As another year of our sport fades into the history books, it is time for us to look back and reflect on some of the most popular, and least loved, trends of 2008. We have identified several of the trends that lit up our radar screen, but we'd love to hear what you think was cool, or what happened during the year that irked you. Let us know on the forums at www.fourwheeler.com.
No Lift Wheeling
In recent years we have seen more and more vehicles attempt to fit larger tires with little or no lift. This has the added benefit of a safer rig with greater stability with a lower center of gravity adding up to exceptional trail ability. Throw in once treacherous hillclimbs or side slopes and you'll be sold too. Such kits as the AEV Highline kit raise the fenders up on Jeeps to allow 35s or 37s with stock or near-stock height suspension.
What was once the exclusive domain of the two-wheel-drive prerunners, long-travel 4x4s have become increasingly poplar due to the high capability and exceptional comfort on and off the trail. We experimented with long-travel four-wheel-drives with Project Range Runner and were blown away by the results. Four-wheel drive and high speed are starting to gain traction beyond prerunning to racing classes in SCORE and CORR, which means the aftermarket has responded with trickle-down technology for the common truck. Even Ford has plans for a "trophy truck you can buy from the factory" with its upcoming limited-production Raptor. We have also heard rumors of Toyota looking into a similar low-volume edition of the Tundra, and we know other OEMs, such as Hummer, have studied the idea. We just hope this isn't the last we hear of the factory long-travel truck. Although if it is, there are several companies out there willing to build one for you for the right amount of Benjamins.
Unfortunately 2008 seemed to be the year of land closures, with more and more land being taken away with every passing day and the threat of areas to recreate disappearing on a scale never before seen in the history of our sport. It is going to take the banding together of all of us, and for all of us to get involved and be interested, to turn the tide. The time is now for all of us to do our part by joining and donating to pro-wheeling organizations that fight for our right to wheel. For those of you on the sidelines, it is time to step on to the field and stop waiting for someone more vocal than you to fix the mess. We need to get organized, all of us. It is the only way we'll be able fend off those who want to remove us from the trail and for us to continue our enjoyment of the backcountry a decade from now.
Growth in Private ORP
If there is one positive outcome to the Land Use story it is the emergence of private off-road parks opening up around the country. Thanks to those passionate enough to put their money where their mouths are, private individuals, investors, and companies have been buying up plots of land and have been willing to open their gates to the general wheeling public. In fact many of these places have developed some of the most difficult trails in the country. We strongly encourage you to support your local OHVP and keep this trend alive.
2008 will go down in history as the year of the UTV. What were once regarded as more capable golf carts, are becoming the relatively affordable alternative to trucks and Jeeps. With an entire industry dedicated to making them more trail worthy and OEMs reacting with performance factory models, such as the Polaris RZR, this is a trend we don't see waning any time soon. While some states have started to recognize certain UTVs as street-legal machines, the majority of us are still faced with a huge drawback: the need for a support rig and trailer to get out to the playground.
More Conservative Tire Sizes
Remember when 44s on your fullsize were all the rage? Well, it seems like wherever we look, trail rigs are wearing smaller tire sizes. Maybe it is the better braking and handling, the better fuel economy, or the return to more technical wheeling, but whatever the thinking behind it, the only place we see 44s these days are on legitimate mud trucks, TTC rigs, or 20-inch-wheel-wearing pavement pounders. It seems like the true wheeler has settled in the 37- to 40-inch range.
We can still look back and remember when having 12 white twin-tube shocks on a fullsize Chevy, complete with neon shock boots, was about as much performance as suspension kits had back in the day. Boy, have we come a long way. A quick glance under just about any late-model rig will at the very minimum net you a view of some monotube shocks, while high-end rigs are adding monotubes with external reservoirs. With performance shocks starting to be the norm in many buildups, we haven't been surprised to start seeing bypass shocks, one primarily enjoyed by desert racers, used on more and more trail rigs. Bypass shocks can be tuned externally and the speed-sensitive valving works so well on the trail, they never allow the vehicle to crash through its suspension travel. This is one trend that will start separating out the high-end systems from one another.
Banning Of Trucksticles
You may or may not agree with those anatomically correct (if not correctly sized) truck versions of the male anatomy, but when time is actually spent in an effort to ban them from roadways in certain states, you have to wonder if any real work is getting done in the world of government and what it means for free speech and other more serious issues our country is facing.
