March 22, 2003
Today, we finally had a chance to get Rubi out on the trails. Ah
yes...the trails...out in her element, at last!
made a call to Keith Bailey at The Off-Road Connection here in town
and he was good enough to let us in the gate at Gray
Rock ORV in Mt.Olive, Alabama. Gray Rock is a new,
privately-owned, 2100 acre park, with everything from bunny trails
to Gray Rock was myself in the Rubicon and my friend, Andy, in our
ROCKBOX Cherokee. Little did Andy know what he had signed up for,
as he became the photographer for the day. Thanks, Andy!
we reached the park, we found Keith, who was getting ready to head
out to cut more new trails. After bribing him with home-baked cookies,
he got us set up with someone named, "Peanut." Peanut
would be our guide for the day and would give us a tour of what
the park had to offer.
trails at Gray Rock are rated from 1-5. We soon discovered that
the 2 trails required plenty of ground clearance and lockers, despite
their "low" rating. This was going to be a great test
the last year, I've gotten to drive the Rubicons with both 5-speeds
and automatics. I've tackled 4+ trails in Moab and trails in the
mountains of Missouri. But I was very eager to try the Rubicon on
our home turf, where many of the rules I've grown to know and respect
out west are tossed right out the window.
spent the good part of a day out at Gray Rock, hitting different
types of trails. The 2WD trails that interconnect the good stuff
were scenic and enjoyable in the Rubicon. The suspension, like other
TJs, is just soft enough to ride like an off-road Cadillac, yet
firm enough to still jar your kidneys enough to remind you where
you are. While on the trails, we did not disconnect the swaybars,
and we ran the Goodyear MT/Rs at 20 psi.
Alabama may not be the first place to spring to mind when someone
asks where the toughest trails are, they are, nonetheless, a force
to be reckoned with. The rocks are hard, big, and offer little traction
- especially if they are wet. The trails here are covered with these
rocks and to make matters just a little bit worse, a lot of folks
'round these parts run 38-44" tires as a matter of course.
Many of the trails are either cut by these monster rigs or rutted
out and made tougher by them. This is one reason that even the 2-rated
trails at Gray Rock are tough.
brought with it an all-new transmission for the TJ. This new tranny
is bigger, and therefore, sits lower beneath the frame than previous
years. Obviously, this has a direct effect on the break-over angle
of the Jeeps. In addition, the automatic has an extra skid plate
that covers the automatic's oil pan. Throughout the day, we continually
referred to this skidplate as "the shovel."
just can't buy a better-setup off-roader from the factory than the
Rubicon. Period. With dual Dana 44 axles with disk brakes all around,
dual air lockers, Goodyear MT/R tires, diamond-plate rockers, 4.11
gears and a 4:1 transfer case, the Rubicon is ready to rock. But,
it didn't take long, though, to find Rubi's Achilles Heal.
trails we hit had plenty of those nasty rocks strewn everywhere.
Being that the area is heavily wooded, the trails are narrow and
provide little in the way of go-arounds. If there are rocks on the
trails, you had better be ready to either go over them - or hit
them. Therein lies the rub for ol' Rubi. The tranny pan sits low
and is coupled to the transfer case skid. Throughout the day, the
shovel continuously got caught on the rocks, stopping progress.
Time after time, we'd get momentarily stuck. You can see in the
photo above that Rubi's pan has a bit of a bow to it now. Obviously,
if it weren't there, the oil pan would have a similar bow!
the shovel, the Rubicon kicked major tail on the trails.
Not once did we need a winch or a tug. Choosing better lines and
giving a wee bit more throttle proved that Rubi was not about to
be denied forward progress. The Rubicon impressed us over and over,
as it clawed its way through the trails.
of the greatest things about the Rubicon is the amount of control
the driver is afforded by the low gearing. Even with the automatic's
torque converter, the Rubicon was easy to keep at just about any
speed I chose. At one point, there was a three-foot drop-off on
one of the trails. There was no going around and there was no going
back. Already used to hearing the sound of scraping metal, I wasn't
afraid. I knew that the low gearing and disk brakes would allow
me to ease off of the ledge safely and under control. Once again,
the Rubicon did not disappoint.
"feature" the TJ Wranglers have is the plastic end caps
on the bumpers. Like a fuse in an electrical system, these end caps
are designed to sacrifice themselves in order to protect the rear
corners of the Jeep's tub in the event of an impact. And sacrifice
themselves, they did. Dropping off the ledge caused the back corner
to drag on the way down, smashing one of the corners. Rocks 1, corner
0. The end cap did its job wonderfully. It was completely mashed
up against the tub but did not cause any damage whatsoever. They
worked as designed and will be a very cheap part to replace.
off the day we came away extremely impressed by the Rubicon. After
driving it on three completely different types of terrain over the
past year, we are confident that the Rubicon is on the way to the
Off-road Vehicle Hall of Fame (should one ever be started). The
Rubicon has got all of the goodies any Jeeper could ever ask for
at a reasonable price. The only thing missing is height. Add the
lift of your choice and some larger sneakers and the Rubicon should
be just about unstoppable on most any trail you could point it at.