New Diesel Based Half-Ton and Mid-Sized Pickups? Don’t Get Caught-up in the Hype!!

If you’re keeping up with truck and off-road industry news, you’ve no doubt noticed a lot of excitement around new diesel powered offerings in the hotly contested half-ton (150 & 1500 series) and mid-sized pickup segments.  In the last 1 – 2 years, the Big Three (Ford, GM & Ram), and Nissan, have all either committed to, or are already offering diesel options in their half-ton and mid-sized pickups.  I just don’t get it!  In a World where the diesel option commands a significant purchase premium, where diesel fuel is $1 per gallon more than regular unleaded (that’s about $20 every fill-up), and where the historical mileage advantage may not materialize, the Diesel value-proposition just isn’t there for the average buyer!!

Realize, I’m not talking about someone who makes a living with their truck, pulling stumps or trailers on a regular basis.  I’m talking about the guy (or gal), who simply wants a pickup for around the house and recreational purposes.  Maybe you’re using your truck to haul firewood, mulch, or other materials for different seasonal, home related projects.  Maybe you’re towing a 4×4, hauling dirt-bikes, ATV’s, a side-by-side, boat or even a camper to your next outdoor adventure.  Maybe you’re simply bringing home the harvest from your latest big game hunt.  Trust me.  You certainly don’t need a diesel for that!  Today’s gas powered half-tons (a complete misnomer for trucks that in some cases are now advertised as capable of hauling 3,300 lbs and towing 12,200lbs) can easily get it done!!

I should know, back in November of 2007, I bought a 2008 F-350 Crew Cab with the International built V8, two-stage variable turbocharged Diesel engine.  650ft-lbs of torque at 2000 rpm!  It was pretty kick-ass at the time.  Certainly the newest, most hotly anticipated bad-boy diesel out there.  I gotta admit, that Cowboy Cadillac sure was fun to drive.  I liked that chug chug chug chug of the engine.  I LOVED the GOBS of torque, that kicked-in, at any speed, like an old two-stroke hitting it’s powerband.  It rode like a limousine thanks to the long wheelbase, and it never broke a sweat doing anything I ever asked it to do – including 7 hour one-way trips loaded for bear with the family, and towing roughly 7,000lbs of recreational good-times.

2010-09-19 006

However, after 5 years and roughly 64,000 miles of daily driving, I was:

  • Averaging just 12.2 miles per gallon (thanks DPF and regen mode!)
  • Overpaying for fuel, and constantly buying costly additives like Diesel Kleen +Cetane booster, and I didn’t even need the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), or urea injection that the new motors need.
  • Higher regular maintenance costs for things like oil changes, and
  • Almost being stranded in  really bad part of town with just 48,000 miles on the ticker thanks to a clogged EGR valve,
  • tired of plugging it in on cold nights to keep the block from freezing.
  • worried about potentially significant, borderline catastrophic, maintenance costs should anything really go wrong with the engine.  (At least on that model, they do, in fact, have to pull the cab off the chassis for some engine related repairs…. cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching….)


Hey, you could argue I didn’t need as much truck, and you might have a point, but it still cost too much for the promise, that never materialized, of significantly improved gas mileage.  A family member had the exact same truck, just with the 5.4L V-8 gas engine, and while there was no contest in power, my mileage advantage didn’t nearly justify the cost.  That’s my real-life, personal, first-hand experience.  (Of course your mileage may vary, YMMV.)  So, I was pretty happy to trade it in for my 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.  Though as Dad clearly pointed out, as far back as when I originally bought the Big Beast, a nice half-ton gasser may have also fit the bill perfectly, like the Ford F-150, which has been the Best Selling Vehicle in the United States for the past 32 years.


So, as the magazines and Internet forums lite-up with excitement over the prospect of new, cool, diesel power plants in the half-ton and midsize pickup segment, I caution you not to get caught up in the hype!!