Dual Sport Suspensions
It used to be that when building a rig you had to decide if you were primarily going to go ripping down desert roads or if you were going to spend your free time crawling around. Suddenly suspension manufacturers are starting to realize that many of us only have one rig, yet we like all kinds of wheeling. Enter the dual-sport suspension design. Often, these are long-travel suspension systems that articulate well on the rocks but have good high-speed shock tuning and secondary suspension systems, such as jounce shocks, that allow the vehicle to perform on any terrain. No longer are you limited to your desert truck in the fast stuff, or your rockcrawling Jeep in the slow. These new dual-sport-style suspensions combine the best of both worlds, and as this trend emerges, the technology and innovation should only improve over the next few years. Keep your eye on this trend.
More Tire Choices
Just 10 years ago, if you wanted big meats on your truck, there were just a few big trusted names to go with in a very limited number of tire sizes and tread patterns. In the past five years or so, there has been an explosion in the off-road tire segment, with newcomers entering all the time, giving the consumer a mind-boggling array of choices. Countless tire sizes, tread patterns, and terrain missions means you are likely to find a tire to fit your exact needs. Even the old faithful brands are introducing new versions of popular tires so fast it is hard to catch up.
Chrome won't get you home as they say, and we are happy to see the trend of chroming everything that sticks out to be a dying trend. With project vehicles such as Trailhugger and 'Con Artist, we have done as much as possible to rid our rigs of the shiny stuff, going with less blingy and subdued hues that can be touched up with a rattle can, while still being stylish. Heck, even our H3 project has flat paint as Brubaker has gone on a mission to address anything that reflects light. We are pretty sure he is trying to create a black hole, but until that transformation is complete, it sure looks right!
TJ Stretch Kits
When the Wrangler TJ first came out, it set the Jeeping world on its ear, while some proclaimed it was the end of Jeep because of that newfangled all-coil suspension, others thought it was the best thing since the Willys took the famed workhorse of WWII to the buying public. Now that more than a decade has passed, we all know that the TJ is a wonderful platform to build from, but many of us long-wheelbase guys always felt the TJ was a little bit too short for our comfort and could use a little more than the factory 93.4-inch wheelbase. Jeep must have agreed because they responded with a 10-inch stretch of their own, in the form of the TJ Unlimited. Enter the TJ stretch conversion. Offered by companies such as AEV, Rubicon Express, and Genrite, in various increases in length, the TJ stretch kits have become a hot commodity for those ready to modify their prized TJs and take them to the next level. Our guess would be that there are going to be many more options in the coming year.
With bigger wheelwells and noticeable vehicle rake from the factory, it is now usually possible to put plus-size tires on your rig with only 11/2 to 2 inches of front lift. With these simple-to-install leveling kits, many people are finding that 33s fit on midsize vehicles and 35s on fullsize rigs, which is just fine for the casual wheeler and for folks looking to give a better stance, while retaining factory-like ride and handling characteristics and serviceability. Leveling kits are also more affordable (well under a grand for leveling components and matching rear shocks), and are available from the biggest names in the industry. We expect the growing trend of leveling kits on daily drivers to continue to gain steam as more and more wheelers learn the benefits of this type of lift.
More Diesel Options
2008 was the first full year of new clean-diesel technology, and while the diesel world faced challenges from high cost, pollution control devices causing decreased fuel economy, and the increasing price of diesel fuel, we still like that there are many more light-duty diesels slated for the years ahead as well as trick diesel conversion kits such as the one we sampled from Moab. We just hope the popularity of light-duty diesels increases and doesn't get put back on the trailer before they ever hit the trail.
If there was one big story this year, it was the implosion of the SUV and truck market that has altered plans for many of our favorite 4x4s and anticipated future offerings. In a giant knee-jerk reaction to the tumultuous economy, energy prices, and green movement over the past several months, you can thank scared execs and bean counters for killing off or postponing several of your favorite or much-anticipated machinery. And don't get us wrong, we'd love to see cleaner vehicles and better fuel economy as much as the next guy, but at the rate product plans are changing, this current crop of 4x4s could be the modern heyday of what we do.
Confirmed dead: Next Gen Hummer H2, and Tundra HD.
Postponed or shelved: Next Gen Hummer H3, Hummer H4, GM fullsize pickup.
Still in play: Ford Bronco, Ford Raptor, Jeep Wrangler, Nissan X-Terra.