Tire Test: Bridgestone Blizzak W965
NICE SNOW JOB
Bridgestone’s highly regarded winter tire performs in a variety of winter encounters
By Larry D. Walton / ©2008 Editorial Services West
No chains, no studs and no white knuckles. Those are exactly the words contractors and construction workers want to hear about the tires under their pickups when the driving and weather conditions turn frigid.
While these were great benefits of the Bridgestone Blizzak W965, a dedicated snow/ice tires, one might be surprised to find they bring the added bonus of increased wet pavement traction, reduced road noise, and improved ride comfort over other contenders.
The F-250 SuperDuty 4×4 we tested these new treads on was being prepped for a long winter of work in southern Oregon where the elements included a lot of snow and a wide variety of road and off-pavement driving surfaces.
We switched from a 10-ply “all-terrain” tire to the Blizzak. The first thing we noticed was a quieter, smoother ride with the Blizzaks.
With the softer and thicker tread compound between our truck and the road surface, rough roads felt less so; obstacles that normally caused vibrations and harshness in the cab, such as highway expansion joints, pavement cracks, bridge transitions, and the gravel roads were barely perceptible.
With the exception of an occasional rock stuck in the deep treads, things got much quieter as well. The Blizzaks rolled right through a variety of speed ranges without generating noticeable road or tire tread-induced noise.
We also experienced a marked improvement in wet pavement traction. Our F-250 SuperDuty 4×4 had recently received some diesel performance upgrades that frequently generated wheel spin on wet pavement in two wheel drive, even with light throttle input. When shod with the Blizzaks the higher engine torque was manageable even in the wettest conditions.
“Directional tires channel water out laterally, but the Blizzak is designed with lots of tread void to give the water a place to go within the foot print,” according to Bill VandeWater, Bridgestone Consumer Products Manager Sales Engineering. This allows the tread blocks to stay in better contact with the road surface.
BUILT FOR SNOW
Improving traction while driving on liquid from the heavens is great. But what those shelling out the money for snow/ice tries want that same confidence when the ground turns white and the rain is replaced by snow and ice.
The Blizzaks really separate themselves in handling performance from the more common “all-terrain” tires in those situations.
Our ice driving test was along a stretch of Oregon’s I-5 in the high passes where rain can change to feezing rain, “black ice,” and snow in a matter of a half-mile as the interstate’s elevation changes as it crosses the mountain passes.
In one section we encountered numerous passenger cars and 4x4s caught off-guard by the treacherously deteriorating winter road conditions. The Blizzaks performed remarkably well because the siping in the Blizzak tread design improves ice traction dramatically.
From a distance the tread blocks look solid but upon close examination there are separations or slots much like a pre-sliced loaf of bread.
As tread blocks put pressure on the ice, a thin layer of water forms which is the primary reason gripping on ice is so difficult. The Blizzak tread block sipes open to give this water a place to go, which allows the rubber to grip the ice. At the same time, these individual slices of tread block provide more edges to increase grip.
Not surprisingly the Blizzaks best performance came above the snowline in the high Cascades. The voids in the treads stayed clean in fresh snow, allowing the big Ford 4×4 plenty of grip.
He best traction in snow is snow on snow. Thus the voids in the Blizzaks are by design because you want tires to dig into the snow and the tiny sipes to hold snow so it can attach to the snow on the road. This is also the reason these tires have a narrow footprint – to dig in and compress.
And dig they do, in both fresh snow and packed snow. Having dedicated snow tires like the Blizzaks at each corner adds up to a big increase in security when safety really counts; we experienced better starts, improved handling and surer stops in both snow and ice.
A REAL SOFTY
Another feature of a good winter tire is softer tread compounds. Although this accelerates tread wear on dry roads, the trade-off is terrific winter traction.
“Tread compounds are designed to operate within specific temperature ranges,” says VandeWater. “Above that range, tires tend to get too soft and wear rapidly. Below that range, tires will become too hard and not conform to the road surface.” This latter condition results in reduced traction.
The soft tread compound that helps make the Blizzak so superior over the typical OEM factory tires as a winter tire also means it isn’t much good as an all-season M/S tire. Prudent contractors, construction company owners, and individual pickup owners will want to have a “dry season” tire ready to run during summer and fall.
Dry season running of the tir isn’t advised for handling, either. Its soft tread compound and narrow width make the handling a little squishy on dry roads.
In fact, we kept checking the tire inflation levels until we got use to the tire’s warm weather steering traits. (We’ll take them off as soon as the last snows clear from the nearby passes.)
Are the Blizzaks as good as the Goodear and Dunlop snow tires? Better. The Nokian Hakkapeliitta? No.
But then again, they don’t cost nearly as much as Nokis and have better tire life in those areas of the country where “in-between” weather patterns are more common than a white deep-freeze from October to April. — Larry D. Walton
- Tire: Bridgestone Blizzak W965 with UNI-T
- Size: LT265/75R16
- Type: radial
- Load range: E
- Max load (lb @ psi)
- Sidewall: 2 ply polyester
- Tread: 2 ply polyester, 2 ply steel cord and 1 ply nylon
- Approved rim width (in.): 7.0-8.0
- Tread depth (in.): 18/32
- Section width (in.): 10.5
- Overall diameter (in.): 31.9
- Static loaded radius (in.): 14.8
- Revs per mile: 653
- Weight (lb.): 46
- Test vehicle: Ford F-250 SuperDuty 4×4 extra cab 7.3 PowerStroke diesel