For the past 119 years, Dunlop has been supplying the world with rubber, providing the necessary link between horsepower and pavement. Well, this may not be entirely true, since paved roads ceased to exist in the late 1800s. They got their start in the dirt and today continue to stir up dust and the competition with their dedication to off-road. Chances are your machine rolled off the assembly line sporting the Dunlop logo, and with the release of the new Radial Quadmax Sport, they intend to keep it that way when your ATV hits the track.
When choosing a new set of meats for your ATV many factors come into play: tire size, tread pattern, handling characteristics, visual appearance and, of course, whether or not they will pull you through that gnarly mud pit that always swallows your buddies. How the tread pattern got its design and why its handling characteristics perform as they do never cross one's mind. This is definitely not the case at the Dunlop test facility in Huntsville, Alabama. Here, a staff of professionals factor such things as sidewall stiffness, rubber compounds and lug size to bring you a product worthy of the Dunlop name. This leaves you with the ability to answer a few simple questions and get the correct tire for your needs.
It's not every day you get to go behind the scenes of a manufacturing or test facility, so when I received an invitation to visit Dunlop's Huntsville plant, I jumped at the opportunity. My bags were packed and away I went, enthusiastically driving four hours to reach Huntsville. Upon arrival I found myself at a locked gate of a seemingly quiet building bearing the Dunlop insignia. I soon realized the silence was only temporary, and once the staff was geared up the familiar sound of high-revving four-strokes filled the air. It was as if all my senses were simultaneously stimulated as the Honda CBR600s raced around the road course while the CRF450s created a dust cloud that rose up and above the supercross track. This would be a more appropriate story for our big brothers Dirt Rider and Motorcyclist-but it was the many quads sporting top-secret meats to be found in the garage that drew me to Huntsville. Before strapping on my brain bucket and taking the tour of the most action-packed 100 acres in Alabama, I was briefed and educated on what I would be testing.
I entered the facility with what I thought was basic knowledge of the tire manufacturing process. Boy was I wrong. It turns out that manufacturing is at the tail end; more than I would have ever guessed is involved in getting to this point. After much research, a basic tread pattern is designed, and this is where the fun begins. Believe it or not, the test tires are hand-carved from the basic tire shell or carcass, adding a new tread pattern to an existing design to rule out any unknown factors. If the tire sculptor is extremely skilled with his blade, he can whittle down two of these with extreme accuracy in a day. Not even with a Ginzu 5000 strapped to my side would I enter a pumpkin-carving contest against this guy. Once a few sets of these tires are completed, they are then shipped to the test facility to begin the grueling task of being tested.
This is where I came into the picture during development of the new Quadmax Sport. Countless hours had been spent on the track and many changes had already taken place. Unfortunately for the rubber artist, this means another day of monotony at the bench with his knives. From a distance the tires appear to be off the shelf, but with a closer look you will see minor lines left behind by the carving knife. My timing couldn't have been better, giving me the opportunity to sample the final test units before they were molded. I was not quite sure what to expect of a hand-carved tire but I was extremely impressed with the performance of the pre-Quadmax Sport. I almost hated to rip it up on the MX track-which was designed exclusively for ATVs-knowing just how much work had gone into creating these one-off tires. Then again, that's why multiple sets are carved, making this possible.
The multitude of surfaces and tracks that Dunlop somehow managed to squeeze into just over 100 acres was extremely impressive. There's a road course with all the bells and whistles that shares a few turns with a supermoto track, three motocross tracks, a woods course and several miles of trails neatly confined within the narrow borders. This sounds overwhelming, but with a staff of only six including two mechanics, there is more than enough space for everyone to get their own area testing area. I arrived on an extremely busy day while both testing and a commercial were being filmed-a good opportunity to see just what the facility was capable of with all the extra bodies running around like busy ants. The mechanics were diligently wrenching as the test riders played dual roles as tester and movie star. A helicopter even flew overhead with a cameraman hanging from a harness while we staged and shot pictures for this story.
The day was filled with excitement, dust and controlled chaos just as you would expect of a day in the life of an ATV Rider reporter. After testing was complete and Dunlop had received my stamp of approval (as if it were needed), we loaded up in a Prowler and explored the trails at the back of the property. This area was originally designed for the testing of truck tires and is now perfect for ATVs. Challenging ravines and obstacles were not easily avoided and made up the ideal place to put UTV tires to the test. But as I said, testing was over and it was time to have some fun. We kicked around until the sun was setting and managed to keep our machines on all fours before returning them to their garage in one piece. I'm eagerly awaiting more new releases from Dunlophoping to have the opportunity to return for another day of playing. Oops. I mean testing.