Perhaps Toyota Tundra and Tacoma Chief Engineer Mike Sweers put it best.  When questioned about the prospect of putting a diesel in their segment leading Tacoma, Mike recently said, “The downside to diesel is the emissions has to be certified at the same level as a gas engine. So the way to do that is you have to put on an after-treatment system. The after-treatment system is very expensive [and] it adds $3000 or more dollars per vehicle cost. So if we consider that cost, versus the fuel economy improvement, and the fact that diesel is $1 more per gallon more than gasoline, is there a return on the investment?”  Point taken.  The return on investment just isn’t there!


Hey, if you have the money, and you just want one, then by all means get a new diesel.  (Did I mention The Off Road Reference takes donations to keep operations running? Email me for details.)  There’s certainly a cool-factor there.  I get it.  I liked mine for a time.  I’m glad I had it.


However, don’t go into the diesel proposition, at any level, thinking you’re going to save money in the long run.  That ship sailed long ago, back when diesel started costing more than premium unleaded (it’s a less refined fuel??!!), and it only continues to get further away on the horizon with each new diesel fuel regulation, and diesel vehicle mileage mandate.  A modern diesel pickup just doesn’t make sense for most of us.  Not with their fancy, expensive, and mileage robbing regen equipment, the need for DEF / urea injection & other additives, and certainly not in a World where diesel costs ~50% more than regular unleaded.


Let’s not forget that the high-performance gas engine market is not dead. Not dead by a long-shot!   If it’s horsepower and torque you crave, all those “diesel premium dollars” go a long way to spicing up a good gas engine based truck.


Now, If I could put a simpler, old, non-computer controller Power Stroke 7.3 or Cummins 5.9 into a late 70’s to early 90’s project truck, that might pique my interest…


Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart.  Have Fun.  Hope to see you on out on the trails.


Copyright The Off Road Reference 2015

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The Off Road Reference Attends The 2015 Great American Outdoor Show

Earlier this month I was an official media guest of the NRA at the Great American Outdoor Show.  It’s  a big show, with plenty to see and do.  It’s also open to the public, as opposed to just industry insiders, and it’s open for business!  That’s right, in many cases, you can buy products and book trips right on the spot!


If you’re not familiar, The Great American Outdoor Show is a nine day event celebrating hunting, fishing and outdoor traditions that are treasured by millions of Americans and their families. The show features over 1,000 exhibitors ranging from shooting manufacturers to outfitters to fishing boats and RV’s, and archery to art covering 650,000 square feet of exhibit hall space! Not to mention a jam packed schedule including country concerts, fundraising dinners, speaking events, archery competitions, celebrity appearances, seminars, demonstrations and much more!”

While guns, knives, related gear, fishing equipment, hunting guides, and taxidermy services certainly dominated the show, there was a fairly large section dedicated to motorsports: ATV’s, RV’s, 4×4’s and boats.

My friends from OK Auto 4WD & Tire were there, and had a huge display, which included some of their normal array of kick-ass products from companies like American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), James Baroud, ARB, Pelican and many other great manufacturers.

But it wasn’t just about the products they brought, OK 4wd brought some of their amazing shop rigs setup for expedition travel, like the red JKUR and matching trailer.  The AEV Ram 2500 Concept, which made it’s debut at the 2013 SEMA Show was also in the house, with an array of new AEV products focused on Ram truck lineup…  




AEV_Pickup2 AEV_Pickup


Main Line Overland was also there with some pretty cool rigs.  In the coming months, I hope to learn more about the company, and the Mid-Atlantic Overland Festival.  Stay tuned…

MainLineJK MainLinePickup MainLineRover


For more information about what else was at the Great American Outdoor Show, like guns, knives and gear, check out this link.


Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart.  Have Fun.  Hope to see you on out on the trails.


Copyright The Off Road Reference 2015

Categories: Events | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

OK Auto 4WD & Tire. The Northeast’s Premier 4×4 & Off-Road Outfitter.

When it came time to order and install the AEV 3.5″ Dual Sport SC suspension, AEV Rear Bumper-Carrier and related components on my 2012 JKUR, I knew OK Auto 4WD & Tire was getting my business!  It wasn’t even a question.  Honestly, I didn’t even price the parts, or job, anywhere else.  After all, OK Auto 4WD & Tire is one AEV’s Premier North American dealers, NJ’s only Authorized AEV parts distributor, and the Northeast’s premier 4×4 & Off-Road Outfitter!!  

