What's the Deal with Tires?

Circa 2000. Classic Michael Schumacher victory dance. Legendary car.
Tires. Much like other purchases that you only need to make once in a while - buying a fancy pen, a bicycle, a fridge - they require you to temporarily become an authority on the subject in order to not look foolish. Or get up-sold into a fridge with a 19-inch TV and be a fool. It's a funny thing, because all the time spent in between these purchases, we'll gladly live our lives knowing nothing about Swiss pens and how to tell a soft nib antique from a chiseled nib retro.

If you've got some soul, like me, you'd rather spend your Sunday afternoon watching a re-run of the F1 race, maybe going for a steer, or I don't know, bang your head against the table. No really, anything but learning about fridges would do it for me.

In order to avoid becoming an expert about trivial, uninteresting things, I simply stay loyal to brands I know will sell me a good product that will last me a reasonable amount of time. When I buy a TV, it's a Sony Bravia. A computer? An entry level Mac. A pen, it's usually a free fancy hotel pen. A camera? Nikon, but never the very latest. Gin? It's gotta be Hendrick's. Jeans? Albertos, always. But when it comes to tires, I'm lost.
Witnessed this moment in person. 2009 Festival of Speed. Lewis Hamilton. Hoonage.

Because here's something that is such a significant component of my favorite hobby that I'm forced to take a closer look. I wish I had a favorite brand, but the truth of the matter is that not all cars can be fitted with a P-zero. And that's a good thing, or the entire world would be without rubber by Thursday. They're sticky and communicative, but you pay the price by becoming best friends with your local OK-tire franchisee.
Jon Olsson's ski transporter on winter tires via http://www.jon-olsson.com

I've sampled a great deal of the mid-range tire segment from Wrangler to Lexani on second hand cars I've purchased through the years. I've raced on Michelin Cup semi-slicks, road tripped on Conti Sports, and melted two sets of Michelin Pilot rears to the street. It's probably fair to say that I've sampled most performance tires on the market. However, the problem is that I've never paid a lot of attention to which tires were fitted to the cars I drive, which means I was completely useless today at deciding which set to get for my MK5 GTI.

Lexani Sevens.
The last owner fitted some Lexani's, a questionable manufacturer of blingy wheels that's decided to make some rubber too. The online forums aren't kind to Lexani tires, but oh-my-God do they ever make a beautiful thread pattern. Like a furious lion got at it, while on fire, and with forks for nails. I can't quite tell you if they're the best deal on the planet or absolute rubbish. I can only compare them to a similarly powered front-wheel drive Mazda 3 Sport I drove around for a while. But Mazda unfortunately designed the traction control on 'bring your kid to work day' as it felt elementary and at times, non existent. So as I went skidding about town, I learned many valuable lessons. Correct understeer by repeatedly turning out and into the skid, when you're heading for a curb, straighten the wheels to not crack your axle, and when you're not going anywhere each time you give it some poke in the wet, get out and walk, because this Mazda 3 was happy just endlessly spinning its front wheels.

Pitted for off-road tires as part of the JMB Racing 'cutting corners' strategy. 
So here I am, still nowhere near ready for a tire purchase. I may settle on some Bridgestone Potenzas because they seem to be good value and favorably rated. I'd like to go for the summer performance tire, but as I experienced two winters ago by driving into someone's front lawn, summer tires really, really, however gingerly you drive, don't work in the snow. Or maybe tires had nothing to do with it, maybe I hit some black ice, and if I hadn't I would of gotten home safely. Or perhaps it were the awful Lexanis that caused me to behead this nice man's shrubs. Or perhaps I should of kept her in 1st gear as the road was a suicidal amount of steep. Oh tires, what's your deal, I'll never find out.