Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Sun, 23 Nov 2014 16:06:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 30 Years of the Gelandewagenhttp://expeditionportal.com/30-years-of-the-gelandewagen/ http://expeditionportal.com/30-years-of-the-gelandewagen/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 10:00:31 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24060 Originally featured in the 2009 Gear Issue of Overland Journal – Few auto manufacturers can lay claim to producing the same model for three straight decades. But that’s exactly what Mercedes-Benz is doing in 2009, with the 30th anniversary of the Gelandewagen—its construction uncompromised, its styling conservative—even severe—but timeless, its configuration adaptable for any situation from a battleground to a Vienna opera house.

 

The venerable Gelandewagen longs not to be part of current fad, but may well upstage the vehicles that do. Square, modular lines communicate an emphasis on function rather than form, while a comfortable interior make this vehicle an instant old friend. However, it takes more than an enduring design to both remain current and withstand the ever-changing marketing demands, cost-cutting measures, and management disagreements found in modern automotive corporations.

Predecessors

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The Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen, often referred to simply as the Mercedes G or G-Wagen, has found its way into all three major 4WD vehicle sectors: consumer, commercial, and military. This has been key to the G’s continued success as a product of the highest level of quality and performance. The cost of building a vehicle that is 70-percent handmade is staggering in the current economy. However, by adapting quickly, as the vehicle also does to varied terrain, Mercedes has kept the G-Wagen a valuable tool. Just one year into production, the Gelandewagen was being produced in more than 40 different versions. It has become a legend, whether defending the peace or winning multiple Paris-Dakar trophies. Countless successful expeditions have earned the Mercedes G its status as one of the best overland expedition vehicles ever conceived. A strong sense of values, such as an emphasis on safety, quality of build using commercial truck components, and an unmatched balance of performance, allows the G to captivate those fortunate enough to have relied on one as a travel companion. Since 1979, the G has proven itself to be, as described by Ed McCabe in his book Against Gravity – From Paris to Dakar in the World’s Most Dangerous Race, “a proven tank capable of going to hell and back under frightful conditions.”

 

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The history of the Gelandewagen is rooted in Karl Benz’s first designs of the world’s premier 4WD and AWD vehicles. Benz developed the first motorcar in 1886, and the first 4WD soon after, although the designs would take more than 20 years to get into production. In 1926, the companies of Karl Benz and Dr. Gottlieb Daimler merged to become Daimler-Benz, and soon after that the 170 series of automobiles was in production, offering a platform upon which to fit out the first production all-wheel-drive and all-wheel-steering vehicles in the world, known as the 170VG and later the 170L.

 

In 1926, Daimler-Benz introduced the G1, which featured rigid axles, leaf springs, and a pressed-steel frame, and was thus a stouter platform from its inception than the 170-based predecessors. The model designation G originated during the research and development phase, when it was referred to as a “cross-country vehicle,” or “Gelandewagen” in German (this is also the root term for the BMW G/S motorcycle).

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The G1 was short-lived, and only six were ever produced. It was used as a prototype for the higher-production G3/G3A, of which more than 2,000 were manufactured between 1929 and 1935, primarily as part of the German war effort. The G3 platform incorporated three axles, one forward and two aft. The G3s, astonishingly, featured locking differentials in both rear axles. Half-track versions were also produced. In 1934, Daimler-Benz released the G4 as a larger, longer version of the G3 series, featuring up to 110 horsepower with three body styles. Followed finally by the G5, the series would see its end once Germany fell to allied forces.

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The G5, built as a car version with a production of 606 units and a truck version that totaled 4,900 units, offered some interesting technology as well. The engines were tuned for maximum torque just above idle, to assist crawling through difficult terrain. The first-gear ratio, a staggering 722:1, yielded an impressive 64-percent climbing ability even when burdened by a full load of cargo. Truly the ultimate vintage 4WD, the G5 became the starting point for the legendary Mercedes L-series AWD trucks, produced until just recently and sold in the millions. In the 1950s, the Unimog combined elements of this series with the farming tractors of the day to morph into yet another timeless design. But the G series would not be revived for much longer, and mostly by chance.

 A New Beginning

The Gelandewagen was reawakened as a design in 1973, conceived as a commercial- and military-grade vehicle that could also be marketed to consumers. The first production code was H2, once Steyr-Daimler-Puch of Graz, Austria became involved with the project. SDP was chosen after careful review of several potential sub-contractors, including the large commercial European maker MAN and even General Motors. At the time, the SDP production facilities were busy assembling more than 2,000 bicycles and 1,000 motorcycles every day. Four-wheeled vehicles would become SDP’s mainstay business during the 1980s. (The conglomerate was broken up in 1990, and Steyr’s automotive production division sold to Canada’s Magna Industries; it’s now known as Magna Steyr.) The Steyr end of the business had produced a wide variety of products, from firearms to large commercial trucks. That experience was applied directly to the G.

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When SDP began to develop what would become the Gelandewagen, they chose the designation H2 because it represented a replacement for the current offering on the same assembly line, a product known as the Steyr-Puch Haflinger. The Haflinger, a tiny but robust 4WD vehicle, had locked in several military contracts over the years. However, few Haflingers made it into consumer hands as new vehicles. Volkswagen’s 183 Iltus had bettered the Haflinger’s minimal bodywork and poor occupant protection, but still left much to be desired in regard to cargo capacity and towing ability. Thus, a new vehicle was sought to meet the needs of a higher-speed and more nimble military. Contract preference seemed to be moving away from the larger and more complicated Pinzgauer, also built in Graz before and during the production of the G model. The G would fill the military requirements and at the same time be more of a consumer-friendly product. Other names were considered initially, but in the end the Gelandewagen was born without a fancy marketing term attached.

 

An advance 20,000-unit order from the Shah of Iran, the largest shareholder of Mercedes-Benz in the 1970s, got the ball rolling toward production of the first Gelandewagens. After the Shah’s sudden overthrow during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the order was abruptly cancelled, so Mercedes and Steyr-Daimler-Puch looked to establish contracts with the German Border Patrol. Elsewhere, the Argentine Army was preparing to embark on the ill-fated Falklands campaign, leading to a large order. Later, NATO, as well as the Norwegian, Belgian, and Greek militaries, submitted orders too, viewing the G as a step forward in cargo capacity, personnel safety, and ability to be airlifted directly to and from the battlefield. Similar to other military contract spec-based vehicles, the G can be stacked in a jet cargo plane to maximize use of space. These were, and still are, important concerns for military customers, and the clearly defined symmetry of the G body style stands as testament to the engineers under pressure to comply.

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For the civilian market, the 1979 G-Wagen was launched with three body styles. The chassis offered were a short-wheelbase (SWB) two-door hardtop, a SWB convertible pickup, and a long-wheelbase (LWB) five-door wagon. The following year, a van version was added, and an open-chassis truck soon after. Many of the driveline components were sourced from the ranks of Mercedes’ own commercial transport product division; other influences came from the recently acquired Hanomag Company. With the engineers from Mercedes, Hanomag, and SDP all cooperatively working on the H2 project, success was hardly a surprise. By the time the wood models had been turned into clay, followed by a series of different test mules, the resulting production G series featured a unique combination of comfort, on-road performance, safety, and off-road prowess. The vehicle was equally at home traveling the Sahara, crossing boulder fields in the Americas, or cruising on the Autobahn.

 Engineering Excellence

Stark differences from previous 4WD vehicles could be found on the first of the G production vehicles. Front and rear differential locks, for instance, were not available on other production vehicles, nor was a transfer case capable of shifting between low and high range while moving. The latter feature meant momentum was not lost in critical situations, such as during a soft sand crossing: The more a vehicle loses forward momentum, the more likely it is to sink or exceed possible traction. If the driver has to stop in the middle of a crossing to shift to low range, he may already be beyond hope of extracting the vehicle. Of course, a seasoned driver will shift the vehicle into low range before entering the difficult stretch, but having the ease of selection on the go is certainly an asset, and even experienced drivers can be caught unaware of changing surface conditions.

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Geometry in frame shape, suspension components, and axles was designed with an emphasis on maximum traction and control, but without a loss of driver feel. The center of gravity on the G was kept low with careful placement of components within the boxed steel frame. This allowed for the boxy, utilitarian bodywork, which to the casual observer might appear top-heavy. It truly works, and Mercedes, in 1979, included a 54-percent side slope diagram in brochures. A wider track than many previous SUV-type vehicles—1425mm (56 inches)—also gave the G very stable underpinnings. Approach and departure angles were 36 and 31 degrees respectively, allowing the G to maneuver over large obstacles. Once on an incline, the G could continue climbing a grade of 80 percent. Many different ring and pinion sets were offered, up to 6.17:1, which yields a 98:1 crawl ratio.

 

Safety had been at the forefront of Mercedes-Benz product design for some time, and during the 1970s, it was becoming one of the company’s most promoted selling points. Crumple-zone engineering had just made incredible strides in the W123 chassis automobiles released in 1977, so in the G it was employed for the first time in an off-road vehicle.

 

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After testing the Land Rover, Range Rover, and other 4WDs, Mercedes engineers made another choice still considered radical at the time: they specified coil springs at all four wheels, rather than conventional leaf springs. The engineers knew that coil springs would improve ride quality dramatically, as well as handling, dampening, and rollover safety. The rear axle received progressive-rate springs that were unique, designed in cooperation with Eibach. The spring rate not only changed in regard to spacing between each coil, but the overall coil diameter changed from top to middle to bottom. This allowed the suspension to act more consistently, even with large differences in cargo load. Many different lengths and spring rates are available, each one color-coded with stripes to indicate length under various loads.

 

A load-bias control spring, as seen earlier on Mercedes Unimog and L series trucks, was fitted over the solid rear axle, to ensure the best balance in braking under varying load requirements. The spring senses the load differences carried by the vehicle and adjusts the front-to-rear brake bias accordingly. More pressure is sent to the rear of the car for heavier loads and less pressure for light loads or when empty. This allows added rear braking not normally permitted on a static system, because when empty the rear wheels would skid. (One note worth remembering is that when any G is modified with a suspension lift, it is vital to replace this spring with another version from Mercedes.)

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Wheel travel with the coil springs was a generous 260mm (10 inches) in order to keep as many tires as possible on the ground in extreme conditions. The axle-load distribution was optimized so that the G would slide slowly sideways when tilted toward its tipping point, allowing the driver to react in time in order to counteract the situation. Chassis flex was minimized with three torsion-resistant cross tubes in the rear, boxed-steel longitudinal frame members, and additional cross tubes in the mid-section as well as the front. All driveline components were mounted to these strong tube frame members with oversize dampening bushings. Drive shafts, axles, even the seemingly unnecessary count of eight bolts for the flanges to the pinions and transfer case, all give an immediate sense of “overbuilt.” Taking apart a G takes quite a bit more time than some of its counterparts in the SUV product set, but many owners see this as a fair trade for not having the car come apart on them while traveling.

 

Specific wet-weather features such as water-tight doors, breathers on all gearboxes, a high engine air intake with optional snorkel, and hand-sealed bodywork joints are just a few of the design components the G employs to enhance its water-fording ability. Both the electrical system and any engine components that need to remain dry are positioned in a way that allows a 60-cm (23.5-inch) fording depth.

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In snow conditions, early G-series cars, known as the W460 models, can have a more difficult time driving safely with their part-time 4WD. Similar to any other part-time system, if only two diagonally opposing drive wheels are receiving torque, a forward-moving vehicle can be at risk of spinning out if the vehicle is downshifted at too high an rpm. Later versions, developed in 1990 and sold presently, are known as the W463 series. The W463 vehicles offer an advanced AWD system that significantly reduces the possibility of spinning on ice.

 

In the 1970s, car manufacturers were making strides in regards to corrosion protection, and the G was no exception. During production, the body is first degreased, phosphate coated, and then electrophoretically primed. This is done by way of dipping the whole unit into a pool that is electrically charged in order to best migrate the coating particles onto the metal. The bodywork is then treated with an undercoat before being subjected to a baked-on final finish. PVC is then used as an under-sealant, and even the chassis gets its coatings bonded on through a heat process. A zinc-dust compound is placed into areas where road debris may collect. Only once this exhausting process is completed is each body then married to the similarly over-constructed chassis. (Even with all this effort, prospective buyers should be aware of older Gs, which tend to hide rust in the rockers, rear corners, below the windshield, and below the B-pillar on the LWB.)

 New Competition

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By 1990, the Japanese had launched a formidable set of 4WD products into the global market. Toyota’s rough-and-ready Land Cruiser was redressed in fancier clothes for U.S. customers. In Europe, the Range Rover had bridged the chasm between utility and luxury and was seen as a more comfortable, better-mannered option to the early G. Thus, in the late 1980s, it was thought that the G should be replaced. Many argued, however, that instead of being completely redone, the platform could be updated into a more comfortable road car that retained its proven off-road underpinnings. Mercedes set its eyes on the Range Rover and Land Cruiser 70 Series to see what they needed to improve. In 1990, the new W463 version G vehicles were finally released to a very positive public reaction.

 

The W463 not only dealt with some of the negative aspects of the previous W460, it also took the whole G experience up a notch. Now the G was equally at home with any other luxury 4WD on the road, giving its owner smooth manners, more power, and comfort accented by orthopedic seating and walnut trim. Airbags were included for passenger safety for the first time in the model range, and larger brakes were also fitted. Additional changes included full-time four wheel drive and ABS. The differential lockers were now switched electronically. The new VG150 transfer case also included center-locking capability, usable in high or low range.

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One oddity on the W460 series was that the transfer case reversed the direction of drive for the front axle, adding unnecessary complexity to the system. The W460 also suffered from driveline angles greater than optimal. Over the long term, many W460 owners experience driveshaft u-joint failure and vibrations because of these angles. SWB models have an even worse angle in the rear with their shorter shafts, which without major modification also limits suspension lift to about three inches. Both the reverse-direction front drive and the excessive driveline angles were corrected on the W463 models.

