Cheap tyres might sound fun, but trust me, they aren't – they're terrifying
Will cut his teeth as a designer on Evo magazine, before slinging a U-ey and writing for them instead. So if it has four wheels and an engine then there's a chance he's drifted it in front of a camera, driven it incredibly hard and then written about it. When he's not writing he's can be found fettling his 1971 BMW 2002 and trying to stop Wagtails defecating on his old Range Rover.
I used to work with a man – let's call him Alfred to preserve his credibility – who I’d follow into the office as the last fifth of my journey would diverge with his. Now, despite being 30-something and driving a not-embarrassing Mk6 Ford Fiesta (although it was a dubious shade of metallic copper, which should have given me a clue as to what his driving might be like) Alfred transformed into an 86-year-old partially-sighted Honda Jazz driver when he was behind the wheel.
That wouldn’t usually have mattered; pootling to work at a leisurely pace for the final four miles would have been a nice, relaxing start to the day. But in those four miles was a great series of bends; a fantastic, long right-hander followed by a left kink with a mid-corner compression right at the apex. It was hugely frustrating that I didn’t get to drive them how I wanted, at the speed of my choice, and it was often Alfred that was in my way, forcing me to drive at 30mph in a national speed limit area.
I couldn’t overtake – not that I was worried about being that guy in the office – but there just wasn’t the space or opportunity to get by safely in my ropey E36 BMW 323i Touring. The car was also the reason I wasn’t so fussed about my reputation, it was already in tatters thanks to the modifications made to it: some cheap coilovers and an air filter as effective as fixing a colander to my intake. Still, it was a riot to drive and handled better than it had any right to, enough for me to really enjoy those few corners, just as long as it was at a pace a little faster than Alfred made me drive.
Then, one day, it came time to change my tyres. Now, we’ve all been there, where we’ve looked at what’s on offer and thought ‘how bad can that super budget rubber be?’ or, as I did, ‘I bet those really cheap Autogrips [yeah, they really were called that] would be a lot of fun if I just put them on the rear wheels.’ So, that’s what I did. I paid around about £60 for two (yes two!) 225/45R17s to put on the back wheels of my car and then over twice that for two Goodyears to go on the front. And you know what? I was right, it was fun. For about 30 minutes.
My crummy 3-series estate felt sharp and agile, and like it had an extra 50bhp, what with its ability to wheel spin. Just one wheel though, I couldn’t afford an LSD you see. On familiar roads it was excellent, it had found a degree of adjustability that wasn’t there before.
Then it rained. Actually, it was moments before it rained, when the air was damp enough to transfer some of that moisture to the tarmac. That’s when the rear tyres started to act up. A little twitch here and tiny slip from one wheel there made me a little disconcerted, but the sensations were so minor that I didn’t let it worry me. The rain started properly in the next village and it drenched the tarmac, but in a built-up area and in slow-moving traffic, I felt no difference.
The exit of the village was where my path would often be crossed by Alfred, and sure enough, when I reached the crossroads, there was the metallic brown roadblock that I had to give way to. This time, rather than trundle behind him at his glacial speed, he started to pull away from me. After every corner, the gap would increase by a number of car lengths. I was doing everything I could to hang onto him and hang onto my car, but I just couldn’t match his pace. Alfred was losing me!
At least, I thought, I’d get to experience my favourite corners without him holding me up. However, this time, with these tyres and wet tarmac, they were far from enjoyable. I had to creep around them as the back of my car seemed magnetically attracted to the opposite lane and the oncoming cars in it.
I can’t lie to you and say that cheap, not very grippy tyres aren’t sometimes fun. But the very tiny window when they are entertaining – incredibly dry and familiar roads – certainly never outweighs the rest of the time when they’re either unpredictable or completely terrifying.
You might think your underpowered, overweight or stodgy car might be improved with less grip, but it won’t. You’ll quickly realise how much enjoyment you derived from the dependability, consistency and security of good tyres, even if it comes at the expense of the occasional flamboyant roundabout manoeuvre.
It’s a such a cliché that it might now be against the law to write about tyres and not say ‘they’re the most important part of the car, they’re the only thing connecting you to the ground’, but it really is true.