ADV Pulse

NEWSLETTER
Get ADV Pulse delivered by email
Sign up for ADV Pulse Weekly

Newsletter

Get ADV Pulse delivered by email
Sign up for ADV Pulse Weekly

Connect With Us

Follow On Facebook:

ADV NewsMetzeler Karoo 4 Adventure Tire Review

Metzeler Karoo 4 Adventure Tire Review

We see if the 4th-gen Karoo is a major step forward or just a mild improvement.

Published on 11.15.2023
Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

Witnessing the evolution of Metzeler’s Karoo family of tires has been similar to watching the evolution of some of the same motorcycles it is designed for. Roughly 10 years of testing and use were spent on the Karoo 3 before it was replaced by the Karoo 4. While the Karoo 4 is an improvement over the model 3 version, it is an even more vast improvement over the earlier Karoo 2. 

Metzeler Karoo 4 dual sport tires
The new rubber offers a multi-pitch design where the groups of knobs are repeated with an irregular cadence to mitigate the impact of the tread against the asphalt and improve rolling smoothness, despite the knobby-like design.
My first experience on the Karoo family of tires began around 2008 aboard BMW F800GS and BMW R1200GS bikes. Thousands of miles were spent riding the Western U.S., and several countries in both North and South Africa. Among these projects was the first BMW GS Trophy event, held in Tunisia aboard a fleet of the new F800GS model – all shod with Metzeler’s Karoo 2 hoops.
Metzeler Karoo 4 Review
The new Karoo 4 (right) gets a straight center groove line with more uniform knobs, compared to the Karoo 3 (left), to improve performance in wet conditions. When leaned, the new tread design offers a greater number of knobs in the contact patch for better grip and cornering stability.

At that time, all these miles simply helped to reveal that this early version of the Karoo functioned adequately, but was not my preferred choice of tread for mixed adventure riding. Fast-forwarding to 2012, the release of the Karoo 3 was a welcome surprise, but not at the level of something contending for the throne of the stalwart TKC 80. Like history repeating itself, at another BMW GS Trophy event in 2022, this time in Albania, I had the opportunity to ride the Karoo 4 for the first time.

Metzeler Karoo 4 dual sport tires

Between using the newly-released tire in rough Balkan terrain on a BMW R1250GS, to thousands of miles in the Western U.S. and Baja, Mexico aboard a KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, a very thorough impression of this new tread was developed. Has it risen to the top of the pack? Read on…

How They Performed

Getting Them Installed: In the garage, I change tires using the same small levers I carry with me on my adventures. Thankfully the Karoo 4’s redesigned carcass seems relatively easy to work with during tire changes. Swapping these tires out is a bit more difficult than a softer TKC 80, but worlds away from muscling something like a Maxxis Desert IT onto the rims.


ADVERTISEMENT

In the Dirt: Pointing a BMW R1250GS up a steep Albanian trail, complete with a sandy 90-degree bend plus ruts and a small step, is a good test for any off-road tread. This was one of many situations that put the Karoo 4 through its paces my first time using the new tread. Between the huge torque of the GS and the wider profile of the 19”/17” tires, the wheels hooked up effortlessly in the dry conditions.

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review
Central spoon-shaped knobs separated from the side knobs by a wavy longitudinal groove are designed to trap the terrain for better lateral thrust while expelling the soil more efficiently than its predecessor for improved self-cleaning.

Riding deep sand aboard the KTM 1290R highlighted a noticeable improvement over previous versions of the Karoo. There were some complaints regarding sand performance of the Karoo 3, and the current version of this tire seems to have addressed those complaints with a variety of design updates. 

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

Adding more knobby surface within the footprint’s contact area as the tire rolls on to its shoulder was, according to Metzeler, done to better enhance the tire’s performance with electronic rider aids. Smoother and more sure-footed cornering in the loose stuff is a noticeable improvement over previous Karoo generations. The latest in ride mode software can overcome a lot of inadequacies in both rider and tread, but deactivating the rider aids as much as possible helps further reveal just how much this tread has improved (although deactivating rider aids just to see what a tire is all about isn’t something I can recommend doing outside of a testing situation).

