Category: Tech Tuesday
Tech Tuesday: Trail Lighting
As the days get shorter and shorter heading towards December here on the West Coast it becomes more and more difficult to not end up out on trail in the dark. When you do find yourself out on the trail once the sun has gone down you will very quickly realize the value of having some good lights on your rig. For those who don’t have any auxiliary lights on your rig, this is for you.
Just this past weekend I found myself out in the rain on trail in the dark and I thought about how much I rely on the lighting on my rig and how difficult some tasks would be without it. First and foremost, forward facing lights, of course most vehicles on trail these days have headlights, although not all, but it is absolutely something you need to be able to navigate trails in the dark. One thing that has become hugely apparent in the past few years of the Jeep JK Wrangler production is how awful the factory headlights are and it has created a very large market for the aftermarket upgrades out there. Having a good set of headlights is not only useful on trail but will make your life on the road a whole lot more enjoyable. Once you have some decent headlights, a solid set of fog lights is normally a good idea for trail usage. Something that lights the ground an surroundings close to you in a flood pattern is generally what I suggest so that your headlights are letting you see down the trail but your fog lights are what lights up the details your about to drive over. My rig has a set (2) of Rigid Industries SRM’s, a very simple and cheap 2 LED light system that is low profile and weighs nearly nothing. I have them mounted as low and far forward as possible to specifically light up obstacles directly in front of me. Although some people do like the idea of having a ton of lights all over their rig, I find that lights are generally a fragile (and expensive) item that is almost always in harm’s way so the very minimum amount of lights to get the job done is what I aim for. Of course there are light bars and light systems out there to suit anyone’s needs and with almost every popular vehicle now having light bar mounting kits available it is becoming more and more common to see 50” LED light bars on trail rigs. While a massive light bar might be an amazingly bright option to have on trail I know that my rig sees too much abuse to have something that fragile and valuable mounted in harm’s way. But with mounting kits for windshields and bumpers and everything in between and the availability of so many different size and shape lights, there is something out there for everyone.
The next set of lights that I use very commonly are my rock lights, two sets of 6” single row LED light bars (one set mounted towards the front of the vehicle facing backward and the other mounted towards the rear of the vehicle facing forward) that are for wheeling in the dark so you can see what is under your vehicle while on an obstacle. Since installing my rock lights I have also realized that they are incredibly useful for working on the Jeep in the dark and especially for loading my Jeep on my trailer in the dark. I definitely advise some form of downward lighting to anyone who plans on taking their vehicle out on trail in the dark because seeing what is under you can be a very difficult task without it. If you are considering a rock light set up there are a few kits out there that include everything needed or you can get 4-8 small LED lights and wire them up to a switch inside the vehicle, the only thing you need to figure out is where to put them so that they are out of harm’s way and won’t get smashed by a rock while on trail. The smaller the light and the more tucked away the better as long as it is still able to light up the intended area.
After rock lights the next lights that I find the most important on trail is reverse lights, especially for the large amount of Jeeps outs on trail these days that generally have a tinted rear window and a large spare tire mounted to the tailgate. As is there is nearly no seeing past a spare tire, add to that a darkly tinted rear window and being out on trail trying to reverse at night surrounded by rocks and trees and you quickly see that it pays off to have a decently bright set of reverse lights. The amount of times I have reversed into a tree or stump in the dark on a trail is ridiculous, another use for rock lights on my rig doubles as a partial reverse light assist. Not only will be able to see rocks and stumps behind you help keep your bumper looking how it should, it can also be a safety hazard for any foot traffic or other vehicles around if you are reversing blind. Seeing behind you is definitely an important piece of the night wheeling puzzle.
Everyone you speak with will probably have a different view on lighting, some people cannot have enough lights on their trail rig while others only rely on headlights. It is a personal preference and something that is going to differ depending on what each individual does with their truck. If you are looking for a good set of LEDs for auxiliary lighting, reverse lights, rock lights, LED light bars or anything in between, swing by the show room here at North Shore Offroad and check out all of the great options we have out on display for you to test out and find what is best for your application. Most importantly get out there and enjoy yourself.
