Nearly 20,000km of traveling in South Africa, everything from the game reserves to the Richtersveld, and no problems. But just 80km of gravel road in Namibia and we get two punctures! Eish! We were left wondering how we would handle the thousands of kilometers of gravel roads we had planned ahead of us. And then we learned some vital tyre advice from experienced locals, for would-be gravel road travelers - whether driving on the diamonds of Namibia or the rough tracks of South Africa, advice I wish I'd known before we set out.
- It's not the tricky rock negotiating 4x4 driving that's the issue, it's gravel roads. The main reason is speed. In fact we noticed more tyre carcasses on the better sections of the gravel road than on the rutted or corrugated sections. Advice: It comes down to speed. Faster speed means your tyres hit sharp stones with more force. The more over 60 km/h you travel on gravel roads the higher your chance of a puncture.
- When your tyre punctures on a rough, corrugated road, you often don't realize it because you can't hear the sound or notice the change. This means the first you're aware of it is when it rips completely from the rim - hence the hundreds of shredded tyre carcasses we saw. Advice: Get a tyre pressure monitor (TPM). It may cost around a thousand Rand but you will prevent totally destroying your tyres which will cost a lot more. Plus it gives you a great peace of mind not worrying whether you're driving on a flat. The tyre monitor will warn you.
- The other big issue, besides speed, is tyre pressure. We had driven thousands of kilometers on our standard pressure. But just 20km into Nambia's gravel road and pop! Even though they were tough Cooper AT tyres. Advice: Drop your tyre pressure. We dropped from 230kpa to 190kpa. Not only does it make riding over corrugated gravel roads bearable, but it allows your tyres to better handle sharp stones.
- Pressure is impacted by temperature. Get a TPM and you will be astounded by how much the tyre pressure changes as the temperature changes. Our 190kpa tyres end up at 250kpa when driving on hot roads. Advice: Don't check your tyre pressure at a garage. The tyres are hot and the pressure reading meaningless. Get your own pump and you can easily check and adjust your tyres as you move between gravel and paved roads.
- So you have a jack and wheel spanner. Great. Have you tried them. We found our jack wouldn't fit under our car once the tyre was flat. Thankfully we had a pump which helped increase the height. And then there's the garage who used a pneumatic device to put your wheel nuts on. Now you can't get them off! Advice: Check you have a working jack. Know where it fits and if it will fit. Also get a piece of pipe that you can fit over the one end of your wheel spanner. It will give you leverage and make the job a whole lot easier.
- The spare is on and now you're driving carefully wondering what will happen if the spare blows 200km away from civilization. Advice: Get a tyre repair kit. They're easy to use and work well if the spare gets a puncture too. Also make sure your spare has good tread. A worn spare, as we found, is like no spare at all.
We've now driven thousands of happy kilometers on Namibia's diamond studded gravel roads with no problems. Of course this doesn't mean we won't have issues but I really wish I had known all of this tyre'fic advice earlier on. It would have saved us a lot of cost and worry. After all the places where adventure really lies are at the end of those 500km gravel roads. Next stop - Etosha, Caprivi, Botswana and beyond.