So, if you’re located in New York City, New Jersey, Eastern PA, Southern NY, or anywhere in between, and need anything at all for your 4×4 and off-Road machine,  or light truck, you gotta check ’em out!!



OK Auto 4WD & Tire has Long-Standing Expertise, a Formal Commitment to Quality & the Highest Level of Professionalism.

Opened by Jim in 1979, and in business for the 35 years since, OK Auto 4WD & Tire employs all ASE Certified Technicians, and Master Technicians.  In fact, OK Auto 4WD & Tire is ‘ASE Blue Seal of Excellence’ Certified, which recognizes a formal commitment to recruiting the best employees, supporting on-going training, and insisting on using the best equipment.  I’ll spare you the  the details of the many tests and years of real-World, hands-on experience required to obtain these levels of certification.  Just realize these guys are some of the Best of the Best.

Honestly, I don’t know of any other 4×4, Off-Road and Light Truck shops that share the ‘ASE Blue Seal of Excellence’  distinction.  I searched ASE’s Blue Seal Shop Locator, and though I saw OK Auto, 4WD & Tire clearly listed, I didn’t find another 4×4, Off-Road and Light Truck specific shop on the list within 150 miles of my zip.  Even OK Auto 4WD & Tire’s Sales Staff is comprised of ASE Certified Technicians and ASE Master Technicians.

This is very important because it gives us confidence as customers that:

  1. The job will get done right, the first time, and that
  2. The Sales Staff won’t make the all-to-common mistake of selling you parts that won’t work on your vehicle, or that don’t work together (like selling you a High Steer kit with a 2.5″ lift), or that you don’t need, or that are flat-out wrong.  These guys know our vehicles, know how they work,  understand the application, and appreciate that we actually intend to use this stuff.

Bottom Line: Whether you talk to someone in the shop, on the retail floor, or behind the sales counter, the folks at OK Auto 4WD & Tire are true experts in the 4×4, off-road and light truck field.  Recommending, selling and installing 4×4, off-road and light truck accessories is how these guys make their living, day-in and day-out.  It’s not a side show.  It’s not part-time.  It’s not something they do once in a while.  For many of them, it’s also a lifestyle, a passion, and what they do with their own, personal vehicles.


OK Auto 4WD & Tire’s Niche Business & Specialties.

OK Auto 4WD & Tire focuses on building highly-functional, highly-capable, modern 4×4’s, used as daily-drivers, weekend-warriors and work trucks.  The staff clearly has the skills and experience to build anything you want, and while older CJ’s, Early Broncos, Land Cruisers and Scouts aren’t an uncommon site, you’re much more likely to see Jeep TJs, JK’s and late model pickup trucks being worked on.




OK Auto 4WD & Tire’s business is primarily comprised of:

  1. Specialized Driveline Work, including gearing changes, locker installs, axle upgrades, & driveshaft modifications.
  2. Suspension System Installs, complete with wheels, tires, the necessary alignment, and related components, like exhaust mods.

While that’s the bulk of their work, it’s by no means all of it.  OK Auto 4WD & Tire sells and installs bumpers, tire carriers, skid plates, body protection & armor, fender flares, winches,  electronic accessories, like SPODs & lighting upgrades, and anything else you need to outfit your vehicle for a few hours on the the trails, or a cross-country overland expedition.  They also do maintenance.  Then there’s the snow removal & spreader business.  Yup, OK Auto 4WD & Tire gets even busier when the white stuff starts flying. 


The OK Auto 4WD & Tire Facility.  

To call this place a shop, or a store just doesn’t do it justice!  It’s to the Off-Road & Light Truck scene what Cabela’s is to the Outdoor’s scene.  It’s a destination in and of itself.