 

The new W463 introduced upmarket upholsteries and carpeting, and although this was a hit with the non-adventure types, many overlanders prefer the older spartan interior, which could be easily sponged clean, and the mat flooring that featured 1.5-inch-thick foam padding similar to a sleeping pad. On the other hand, the early vehicles have a heavy folding bench seat that, while removable, is a cumbersome 145 pounds. The newer W463 cars have split folding rear seats that are easily removable with pins. Either model in LWB form can accommodate a six-foot-three owner and partner or furry friend sleeping in the back. Most adventurers will remove the rear seats entirely, creating a van-like interior that can be used for hauling massive amounts of cargo (well secured with plenty of tie-down D-rings) or as a comfortable sleeping cabin. Gunther Holtorf recently completed a series of trips totaling more than 600,000 km (370,000 miles) in his 88hp 300GD, and kept 450 items on inventory in the car, the heaviest being a pair of shocks. He still had room to sleep the car almost every night of his journeys.

 The American Market

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Nearing the end of the century, Mercedes was again looking at the G in regards to replacement rather than refinement. Some large contracts were cancelled, and it seemed that the Graz production line might need to be backfilled to keep things going. It was at this time that exporting the G to the United States was not simply considered, but pushed. For many years, Mercedes corporate in Germany had wanted to sell the G in the U.S., but the North America marketing teams did not see a fit for the vehicle, since it did not resemble the modern sedan and coupe designs they were advertising and thus was thought to detract from the product positioning of the time.

 

For many years, a New Mexico business called Europa had an agreement to import a limited number of G vehicles specially converted to USDOT specs. Due to the exclusive arrangement, Europa was able to charge a premium, sometimes exceeding $135,000 when fully optioned. This restricted the U.S. G-Wagen to the very wealthy. The profit on these sales was large but the volume was low—the same vehicle sold around the globe for about half the price demanded by the New Mexico importer. About 1,000 Gs were imported before 2002, when Mercedes finally settled legally with the owner of Europa and began to sell the car in its own dealers. When this was accomplished, Magna Steyr production filled the void, and Mercedes gave the G a new lease on life.

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Once Mercedes began offering the G500 in the U.S. in 2002, with a base price of $72,000, values of used Europa and other grey-market G-Wagens instantly dropped. The two exceptions were the diesels and convertibles, neither of which has been imported by MBUSA. Due to their rarity, these models still retain high value, sometimes double that of the standard five-door petrol vehicles.

 

The modern 2002 through 2008 G500, and the 2009 G550, offer much the same solid engineering as the previous G cars, but for serious overlanding use the cars have also been somewhat overdone. Much new technology, such as BAS (brake assist), ESP (electronic stability program), ETS (electronic traction support), and ABS, have been added. While these systems do improve safety for the driver in certain situations, they do not improve all situations. ETS works to control traction using the braking system under 6 kph in high range and under 3 kph in low range. Coupled with the advanced torque converter, it is very hard to spin the wheels from a start. ESP manages wheel spin at higher speeds by pulsing the brake of the spinning wheel and moderating engine power. BAS dramatically boosts braking force by employing additional vacuum pressure from the booster circuit when the system senses panic-braking inputs.

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Owners frequently complain that there should be a way to turn these systems on and off, but Mercedes has not offered this. You can turn the systems off only by switching on the center differential lock in the transfer case. There is an ESP delete button on the console, but it works only up to 35mph. The only way to drive these cars without these systems taking over when wheel spin is detected is to drive with two feet, rally style, where you can ever so slightly ride the brake pedal into turns, thus deleting the ESP intervention. The way these systems are interconnected does not always make the best sense either. There are about 26 sensors in the car, and multiple “PROM boxes,” or small computer-chip boxes. The main computer sends messages out to these boxes to gather information about the conditions, the way the vehicle is handling, if there is wheel spin, if the yaw is too great an angle, and so forth. The problem is that the computer seems to send out the message to every box in an order, and if one box does not answer back, the system may find an error. Sometimes the error will mean nothing, sometimes the system will not complete its attempt to communicate to the appropriate PROM, and in rare instances the car may shut down all together.

 

Older Gs have the field serviceability that one would desire for long overland trips into remote territories. Diesel variants in particular can usually be repaired with the most basic tools. Modern vehicles, however, require special toolsets, computers with fancy Mercedes diagnostic software, and hard-to-find parts. For the early cars, master cylinder rebuild kits, axle seals, a shock, or driveshaft end, might be the only special items one need carry. With later models, especially those built after 2001, items such as the crank position sensor, K40 relay, alternator, and various tools to install these items should also be added to the travel kit. For instance, you might feel safe with a spare crank position sensor in your glove box, but if you don’t also have an 18mm extension on a 1/4-inch drive ratchet with a knuckle at the bottom and #8 Torx socket, you’re still sitting in a non-runner. These types of unique situations are all documented on various discussion forums and club sites, so obtaining the list and securing the parts/tools is all that is needed before venturing off. Taking printed versions, or at least PDF files, of service manuals is also a clever move for those keen on leaving civilization.

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Sometimes “improvements” and added features take away from the design philosophy that brought the product’s initial success. In the G’s case, it was the original simplicity and field serviceability that was lost in the fray of modern marketing. Fret not: the modern G still retains most of the truly important features of the original design, and can be relied upon as a stalwart, trusty steed that will get you to your destination and back in great comfort. After all, the modern G’s climate-control system keeps the cabin pleasant whether it’s -14 degrees F or + 118 degrees F outside, and heated seats might be welcome during a winter trip near the Arctic Circle. (Although some might find those seats a bit flat in the bottom. Recaro and Porsche seats fit the G just great and can be looked upon as easy-to-install upgrades.)

 

The W463 lost a bit of the all-terrain ability of the early cars, with approach and departure angles reduced to 36 and 29 percent. In other areas, the model was bettered, and has retained its 80-percent grade-climbing ability and 54-percent side slope capability. With its new advanced torque converter, the G now has a 180-percent increase in startup torque, allowing slow pull-away and smooth transmission of power. The enhanced traction is startling when compared to the older automatics. A new 25-gallon (95-liter) ABS fuel tank replaced the previous steel versions, which could leak if hit on the trail.

 Buying Your Own

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The final question in regard to these great vehicles is: Are they affordable? It took a while to depreciate $130,000 when stock markets were high and G availability was low. After the release of the 2002 G500 by MBUSA, for $72,000, we found ourselves in another league, where the vehicle is no longer such a rarity. A search on clubgwagen.com, a global G club website, shows many older and newer varieties for sale, with caveat for the previously mentioned diesel and convertible cars. Sites such as autotrader.com, mobile.de, and cars.com show hundreds of available G500 cars. With the valuation of a 2002 model G almost below the $25,000 mark, it will be no surprise to start seeing more interest in it as an overland vehicle.

 

With depreciation mostly absorbed, the early MBUSA cars may just rise in demand for a new audience—one that will take it off tarmac. The hot-rodded G55 AMG version is not recommended for those interested in backcountry use; its suspension lacks ground clearance, and is too stiff and the rebound too sharp. Repairing AMG motors requires special training, so if you break down in a rural area lacking a Mercedes repair shop employing qualified AMG-trained techs, you are out of luck. Lastly, the massive torque has led to transfer case and u-joint failures, decreasing longevity. The base model G500 needs just the running boards removed to gain rocker clearance, and the 18-inch wheels replaced with the 16-inch wheels previously fitted to the 463 series. Other than these two easy changes, the G500 is an out-of-the-box, ready-to-go overlander that can compete evenly with highly modified trucks. The G likes playing the part of duality so much that it barely seems to get dirty on the trail, helped by the massive ABS plastic fender inserts, mud guards, and a smart flare design that funnels tire debris back down to the ground.

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Gelandewagen enthusiasts see the purity and harmonic balance between nature and driver as reason enough to choose the G for travel. The G not only brings its occupants home, it even goes so far as to provide inexplicable Zen-like experiences along the way. Recently I asked 4WD guru and guide Harald Peitschmann why he would choose the G from his diverse stable of vehicles for any long expedition. He replied with one simple answer: “Without having to worry about breaking down or becoming stranded, adventure travel becomes more enjoyable.” The 30th anniversary of the Gelandewagen brings hope that vehicles can still be made with little compromise if they are properly executed and managed right from the start. It also means that those of us without $135,000 can finally purchase a reasonably priced Gelandewagen and start using it as it was intended—to explore!

 

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Backcountry Discovery Routes Launches Membership Programhttp://expeditionportal.com/backcountry-discovery-routes-launches-membership-program/ http://expeditionportal.com/backcountry-discovery-routes-launches-membership-program/#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 23:46:46 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24119 Seattle, WA – (November 19, 2014) – Since 2010, the non-profit organization Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) has inspired thousands of adventure motorcyclists to take advantage of the riding opportunities available in the United States.  BDR has produced five backcountry routes for dual-sport and adventure motorcycle travel.  These routes include feature-length expedition documentaries, maps, free-planning resources and GPS tracks used by thousands of motorcyclists each year.

 

Now, Backcountry Discovery Routes is announcing its Membership Program! The goal of the BDR Membership Program is to help fund the creation of future routes and to give the community a way to help preserve off-pavement riding opportunities.

 

There are three levels of BDR membership and each has unique and exciting benefits that include up to $500 in products, discounts and members-only privileges provided by BDR and its participating sponsors.

 

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“The BDR Membership Program is a unique opportunity for adventure riders and the companies that serve them, to come together and help preserve backcountry riding,” explained Inna Thorn, BDR Manager.  “Everyone wins by joining the program. Members receive products, discounts and benefits from major brands and BDR is able to continue its mission to create new routes for the community.”

 

Do your part to preserve off-pavement adventure riding opportunities by becoming a BDR member today.

 

www.backcountrydiscoveryroutes.com/BDR-Memberships

 

email info@backcountrydiscoveryroutes.com or call 206-383-6233.

 

The BDR Membership program is made possible by the following companies who think you should have more ADV riding opportunities: Touratech-USA, KLIM Technical Riding Gear, Butler Maps, ExOfficio, Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage, Black Dog Cycle Works, SENA Technologies, Colorado Motorcycle Adventures, Cyclops Adventure Sports, Trailmaster Adventure Gear, PSSOR, Rottweiler Performance, Kate’s Real Food, Noren Films, and ADV Moto Magazine.

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SOS: The Full Report – Part Twohttp://expeditionportal.com/sos-the-full-report-part-two/ http://expeditionportal.com/sos-the-full-report-part-two/#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 07:21:55 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23481 The damage was pretty bad. My rim was horribly bent. The steering rack was once again split in half and this time the passenger side mount had been ripped off the cross member. The brake line was destroyed and so was the CV axle and the bleeder valve on the brake caliper. I knew that I needed my dad. We had just gone through this and we knew how to fix it and how to trailer it. But he was 500 miles away back in Wyoming. It would take him at least a day to get to us.

 

We had to decide the best way for him to get to Frankenstein as there was no room for him to turn around close by. So the options were have him drive 10 miles down the highway more and 10 miles on dirty to just drive in facing the right way. Or, take the shorter route and back the trailer up to Frankenstein for a mile.

 

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We sent lead-foot Ben off to Lolo to call my dad to bring a trailer and the FRV, the only rig we knew of that could tow Frankenstein the speed limit. He set off in a cloud of dust and a phone number to make the rescue call.

 

Then Mike had a good idea.

Using my shovel we placed it under the lower ball joint. Timmy held on to the handle to semi “steer” Frank and Mike got in his rig and pulled me while I used the clutch as a brake to not kill Timmy. Using this method, we dragged Frankenstein about 20 yards down the road to a sort of wide spot to get him off the road with plenty of room for my dad to either pull by or back up to. The shovel barely had a dent in it after. Quite the shovel!

 

We then jacked up the truck and put some wood under the lower ball joint and Frank was good! At least good enough for me to camp in. We then set up camp, right in the middle of the road. Luckily it was not a popular road so this wasn’t a major issue, butt we had no place to go really. So I took my frustration out on splitting logs and we had a fire in the center of the road before long.
Ben finally showed up with a rather humorous story on how the phone call went. It went something like this:

 

RING, RING
Dad: ”Hello?”

Ben: ”Hey Steve, this is Ben, from Tacoma world?”

Dad: ”Oh yea! Hows it going, bud?”

Ben: ”Not…not great. We need you to come tow Monte. He broke another lower ball joint on the trail.”

Dad: ”………………….Are you kidding me?”

Ben: ”What? No sir, he broke the other one this time. We are at the end of the Lolo and he wants you to bring the trailer and everything from last time. Its real bad. Worse then last time.”

Dad: ”I told him to replace the other one! There is internet proof! I posted it on the internet!”

It was a great bit of humor to hear in the situation and to me really was nice to hear my dad having a bit of a sense of humor about it. Anyways my dad said he would leave the next morning and would be there sometime in the afternoon. Despite my frustration. We had another fun night under the stars. It wasn’t the worst camp site. Then again it never matters when you are with good friends in an great place with good drink and a campfire. And an awesome dad for that matter, one that I can always call out SOS to and know he will always respond.

 

The next day was a slow one. Very slow. It was a day of waiting. Luckily Timmy came prepared and taught us how to play dominos. And for some reason Ben was very good at, which bothered Timmy. Eventually we wasted enough time away for Ben and Timmy to hop in Bens truck and head off to Lolo to try and meet my Dad to show him the way to Frankenstein. Mike and I stayed and blasted some tunes from Frankenstein while monitoring my HAM radio waiting to hear from my dad.

 

Over the fire the night before we were all pretty much decided that Frank was out for the count. There was no coming back from this in the few days we had till our scheduled run up the Morrison Jeep trail. I had been pretty adamant about not riding shotgun as I had done that before the first time Frank broke and I could barely stand it. Everyone else was set on me coming but we hadn’t come up with a compromise yet as I wasn’t to the point of being ready to ride shotgun for the next week and no one wanted me to drive their rig after the track record I had been building up this summer.

