Just as the new Metzeler Karoo 4 is released I finally get around to sharing my experience with the Karoo 3.
Billed as a 50/50 tyre the Karoo 3 took on the likes the TKC80, and that’s mostly what I’ll be comparing it to. The Karoo 3 came as standard fitment to the KTM 890 Adventure R in Europe, as well as a number of other bikes.
OEM tyres tend to have something of a reputation. I believe this comes from Bridgestone rumoured to produce different spec tyres for OEMs compared to the regular consumer versions despite the tyres having the same name. You’ll see forums full posts saying things like the OEM x brand tyre/model is terrible, whilst those that bought them third party praise the tyres. I don’t know if Metzler actually produce different tyres for OEMs like Bridgestone does. It certainly doesn’t show up in the product codes so I’ll assume not.
On the road
I was immediately impressed with the Karoo 3, vibrations from the widely spaced lugs were minimum and around town and up to about 90km/h I didn’t really hear noise from them. I wear ear plugs at higher speeds, or IEMs with a 29dBA rating. It wasn’t until I changed to a set of ear plugs that allow certain frequencies through, that the whine from the tyres at 120km/h became apparent. I certainly wouldn’t call it loud or annoying, but reminds you that you aren’t running street tyres anymore.
On dry roads, the grip from rear is very good. I didn’t experience any locking or spinning or traction control kicking in. The front has decent grip, I wouldn’t say great, but certainly decent, and better than I remember from my last TKC80.
It inspired enough confidence to push in the twisties but not so much I forgot I was a running a 50/50 tyres. I felt they were better than the the MT21 on my 950 adventure, or even the Heidenau K60. Though of course neither of those are a true 50/50. The former is more geared towards off-road, whilst the latter is something of a 70/30 touring tyre known for its remarkable mileage.
The handling is controlled and pretty neutral to a point, then starts to rapidly get sharper the more you lean. The front is main culprit here over the rear. Neither the front or rear had any issues with cracks or abnormalities in the road surface and tracked straight and true.
Karoo 3 wet weather performance
On wet roads, things changed pretty quickly. The front becomes the more dependable of the two tyres, with good grip in braking and cornering. The rear is still good (but not great)when new, changing to below merely tolerable once worn a little, and downright worrying a little later on.
The 890 has sophisticated traction control, and ABS but I’ve spun the rear in the wet (without purposely trying), and locked it on braking. What the 890 doesn’t have is a proper slipper clutch, so rapidly banging down the gears, would cause the rear to lock. Sure that’s not how you ride in the rain, but it’s good to test these things.
The biggest squeaky bum moment from the rear was a Christmas Day ride out to the local mountains. I entered a large roundabout in 2nd gear and began to gently lean the bike, when the rear stepped out then gripped again throwing the bike upright and causing me to over run a red light.
Whilst the majority of my riding with these tyres has been on sealed roads, I’ve also enjoyed a decent amount of gravel and dirt. The gravel was mostly faster free-flowing roads and tracks around Spain’s Costa Blanca, while the dirt I experienced was during the Galician TET, which was often damp, muddy, narrow forrest trails and roads.
In the gravel, both hard packet and loose, the tyres were great. The rear hooked up well and was consistent and reliable. You I could spin it up with ease when I wanted, but even when sliding sideways, I always felt in control. It was predicable, and handled tree roots, sones, and holes comfortably.
The front was the weaker tyre. It was still good, but faster riders than me notice it wasn’t to slide out more turns. It perhaps wasn’t as precise as the best out there, but really I didn’t have problems.
On hard packed dirt the tyres were great. No issues at all. I was happily climbing rutted hills and over rocks and tree roots. Softer dirt was also fine, the tyres grip well to a point, but when it gets too loose they lack the bite of a more purposeful tyre. As for mud, well is any tyre really great?
On a particularly narrow stretch of the TET I stopped before a water crossing to survey the land. On starting up again, the rear was against a small mound of mud and wet grass. It immediately started spinning like a ballerina. With no space to turn around, a combination of traction control and weight shifting got me out of that spot.
The next day I did come a cropper trying blast my way up a muddy ledge. And while the tyres didn’t help, this time the blame was squarely with me, as I slightly missed my line.
KTM recommends airing down from 35psi (2.4 bar) to around 25psi. I actually found less traction when airing down. Somewhere 30psi is the sweet spot. The side walls are soft, and the tyres themselves are lightly constructed so don’t need to be aired down as much as some bias ply tyres to be pliable.
Tread depth and wear
From new the tyres weight 4kg and 7.5kg front and rear, with a tread depth of 6mm front and 10mm rear. The rear has a reputation for wearing quickly, and mine didn’t fair any better. By 3,500km the rear was pretty much done for serious use. The front on the other hand still has life in it at 8,000km.
For me though the issue isn’t so much the tyre wear, but how the wear affects the performance of the tyre. On the rear, the scale is almost logarithmic. A small amount of wear seems to degrade the performance by a much larger amount that expected.
The wet weather performance in particular suffers badly. While the rear tread might be 10mm deep, the grooves that divide the main central blocks are not. As the tyre wears, these grooves, which are responsible for shifting water, get smaller and smaller until they disappear altogether, leaving you one large central treadblock. You actually get more rubber on the ground, but nowhere for water to go. It’s an odd one because at point you’ve still got about 5-6mm of tread so basically half left.
The front wears more uniformly. It still loses performance as it wears, but no where near as quickly as the rear. Even at 8,000km the front still had ok grip, though would occasionally kick up a fuss if being pushed hard on twisty roads.
The verdict – Are the Metzerler Karoo 3 tyres any good?
The Karoo 3 is a great tyre new, best suited to gravel roads, light to hard packed dirt, and highways on the way to fun places. As an OEM fitment, I think they are a good match for the 890 Adventure R, certainly more so than the TKC80.
Grip from new is great, and better than a 50/50 ought to be, but they wear fast, and when they do the overall grip on the road fades badly. The rain groove dividing the central blocks disappears around 3,000km meaning despite having a good mount of tread left, the tyre is essentially finished. This is something Metzeler has said they have addressed with the Karoo 4, and that other manufacturers have been working on with their ranges for some time now. Bridgestone in particular have been at the forefront of this.
Overall, the Karoo 3 is a decent tyre, and I’d choose it over a TKC80 (which also wears quickly) for any tours that would see a significant amount of highway miles. If they were fitted to a new bike I was buying I certainly wouldn’t have any complaints, but given the great choices out there at the moment, I wouldn’t voluntarily mount them on my rims now.
As I’m riding more seal road and easy gravel at the moment, I’ve moved over the the Bridgestone AT41. Look out for my impressions of these once I’ve put a few thousand miles on them.