Overall, from the moment you pull into the parking lot and walk through the doors, you’re struck by just how clean, well organized, professional and upscale this place is.  Sure, posters, pictures of Jeeps, stickers, banners, formal certification plaques, catalogues, magazines and the requisite automotive calendar are found throughout, but they’re all tastefully done, and G-rated.  Unlike other shops and garages I’ve been to, the 22,000 square foot OK Auto 4WD & Tire facility is a place you can comfortably bring the entire family – so long as they’re well behaved! lol

The Heavy-Lifting Section of the Facility:

OKGarageDoorsThe shop consists of 7 in-ground lifts, one dedicated to wheel alignments (alignments are done in-house),  high ceilings, extra tall garage doors, and a tire mounting & balancing area.  Of course, all the tool chests, air compressors, floor jacks and other things you’d expect to find in a modern, working garage are there too.  Yet, it doesn’t feel at all cramped.  There’s plenty of room to safely walk around and work.  Did I mention how well organized, well run, and clean the shop is?!

The Retail Showroom, andOK Auto 4WD & Tire’s Philosophy on Products:

OKcOUNTERTo say the 6,000 square foot showroom is impressive is an understatement.  There’s lots of products on display, in all kinds of creative ways, including a floor-to-ceiling tire carousel that handles 120 tires – so don’t forget to look up, down, and sideways for OKRetailaccessories, lights, wheels, tires, axles, truss kits, air compressors, winches, bumpers, skid-plates, cargo racks and roof top tents, trailer hitches, batteries, hardware, car care products, and even an old CJ-5, setup for plowing, ready for camping and decorated for Christmas.  (At least that’s what was on the floor on my most recent visit.  They do switch it up from time to time.)  It’s all right there, out in the open, true to life.  Not only is it a better way to see products than trying to buy from a catalog, but it kinda makes you feel like a kid in a candy store.


By now you should be picking up on some common themes. So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the products OK Auto 4WD & Tire recommends, stocks, sells, and installs are also high-class, first-rate, professional, best of breed.   Their product inventory reads like the ‘Who’s-Who‘ of the Off-Road Industry: American Expedition Vehicles, ARB, BDSSPODWarn, JW Speaker, Baja Designs, Vision X, Rigid, Hi-Lift, Bubba Rope, Rhino- Rack, ExtremeOutback, ViairJames Baroud, Pelican.

Yeah, that’s the stuff.  No messing’ around here!  These products are just going to work when you need them to, whether that’s to get you further down the trail, or to get you back home in one piece!     

In keeping with the Outfitter theme, OK Auto 4WD & Tire also stocks a nice collection of knives and outdoor tools from top-manufacturers like Benchmade and SOG.  So, whether you need something for your Jeep, or for your next trip into the Great Outdoors, stop in, give a call, or check ’em out online.  If they don’t already have it in stock, I’m sure they can get it quickly – unless it’s a product they just don’t sell.  In which case, they’ll be happy to provide you with better alternatives.

Using best of breed, top of the line products is a well established, proven formula for success.

There’s even a ‘Customer Waiting’ area:

If you happen to make it past the isles of off-road goodness, or just need to give your wallet a break, there’s a customer waiting area, complete with TV, complimentary coffee & water, vending machines, off-road magazines, product brochures, and comfy seats.  (Just watch out for the massage chair…lol)  It’s a nice little space to hang out, talk to fellow enthusiasts, or maybe even get some work done while you wait.

OK Auto 4WD & Tire’s Outdoor Space & 4X4 Playground:

No doubt, part of what makes OK Auto 4WD & Tire a destination is their outdoor space, the centerpiece of which is a playground for 4×4’s.   Some dirt mounds, a rock garden and part-boulder, part-concrete man-made mountain allow customers to test vehicle capability and driver skill.  It’s a great way to test out and stretch the legs on your new vehicle mods.  Of course, time permitting, the OK Auto 4WD & Tire staff will gladly spot you.  The obstacles are usually open to customers, especially during  events, but best to check-in before you lock it into ‘4-Lo’ and start crawling.

Sponsored events are another thing that make OK Auto 4WD & Tire a destination, like Truckfest, they typically go all-out for their customers.  In addition to great people, and all kinds of cool 4×4’s, you can generally expect food, drink, music, vendors and sales.  Keep checking their Event Calendar, but if you haven’t yet attended one of their sponsored events, you need to!