Can’t say I blame them…

It turned out Ben had spotted my dad driving down the highway towards the Lolo and they passed each other on the highway. Luckily, Ben recognized my dad’s rig, the FRV, short for The Frankenstein Recovery Vehicle, but its pretty easy to spot too, especially with a trailer.

 

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Of course it wasn’t the first time my Dad had been sucked into a tacoma meet via me breaking stuff. So he was rather jolly about being out in the hills and showing off his truck. It was great to see him. We sprung into action getting Frankenstein on the trailer as we had a lot of ground to cover to get to back home to Powell.

 

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Overall, it went pretty smooth as my dad and I had just done this a month earlier. The “technique” of winching up a wheelless truck was still fresh in our minds. Mike Timmy, and Ben all stood back and let us do our thing lending the very much appreciated hand when needed.

 

Amazingly, we had Frankenstein out of the woods within an hour of my dad showing up. Now it was the real test of the FRV. We had just regear the FRV so the 34” tires weren’t as big an issue as last time we towed Frankenstein. However, the mountain passes we were about to cross were going to put a strain on the supercharged beast.

 

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Needless to say our caravan of Tacomas led by the trailered Frankenstein got a lot of looks as we drove through Lolo and Missoula, MT. And continued to on the interstate. It was all rather humorous.

 

The good news is that Frankenstein is now repaired, and back on the trail.

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You can read the full SOS thread on the Expedition Portal thread [HERE].

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Front Runner Expander Chairhttp://expeditionportal.com/front-runner-expander-chair/ http://expeditionportal.com/front-runner-expander-chair/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 19:18:25 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23784 People love new features on their products. Each year manufacturers of every type and class make just enough changes on their products to make consumers think they HAVE to have it, Apple anyone? While I’d like to think our industry is exempt, it may be the biggest offender of all. Want a ten-room tent with cup holders in the walls, screened front porch, and skylights? They’ve got it. Need an oven or deep fryer at your camp? No problem. How about a motorized cooler? You betcha’. My biggest frustration though isn’t the tents, cooking utensils, or absolutely ridiculous accessories, but the camp chairs.

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It astounds me how companies can take something so simple, so cheap, and so effective, and turn it into an overpriced complicated mess. Like your vehicle, the more complicated your gear is the more likely it is to fail. Does your chair really need two end tables and an integrated cooler? Does it need a multi-angle folding and disassembly process with finely stained wood and hand-stitched canvas? Or does it simply need to support your rump when you sit in it?

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This trend of over accessorizing and retro styling is why Front Runner’s folding Expander chair is a breath of fresh air. $49.95 buys you a simplistic and effective chair that you’ll never have to worry about breaking or losing. You won’t find expensive woods, metals, or other forms of unobtanium here, simply a tube steel and polyester beauty.

The list of features is small, which is one of the things I love about it. Telescoping legs and a folding top allow the chair to compress into a 17.5×16.4 inch footprint, which easily stores in just about any vehicle. You’ll find a small storage pouch on the left side of the chair, while a cup holder and secondary pouch adorn the right. There’s also a Velcro strap to keep everything tucked together while in your truck or its storage bag. AND THAT’S IT!

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To really give you a full understanding of this product, we’ve included the following ten instructional steps. Note: all of the following are based on actual camp experiences over the last two years.

 

  1. Pull into camp and open your truck
  2. Remove chair from vehicle
  3. Gently tug up on the chair and fold out
  4. Open beer and laugh at your friend’s failing attempts to construct their super combination ultimate camp chair/luxury condo
  5. Sip beer again while laughing at your other friend falling off of their ultra light micro chair.
  6. Enjoy evening sky and gaze at stars
  7. Try to ignore your third friend’s frustrations as their wooden chair breaks beneath them.
  8. Stretch out and soak up warmth of the fire
  9. Fold chair together and push in legs the next morning
  10. Load into car and pity your friends trying to now collapse their $200 camp “chairs”.

 

If you’re tired of pointless features, unnecessary complexity, and outrageous pricing, check out Front Runners Chairs here:

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A Budget Overlander, Forester Part III: Kitting It Outhttp://expeditionportal.com/a-budget-overlander-forester-part-iii-kitting-it-out/ http://expeditionportal.com/a-budget-overlander-forester-part-iii-kitting-it-out/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 07:22:54 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=14782 The first time I packed up the Forester for an overnight camping trip the rear end sagged down to the bump stops, it clearly wasn’t the kind of “truck” I’m used to driving. Building this car has been a long lesson in keeping things simple and light. Though Subarus are built like Legos, modifications and cargo have to be carefully planned out to maintain a good balance between weight, handling, and power.

Mechanical Upgrades

The Forester’s brakes are adequate out of the box, but if you’re the type that enjoys long “spirited” drives through the mountains you might find them just a bit lacking. Brake fade is a particular endurance problem on the base model, which has drum brakes out back. Fortunately the fade can be minimized without the complexity of swapping in rear disc brakes. After looking at the Brembo option (which would have cost as much as the car itself), I decided to take a chance on the off-brand but highly praised Power Stop set of drilled and slotted rotors with high performance pads. The gamble paid off: for about $125 the brake fade is all but gone and the car now stops with confidence.

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The only other mechanical weak point we’ve run into are the front CV axles. Fortunately, even with the suspension lift they’re good for at least 50,000 miles. At first blush that might sound nuts, but bear in mind they only cost $45 and about 2 hours of work to replace.

Electrical Upgrades

A 90-amp alternator comes standard in the Forester, which seems perfectly matched to any reasonable accessory load for a vehicle this size. We’ve had no trouble running a variety of accessories simultaneously, from air compressors to radio equipment, so we chose instead to focus on preventative and convenience upgrades.

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First up was a DieHard Platinum Group 35 AGM battery (essentially an Odyssey PC1400) to replace the original lead-acid unit and ensure reliable power in the field. The DieHard features 850 cold cranking amps, plenty of reserve power for in-camp use, and a 4-year warranty. I love drop-in upgrades…

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Next we addressed communications. Though surprisingly capable, the Forester is more about adventure outside the vehicle than inside, so we opted for the flexibility of a hand-held radio. The Yaesu VX-8R ruggedized handheld allows for the convenience of a mobile unit when pared with an external mic and antenna, while retaining a slim profile and light weight for hiking, biking, and canoeing. It’s also packed full of all the features from the nicer mobile units like dual transceivers and built-in APRS.

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The speakers installed in the Forester from the factory aren’t completely horrible, but the stereo is one of the worst units I’ve ever used. Aux inputs hadn’t yet caught on in 2003, so our music selection was limited to the barely-functional radio or what few CDs we could track down. Adding insult to injury, you could actually hear the motors and the CD spinning through the speakers… the stock head unit had to go. In it’s place is a double-din Pioneer FH-X720BT: all the digital media connectivity one could want and decent sound reproduction for well under the $200 mark. The unit’s Bluetooth link is nearly flawless, but if you do remember to plug it in the USB port will also charge a phone. For additional accessory charging we also added a Bluesea dual USB charger in place of the cigarette lighter, bringing the total built-in power points to three USB and three standard 12VDC.

Camp and Sleeping

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The Forester will handle the smaller roof tents on the market if one is so inclined, such as James Baroud’s Horizon Vision, with little impact on handling or fuel economy. Still, the car is much more suited to a ground tent and the traditional camp kitchen and furniture that goes with it. The best approach is to pack like you’re backpacking, then add a few luxury items like firewood, good chairs, and a sturdy table.

Water

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At the moment we’re running an extra 5-gallon RoadShower we had in the shop as a gravity-fed water system. It works well, but it’s $300 price point makes it impractical for a budget project. A better option would be the off-brand Scepter clones which can be picked up for around $30 and nest nicely behind the rear passenger-side wheel arch. For a little extra convenience, Living Overland makes a self-contained 12-volt pump/faucet combo that drops right in place of the water can’s stock cap.

Cargo Handling

Despite external appearances, the Forester’s cargo space is quite impressive (high praise coming from the owner of a cavernous Discovery). There’s enough room inside that you’ll run out of weight capacity long before space. Though small, the tie-downs provided at all four corners are stout enough to handle as much weight as you’d want to carry in a Forester. The following photo shows enough food, water, and oversized cold weather gear for two people for three days along with tools, an emergency kit, and an extra 50 miles of fuel (2.5 gallons).

Camping gear for three days for two people

What isn’t visible above is the oversize Kelty loveseat tucked neatly behind the rear seat or the cast-iron cookware packed in the kitchen box. With more efficient gear choices, everything a family of four needs for a weekend camping trip could easily fit.

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With the low roofline, bulky items like bikes and canoes are easy to carry up top. Be warned however, the factory cross bars are not up to the challenge of weight or sunlight: ours were actually crumbling when we removed them. Yakima and Thule both make excellent direct-fit, bolt-on options for securely handling roof cargo. Space the cross bars just right and a single ratchet strap is all you need to mount a pair of MAXTRAX.

The Budget

I’ve often been asked what the total costs have been on this build, and considering a main goal on this project is economy, it’s only fair to share the full accounting of what it took to reach this point. All prices are in U.S. dollars, naturally.

Even in it’s stock form, the Subaru Forester is fully capable of carrying a family safely on adventures while providing economical daily commuter duty around town. If you’re looking to set up a Forester on a limited budget, here’s our advice: start with the skid plates and a good set of tires, then add additional upgrades once you’ve found a real need. You’ll be surprised how far those two modifications will carry you.

This concludes the Expedition Portal Budget Overlander project, but the build-out of this Forester is just beginning…

 

Previously: Expedition Portal’s Budget Overlander Build ThreadPart I, and Part II

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Inuvik or Bust: To the End of the Earth in a BMW M Coupehttp://expeditionportal.com/inuvik-or-bust-to-the-end-of-the-earth-in-a-bmw-m-coupe/ http://expeditionportal.com/inuvik-or-bust-to-the-end-of-the-earth-in-a-bmw-m-coupe/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 07:41:33 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23675 Once again, the stories to be found within the pages of Expedition Portal’s forums, never cease to amaze. With literally millions of forum posts in the extensive library chronicling the adventures of many a robust overland vehicle, this is the only one to feature a BMW M Coupe. Below is the story, one that will unhinge the most ardent 4×4 pundits who say such small cars are not capable of––adventure.  Story by Mark Cupido

 

Where to begin?! About a year ago, Ryan, knowing my love for road-trips, tossed out his idea about driving the Dempster Highway from the Klondike Highway to Inuvik, NWT. He had planned this a year prior with his father, but they elected to conquer the PCH down to San Diego instead. The Dempster is a highway renowned for its beauty, remoteness and… lack of pavement. As a matter of fact, due to freeze/thaw cycles and its substructure is composed of up to 8 feet of gravel insulating it from the permafrost. So from there, the planning began.

 

When driving a road like this, being a 1,500km round trip of rock/shale/gravel in mediocre conditions at the best of times, in addition to 5000+kms of highway to get us there and back, you’d elect to travel in a more roomy, comfortable vehicle with creature comforts and a sense of reliability such as my new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. However, being the gear-heads we are (read idiots), we chose to tackle this trip in Ryan’s 2001 BMW M-Coupe. That’s right, a two-door, two-seater, hatchback, with MMMMMuch more power than the Jeep! Then and there, ‘Inuvik or Bust’ was born.

 

Fast forward to three weeks ago when, if we were like most people, necessary prep-work, vehicle inspections, pre-trip maintenance, packing and planning would have been taking place. Nope. Vegas sounded like a much better plan and a far better idea than any of those things! So for the 6 days prior to the trip (for Ryan) and 4 days for myself, we drank, ate, gambled, partied and relaxed with good friends in sin city. Returned with empty wallets (damn you Roulette), and a lack of sleep, the night before departure. In about 3 hours, we had the winter wheels and tires bolted up, roof rack mounted, a spare front and rear wheels and tires, 3x 20 liter jerry cans and a 5 ton jack, a roadside emergency kit and a beer cooler packed and ready for mission (im)possible. With anticipation growing, the morning came quickly and we were playing the last little bit of Tetris filling the hatch of his pint-sized automobile. Fuel, coffees and some energy drinks and we were off! (How ridiculous does this look?!?)

 

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Day 1:This leg of the trip was the grueling, boring, drab, flat, and ironically the only real snow-filled part of our journey. A 1,000km jaunt from the hole in which we live, to the hole that is Fort Nelson, BC. Neither the camera, cell phones, nor GoPro bothered to snap a picture of this portion of the trip. After stopping for a beer and a bite to eat in Dawson Creek, passing the 0.0 mile marker of the Alaska Highway, we carted along though oil country and (barely) landed ourselves in Fort Nelson by 9pm. With 3 empty jerry cans strapped to the roof rack (to be filled at a later date), the car was sniffing on fumes as we pulled into the Petro Canada gas station. We sat there laughing at the potentially hilarious/infuriating situation we nearly found ourselves in. Stranded on the side of the road… with an abundance of empty jerry cans… IN BRITISH COLUMBIA! Needless to say, we were far more cognizant of our fuel levels from there on in. Grabbing a room at the first hotel in sight, we dropped our bags and found ourselves crushing beers at the nearby Boston Pizza. Day 1, success.

 

Day 2: With a bright and early start to the day, we filled up a jerry can (we’re learning!), and forged on (to the closest Tim Horton’s for some ****ty coffee and breakfast). We had 950kms of gorgeous terrain to cover today! The sweeping highways, skirting the mountains provided us with many excuses to stop, look around and snap some incredible photos. Sadly, photos hardly due this area of the world justice… so you’ll have to take my word for it, view my pictures with a grain of salt, or better yet… make the drive yourself! After 250kms of sweeping corners, dips, climbs, valleys and cliffs, we pulled over next to Muncho Lake and Strawberry flats as recommended by my Aunt. The lake was smooth as glass, and equally clear! This whole leg we found ourselves simply saying, “Wow.” This place was no exception. At this point I jumped into the driver’s seat, though in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t.