Tech Tuesday: Winter Wheeling
We cross our fingers and hope that the sun and warm weather hangs around for a few more weeks every year, but the hard truth is that the wet and cold season is coming. With that comes deep mud, wet trails and, some people’s favourite, the snow. Taking your rig out to play in the snow can be an amazing use of a clear Sunday but heading out in the woods on a cold snowy day can also become a less than enjoyable day quick if you’re not ready for what is ahead.
Snow wheeling season is in many people’s books, although not everyone’s, the best wheeling season of the year. I myself tend to enjoy snow wheeling but just like anyone else a minor mechanical or equipment issue can become a big problem when you add the factor of snow into the scenario. A few easy steps can be taken to ensure that you are ready to go out and play in the snow. First and foremost, even more imperative than other season’s off road adventures, never go out alone. The slightest change in grade of a trail, the smallest of holes or ditches, or even the temperatures at different elevations can lead to even the most built rigs getting stuck unexpectedly. Having another vehicle or two with you will save you a cold and long walk back to phone service or the pavement. Another vehicle and a tow strap is mandatory to pop you out of any unexpected holes or ditches you may slide into. Although a decent strap and another vehicle can save you from minor stuck situations, when it really comes down to it, a decently sized group of similarly built rigs equipped with winches will give you a safety net and confidence to really explore and enjoy without worry.
One of the most important pieces to the deep snow wheeling puzzle is of course tires. On a deep fresh snow day the right tire is everything. If you are really trying to dig your way through some deep snow then there is nothing better than a large aggressive mud tire like an Irok or PitBull Rocker. If you are running a less aggressive lug/tread pattern then of course you can still have fun but you won’t get the same ‘dig’ traction. One of the most important pieces of the snow traction equation to think about is the width of your tires. A wider tire is going to have more surface area to spread weight while a skinny tire will have less surface area, thus a wider tire is more likely to ‘float’ on top of the snow. A wide tire of an aggressive nature aired down to a good snow wheeling pressure (anywhere from 14 psi – 3 psi depending on your set up) will be what gets you through to deep snow. Finding the air pressure that works best for your set up can be an interesting process but once you find a good pressure to widen your tread surface area you will understand the difference it makes. Of course if you are in a group and have a less built rig than others you are out with, following some else’s packed down track on the snow will help you avoid sinking down and getting stuck which can lead to more ground being covered for the whole group.
Something that I discovered a few years ago that completely changed my snow wheeling experiences is that wheel spin (and ultimately horsepower) is not everything. I was running 12.5” wide mud tires with around 11psi in them and for some reason I still hand a tendency of sinking and digging holes. Not until I went out wheeling with a group that was much more built and experienced than myself was I shown the true art of snow wheeling. Although it is not as easy as it sounds (and does not apply to every situation), you want to try and create as little wheel spin as possible to give the tires a chance to spread the vehicles weight and pack the snow beneath while slowly moving forward. Simply grabbing the throttle will often lead to you sinking down and spraying snow everywhere. Once you master the art of finding that perfect and slow wheel speed/throttle balance you will see how much further you get without getting stuck. To put it in simple terms, slow and steady definitely wins the race when it comes to deep fresh snow. Although if you do have a big power build that has decent weight distribution you will tend to be able to worry a little less and just power through the white stuff.
Hopefully these simple points help you prepare for this upcoming snow wheeling season and you get as many chances as possible to get out and enjoy the incredible snow wheeling our province throws at us every year. We’ll see you out there.
Tech Tuesday: The Cold is Coming, Posi-Lok Time
With the cold and icy season on our doorstep, we here at North Shore Off-Road have been receiving more and more questions and orders for Posi-Loks. What has been becoming very obvious is that some people don’t understand what this product does and even more people seem to not know that it exists. So I decided to take this opportunity to try and give a brief break-down of this useful system.