My experience with OK Auto 4WD & Tire was in a word fantastic, but you’ll have to wait for the next post for those details…


So, There Ya Have It.  Let OK Auto 4WD & Tire Outfit Your 4X4 for Your Next Adventure!! OK Auto 4WD & Tire has Best-of-Breed staff, skills, know-how and  products to build whatever you need, whether that be battling the everyday commute in the urban jungle, or some type of epic “Border to Border” adventure of a lifetime…  Yeah, OK Auto 4WD and Tire had something to do with the build for the show!  


Check ’em out here OK Auto 4WD & Tire, and please tell ’em I sent ya!


Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart.  Have Fun.  Hope to see you on out on the trails.


Copyright The Off Road Reference 2015

Categories: Bronco, Events, Jeep | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Closing out 2014 & Looking forward to 2015!

Well, here it is… New Year’s Eve 2014.  A time to be Thankful for all that we have.  A time to reflect.  A time to look forward.

2014 went by a bit fast, but I have to say, it was a pretty good year for us at The Off Road Reference.  We wheeled a few times, attended some truly great events, like the Bronco Roundup, a stop on MetalCloak’s Cross Country CTI Tour, and OK Auto’s Truckfest.  We continued to build great relationships throughout the industry and with other bloggers.  We also continued to strengthen our brand, and increase readers.  Thank You!


Certainly one of things we’re most excited about from 2014, is the installation of AEV’s 3.5″ DualSport SC Suspension System, Pintlers & Rear Bumper / Tire Carrier System on our JKUR!






Finally!  Obviously, this opens the door to even more wheeling, events and adventures in 2015.  Speaking of which…


Looking forward to 2015… 

  • Look for an in-depth post highlighting OK Auto & 4WD, and the expert, above and beyond work they performed installing my AEV 3.5″ DualSport SC Suspension System.
  • Look for a guest post or two from some colleagues at other Adventure and off-road related blogs.
  • Look for some long overdue product reviews.
  • Look for more wheeling and off-road adventure  trips!


The Off-Road Reference Wishes All Of  You a Happy, Healthy & Safe 2015.


Hope to see you out on the trails!

Categories: Bronco, Events, Jeep | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Selecting My Lift

Enhancing my JK with an aftermarket suspension system was always the plan.  But with so many great options available, and with so many factors to consider, how do you choose?  That’s what this post is all about!


Needs Vs. Wants.  Keep it Real!

It’s easy to get all caught up with the rigs you see in the magazines, on the 4X4 shows, at the Off-Road park and with what you read in the forums, but you gotta be honest with yourself.

The two most important questions to ask yourself are, how are you really going to use your rig, and, what’s your budget?  Get those wrong, and you won’t be happy with the results. 

Like many of you, my Jeep JK is a multi-faceted vehicle.  Regardless of any  aspirations to be a professional adventure photographer, and despite wanting to join Fred Williams’ for some Dirt Every Day, my JK is my primary means of transportation.  It’s my daily driver.  It’s the family truckster.  That means it must be reliable, safe, easy to drive & comfortable.

Every day, my Jeep JK has to get me and my family wherever we’re going – and back.  Regardless of whether that’s exploring the back country, accessing favorite hunting & fishing spots, hitting the trials, or just to and from work, often an 80+ mile roundtrip in rush hour traffic.  Ahhh good times!  Since I’m not always the only driver, it’s also got to be easy to drive.

While they’re awesome, I’m not building a KOH, Baja or Ultra4 racer.  Nor am I building a rock bouncer, moon buggy,  or even a dedicated rock-crawler.  (My Bronco is pretty close.)  My Jeep JK is something I plan to drive every day, in varied conditions, on varied terrain, to all kinds of things, and with all kinds of company.  As you can see, I’m building a true dual / multi-purpose rig.  That’s what I need.  That’s what this rig is gonna be.


Doin’ It Right The First Time!

Do It Right The First Time.  It’s a general philosophy I try to follow in life, and lifting my Jeep JK was no exception.  So as I considered the almost overwhelming plethora of JK suspension options, I had three “Must Have’s”: 

  • A complete, proven suspension system, built with quality components, from a manufacturer focussing on the Jeep JK, and with  reputation for great customer service.  This is a no-brainer.  Unlike back in the day when I lifted my ’91 & ’97 Ford Explorers, JK aftermarket support is unbeatable!  So many companies specialize in suspension systems for the Jeep Wrangler JK, many of whom have been in the game a long time, use high quality components, stand behind their product, and offer complete systems.  Getting a complete system is important because manufacturers pour  significant dollars and time engineering, building and testing components that work together successfully. Your results probably won’t be as good if you just start piecing parts together.