 

No more than 20km up the road the M-Coupe (more specifically Spiff_D’s roof rack) gave a mountain goat some complimentary facial reconstructive surgery. Coming over a hill crest, Ryan points out three mountain goats grazing in the opposing ditch. Punching the brakes, they got spooked and darted diagonally across the highway in our direction of travel. Inching further and further into the shoulder and now partway into the ditch, there was no escaping them. In one swift suicidal leap, the largest goat of the three introduced itself to the roof-rack. Be it the impact of the goat, or how far we were now into the ditch, the German missile of mass destruction drifted out of gravel and to a halt back in the shoulder. With a barrage of explicit words now escaping my mouth, we both hopped out to assess the damage. The goats head bounced off the roof rack into the roof, its chest devoured the driver’s side mirror, as its lifeless body ricocheted off the rear quarter panel and into the ditch. Poor goat some may say… well, screw that suicidal goat. Poor BMW! Of all possible mountain goat vs. BMW outcomes, we were fortunate with the best result. The car, though now looking worse for wear, was still drivable. We forge on.

 

Escaping the herds of wild bison grazing alongside the highway, we landed ourselves in Whitehorse at 7:30pm, and were very much looking forward to the home-cooked meal at my Aunt and Uncles. After a phenomenal meal of moose stew, wine, and an amazing evening of catching up and exchanging stories, we retired to the hotel and grabbed a few pints in the downstairs bar, The Sternwheeler Saloon. Thanks again Aunty Netty and Uncle Pete! It was great visiting with you and Benjamin again!

 

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Day 3: Today marked one of the trip’s shortest driving days at 550kms. But with the scenery becoming increasingly more beautiful the further we go, the drive was pleasantly broken up by numerous stops, lookouts, and CINNAMON BUNS! If any of you folks finally get over the “one day” bull**** and actually make the journey out to the Yukon, you must stop at Braeburn’s big buns at the Breaburn Lodge. The cinnamon bun was quite literally as big as my head (and I have a damn large noggin). As we neared Dawson City, we stopped at the beginning of the infamous Dempster Highway for a quick picture before making a 25min rounder up the Dempster to check conditions. Everything looks great! Now it was beer-o’clock and Dawson City was calling our names.

 

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Day 3 (Continued): Dawson City, Yukon. Holy crap. I’ve heard that this city lures people in, and they never want to leave. I now understand why. Streets made of mud/dirt, sidewalks made of wood, buildings still standing from the gold-rush days. What a wicked cool feeling. After lining up accommodations for the night, we climbed the stairs to the hotel’s patio bar and crushed some well earned lunch and beers. Talking to our bartender/server, we got the low-down on what to do in Dawson. He pointed us in the direction of a couple spectacular lookouts and the first gambling hall in Dawson, Diamond Tooth Gerties, and our night was more or less planned out for us.

 

Getting back into the car, we drove down the main street and onto the Ferry to the first lookout of Dawson. As you can/will see in the pictures below, it’s pretty spectacular. As we sat and enjoyed the view, regretting that we weren’t smart enough to have cold ones sitting in the empty cooler, an American couple stopped in as well. They particularly enjoyed the band-aid Ryan placed over the rear quarter which sparked up a little conversation. They too, were going to the Drunken Goat Taverna for some eats and drinks tonight! (Damn goats) So we told them we’d see them later and darted back down to the ferry. Zipping through town, we carted the coupe up the long winding Dome Road to the second lookout (The Dome). Once again, wow. A 360 degree view of Dawson City, the hills of Alaska, the Yukon River and the mountains in which we will drive through the next day, and the launch-pad for paragliders! After watching a man chuck himself off the ledge, enjoying a ridiculously overpriced ($4/can of Kieth’s overpriced) beer, we decided to return to the hotel, park the car for the night, and let the golden nectar of the Yukon Brewing Company make poor life decisions for us. As we set out to walk the town, we saw this dirty almost equally hard done by WRX, sitting on the side of the road with Ontario plates on it. Pointing at it and chuckling as we walked passed, the owner who happened to be just up the sidewalk called us out. Her and her parents were in town for a few days and after introducing ourselves and exchanging a few stories, we agreed to meet up again at Gerties for the midnight burlesque show!

 

The Drunken Goat Taverna. Pitchers started coming and going, probably faster than they should have. Toast to the goat, right?! The American couple we met earlier walked into through the front doors and this train was now a runaway. The Mrs. wasn’t all that pleased with the Mr., as 6 pitchers later, her husband had quickly caught up to us in levels of intoxication. We probably should have ordered more than just calamari and pita bread with tzatziki, but c’est la vie. After the Mrs. managed to drag her staggering husband out of the bar, it was 11:30pm so we grabbed our tab and rushed over to Gerties. MOAR beers! The show was solid, reminiscent of the olden day’s cabarets, and quite entertaining. In comes Miss Ontario! Drinks, spirited discussions (drunken arguments), drinks, gambling (aka too drunk and I may as well have been handing my money straight to the dealer), we closed that place down. Now what?! It is 2:30am and everyone still had energy to keep going. So we invited her and her parents up to the hotel to crush what remaining beers we had left. What a great evening with amazing people… great stories and even better memories (well, the ones I remember at least). It’s now 5:00am and time to go to sleep, so after exchanging contact info, off they went and it was time to catch some shut eye.

 

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Day 4: Uuggnnnhhhhh. 7:00am and our alarm clocks were screaming at us to get up. What were we thinking last night?! Also, where’s the camera? ****. Turning the hotel upside down, the DSLR was missing. I recalled having it at the Drunken Goat, bringing it to Gerties… but now it’s gone. I tried calling Gerties, but they were definitely closed. After some quick showers to feel half human, we went to pack the car and start our journey to Inuvik. Low and behold, there the camera was… sitting on the cargo cover in the back of the BMW. WTF?! When and why did I decide that would be a great idea?! Herp-a-la-drunken-derp. Forging on… no radio, no talking, nothing this first hour of the day. Let me tell you, gravel roads and swerving to avoid pot-holes and protruding rocks is the least amount of fun on 2 hours of drunken sleep and an increasingly vengeful hangover. We got 70kms up the Dempster to the Tombstone Territorial Park Interpretive center and both needed a break. Opening the doors to the interpretive center, the smell of bacon, coffee and French toast filled the air. Sheepishly, we dragged our feet around to their break/lunch room and offered the ranger girls $20 for a coffee. Being the kind souls that they are, and seeing us in the piss poor shape that we were in, they welcomed us in and fed us a hot Cup of Joe. This was their last day for the season and they, though incredibly friendly, were a wee bit too chipper and cheerful for us in our current states. Thanking them for the quick recharge, we continued onwards. If you make it to the Yukon, and you are not feeling adventurous enough to make it up to Inuvik, you must, at the very least, explore Tombstone Territorial Park. Apparently we came a week after the best of fall colors, but as you can see below, it was still incredibly beautiful.

 

Moseying along, we soon found ourselves in Eagle Plains. The halfway point on the Dempster. In desperate need of some nourishment, we made our way into the diner and were welcomed with breakfast menus. YES!!! Our excitement was nearly shattered when he told us breakfast was over, but we convinced the man to cook up some bacon and eggs and tipped him handsomely for his efforts. Hangover, cured. Next stop, the Arctic Circle… a feat in and amongst itself. Ryan believes his little clown shoe is the first to ever cross the circle, and the furthest north a BMW M-Coupe has ever been which is pretty f’n cool, in my opinion. Next stop, the Northwest Territories! Taking the touristy, but necessary pictures, the next stop was Inuvik. Onward ho! Boarding and unboarding two ferries, we were on the last leg. And sooner than expected, we were in Inuvik. Successful Dempster leg was successful! Ironically, the worst section of the Dempster highway, was the final 15kms of PAVED roads from the airport into the city. Permafrost and frost heave means asphalt was a piss poor idea. Damn civil engineers. What time is it? Beer o’clock! Ditching our bags in the Nova Inn, we made our way to Shivers, a local pub for some grub and more Yukon Brewing Company goodness.

 

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Day 5: Let’s go to Tuk! Our previously arranged Mackenzie Delta Tour to Tuktoyaktuk got delayed due to weather, so after getting up at 6:15am and waiting in the hotel lobby for an hour, we resigned back to the hotel room for some more ZZZZZs. Well, Ryan did… apparently mid-afternoon naps are still a thing and he hasn’t been getting any of them so he crashed while I surfed the interwebs for things to see and do in Inuvik. By about 10:30am, he begrudgingly got up, showered and we were out walking the streets and checking out the town. Inuvik is entirely built on permafrost, so every building is built on piles and/or stands off the ground insulating the buildings from melting the ground below. Even the utilities are routed through corridors throughout the homes and buildings in insulated and elevated utility viaducts sitting on steel piles. The civil engineer in me was intrigued and impressed at the work involved. 3pm rolls around and we head back to the hotel to be chauffeured off to the airport. And by chauffeured, I mean beat up in the back seat of a 15 passenger van on the bumpiest, most frost heaved road in existence. Edmontonians, you don’t even know.

 

This was my first time being aboard a plane smaller than a ****ty dash-8. So from outward appearances, this little Cessna seemed pretty legit. But as we boarded the plane, I soon saw that was not quite the case. Ryan, a pilot himself, assured me it was no big deal… but when the doors don’t quite close, the headliner is falling off the roof, the interior plastics are cracked, and numerous rivets holding this jalopy together are missing… I was reasonably concerned. The 45min flight went smoothly, as we circled some Pingos (mini ice formed mountains), we landed safely in Tuktoyaktuk. Originally I thought Inuvik was desolate. As Ryan perfectly put it, Tuktoyaktuk makes Inuvik look like Toronto. The tour of Tuk was eye-opening. We visited the oldest building in Tuk, to the boat the early missionaries used to transport the local natives to and from school, walked in and around a traditional igloo that is still intact and many other historical sites in the village (all pictured below). Our tour guide also let us explore the town’s ice locker. We climbed 30’ down an unlit shaft deep into the permafrost. Out came the camera phones and their flashlights as we explored the 3 different branches of this underground maze. There, in the 21 marked rooms, is where they used to store (rarely used today), the scores of their hunting trips which consisted primarily of caribou and whale.

 

Clambering back out of this frigid little meat locker, we walked to the end of the Trans Canada Trail. This is where, arguably, we did the most idiotic thing on the entire trip. We came prepared with bathing suits and towels and plans to jump into the Arctic Ocean. It was windy and about 1 degree out, and with only one foot in the frigid water, my cojones already receded into my chest. By the time I walked out far enough for the water to be up to my thighs, I couldn’t even feel my feet. So instead of diving in, freezing solid, and floating away into the ocean to never be seen or heard from again, I ran back to shore, dried off, tossed on my jacket. Then I played the waiting game… waiting to regain feeling in my feet, and waiting for my balls to drop so I can place them in my newly acquired purse. Yup. I bitched out. Well, we both did. Its beer o’clock, and I’m cold and miserable… take me back to Inuvik please. So off we went, and we found ourselves, once again, back at Shivers for some more pub grub and brewskies.

 

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Day 6: Well, as interesting and fun as the Northwest Territories was, Dawson City was calling our names. Back down the Dempster we go! Waking up and catching a beautiful sunrise, we were back on gravel with the Yukon in our sights. Scraping our way on and off the ferries, the skies decided to open up and down came the rain. Man-o-man did the ol’ M-Coupe get dirty! Being that we’ve already seen/stopped and wandered the outlooks and tourist stops, we barreled down the highway with zero hiccups or holdups. Fueling up both our stomachs and the ever thirsty BMW in Eagle Plains, it was the home stretch to Dawson. Surprisingly, be it from lack of hangovers, or maybe because the roads got groomed while we were in the NWT, the roads seemed smoother. Smooth enough that we were able to maintain an average speed of 100km/h! We did, however, stop for one last view of Tombstone. My goodness… it’s gorgeous. I need to… no… I WILL come back here. Fancy that… it’s beer o’clock! We tied the ol’ noble steed’s reins up in front of the Aurora Inn and went on foot in search of beer.

 

Happening upon another recommendation of my Uncles, we strolled into Bombay Peggy’s Pub. After demolishing a few pints I was getting hungry. We then found out they didn’t serve real food… only appies. So away we went to a familiar place, the Drunken Goat. Toast to the goat! Beers and dinner served, we wondered back to Gerties to try and win back some of the money we lost three night prior. Oh how foolish we are. I proceeded to donate another $250 to the roulette table, $50 to the blackjack table, and $60 to a dirty thief at the poker table. Blast! So we closed our empty wallets, crushed a few more beers, enjoyed some cabaret and called it a night.

 

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Day 7: These days were getting longer and longer. Being 6’7” and coupe-d up (ba dum pshh) in Ryan’s little car is wearing on the both of us. Thank goodness it was yet another relatively short day of driving. However, this trip wouldn’t be complete without a flat. I mean, we were prepared for one… we damn well better get one. We were then successful (If you think about it in a backwards sort of way). Limping the car to the nearest gas station, we filled up the right rear tire enough to get to the local tire shop. Their schedule didn’t quite jive with ours, so instead of being lazy, we busted out the jack and the patch’n’plug kit and got at it. Now, neither of us has ever plugged a tire. That’s what we have Kal-Tire for. So the whole thing was a learning process. Ryan’s understandable hesitation to enlarge a hole in a $450 tire had us trying to smash a plug into the sliver of a puncture with the plug tool and a 4×6 piece of lumber. A local saw us, probably struggling to contain his laughter, and gave us some a few tips and tricks. Within 20 minutes, the tire was plugged, aired up, bolted up and we were back on the road! The fiasco cut into our day by about 2 hours all said and done, kyboshing our plans to race out to Skagway that afternoon for a beer. So, once again, traversing roads already travelled, we beelined it to Whitehorse as we had made plans to meet up with Bailey (aka Miss Ontario). I’m still unsure how we convinced her to hang out with us retards another night, but a familiar face along the journey (that wasn’t Ryan’s) was certainly welcomed! Hunkering down at the Ramada, Ryan ran across the street to see if Fountain Tire had some reasonably priced all seasons to replace our weathered winters… but no such luck. Why would they have low-profile tires in a pickup truck city? Owell… the tires appeared to have enough tread to take us home.