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review
Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

Invoking experience aboard the Karoo 2 offers a more broad perspective of how far this tire design has evolved. Riding one of the tallest sand dunes in the world (Dune 7, Sossusvlei, Namibia) aboard a BMW F800GS using the Karoo 2 tread seemed almost nerve racking compared to navigating deep sand aboard the KTM 1290R running the latest version of this tire. Straight-line performance between the version 3 and 4 felt similar in most situations. Cornering is where the Karoo 4 seems to have set a new standard over the previous version. Steadier and more solid lines can be found through high speed sweepers on gravel roads, and more precise direction changes are felt in tighter single track, especially from the front.

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review
Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

Speaking of traction in mud is almost an oxymoron sometimes, and this test was no different. In reasonably muddy situations, the claimed self-cleaning arrangement of the side knobs seemed to do its job efficiently, as well as the improved straight-line traction. The large separated central blocks of the rear offer better propulsion out of goop than tires like Heidenau’s K60 Scout with its solid center stripe, but hints of paddle-tire design like the rear of Pirelli’s Scorpion Rally STR seem to hook up better in mud. Regardless of tire choice, in the muddiest of situations the only helpful traction improvement would be a set of helicopter rotor blades, but Metzeler seems to have done a good job tackling a wide variety of conditions in this latest Karoo.

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

The Karoo 4’s personality has evolved much since those first miles on the version 2. Earlier generations could feel almost like different tires depending on whether you were in a straight line, cornering, or braking. The asymmetric “zig-zag” knob placement of the front has slowly been subdued over the past two versions, and now version 4 has a much more symmetrical knob arrangement. Different aspects of grip between acceleration, cornering, and braking have become more unified in the latest offering. 

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

Using the TKC 80 as a benchmark, the Continental’s more-uniform block pattern makes it one of the most predictable adventure bike tires in off-road terrain, whether riding in a straight line or cornering. In comparison, the Karoo 4 offers a more positive bite in most situations, but not as smoothly or predictably as the bike changes angle and engages different portions of tread designed to do different things. 

On the Street: Eliminating the inherent variables of off-road riding, pavement tours can make certain aspects of the Karoo 4’s redesign more clear. The forward-angled side knobbies at first glance have a very sleek appearance that would seem to emphasize the road side of its 50/50 road/street intended positioning. While not as noisy as something like a Motoz Rallz, road hum was a bit more than expected based on appearance.

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

The gold standard for smooth highway performance from 50/50 class adventure tires would arguably be Dunlop’s Trailmax Mission. Fortunately, only a slight hint of the dreaded “knobby weave” is carried over from previous Karoo generations to the version 4, and that was only perceptible aboard the KTM when running full luggage. Straight line road performance with these tires was rock solid aboard the BMW — this could be attributed both to differences in bike design as well as the width/sidewall ratio differences between the tires for the two sizes of wheel sets.

Pavement cornering performance reflects a couple Metzeler-trademarked technologies. The carcass is constructed using “INTERACT” technology, which involves redesigned steel belting intended to offer more feedback as lean angle changes, provide better heat dissipation, and enhance wet weather performance. “DYMATEC” refers to the new shape of the tread mold itself. Like re-shaping an urban drainage ditch, the walls of the knobs have varying angles on each side, leading to variably-shaped sipes, all resulting in a more even wear through the tire’s lifespan.

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

Other than the occasional twitch over a new paint line or exceedingly large tar snake, even in wet braking situations the Karoo 4 was very confidence inspiring aboard the big bikes. 

Tire Longevity

2,514 miles of twisty pavement, freeway droning, sand, mud, hardpack dirt, and lots of rocks were involved in this test, with an asphalt/dirt ratio of around 60/40. Initial tread measurements were 7.51 mm front and 10.22 mm rear. Final test measurements were 5.94 mm front and 2.23 mm rear. Assuming a consistent wear rate, that results in a possible lifespan of 10,424 miles for the front tire before reaching the 1mm minimum tread depth limit, but only 2,901 miles for the rear.

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review
After over 2,500 miles on and off-road, the rear tread measurement went from 10.22 mm to 2.23 mm.

Cupping on the front tread was minimal towards the end of the test, and the profile of the rear tread retained its appearance well, even if there was little of it remaining. The Karoos showed less of a tendency to lose chunks of tread compared to the Bridgestone AX41 dual sport tires that come standard on the 1290 Super Adventure R, despite riding on a number of extremely rocky trails. 

