Perfecting Project TrailRunner
Regular readers have watched over the years as we purchase project vehicles, build them through different stages, then head off in another direction when it's decided to change something yet again. I've always felt this is a good thing, as they can travel along to see what worked and what didn't. Some don't agree and get angry when things change on a project, complaining that we can't let well enough alone.
You've watched as the Project TrailRunner 2008 JK Wrangler Rubicon went through a short-arm suspension, long-arm suspension, different axles, bumpers, flares, etc. The original premise of this project was to build a JK that could go fast on dirt roads or slow on the trail. To that end, we succeeded.
In 2013, we decided to revisit the project. I wanted the TrailRunner to be more of a "sleeper" so the flat flares were replaced with OE flares. The 37-inch tires rubbed on the OE flares so 35-inch tires were installed. TrailRunner was looking stock. Unfortunately, it wasn't performing as well as it did.
While TrailRunner was built to go fast in the dirt, we didn't want too much lift. The Wrangler ended up with 2.5-inch coils. While revisiting the project, we figured notching the frame would allow more uptravel. The notching worked, but now the 35-inch tires hit the OE flares. The bumpstops could be extended, but why negate the work we'd just done to increase uptravel?
I joined the movement that espoused having very little to no lift on trail 4x4s. This is great for center of gravity and entrance/egress issues, but there's a downside. The faster we go, the more uptravel comes into play. As I drove TrailRunner quickly (very fast) over whoops and washouts, it would bang into the bumpstops. Speed bumps would help, but when speed bumps are set up to work at high speed, they don't compress and limit travel when articulating through the rocks. I had a Wrangler that wasn't working as well as I wanted or needed. Adding the big RockJock 60s didn't help matters, as there was now even less room for uptravel.
The OE flares were removed and Bushwacker flat panel flares were installed. Now, the 35s looked too small and there was plenty of room for 37s. Back to the 37s I went. They didn't rub on the flares, but the uptravel issue under the Jeep hadn't been addressed.
The answer was simple—go up. One-inch-longer coils were installed. What a difference. That extra 1 inch allowed everything to clear under the Jeep. I can still wham into the bumpstops if I really try, but the ride is much improved. When the JK gets into the stops, it's traveling at 45 to 50 mph over whoops that limit most vehicles to 10 to 20 mph. TrailRunner is a pleasure to drive fast on the trail. The added lift affords more breakover clearance on tough trails.
The Wrangler doesn't look like a sleeper anymore and I've contradicted almost everything I've been talking about for the past few months. The lessons learned are clear. There were reasons that we lifted vehicles in the first place. Bringing them back down reaps benefits, but those benefits don't translate into comfortable, quick movement in the dirt. Yes, you can crawl along at 5 mph with many trail riders and explorers, but you can explore more when you have the option of going faster.
TrailRunner has always been a fun Jeep. The changes have made it work even better. We share our project adventures so you can follow along and, maybe, not spend needlessly on parts that might not be perfect for your needs.
Too much lift is bad. Now, I've found too little is, too. To paraphrase Goldilocks: This 4x4 is too high. This 4x4 is too low. Ahhh, this 4x4 is just right!