 

Beers beers and moar beers! Back at the Sternwheeler Saloon (hotel bar), Bailey joined us for a few pints before heading to Earls for some eats. In a more coherent state, we learned that she had not only out road-tripped us (umpteen thousand miles travelled and far too many states that I lost count), and she also loves Top Gear. The real Top Gear, none of that American garbage. Pretty rad. With an interview the next day, she couldn’t hang out until all hours of the night, so when she left and wished us luck, we pounded a few more beers and with 1000kms of road in front of us the next day, we called it a night.

 

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Day 8: 7:00am and back at ‘er! The final 400kms of backtracking before blazing 600kms of fresh tracks down the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. We had our eyes set on Stewart, BC as Ryan’s research lead him to believe the place would be another quaint old gold rush town. So down the highway we went. Along the way we looked for signs, but inadvertently passed the abandoned asbestos mining town of Cassiar. Abandoned ****, especially whole towns peaks my curiosity… so I was a little bummed it was missed. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to backtrack and search for the place so we stopped for a quick bite in Jade City and moseyed on. More good fortune on our side as the AMA maps Ryan had made were proved wrong and we did not encounter any of the 275kms of gravel road that was promised us. Thank goodness, as those blizzacks might not have taken to it well.

 

The highway and scenery surrounding it were beautiful as promised, but unlike the Dempster/Alaska and Klondike highways, the lookouts were non-existent and/or poorly marked. So there were few stops made on this leg. The last 60kms into Stewart on the Glacier Highway was spectacular. Gone were the autumn trees, and we coasted down the hill into a seemingly rainforest-esque valley. Waterfalls streaming down the mountain sides, trees overgrowing the road, it was unreal. But again, it was a two lane undivided highway with no shoulders. So… if you’re ever in the area, the drive to Stewart is worth your while. Fortunately, we did manage to pull over at Bear Glacier to snap a couple pictures before wondering down into Stewart. Stewart, BC. Not much to see, and even less to do. There was no cell service, no old school pubs, just ****ty restaurants and run down hotels/motels. Quite disappointing to say the least. We snagged a room at the King Edward Hotel, who’s rooms and décor pre-dated both Ryan and I, and visited the attached grimy little bar for a quick bite to eat and some beers. Instead of wasting any more time here, we packed it in early so we can get a fresh start the next day and get out of there.

 

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Day 9: The home stretch. We were now 5,700kms into the trip and starting to get sick of driving. We made a quick, but necessary rip into Hyder Alaska, just to say we did it. That being said, we spent less time IN Alaska, than we did explaining to the Canadian Border Patrol folks trying to get back into Canada haha. Fortunately, today was another short day… a mere 400kms from Stewart, BC to Houston, BC. Home to my wonderful sister, brother-in-law and two amazing nephews and niece. 45minutes outside of Houston, we made a quick pit-stop in Smithers, BC for some gas and nibbles. If, for some strange reason you find yourself in Smithers, visit the Alpenhorn Pub and Bistro. Order up the three cheese nachos with pulled pork and thank me for it later. Jumping back into the coupe, we cruised our way down to the metropolis of Houston. It had been over 4 years since I’d been up there to visit them. So it was great catching up, seeing those little hooligans terrorize the house, and play Lego with the boys. I felt like a kid again rummaging through thousands of Lego pieces… and it confirms the fact that growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional. The kids were so proud to show off the 6 newborn golden retrievers in the back yard. They were adorable little buggers, eyes still sealed shut any everything.

 

Then came the feast… steak, crab legs, twice baked potatoes, cauliflower salad with all of the fixins… man-o-man did I fill my belly, and with good quality home cooked food, not the pub-grub that has sustained us thus far. After the Lego airplane was built, and the kids went to bed, we sat around the kitchen table, drinks in hand, exchanging laughs and stories. Confirmed… I need to come here more often. Thanks for the hospitality… I miss you guys!

 

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Day 10: 6:45am came far too early as I was rudely awoken by my alarm clock, reminding me to open my computer and dial into a conference call for work. I’m on vacation dammit, leave me alone! Trying not to wake the household, I slowly heard doors opening and the pitter patter of kids running about. Finishing up my phone call at 7:30, the boys were wide awake having breakfast before heading off to school for the day. After saying our goodbyes, we beat them out the door and off we went. Instead of heading straight home down the Yellowhead, we took a little detour to the south. Well, a 700km detour to be precise. Down the Cariboo highway, through the badlands of Kamloops, skirting around the Shuswaps and up to Revy we went! Ryan’s older brother is fortunate enough to call this wonderful piece of British Columbia home. Navigating our way into the city, we pulled up to the house just after 7pm. Fancy that, beer o’clock! We hopped on a few of Chris’ pedal bikes and made our way to Bid Eddy’s Pub. Burgers, fries and some ice cold beers please! MOAR BEERS! There’s nothing illegal about drinking and biking, right?! (Ya, I know there technically is… so get off my back). Racing back to the house, we enjoyed a few more wobbly pops before finding pillows and catching some shut eye.

 

Day 11: Home day. For reals this time. Another 300kms of mountains before 400 more kilometers of meh and blech before we’re back in Edmonton. Ryan arranged to cross paths with his parents and sister-in-law in Lake Louise for lunch as they were en-route to Revelstoke, so we sat down and explained as best we could, in the time we had, the adventure we’ve been on to date. I’ve known Ryan for upwards of 8 years, have stayed at his parents place in Calgary several times for car shows, but have never met his parents. It was about time! We thanked them for the meal, shook hands, gave hugs, exchanged well-wishes of safe travels and were homeward bound. Pulling into the Edmonton around 6pm, we did what only seemed fitting… hit up our local drinking hole, Joeys Mayfield for victory beers! With the rally-esque BMW hard-parked out front, in we walked. Great success, many good times, much memories. Inuvik or bust.

 

7,755kms, 2 Provinces, 2 Territories, 1 state… because road-trips.

 

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You can see more images from this trip and join the discussions on the official Expedition Portal thread [HERE].

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where the Rubber Meets the Roadhttp://expeditionportal.com/where-the-rubber-meets-the-road/ http://expeditionportal.com/where-the-rubber-meets-the-road/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 07:38:01 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=21468 In nearly three circumnavigations of the globe and hundreds of thousands of overland miles, I have never had a puncture—not a single tire flattened by rock, stick, screw, or nail. This is not to say I have not experienced a flat or two, but it has usually been in sand dunes (a lost bead) while running very low air pressure. This does not necessarily merit bragging rights, as I have been entirely bemused by my luck. However, is it luck, or have variables contributed to my good fortune? There are critical factors that influence a tire’s puncture-resistance and tractive performance. For this comprehensive review, we will expose the side-by-side results of seven leading all-terrains.

 

Tire Performance for Overland Travel

While reliability is arguably the greatest consideration for an adventure driver, I would submit that performance shares an equally critical role. During my earlier travels, thoughts were drawn towards how my equipment would hold up. However, those concerns have since been partially replaced with a focus on how the gear will perform. This applies to not only my vehicle and various modifications, but also to my tires. They must be durable, reliable, and work really well when things go sideways.

 

From a romantic viewpoint, overland travel is a series of endless remote dirt roads. However, we all know that long sections of pavement and graded gravel separate us from those majestic backcountry photo opportunities. For example, a trek to Nordkapp, Norway, will be nearly all pavement, but odds are good that it will be snowy or wet pavement. For this reason, an all-terrain is typically the best option for transcontinental travel. All-terrain tread designs offer reasonable performance for many scenarios, and are very effective for those long transit stages on pavement.

 

Evaluating a tire’s performance is multifaceted and complex, with aesthetics rarely far from the bottom of the consideration set. A puncture is typically no more than a minor inconvenience, but rounding a corner at speed and hitting ice or wet pavement could be a trip-ending event. Performance influences safety, and this evaluation focuses on how effective a tire is when we need it most.

 

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Tread Design

All-terrain tire development has gone through a renaissance in recent years. The use of computer-aided design (CAD), finite element analysis (FEA), and advanced rubber compounds have resulted in exponential improvements. As a result, it is possible for all-terrains to not only look great, but also to perform effectively on- and off-pavement. Tread design has a significant influence on traction, with components including lug void space, lug shoulder shape, siping, and lug integrity. Void space primarily assists in the evacuation of mud, snow, and water, and allows the lug face to present a clean biting surface on the next revolution. The shape of the lug and void space contributes to how the tire holds a line in mud and snow. Interrupted void channels improve slope-holding (lateral slip) for a cambered sidehill and down/uphill (longitudinal slip) in mud and snow, but reduce the effectiveness of water evacuation. The angle of the lug shoulder contributes to stone retention and lug integrity. An angled shoulder will help reduce stone retention and reduce tearing and chunking of the rubber.

 

Sipes are thin slits in the face of the lugs. They provide additional biting edges on the contact patch and significantly improve wet surface and snow/ice traction. The effectiveness of these hairline cuts should not be undervalued, as they affect mechanical keying (defined below) and increase traction on other surfaces as well. However, siping can impart compromises, which include accelerated wear and tearing of the rubber. There are pros and cons to siping, but the trade-offs are worth it.

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Glossary of Terms

 

Adhesion 

Adhesion is realized during the period of contact between the tread and the tractive surface. It is most relevant on dry surfaces, and diminishes rapidly once moisture (as frozen or liquid water) is introduced. A tire’s rubber compound, which is a cocktail of natural and/or synthetic rubber, carbon black, silica, sulfur, and other agents, has a great influence on adhesion. For example, when driving on Moab’s slickrock, how well a tire “sticks” to the terrain is a property of adhesion. The same applies on the road, where effective adhesion improves grip while cornering, braking, and accelerating. With road racing tires, such as those used in Formula 1, the focus is on maximizing the tire-to-track adhesion and micro keying.
Having said this, tire manufacturers have been hard at work perfecting their rubber-carbon-silica cocktails and most currently utilize a proprietary compound. For example, Falken drew on their years of experience with high-performance racing tires when they engineered the WildPeak rubber, with impressive results.

 

Deformation

How a tire’s carcass and tread lugs deform provide several notable traction and flotation benefits. Deformation allows the tire to fold around and conform to obstacles such as rocks, ledges, ruts, and roots. This increases the contact area, which allows for maximum adhesion and mechanical keying and is critical for traction on irregular surfaces. As you might expect, deformation is one of the key benefits of reducing a tire’s air pressure. Lug deformation, which is influenced by rubber compound (hardness) and tread block design, is also an important factor. As the tread encounters an irregular surface, such as a rock, it can deflect, shift, and partially interlock with the obstacle’s edges. However, deformation, as with most things, can come at a cost. A carcass that is too flexible may not support a heavy payload properly, which can cause the tire to overheat and possibly fail. It may also be less resistant to punctures. Lugs that are too soft or compliant can tear or deflect completely under the input torque. In short, we want a tire that is durable, yet compliant in rough terrain. Some manufacturers, such as Goodyear, have addressed this by utilizing materials such as Kevlar into the sidewall.

 

Mechanical Keying 

There are two forms of mechanical keying: micro and macro. Macro keying is the interface between the lugs and a traction surface. The tread blocks interlock with irregularities in the terrain, which aids the vehicle in climbing the obstacle. It can be best compared to a rock climber ascending a cliff wall by interlocking his or her fingers with small cracks in the surface. Micro keying, the deflection of the rubber itself, is equally important. It can be described as the ability of the rubber to receive an impression, on the micro level, from irregularities in the surface. The rubber’s “softness,” which is typically measured with a durometer, directly influences micro keying. As with deformation, a soft rubber compound may come with compromises. If the rubber is too soft, lugs may tear, or the tread face may smear away. Heat buildup and reduced longevity are also factors.

 

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Steering Attributes
Directness is a reflection of the vehicle’s response to the main shaft angle, which is the driver’s rotation of the steering wheel. A tire that responds directly to that input would be a positive outcome, while a response that is delayed would be negative. On-center feel is also a measure of directness, but specific to the effort of maintaining a straight-line course. If the tire is vague on-center, constant correction will be needed from the driver, which can contribute to fatigue.

 

Handling Characteristics

Handling was a primary consideration for test evaluators, and was defined with a myriad of descriptors. Line holding is the ability of the tires to be set to a specific steering input and hold the intended course. Matching is similar, but reflective of the grip demonstrated by the front and rear tires. A common mismatch might be good front axle grip (line holding), but the rear may come into oversteer sooner than acceptable. Step-out is the reaction of the vehicle when encountering small surface irregularities in a curve (corrugations are a great example). If the tire lacks grip and compliance it will step-out, or slip off-line with each impact. Overshoot is when countersteer input is provided by the driver but the grip is so low or unpredictable that the vehicle swings past an intended course (usually in a straight line). Predictability is one of the most important attributes, as it demonstrates the driver’s confidence in the tire to perform consistently as expected.

 

Testing Considerations

It will be easy for some to dismiss the asphalt components of this test as irrelevant. However, as I mentioned, pavement performance is of equal importance to that of dirt results. In fact, the Editor’s Choice and other top scorers in this test have proven that an all-terrain can excel on the road and trail. Having said this, I find it surprising that other tire tests have avoided pavement evaluations altogether. Joe Bacal, our lead evaluator, emphasized the importance of repeatable pavement tests. He said, “OHV enthusiasts typically believe that dirt performance is all that matters, and as a result, their trucks handle poorly on the pavement and on the trail. A tire that performs well on the track can also do magic on the trail. As a lead evaluator for Toyota, I expected a tire to work well everywhere.” Our goal was to find a tire that performed well everywhere, and we did.