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review
Front tire wear was significantly less than the rear, with the tread going from 7.51mm to 5.94mm.

The even wear demonstrated through extensive aggressive road and off-road riding, often in exceedingly hot temperatures during this test was definitely a plus for the Karoo 4. While the wear was even, it was pretty quick on the rear. One must also take into account that this Karoo 4 test was performed using a tread-eating KTM 1290 Super Adventure R monster. Mileage on a lighter, less powerful adventure bike would undoubtedly be higher.

Overall wear seemed to put it in the realm of TKC 80 lifespans for the rear. Similar to the TKC 80, even with only 20% of rear tread remaining, the Karoo 4 continued to perform adequately in the challenging off-road situations.

Who Are They For?

Metzeler intended this tire for mid-to-heavyweight adventure bikes such as the Ténéré 700 and Honda Africa Twin. Personally I found it to be perfectly suited for what might be considered the “ultra heavyweight class” in the BMW R1250GS. The Karoo 4 proved itself to be durable and surefooted, inspiring the necessary confidence when riding the big bikes. This is a true 50/50 tire, and well suited for that context. While the tire can absolutely get you through extreme trail situations, the limits of its design will be felt by those riders treating their adventure bikes like enduro machines in the most aggressive off-road environments.

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

Our Verdict

At around $350 for the 21”/18” set used in this test, the Karoo 4 falls squarely within the price range of several competing tires. Given overall performance both on-road and off-road, as well as an average estimated lifespan, the Karoo 4 is a good value for the money and provides a noticeable improvement in performance over the Karoo 3. Continental’s legendary TKC 80 has long been the default standard for 50/50 adventure tires, perhaps in the same way vanilla might be considered a standard flavor of ice cream — it sort of works everywhere, but doesn’t really stand out in any particular way. The Karoo 4 is a new flavor choice in the ever growing palate of adventure rubber, offering a little extra grip to chew up the dirt or tarmac on your next adventure.

Metzeler Karoo 4 Review

What We Liked

  • Good balance of on and off-road performance.
  • Even wear pattern over time.
  • Good selection of tire sizes for mid to large adventure bikes.

What Could Be Improved

  • Hints of earlier-generation “pavement weave” remain.
  • Short lifespan on the rear.

Karoo 4 Specs

  • Off-Road/On-Road Rating: 50/50
  • Construction: Radial construction with zero-degree steel belt using Interact variable tension technology.
  • Rubber Compound: Center of tire uses Carbon Black compound while shoulder utilizes 80% Carbon Black and 20% Silica for improved thermal stability.
  • Price: $116-$253 depending on size.
  • Front Sizes: 100/90-19, 110/80-19, 120/70-19, 90/90-21
  • Rear Sizes:  130/80-17, 140/80-17, 150/70-17, 170/60-17, 140/80–18, 150/70-18

Shopping Options

RevzillaRocky Mountain ATV/MC

Photos by Ely Woody, Jon Beck and Rob Dabney

Author: Jon Beck

Jon Beck is fulfilling a dream of never figuring out what to be when he grows up. Racing mountain bikes, competitive surfing, and touring as a musician are somehow part of what led Jon to travel through over 40 countries so far as an adventure motorcycle photographer, journalist, and guide. From precision riding for cameras in Hollywood, to refilling a fountain pen for travel stories, Jon brings a rare blend of experience to the table. While he seems happiest when lost in a desert someplace, deadlines are met most of the time.

Author: Jon Beck
ADVERTISEMENT

Related Stories

Related Stories

Notify me of new posts via email

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

1 Comment
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Quin
Quin
November 15, 2023 12:42 pm

Very good and accurate review as always Jon.

ADVERTISEMENT

Watch: 2024 Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro Tested

For 2024, Triumph's dirt-focused Tiger 900 — the Rally Pro — has received...

My First Time Riding Enduro, How Hard Could It Be?

Nestled between the Sierra Nevada and Inyo Mountains of California lies a l...

DoubleTake’s Popular Off-Road Mirrors Get Major Upgrade For 2024

Life always looks clearer in the rear view, that is, until you’re looking int...