For starters well talk about the basic CAD (Center Axle Disconnect) system which has been used on a variety of vehicles such as Chevy K and S series, Dodge Ram 1500-3500 trucks as well as RamChargers and TrailDusters, Ford F150 trucks and Wrangler YJ(87-95), Cherokee XJ(84-01) and Comanche MJs(85-92). The CAD system is used in front drive axles and it consists of a two part long side axle shaft with a controllable connecting collar that slides into place to activate four wheel drive. This systems allows for less wear and tear as well as less chance of vibrations and better turning ability while in two wheel drive, and when the operator decides to engage four wheel drive the collar connects the two parts of the shaft thus putting power to the front wheels. The CAD system is commonly compared to locking hubs and although it produces to same results, it is not generally considered as reliable.
The big problem with a CAD system is that on the older vehicles it uses a vacuum system to activate and deactivate. When these vehicles first came out with this system it worked fantastically but as time goes on and these vehicles get older and older, wear and tear as well as natural elements have began to break down vacuum lines and cause issues in the engagement system. What happens most is that people do not engage four wheel drive for a period of months or even years and then when a cold winter or sticky situation arises and the driver tries to use the CAD system, it fails. The connection collar is also a very weak point for anyone who uses these vehicles for heavy duty or off road purposes. As time goes on less of less of the original CAD systems remain functional.
Luckily for those who are having issues with their CAD system, or for those who simply want to proactively delete a possible point a failure, Posi-Lok has the solution. A simple cable engagement system designed to take all guess work and vacuum issues out of the picture is available for the most popular applications. These kits fully remove the vacuum actuator and replace it with a sturdy cable system that is then mounted in the cab of the vehicle at the drivers convenience so that whenever you want to engage the axle coupler you simply pull the cable and away you go. All hardware and instructions are included with each kit and just about anyone can install one of these units in their driveway.
If you are having issues or don’t trust you vacuum actuated CAD system then look no further, Posi-Lok has the answer. For more information on these kits visit our website 4x4posi-lok.ca and order your today.
Tech Tuesday: Push Yourself
The past few times I’ve been out wheeling with people I know and some I don’t I have noticed that a large number of people out there are far too worried about damaging their vehicle. Now I know what you’re thinking and I’m not completely off my rocker I just mean that a lot of people seem to worry that one small mistake will lead to catastrophic damage in their new vehicle, but there are good ways and bad ways to push your driving abilities and really find out where your vehicle’s limits are.
First of all let’s talk about the basics of not breaking. If you are on a ledge or obstacle, the very first thing you are supposed to do is get a feel for what your trying to get through/over. If you are even thinking of driving over it you should have already taken a good look at it and identified the basics like, which is the most direct route through? Which is the most difficult looking route? Where are the large issues of the obstacle that you should avoid or plan to navigate around? And of course try and identify if there is a route that can lead to serious trouble like a rollover. Once you have established the basic do’s and dont’s of the obstacle you can take a crack at it, always focus on the approach, setting up your vehicle correctly can be the difference of getting over it or getting stuck and doing damage. Once your set up for the line you want, give it a go nice and slowly. Listen to your spotter and gather information on how your vehicle and the obstacle are dealing with each other. Of course be listening for any bad sounds like bellying out or touching your driveshaft’s down on something. If you get to the point where you are on the obstacle and a nice slow controlled crawl is not going to cut it then back off and re-evaluate and decide if you should consider a bypass, pulling cable, or giving it a harder shot. Most people are very hesitant to give an obstacle a good hard bump but with most newish vehicles these days. You don’t need to worry about damaging much as long as you have thought out the obstacle correctly. So get in and give it a little more of a run up, not too much, just a little momentum to try and keep you going through. Continue this pattern until you are up but don’t stress yourself on the “what ifs”. Your out there so enjoy it. At any point you feel you are going too hard then simply back off it and change your game plan.