 

A key factor in any comparison of this nature is to create repeatable tests and evaluate the product on an identical platform—rather than on a mixed fleet of staff vehicles. To address this we sourced two identical 10th Anniversary Edition 4-door Jeep Wrangler JKs. They were left in stock configurations and with factory 8.5- by 17-inch wheels. For road and track testing, we rented the Yavapai County fairgrounds near our office in Prescott, Arizona. Facilities included large asphalt parking lots, long sections of road-quality pavement, and an equestrian racetrack.

 

Testing Notes

 

Data Collection

This test would not have been possible without the G-Tech/Pro metering device and the generous on-site support from its creator (and Overland Journal subscriber), Jovo Majstorovic. In addition to developing the G-Tech, Jovo is considered a tire expert. His professional assistance and input greatly aided our testing methods and data collection. The G-Tech/Pro is a GPS vehicle dynamics measurement tool that mounts to the windshield. It was used to record track times, g-force, speed, and more.

 

Lead Evaluator

The primary test driver was Joe Bacal. Having worked for nearly a decade on model development with Toyota and other manufacturers, Joe is regarded as one of North America’s foremost four-wheel drive performance evaluators. One of his primary responsibilities for Toyota was testing tires for their four-wheel drive platforms. In addition to his OEM experience, Joe is a Baja 250, 500, and 1000 winner with Team Lexus.

 

Tire Selection

For this review we chose seven of the more popular all-terrain tires on the market. The lineup includes current offerings from BFGoodrich, Cooper, Goodyear, General Tire, Dick Cepek, Falken, and Toyo. All tires were Light Truck (LT) 265/70 R17 with an E load rating.

 

 

On Road

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Limit Handling: The limits of vehicle dynamics can be evaluated with a professional test driver, where extreme inputs are presented, such as braking in a turn, an emergency lane change, or a lift-throttle oversteer. These extreme inputs were performed to document the limits of each tire’s performance.

 

Braking: Emergency braking from 60 mph to full stop. ABS was disabled and the test was performed three times. The G-Tech Pro measured exact point where brakes were applied and the point where the vehicle stopped. Results were averaged and additional comments were recorded for straight-line stability, hop, and predictability.

 

Slalom: With stability systems disabled, the Jeeps were pushed through a set of cones placed at 50-foot intervals. Three runs were performed with each tire and the time/speed results from the G-Tech were averaged. The slalom provided significant insights into lateral grip, directness, carcass and lug deflection, and predictability.

 

Skidpad: Safety cones were set up in a 100-foot circle. Stability systems were disabled and each tire was driven as quickly as possible for a minimum of three laps, or until the lap times declined. The G-Tech was used to collect lap times and provide insights into tread deflection and rubber tearing, as well as lateral grip, heat buildup, and line holding.

 

Wet Cornering: This was a 90-degree wet corner, run at the fastest speeds possible (average of 45 mph). Tire understeer caused the Jeep to push off the course, while oversteer required corrective input. Evaluative considerations were lateral grip, effectiveness of rubber compound, tread design, and siping.

 

Highway Test: An identical stretch of highway was driven with each tire. We noted noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), along with wander, ride quality, and stability. Tires that are smooth, quiet, and comfortable on the highway will reduce driver fatigue.

 

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On Trail

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Dirt Oval: We utilized the fairground’s equestrian 1.5-mile dirt oval, which included lightly banked turns, mild corrugation, and erosion lines. This repeatable and controllable test, which we drove at high and low speed, provided insight into performance on variable-surface dirt roads. Considerations were lateral grip, harshness, oversteer, understeer, emergency braking on dirt, directness, line holding, and predictability.

 

Rut Test: A course was set up through a twisty section of decomposed granite. The objective was to drive the course with the majority of the vehicle’s weight resting on the outer edge of the tire. This test was used to evaluate sidewall grip, deformation, shoulder lug traction, and to a lesser degree, mechanical keying.

 

Rock Climb: 

To evaluate low-speed tractive performance, adhesion, mechanical keying, and deformation, we found a steep, 38-degree granite slab with variable surface imperfections. A chalk line was drawn to keep each tire on the exact track, and front and rear locking differentials were engaged. Utilizing threshold throttle input for the slowest speed possible, we inched the JK up the face. If the tires lost traction and the vehicle ceased forward progress, a measurement was taken from a predetermined point to the center of the front wheel. The test was decisive: several tires cleared the top of the slab and received a 100-percent score, while others lost traction and failed to complete the climb.

 

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Additional technical data collected included the average weight needed for balancing, air pressure required to seat the bead, durometer measurement, tread depth, weight, and deformation at variable air pressures.

 

 

 

 

BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO

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BFGoodrich (BFG) has been a stalwart brand in the overland and 4WD communities for four decades. The All-Terrain T/A, which was released in the late 1970s, claimed countless awards and desert racing championships. I have used BFG tires for years and several hundred thousand miles, and currently have a set on our project Land Rover Discovery. Despite the reliability I’ve experienced with this tire, technology has advanced well beyond their current designs. As a result, these classic standbys are fading into the past.

 

On Road

In the highway evaluation the All-Terrain was busy and noisy. The Jeep tended to follow grooves and generally imparted a harsh ride with excessive noise. The tire also required the highest average weight to balance (8.06 ounces). The T/A provided reasonable stopping distances and finished towards the middle of the pack in the emergency braking test. On the slalom track it had the slowest overall time, with less-than-impressive lateral grip, and required significant steering input for directional change. Skid pad times were at the lower end of the pack, and calculated lateral g-force was .67. At the end of the test, the shoulder of the outside front tire was showing major tearing and chunking and was nearly shredded. Once the asphalt turned wet, the speeds and control in the 90-degree corner dropped even further, resulting in the poorest performance of the test.

 

On Trail
The T/A continued to struggle in the dirt. There were significant delays in responsiveness and excessive steering wheel input was required to initiate directional change. Lateral grip on the dirt oval was recorded as weak, which induced oversteer and slow recovery during countersteer. Damping was good on the dirt, with less step-out on corrugations than average and better overall comfort. We did note that the tire was linear and lacked surprises—even with less overall grip it was consistent and predictable. On the rock climb the BFG demonstrated good lug deformation and keying, but lacked adhesion and ultimately failed the climb. It recorded the shortest climb height of the units tested. bfgoodrichtires.com, 877-788-8899

 

 

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Pros:

Three-ply sidewall

Good damping and deflection on dirt

Classic all-terrain design

 

Cons:

Poor adhesion

Poor wet traction performance

Excessive lug chipping and tearing

 

Editor’s Note:

Although we would have like to have tested BFG’s newest AT, the KO2, it was not available at the time of testing in early April. We will provide a full review of that tire in the coming months after we get a chance to put the prerequisite miles on a set. Short term testing was conducted in Baja and reported in the Winter issue of Overland Journal.

 

 

Dick Cepek Fun Country

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Dick Cepek, a passionate outdoorsman, purchased a Land Rover in 1958 to explore the California deserts. Unsatisfied with the tire options available, he tracked down Armstrong, who produced a tractor tire he felt was suitable for desert terrain, and talked them into making one that was DOT approved. It was introduced in 1961 and christened the Hi-way Flotation tire. Dick Cepek is one of the original names in recreational four-wheel drive tires and their product line still reflects this ethos. The Fun Country tire is an aggressive all-terrain with large shoulder lugs and wide tread spacing.

 

On Road

The Fun Country performed in the upper half of the pack in the high-speed asphalt testing, which was surprising given its aggressive pattern. Despite recording faster times, it required significant driver input and correction. Grip felt non-linear and resulted in unsettling the Jeep and poor repeatability; we clipped more cones with this tire than with any of the others. In the braking test, straight-line stability and traceability was the lowest in the group. On the highway the Fun Country exhibited the poorest NVH; it followed most grooves and required active driver intervention.

 

On Trail

On the oval track the Fun Country displayed similar characteristics. It was busy, which resulted in poor predictability and near-constant driver correction. Grip was acceptable at lower speeds, but irregularities in the surface caused the rear to step out slightly. Joe described the high-speed performance as non-linear and with a two-stage grip effect. There was an initial delay (low grip) followed by rapid grip as we scrubbed off speed during the slide. As speeds increased, driver confidence dropped. The result was the lowest speeds in the group. On the rocks we experienced good mechanical keying from the larger lugs, but carcass deformation and adhesion were low, which resulted in a failed climb. dickcepek.com, 330-928-9092

 

 

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Pros:

Good lateral grip on pavement

Mechanical keying on rock from large tread lugs

Deep tread

 

Cons:

Failed rock climb

Unpredictable at high speeds on dirt and pavement

Poor straight line braking performance

 

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Falken WildPeak A/T

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Though Falken is new to the all-terrain segment, they have a rich history in heavy-duty truck and high-performance street tires. This marriage of engineering acumen has resulted in the most unique tire in the test, one that exhibits a number of class-leading attributes. Since its introduction we have collectively put over 30,000 miles on various sets of WildPeak A/Ts. They are currently mounted on the Editor’s Mobile Office Tacoma project as well as on our long-term Land Rover LR4, and we have experienced no punctures or failures on either vehicle.

 

On Road

On the highway the Wildpeak A/T provided a clean and smooth ride, though it did have a slightly vague on-center feeling. Where the Falken showed its racing roots was on the high-speed asphalt courses, where it revealed several surprises on the stopwatch. In the slalom course it achieved the fastest single pass through the cones—a 6.97-second run. However, the tire also exhibited the greatest spread in run times, which translated to predictability concerns. Lateral G performance on the skid pad was in the middle of the pack, primarily due to fall-off of grip as the tires warmed after the second lap. The compound exhibited impressive adhesion properties but heated quickly. A comfortable and quiet tire on the highway, yet still ideal in an emergency lane-change scenario.

 

On Trail
The Wildpeak also exhibited wide-ranging results on the dirt. It offered class-leading dry-rock traction but only average effectiveness on gravel at high speeds. During the granite climb test the tire’s rubber compound performed magic. Though carcass deformation was average, we were able to climb, back down, stop in the middle, and climb again. When considering the tire’s rather tame appearance, we were extremely impressed. We were also pleased with the WildPeak’s durability, experiencing minimal smearing and no chunking or tearing of the lugs. Though it is only a two-ply design, its sidewall was one of the thickest in the test. Quality of construction is excellent and we found the carcass to be extremely durable. During the high-speed dirt testing it was predictable and linear, and ranked near the top of the class with regard to overall grip. However, it was noted at the upper limits of speed in the dirt oval that the tire did trend towards oversteer. falkentire.com, 800-723-2553

 

 

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Pros:

Class-leading dry rock traction
Excellent initial grip on dry pavement

Smooth and quiet on the highway

 

Cons:

Vague on-center feel

Trends towards oversteer on dirt

Fast wearing due to soft compound and lug pattern depth

 

 

 

General Grabber AT2

14Summer_Tire_General  002

Over the past few years General Tire has made an aggressive move into the SUV and off-highway market. In 2011, their race-inspired Grabber (mounted on the

FabSchool-General Tire Ford Raptor) brought home a class win from the grueling 14-day Dakar Rally. Editor Chris Collard, who was the team’s media manager, said, “Aside from a bead-locked set we used in the Atacama dunes, we finished the entire 6,500-kilometer race with the same tires we started with.” The AT2 has a classic five-row tread pattern featuring interlocking lugs and generous siping. The Overland Journal team has been abusing a set of AT2s for over a year and has not experienced any punctures or other failures. Select sizes meet severe snow service requirements (RMA and RAC) and all sizes are studdable.

 

On Road

On the highway the Grabber provided middle-of-the-pack ride quality. Noise levels were slightly higher and it had a notable firmness over road irregularities. On the track, as speeds and need for grip increased, the General impressed. It turned in the second highest lateral G reading on the skid pad, and was better than average on the slalom, which instilled an overall feeling of control and directness. Wet traction was low due to limited overall adhesion and siping. Braking distances were some of the longest in the test, with a 171-foot average. These performance disparities can be explained by the unit’s love of heat. The Grabber improved in every test as the laps ticked by. The last braking run was the shortest; the fourth skid pad lap was the fastest.

 

On Trail
The General was noted for precision and directness on the high-speed dirt oval. The front and rear were well matched, which resulted in no surprises to the driver. The Jeep responded quickly to steering input and exhibited limited oversteer on lift-throttle. Countersteer brought the vehicle back from oversteer scenarios, though we experienced a slight overshoot from the correction. Unfortunately, the tire’s solid performance at high speed did not translate to the rock climb test. The carcass and lugs provided limited deformation and adhesion, reflecting the harder-than-average durometer rating. The tire is clearly designed for long life (60,000 mile warranty), but sacrifices some dry rock performance. generaltire.com, 800-847-3349

 

 

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Pros:

Good lateral grip on pavement
Direct and accurate at speed

Excellent grip at speed on dirt

60,000-mile warranty
Cons:

Failed rock climb

Firm ride quality
Poor straight line braking performance

Needs heat in the tire for best results

 

 

 

Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure

14Summer_Tire_Goodyear  001
Goodyear is a quality tire manufacturer who has placed a recent emphasis on durability and puncture resistance. Their Kevlar and SilentArmor technologies have fostered a deserved reputation for reliability on the trail. The Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure Kevlar was chosen for its multi-condition design, light truck construction, and DuPont Kevlar carcass. We have used these tires extensively on various Jeep vehicles and have experienced no punctures or other damage.

 

On Road

On the highway the Wrangler provided a quiet ride, but did exhibit more low-frequency vibration than other tires in the test. With limited lug deflection and a compact tread pattern, the tire proved responsive at higher speeds and provided a very direct feel. The Wrangler also scored well on the various asphalt tests, where it turned in the fastest average times on the slalom track and the highest lateral G on the skid pad. Emergency braking was also excellent, with solid straight-line stability and the second lowest average stopping distance in the group. Given the tire’s shallow tread depth and compact lug configuration, the road results were not surprising.

