Reading The Wheeling World Barometer
Trends come and go. Re-member neon pink shock boots? How about graphics that dazzled the eyeballs out of your head? Or how about 12-inch CJ lifts to run 35-inch tires? We do, and it still gives us nightmares. Thankfully, most of the more outrageous trends have gone away for good. But some old habits die hard and some good trends are slow to take hold. Here are a few things we noticed at the '10 Moab Easter Jeep Safari that just might hint at where the wheeling scene is headed.
JK Unlimited Magic
Is there anything these rigs can't do? It certainly doesn't seem like it. While the short-wheelbase JK two-doors are very prevalent, the Unlimiteds seemed to really be out in force in Moab, cleanly tackling most of the harder obstacles. They've got a long wheelbase, wide track width, and generous wheelwells that don't require a ton of lift to fit a 35-, 37-, or even 40-inch tires. That means they can climb, are stable at angles, and big tires don't require much deviation from the excellent stock suspension geometry. Another big plus-the aftermarket has almost everything for 'em.
Stung and Swollen
Stingers were hot, then they weren't, then they were again, now they're not-again. We've never argued their worth, since they can help protect your hood, radiator, and grille in the event of a rollover. However, not everybody wheels like a rockcrawl competitor. And while a stinger may save your bacon that one time you actually flop or roll, the rest of the time they're sort of in the way. They limit access to the front of the vehicle, making it difficult to work under the hood, bump into obstacles, and generally look a bit goofy.
It's not that aluminum suddenly got cheap. It's that steel got so expensive that most companies now find it nearly as cost-effective to offer certain products in lightweight aluminum. Expect to see more bumpers, rocker guards, body armor, and even suspension links built out of aluminum in the coming year.
As trail intensity and difficulty increase, so too must the level of fabrication quality. You can't bring a riggity-jigged, booger-welded pile of scrap on the trail and expect to make it out without snapping something. And when you do, it's not only your day you've ruined, but everybody behind you as well. We used this photo only as an example because, although ugly, the welds appear strong and the mounts look like they were reinforced. If your junk is slapped together and questionable, stick to the trails with bypasses so we can get around your busted-down ass.
We've been harping on this for years and it's still not sinking in for a lot of folks. Lower your air pressure! This Michelin-shod TJ had these monsters down to 4psi, but thanks to the extremely stiff sidewalls, the tires still didn't flex and the driver wound up taking a winch line. Not his fault, really, since these sidewalls probably wouldn't budge with the valve cores pulled. However, we routinely see folks hitting the trail with 8-14psi in their tires, even if they're running beadlocks. It'll depend on your vehicle's overall weight and trail conditions, but lighter rigs with beadlocks should be good in the 3-6psi range. Heavier rigs can up the pressure accordingly. Either way, don't be afraid to air down.
Yes, bigger tires are nothing new. But to continue hammering home the theme, stuffing them under a rig without a ton of lift and making it all work is the key to putting a smile on our faces. We saw so many sets of 37-, 39-, 40-, and 42-inch tires under low-slung Jeeps, they don't even seem that large anymore. More than once we've found ourselves mistakenly calling a 40-inch tire a 37 'cause the big tires just don't look that unique anymore.
Tall is bad. Low is good. It's a concept that's finally sinking into the heads of the masses. Add big tires, cut the rear tub, run high-clearance front fenders, and skidplate the underside and rockers-that's the formula for stability and climbing ability. And as an added bonus, running a shorter lift often comes with fewer suspension quirks and handling drawbacks.
Remember plain-Jane white wagon wheels? If you're a youngen you probably think pricey billet aluminum wheels are a requirement as soon as you lift your Jeep. Not so then, and not so now. We spotted both old and new Jeeps sporting the most inexpensive of all wheels-the white wagon steelie. Either with or without beadlocks, it's our prediction that these sometimes-sub-$40 beaters are poised for a comeback in this hard economy.
The buggy wave is finally breaking. Wake us when it's over, 'cause there's nothing more boring to us than a jungle gym on wheels. Give us vintage Toledo iron any day. And judging from the flatfenders, Willys wagons and pickups, Jeepsters, and the CJ-5, CJ-6, CJ-7, and CJ-8s we saw hitting the trail and cruising around town, most of you agree. Easter Jeep Safari actually has Jeeps in attendance once again! Hopefully the old iron-building trend will continue and grow.
Let's be honest. We wheel because it's fun. If you're out there to bolster your ego, show how much more hardcore you are than the other guys, or prove what a badass you are, we'd just as soon have you stay home and drink bleach than meet you on the trail. Take Orem, Utah's Danny Elder, for example. He bought this hideous blue-on-blue '87 YJ complete with a carbureted 258 six-cylinder, Peugeot five-speed tranny, NP207 T-case, and mystery gears in the axles. The spring-over suspension was sort of okay, but when the locker in the swapped Dana 44 rear axle broke, Danny just tossed in some spider gears and welded it all up. He paid $2,700 for the Jeep just to bring to Moab, dubbed it Smurfette, supplied endless entertainment for us and his friends, and plans on selling it for a profit when he returns home. It's all about the fun.