre pressures for sand driving can – in the worst conditions, be as low as 0.7 bar, but will normally be between 1-1.5 bar, depending upon your load. Returning to harder ground means that you should immediately re-inflate your tryes to prevent damage – and in the desert you really don’t want to be labouring over a foot or hand pump. A good compressor is an essential item; because you are running on large tyres and need to pump a lot of air quickly, and we stock pumps that are suited to the heavier work load required – you can buy cheaper pumps but they probably won’t be able to cope with the demands that desert diving will place on them.
The inevitable punctures can often be repaired locally, but remember that almost all repairs are still on tubes, so if you are using tubeless tyres you should take along your own patches, adhesives, and tools. Don’t expect the standards of expertise that we’re accustomed to in the first world – and keep a keen eye on the work in hand to ensure that you rims and wheels aren’t being abused.
Plugs are a simple and easy way of repairing small punctures in tubeless tyres without removing the tyre from the rim – practice is the key, so ask you local tyre shop if they can let you hone your skills on a dead tyre before you start working on your own good ones.
For tube repairs or more serous tubeless repairs you will need to remove the tyre from the rim. It is essential that you can do this yourself – in an emergency there may be nobody else who can help you, so again practice is the key. With steel rims breaking the bead will probably be easier than with alloys – a set of tyre irons are a must, but a hi-lift jack also makes an excellent bead breaker for the most stubborn of tyres.
If you’re taking a hi-Lift, which is a remarkably flexible piece of equipment, then also take a small bottle jack which is far faster to assemble and use for the simpler repairs
For more information the excellent ‘Sahara Overland’ and ‘Desert Driving’ by Chris Scott are useful travel companions – http://www.sahara-overland.com/