 

On Trail

Though the Wrangler did well on the pavement, its dirt performance was the poorest showing in the test. This might seem obvious considering it was the most street-biased tire in the evaluation. However, this did not always correlate to other tires, with the test winners performing well in both road and dirt tests. In general, the Wrangler lacked grip on the dirt and recorded the slowest speed on the dirt oval. Ride comfort was good, but responsiveness felt vague and it was slow to recover from oversteer and was prone to overshoot. The tire would snap past the neutral position once countersteer was applied. Overall, it provided the lowest level of driver confidence in the test group. Poor mechanical keying, along with the hardest compound in the test (68 durometer) resulted in it failing the granite rock climb. goodyear.com, 800-321-2136

 

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Pros:
Quiet and stable on the road
Fastest slalom time
Highest lateral G on skid pad

Excellent braking characteristics

 

Cons:

Limited grip in all dirt conditions
Failed rock climb
Overshoot after countersteer

 

Toyo Open Country A/T II

14Summer_Tire_Dick_Toyo  001

In 1966, Toyo was the first Japanese tire manufacturer to establish a subsidiary in the United States. Though they initially focused primarily on passenger tires, the introduction of their Open Country line in 2003 planted them firmly in the off-highway sector. Acceptance of the Open Country amongst enthusiasts grew rapidly, particularly when their desert racing campaign, which included a multi-year sponsorship with Robby Gordon, started bringing home class wins from events such as the highly-revered Baja 1000.

 

On Road

On the highway the Open Country exhibited low NVH, which is reflective of its all purpose tread design and advanced noise-cancelling. The Open Country provided the lowest overall stopping distance and the most consistent braking results. However, the Toyo struggled with regard to lateral grip on the slalom course and skid pad tests, where it posted the slowest average times on both. The tire tended to heat up quickly and exhibited rapid tread deterioration at the shoulder, as well as smearing and tearing across the entire tread face. Speed through the wet corner was average.

 

On Trail

Performance improved markedly on the dirt oval, where the tire displayed good line-holding properties and minimal oversteer. Subtle input to the steering wheel resulted in a very linear response and excellent predictability, which instilled a high level of driver confidence. Front to rear matching was also good, and the tire reacted well to countersteer with minimal overshoot. On the rock climb the Open Country was one of the few to complete the obstacle. This can be attributed to the rubber compound’s soft durometer rating, positive mechanical keying, and excellent deformation of the lugs and carcass. Overall lug integrity was average, with no chunking or chipping. toyotires.com, 800-442-8696

 

 

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Pros:

Good line holding on dirt oval

Excellent carcass and lug deformation

Smooth and quiet on highway

Excellent on- and off-pavement braking performance

 

Cons:

Lowest overall pavement performance

Poor wet traction performance

Shallow tread depth

 

Cooper Discoverer A/T3 (Editor’s Choice and Value Award)

14Summer_Tire_Cooper  001

Cooper’s Discoverer A/T3 is a thoroughly modern tire. Positioned as a dedicated all-terrain, it stems from technologies such as advanced CAD design and FEA engineering. We have put over 10,000 miles on various sets of A/T3s, including a crossing of Australia with a 200 Series Land Cruiser, a traverse of Western Canada in a 110 Defender, and considerable abuse during military training in our LJ78 Land Cruiser. Our testing has resulted in no punctures or failures.

 

On Road

On pavement the A/T3 behaves more like a performance tire. It had consistently short braking distances and recorded the second fastest speed in the slalom course. Grip improved even more on wet asphalt, where the Cooper clocked the fastest speed—so high that Joe suggested we stop the test for safety reasons. On ice and snow we have found traction is nearly as effective as a winter tire. The A/T3 demonstrated superior ride quality, NVH, and skid pad handling; it cannot be overstated how well these tires perform overall on the pavement. While proprietary engineering data from Cooper was not available, we concluded that the excellent pavement performance was a result of high adhesion (softer durometer), lug integrity and stability (shouldered lug design), and aggressive siping.

 

On Trail

The Cooper was the high-speed champ on the dirt.  On the dirt oval we were able to manage controlled, four-wheel drifts at speeds in excess of 75 mph; this was 15 percent higher than the second best performer. The tire responded well to small inputs of the steering wheel, was direct, and inspired confidence. The prodigious grip allowed for effective countersteer and braking on the loose gravel surface. It has a tapered lug shoulder, which resulted in negligible stone retention; a welcome attribute when compared to older lug profiles. We also found lug integrity to be high, and experienced limited chipping or chunking during the test period. The Cooper performed admirably on the rock wall and rut section, but the rubber composition did demonstrate some compromises. Though adhesion was average, the tire ultimately completed the rock face climb through a combination of mechanical keying and excellent deformation. Carcass flexibility and conformity is better than average. coopertire.com, 800-854-6288

 

 

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Pros:

High-speed control and predictability on dirt

Greatest range of performance

Best wet-pavement traction

Cons:

Lacks three-ply sidewall

 

Conclusion

We had several goals with this test: to conduct repeatable on- and off-pavement evaluations that pushed the limits of grip, have each unit evaluated by a professional driver (one skilled in tire testing for off-highway vehicles), and provide definitive results that would allow our readers to select a tire with confidence. We were fortunate to have Joe Bacal, owner of TJ Grey Performance Driving, participate as chief evaluator. One of Joe’s jobs with Toyota was to test tires for vehicles like the FJ Cruiser and Tacoma. As a result, this is not just another glossy tire test with highly subjective data. This test is exactly how an OEM would evaluate tires and the result was decisive.

 

With many of these tests we were surprised by the results, the outcome often challenging years of assumptions or general industry belief. This test was particularly compelling, as the conclusions rocked those long-held opinions. We all expected the BFGoodrich to be a leader on the dirt, but it struggled against more modern designs. We expected the Dick Cepek to excel at the rock climb, but it failed to make the top. As a result, it is clear that an all-terrain must be a combination of a multitude of critical design considerations, including a flexible and durable carcass, advanced tread face design, and most important, rubber composition.

 

On Road

For overall road performance the Goodyear Wrangler was the champion. It achieved the fastest times through the slalom and skid pad, recording a .77 lateral G. However, our focus extended beyond road performance and the Goodyear struggled in the dirt. This left the Cooper and Falken as contenders. The Falken has tremendous grip, so much so that Joe commented on the difficulty achieving consistency from run to run. Through the slalom the Falken had the fastest time of the day, evidence of the tire’s performance rubber compound. However, the Cooper was the most consistent and nearly as fast as the Goodyear in all categories. The Cooper also smoked the competition on wet traction, yielding so much grip that we had to limit the 90-degree turn speed to 55 mph, almost 20 mph faster than the BFGoodrich. On the highway the Cooper also yielded the best score for NVH and overall comfort.

 

On Trail

While on-road performance is important, we were looking for the tire that worked the best in both pavement and dirt environments. Once on the high-speed dirt oval, the street-biased Goodyear faded into the dust, leaving the Cooper, General, and Toyo in the running. All of these tires had positive grip, with the Toyo having good line-holding, but lacking in on-center feel and directness. The General also held a line well at speed, but struggled with small oversteer and slight overshoot. In the end, the Cooper was the overwhelming champ at speed. After a controlled 75-mph drift Joe summed the tire up as “ridiculously fast.” The Cooper is smooth and effective at speed, with limited oversteer and no notable overshoot upon countersteer. On the rock climb, the Cooper was successful, along with the Toyo and Falken. However, it was the Falken that proved to be the champion on the dry rock, outperforming all other contenders in adhesion.

 

Editor’s Choice and Value Award

The Cooper Discoverer A/T3 was the overwhelming winner. As the lowest-priced offering, it is also a genuine value. The cost saving is no doubt a result of the company being one of the world’s largest tire manufacturers. The A/T3 was the second fastest through the slalom and wet corner, third fastest through the skid pad, and had the third shortest braking distance. On the highway the Cooper was direct, quiet, and smooth—a tester favorite for long-distance cruising. One would think that all of this pavement performance would result in a lackluster dirt showing, but the Discoverer was an animal on the dirt oval and provided huge driver confidence. This directly translates to improved safety for an overland traveler. The Cooper was also one of the three tires that climbed the rock face successfully.

 

Each of these tests shakes our assumptions of product performance and reorders our knowledge of what works and what does not. For nearly 20 years I have run BFGoodrich All Terrain tires on my vehicles, as they were nearly universally accepted as the performance leader. However, a lot has changed in the past two decades and there are now new champions. My hope is that these new tires prove as puncture resistant, and that my luck still holds. Either way, we promise to report back on how each tire survives the long haul.

 

www.overlandjournal.com

 

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Sardinetaco: Rain Soaked and on Fumeshttp://expeditionportal.com/sardinetaco-rain-soaked-and-on-fumes/ http://expeditionportal.com/sardinetaco-rain-soaked-and-on-fumes/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 07:30:43 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23377 It was three in the morning as I sat naked, confused, disoriented, and a bit groggy from the drinks of the evening. I was sitting in the reclined driver seat of my truck in a major city in South America, downtown, in an upscale neighborhood.

It started as a travel day like any other, moving from one place to the next, just like we’ve been doing for the past fourteen months. We spent the past two nights camped at “The Point” of Punta Del Diablo on the Northern coast of Uruguay. We shot up to the border town in Brazil to fill up with gas and load up on some tax free goods. The skies were clear, the color of the ocean resembled chocolate, the wind was howling through a windowless structure. Its was a weekday, so the beaches were lonely.

Hours were spent driving south down the coast, the landscape in Uruguay mostly rolling hills where cattle roam the fields waiting to be consumed by humans, the small crowds of tall trees growing close to one another in the wide open fields bearing resemblance to socially awkward teens in an auditorium at a junior high dance. The climate is not tropical, but palm trees grow wild. We would occasionally see small flocks of kermit-green birds spastically flying in close proximity to our faces. We watched for whales while surfing, the occasional startle from a curious seal as it popped its head out of the water only a few feet from where we floated.

 

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Then there was the drive through upscale Maldonado and Punta Del Este, the bright white skyscrapers contrasted against the blue sky. The sea was choppy and wind blown, so surfing was out of the agenda. There was a certain comfort provided by the upscale communities we had traveled through. The surroundings felt safe, the off season kept the crowds in check, and well groomed beach combers wished us well. This was all too easy, but the entire day still lay ahead. So we decided to go to Montevideo, the largest city in the country.

Navigating large foreign cities in the truck is not our strong point. On any given day we would drive into a big sprIMG_9928awl, I would get an anxiety attack, and we would quickly drive out. But Montevideo was clean, organized with courteous drivers steering through the streets while locals exercised up and down the malecón. The clean city beaches below the high-rises, were separated by well-manicured lawns littered with mate sipping bystanders. Although we were in South America, it felt more like Europe.

Camping in urban areas where we come from is often referred to as “homeless.” Our roof top tent attracts unwanted attention and firing up exotic curry dishes in the rear of the Toyota also attracts wandering eyes. Sometimes I wish we had a van.

 

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We found a spot to camp amongst other overland vehicles, sandwiched between a gas station and the Atlantic Ocean. The situation was suspiciously perfect. The gas station provided bathrooms and free wifi. The green grassy field we parked in had other overlanders (safety in numbers) and a horizontal view of the Atlantic lightning storm which we would later find out, would unexpectedly changed our night’s plans.

The wind was strong all day, but the rain came around midnight, soaking the tent and shaking the truck violently. It was about 2am when the wind clocked in at over 30 mph, the roof top tent resembling a giant clam shell closing down on us while we helplessly tried to sleep inside. At this point Sara feared for her safety and retreated to the cab of the truck, pleading for us to join her. Lupe and I stayed in the tent giving in to the comfort of warm wet blankets and a half drunken slumber. The tent was on the cusp of eating us alive and then blowing away in the night sea.

 

IMG_0536

 

Rational thinking finally kicked in, the tent was on the verge of explosion, we needed to get the hell out, and quickly. I cradled the dog and exited the tent, instantly soaked we entered the truck and hatched a quick scheme. Wearing only a bathing suit and a rain coat, blinded by wind and rain, shivering cold, Sara and I struggled to break camp while Lupe laid comfortably on her bed in the cab of the truck. It was 2:30 am, the truck was now running, the streets were flooded, the downpour was torrential. Police barricades blocked flooded streets and we noticed were the only ones out in the city of 1.5 million people.

We retreated deep into the city streets, wind blocked by apartment buildings, rain intercepted by tree. It was still uncomfortable, but compared to where we came from it was a better situation. We striped off our wet cloths, tired and disoriented, this was where the story began. How long could we sit here in the truck, naked, drying off, in an upscale neighborhood, and not get arrested. The storm was bad, no one was around so we had the night to ourselves. We re-setup the tent, laid in wet blankets in the soaked clamshell of a tent and surprisingly, we slept the rest of the early morning in downtown Montevideo.

 

IMG_0630

 

Waking up to the light of day, we climbed down the ladder from the roof of our truck, in a neighborhood where respectable citizens were on their way to work. They give us the “button eye” while they briskly walked past. I didn’t blame them, we looked pathetic. Then driving through the city we spotted the golden arches. There is no better place for a couple of pathetic Americans than a McDonalds. Americans seem to be the only people who travel thousands of miles to eat the same hormone injected protein we could get in our local shopping mall parking lots back home. We try not to make this a habit, but free internet, clean bathrooms, and hot coffee was hard to resist after a tiring night exposed to the elements.

It looked like rain for the rest of the day in the entire country. All hopes of exploring the city were denied, everything was shut down. We were wet, everything was soaked, and we needed to find a room somewhere. So we headed towards the Argentinian border in hopes of crossing over within a few days. We drove towards Colonia, only a few hours away. The gasoline light illuminated; I had 30 miles left until empty but Colonia was only 10 miles away––no problem. Five miles from town, the traffic stopped. Then, cars ahead began to turn around. I was in desperate need of gas. I passed the line of traffic only to discover that the road had turned to a rapidly flowing river over 1/2 mile across. We headed back to where we came from, finding a gas station just as the last fumes were consumed by our engine.