What a lot of people don’t seem to really grasp is that unless you are spinning your tires and going nowhere or you are bouncing up and down on an obstacle, nothing much should break on a properly set up 4×4.Of course little dings and scratches can happen but that’s simply adding character. If you are always too concerned about what could happen, you will never really find out where your and your vehicles limitations are. Not to mention that as you’re driving develops and evolves so does your vehicle normally and then you can go even further and harder places. One of the biggest aids for those who are not necessarily the most comfortable yet is having a good spotter who can walk them through the basics calmly and really help them understand the situation and possible options.
Hopefully this little speech may have helped you motivate yourself or someone around you to continue to push forwards and try to get over that next obstacle. Without progression there is no point of even going out. Push yourself and your friends (responsibly) and most importantly, have fun.
Tech Tuesday: Keep It Light
The past couple of times I have been out wheeling I keep running into the same few questions from friends and strangers out on trail, mainly pertaining to weight and some of the choices I’ve made on my vehicle to lose weight. So I decided it would be a good topic for discussion this week and maybe it will help inspire or educate people on the easy ways to shave a few pounds off their rig.
Anyway you try and spin it, a two (or four) seater vehicle with large mud tires, parts, fluids, food, water and tools is going to be a very heavy item. Many vehicles you see out on trail these days are 4200-4500lbs+ depending on the number of doors and how many occupants are in it. I myself have a two door JK wrangler that has the rear seats permanently removed along with majority of the interior, notably my Jeep is not a street driven vehicle so it is not the best example of what to do in most people’s case. But it is a very simple concept. If you have a 4500lbs four door jeep, three to five people riding in it; tools, fluids, parts, food, water and a spare tire it is undoubtedly going to weigh at least 5100lbs. Now consider the amount of power the motor (in this case it would be a 3.8 or 3.6 litre V6) puts out and how much resistance a set of 35”+ tall tires can create and its basically a miracle it can get to the trail, let alone up and over a hard obstacle. The point I am trying to make here is that with a little time and thought, you can very easily shave some decent weight or even just rethink where your weight is focused which may really help you out.
Every other new body Jeep I see on trail these days has a spare tire hanging off the back bumper and although this is the most obviously (and sometimes the only good place) to keep your large, possibly muddy or dirty tire, it is the worst place possible if you are trying to convince your rig to climb up or over an aggressive obstacle. For those who aren’t stuffing a ton of gear and five people in the vehicle, consider moving the spare inside behind the rear seats or ultimately behind the front seats if it is possible. Of course you still need to figure out a way to secure it with straps or brackets in case of an accident or rollover. Even just this single change to your set up can be greatly reducing the amount of rear end weight and helping to focus the weight more on the front axle and wheels. The more of the vehicle’s weight is pushed forward, the more likely your rig is to want to climb up things. Even considering what bumpers you are going to buy and put on your vehicle can make a huge difference.A light weight minimalistic bumper with a winch with a synthetic line installed can be a few hundred pounds lighter than a large bumper and a winch with a steel cable. In my case I actually don’t run a spare tire in the vehicle at all and I have chosen to not run a rear bumper, I tend to run trails close enough to my trailer that if something happened I could walk back or drive it very carefully with a flat back to my trailer. This has truly allowed me to keep the rear end of my rig as light as possible and has made a noticeable difference in climbing ability and control. I also rarely go out alone which is key if you are packing and building your rig in a minimalistic fashion.
If you move your spare and want to continue to try and reap the benefits of less/more well thought-out weight then check what you’re taking with you on your outings. I could not believe the amount of useless or duplicated tools my toolbox accumulated in a matter of months of wheeling. Take everything out of your vehicle, take inventory of what you have and try and figure out what you really need. Then remove whatever is simply dead weight or what you could make do without. For example, when I first cleaned out my tool box I discovered that I had been wheeling with six or seven crescent wrenches in my rig and I simply don’t need that many, one or two will almost always do the trick. Simple things that you may not even think of like this can lead to some seriously substantial weight shavings and the less you are carrying with you, the easier it is to consolidate and the more efficiently you can pack.
For some people this is not an option, with the off roading style they do they may need huge amounts of tools and gear, but for those who are experimenting with a new vehicle or trying to squeeze the most out of perhaps a lesser built rig, weight can be the enemy. So give your rig and gear a once over and see what you may be able to remove/adjust to help make it get further through the trails.
Tech Tuesday: The Right Spotter
For those who are new to off roading, a new trail can be a very nerve racking experience. Unknown off cambers, rocks and roots can take you for a pretty rough ride if you aren’t sure how to approach them correctly. But the driver of the vehicle is not always in the best position to understand the entire situation. This is where your spotter or co-pilot comes in handy.
Most people who do take their vehicles out on trail around our amazing province are not professional rock racing buggy drivers who know exactly how their rig and tires are going to react and respond to every piece of terrain they drive over. Most people take their time and try to make it up and over the obstacles that they feel comfortable with but every now and then it comes time for the driver to ask for some help. Having a spotter to tell you which way to adjust to avoid the wet stump that you can’t see from the driver seat can absolutely make the difference between a smooth and fun trail outing and a rough and expensive trail outing. Having someone give you a ‘spot’ on an obstacle does not mean that you cheated or made it any easier, just means that you had a set of eyes helping you from a different vantage point. Having someone to give you a ‘spot’ can definitely help you push you boundaries as an off-roader in ways that you would not normally feel comfortable. But having the wrong spotter could lead to some issues.
A spotter is someone that tells you what they see from an angle that is different from the diver’s. This lets the driver gather information and make decisions based on multiple perspectives. Just because a spotter says to turn in a certain direction does not always mean that it the best plan of action though. Listening to a spotter who is not used to the obstacles on the trail or how your specific vehicle handles and deals with each type of terrain can lead to a bad situation. Having someone who rides along with you on a few occasions and can begin to understand what your vehicle likes to do and doesn’t like to do is important for a driver to truly trust his spotter’s advice. I myself do not usually ask for ‘spots’ especially not from people I do not know but every now and then when I am unsure of exactly where I want my wheels or if the obstacle is going to agree or disagree with my approach, a spotters input can safe me from a rollover or trail damage. With time those who are not comfortable with picking a line from the driver’s seat will get used to how their own vehicle deals with different obstacles and can begin to take more adventurous lines without any outside assistance but until the driver (and presumably the owner of the vehicle) feels that comfort level then a spotter is a fantastic tool to put to work.
It is incredibly important for a spotter and driver to establish how they want to communicate. The group that I normally go out with use the relatively standard system of directing using the driver’s view point. This means that if you want the driver to turn the vehicle more to the driver’s side then say ‘driver’ and point to the driver side of the obstacle. Saying left and right can leave you and the driver confused about who’s right or left you are refereeing to depending on which direction you are spotting them from. One thing that I have noticed is that a spotter is most useful when they are concise, a simple ‘straight, passenger, driver, reverse’ works much better than adding more info in unless the driver has asked for such details.
Having a spotter is also an important part of off roading from a recovery perspective. There are many situations where the driver of the vehicle is not in a position to get out to rig up a winch line or inspect what they may be stuck or hung up on. This is another situation where a co-pilot can save the day. Establishing a good system and the appropriate ‘lingo’ for winching with a spotter is also very important. When vehicles are getting dragged up or down rocks with high-tension steel cable or ropes swinging around and people spectating it is not a good time to be unsure of how to communicate. Again simple is key, ‘line in, line out, hold’. The simpler and most universally understandable the better.
One of the most important roles for a co-pilot is simply being out with you. No matter how comfortable you are in an area or on a trail you never want to travel in the wilderness alone. In a perfect world you would always travel with a second vehicle as well but sometime that just does not work out. That is why having a co-pilot is a must if there is not another vehicle joining you. So get a buddy or your spouse to come out and enjoy the great outdoors while helping you get where you want to go safely.