 

IMG_0647

 

The next several hours were spent exploring the surrounding area, where we searched for a safe route to Colonia, only to be disappointed with more flooded highways. There was no way in or out of Colonia by vehicle. So after more hours of driving we pulled into the riverside town of Mercedes. The river was swollen but the town sits safety on a hill, protected from the waterlogged river bank and flooded parks. The day ended and the sun sank on the horizon. The sky and buildings turned the color of salmon, a rainbow spanned the late afternoon sky. The worst was over, we could sense it in the air. As the last few raindrops fell from above, we sipped wine and looked out the window of our rented room. Exhausted and relieved, we embraced our hard earned relaxation, the wine too good to describe. Tomorrow would be another day, one of drying wet clothes and gear. Such is life on the road.

 

www.sardinetaco.com

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Gone Southhttp://expeditionportal.com/gone-south/ http://expeditionportal.com/gone-south/#comments Sat, 15 Nov 2014 18:45:57 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23519

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SOS: The Full Report – Part Onehttp://expeditionportal.com/sos-the-full-report-part-one/ http://expeditionportal.com/sos-the-full-report-part-one/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 22:30:48 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23441 It all started on Saturday August 10th, 2014. I got up early to finish packing and for last minute checks on my Tacoma, Frankenstein, before hitting the road. I had a long way to go, a full day’s drive, and as usual I was late getting started. It was practically a miracle I even left as I had just gotten the truck road worthy the day before after a different incident earlier in the month. That’s a different story but needless to say, considering what I was about to do and hadn’t had really any time to actually make sure it was 100%, I was a tad nervous. But, I packed up and set off for Kamiah, Idaho, the place where my friends were waiting.

 

A mere 550 miles, or 9 hours to away, it was going to be a long drive. Granted, that was nothing compared to the distance that some had driven to meet there, so I set off hoping not to be too late. Of course, I was late, a few hours late to be exact. All the same, I finally showed up with the only drama being stereo issues, but I was glad to make it there. Waiting for me were my trusted wheeling companions Mike and Ben as well as a new addition to our group, Timmy.

 

2

 

After a great meet and greet and some mandatory trash talking, we set off on the adventure we had all been waiting for and planning for four months. It had come at last, and our first trail was the Lolo Motorway. A very easy simple dirt road that snakes along the tops of the Bitterroot mountains. Of course at this point it was quiet late and Mike isn’t the late night wheel type, so finding a camping spot was the agenda for the day. We hit the dirt road and before long found a lovely camp site right off the road down a small path. It was in a small grove and fit the bill perfectly.

 

 

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We setup up tents, started the fire, and made our dinners as we settled in for our favorite part of the trip. More friendly trash talking and arguing around the campfire, we began interrogating our new friend Timmy. Okay, so it was mostly me doing the interrogating as Mike and Ben had a head start from the night before. We had a lovely night and were all very anxious for the next day. Little did we know it would be…well…dramatic. We awoke the next morning ready to hit the road hard. Mike, Ben, and I had been there before but when fires had been much worse, so we where looking forward to a much more smoke free horizon. Ben took the lead at the trail head

 

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6

 

 

As I said before the trail is not hard. A subaru could do it easey, but what makes it fun is that it is so easy. It’s twisty with lots of bumps and whoops to…test the suspension out, which Mike, Ben, and Timmy where all very eager to do as they all had relatively new setups up front. Mike had brand new Kings and Timmy had new ADS coil overs, and Ben had..sort of new OME coil overs. However, Mike and Ben’s rear setups where…well..sad. All of that was nothing compared to my totally shot suspension all the way around. Thank God for big tires and low pressure. I was pretty much using the aired down tires as my suspension.

But there was no sympathy for me. My pals left me in the dust out of sheer joy of the long open stretches of road.

I tail gunned, naturally, by choice. Okay not by choice totally…

 

10

 

We where all enjoying our evening when Frankenstein decided to..retaliate.

 

I was once again tail gunning and luckily not going super fast but I came up over a small whoop and when the truck rebounded..it exploded.

 

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Luckily…if you can call it that…it wasn’t my first time and the instant it happened I reacted and somehow managed to keep it half on the road and the other half in the ditch on the right. Which was better then the 100-foot’ cliff off the left side. The damage was pretty bad. My rim was horribly bent. The steering rack was once again split in half and this time the passenger side mount had been ripped off the cross member. The brake line was destroyed and so was the CV axle as was the bleeder valve on the brake caliper.

 

This was a problem.

 

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And…the problems just kept adding up. We were on a single lane road with not a lot of room for others to pass, much less any room for a truck to turn around. Frankenstein was resting on the rim so getting him out of the ditch was an issue as well. Not to mention Frank had no brakes now and no steering. We had no way to tow Frank even if we got him out. I couldn’t find a repeater on my HAM radio to get in touch with my dad and we knew there was no cell service within 40 miles until just outside Lolo, MT.

 

But this wasn’t our first rodeo. So we came up with a plan and executed.

 

I knew that I needed my Dad. We had just gone through this and we knew how to fix it and how to trailer it. But he was 500 miles away back in Wyoming. It would take him at least a day to get to us. And we had to decide the best way for him to get to Frankenstein as there was NO room for him to turn around close by. So the options were have him drive 10 miles down the highway more and 10 miles on dirty to just drive in facing the right way. Or take the shorter route and back the trailer up to Frankenstein for a mile.
We sent lead foot Ben off to Lolo to call my Dad to bring a trailer and the FRV, the only rig we knew of that could tow Frankenstein the speed limit. He set off in a cloud of dust and a phone number to make the rescue call.

Stay tuned for part two of this backcountry saga or read the full thread on the Expedition Portal forum here:

 

The SOS Report: The Full Story

 

 

 

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Sky Riders: Touring the High Mountains of Ecuadorhttp://expeditionportal.com/sky-riders-touring-the-high-mountains-of-ecuador/ http://expeditionportal.com/sky-riders-touring-the-high-mountains-of-ecuador/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 07:36:01 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=22397 Rolling onto the throttle I felt the rear wheel spin just slightly as fist sized rocks skittered out from under my tires. I adjusted my balance and accelerated back up to speed, my motorcycle straining to find power. If I had to guess, this was hairpin turn number one hundred, and I had no reason to believe there wouldn’t be one hundred more. We had been ascending for well over an hour, the air getting thinner by the minute. Once well below the clouds, we were now rising high above them as a voice crackled over my helmet radio, “We’re at 13,000 feet.” I entered another hairpin, made the hard turn, and once again climbed skyward.

 

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For my friend Justin and I, it was our third day in Ecuador with Freedom Bike Rentals and the route had started to get interesting. It was why we had come to Ecuador, to ride the backroads of the high Andes Mountains. As the route finally reached the high point, we stopped and dismounted our bikes to take in the view. Far below us to the east was a thick layer of billowy white, a carpet of clouds at least a thousand feet below. To the south we could see the faint outlines of fields and villages, all flanked by jungled forest. These were airplane views, and not the last of which we would enjoy during the coming days.

 

Having never been to Ecuador, I cannot imaging visiting it again by any other means than adventure motorcycle. It is a magical landscape, varied in its extremes and home to some of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met. Being atop two wheels simply amplified the experience in an unfiltered way only a motorcyclist could fully appreciate. Adding to the authenticity of our journey were resident guides Court and Sylvan, the founders of Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental. Standing atop our high mountain perch, it was apparent how much these two love what they do. They were drinking in the moment every bit as much as we were.

 

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Our ride had began two days prior at the Freedom Bike Rental office nestled in the heart of the sprawling capital city of Quito. Because my luggage was late to arrive, our departure was delayed by several hours, time we quickly regained with a brisk exit of the city as we sped to the Colombian border. Our plan was to shoot north, then slowly wind our way southward over the course of six days back to Quito. The four of us must have been eager to get rolling as it wasn’t long before we were in Colombia and at our first sight-seeing opportunity, the cathedral Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales. Arriving under the darkness of night we had the place to ourselves.

 

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The next day we ventured deeper into the more remote corners of the region where few tourists, if any, ever tread. The highlight of the morning was a relaxing soak in a sulfur hot springs, the restorative effects of which are impossible to describe. The older I get the more complaints my joints and bones give, but after just thirty minutes in the warm waters, I was a new man. Hard as it was to believe, as the day progressed things just kept getting better and better.

 

Turning onto yet another tiny dirt road, the clouds enveloping us in a misty drizzle, I could have never expected what was to come. After what must have been a solid hour of riding through dense foliage on a dirt road, we came to a sharp right turn onto a steep driveway. Passing under a tall gate, we parked our bikes, unloaded our gear, and climbed a set of steps. With my jaw slacked in amazement, I gazed up at what I can only describe as our very own jungle palace complete with a pool overlooking lush mountains filled with coffee plants and banana trees. Paradise found, I quickly located a warm shower, a cold beer, and a comfortable chair. Had I not such a keen sense of loyalty to my life at home, I might still be sitting there right now.

 

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The following days were spent visiting other Ecuadorean gems like the markets of Cotacachi and Otavalo, the Quilotoa Crater Lake, and the Rio Intag cloudforest. We visited coffee producing villages, had lunch in mountain towns cloaked in high clouds and stopped to sample moonshine in the small town of El Corazon. It seemed every time the wheels stopped, something of interest was to be found immediately, things that escape even the most detailed guidebooks. It became instantly apparent that traveling with Court and Sylvan was an experience unrivaled. To travel with them was to see a side of Ecuador Justin and I would have undoubtedly missed.

 

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As the days rolled on, I found a rhythm to our travels, one I could have easily adopted as the norm. After a restful night’s sleep, we’d meet for breakfast on a veranda, the local coffee perfuming the air and helping to peel my eyes open. The fresh juice that accompanied every breakfast paired perfectly to the huevos fritos I routinely requested. Rejuvenated and ready to ride, we’d mount our luggage, zip into our gear, and trundle down yet another bumpy road, the promise of adventure never left to disappoint.

 

Befitting a proper motorcycle adventure, not everything went as planned. There was the occasional flat tire and unexpected construction project that caused delays. Such setbacks only served to add authenticity to the trip. At one stop as the road was literally being built in front of us, a pair of local moonshiners let us taste their latest batch. Even the construction foreman got in on the sampling. Such liberties seemed harmless, yet so foreign to what we are accustomed to at home.

 

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The last two days of our trip were no less exciting than the first. As we worked our way up and over more high peaks, we took time to visit the mountain town of Salinas where the locals have learned to make cheese, woolen yarn, and even soccer balls, all within rarified air at over 12,000 feet. The final day arrived bringing with it a dramatic skyline filled with heavy clouds. Climbing once again to over 13,000 feet on the flanks of the iconic volcano of Cotopaxi, the temperature dropped to near freezing. After an idillic cruise through more canyons and rolling hills, we threaded our way back into the busied streets of Quito. The rain added somber weight to the last few miles, our suits soaked and heavy. Pulling into the shop and switching off the bikes, it was hard to not to want to turn around and do it all over again.

 

I can say with certainty, that not only will I go back to Ecuador, I will most certainly go there to ride. Having experienced just a portion of what the country, and our two new guides turned friends have to offer, I will ride again with Court and Sylvan. For Justin and I, riding Ecuador was an experience of a lifetime, memories never to forget.

 

How lucky we are.

 

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Ecuador Travel Logistics

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Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental: Read more about this premier tour company HERE

 

Money: Ecuador not only uses the USD as their standard currency, the cost of travel is an exceptional value. Although hotel prices are factored into Freedom Bike Rental’s self-guided and guided excursions, hotels seldom exceed $50 per night. Lunches are rarely more expensive than a couple dollars and even gas is less than $2.00.

Flights: For most Americans, getting to Quito, Ecuador requires little more than a short three hour, forty five minute flight from Miami with a slight change in time zones, seldom more than a three hour difference. Our flights from Phoenix and Minnesota were just $950 and $800 respectively. Hotels in Quito can be readily found for under $75 for what I would say are rather nice digs.

Connectivity: Although travel makes for a great opportunity to unplug, we had unexpected cell coverage, even in far flung corners of the mountains, and every hotel offered WiFi. Charging devices is easy enough as Ecuador uses the same Type A power outlets as used in North America.

Documentation and Visas: Unlike other countries in South America, Ecuador does not require any reciprocity fees, or unique travel visas. All you need is a passport.

 

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Ford Introduces New Off-Road Inspired Everest, But Not For the U.S.http://expeditionportal.com/ford-introduces-new-off-road-inspired-everest-but-not-for-the-u-s/ http://expeditionportal.com/ford-introduces-new-off-road-inspired-everest-but-not-for-the-u-s/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 23:03:10 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23739 I wonder what Henry Ford would have to say about it, but we blue-blooded Americans keep getting hosed by the blue oval. Our most recent kick to the shins is the Ford Everest we will never see. Built to service off-road driving fun-havers in China, Australia, New Zealand, probably all of Europe, maybe Mauritius just because, it will not be offered here on home soil. So why should we care? Because it looks cool, and we’re tired of the Explorer.

Not only does it look great, it has a solid rear axle, locking transfer case with a low range, and all the whiz-bang tech features commonly found on Land Rovers and Land Cruisers. The Terrain Management System has settings for street, sand, and snow, as well as throttle responses paired to torque vectoring and of course hill control and even an electric locking rear diff. I could go on, but it’s too depressing. Okay, I’ll go on anyway.

 

Fitted with the same 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo-assisted four-cylinder used in the Ford Fusion, it will also be made available with a 3.2-liter five-cylinder turbo diesel. The diesel will be offered with a real six-speed manual transmission or the current six-speed automatic transmission used in the F-150 truck. At roughly the size of the Explorer, it is a good size for proper off-road pursuits. It even appears to have good approach and departure angles. Too bad we won’t be able to have one. Way to go, Ford.

 

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