  • Functionality.  Multi-Dimensional Functionality.  Back to “Needs Vs. Wants.” Multi-dimensional functionality means great road & highway manners, a comfortable, quiet, enjoyable ride AND excellent trail performance.  While I’m definitely a gear-head at heart, I’m also “a suit.”  When rollin’ up to a Fortune 500 client or taking the Mrs. out for a high class night on the town, I can’t look, or sound (whether it’s a loud exhaust, humming tires or a noisy suspension) like I just came off the set of Mad Max.  This one started to narrow the list…


  • Ease of maintenance.  Between family, work, the house, volunteer organizations and other activities, things these days are ridiculously busy.  Combine that with the way I wrack up miles, and given I live in the rainy, snowy, slushy Northeast (where roads are heavily salted in Winter), I don’t want to be greasing, cleaning or rebuilding suspension joints every 3K miles.  When I can grab some non-wheeling “Jeep time”, I’d much prefer to spend it keeping her clean, or installing new parts instead of doing more maintenance.  This one really stratified the population.


So, when you ponder the list above, you should realize it’s a REALLY tall order.  Many of these requirements were mutually exclusive just a few years ago. (That’s a testament to just how far the off-road industry has come, and how mainstream it’s become.)


And Then There Were Two: AEV’s 3.5″ DualSport SC & MetalCloak’s 3.5″ Game Changer Lite

American Expedition Vehicles’ 3.5″ DualSport SC Suspension:

Ask ANYONE in the know and they’ll tell you AEV tops the list for a JK that spends 70% or more of it’s  time on road.  Look at the now famous track video.  There’s no debate over AEV’s on-road performance.

That said, some people (pretty much only on the Internet forums) love to debate AEV’s off-road ability.  Now, don’t know who these people are,  nor what their real-World experience is, but you should take them with a grain of salt.  I personally spent a day riding in, and with, a group of AEV modded JK’s as we wheeled some of the Mid-Atlantic’s most challenging terrain.  While some of it pushed the limits of what I’d do in my daily driver, the AEV lifted rigs handled the trails, the obstacles, and technical rock crawling  just as well, if not better than anything else out there that day.  In fact, who made it, who didn’t  and how easily had more to do with the line, drive ability, tire size, lockers and gearing than it did with what suspension system people were running.  The point is, AEV suspensions can wheel, and I know an AEV suspension system will work for my off road needs!  And again, that’s based on my own, first hand, real-World experience.

MetalCloak’s 3.5″ Game Changer Lite (FOX Edition)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know MetalCloak’s Game Changer Suspension set the JK suspension lift world on fire when it hit the scene just a couple years back.  MAD Flex and road manners equal to AEV??!!  The Holy Grail of Jeep JK suspension systems??!!  With aligned and centered control arm joints, non-binding, self centering, quiet and maintenance free, (yet fully rebuildable) Duroflex suspension joints, the MetalCloak Game Changer  system certainly  has A LOT going for it.  Despite being a relatively new kid on the block, real-World feedback has pretty much lived up to the hype.  Confident in MetalCloak’s off-road ability, my questions had more to do with how well the Duroflex would wear over time, how well they would handle the harsh Northeast Winters and how the GC Lite would handle on-road.

One wild ride with Matson put that to rest!


Ultimately I went with….




…. American Expedition Vehicles’ 3.5″ DualSport SC Suspension System…


…and I couldn’t be happier!


Honestly, it was a high-class problem to have, (we should all be so fortunate).  I went back and forth more than a couple of times, and really couldn’t have gone too wrong either way, but two major things swayed me.  One was cold hard cash.  The other, more importantly, was friends and colleagues in the industry.  

Guys at more than one off-road and 4×4 shop, who make their living day-in, and day-out, building Jeeps consistently told me that for how I use my Jeep JK, I’d be happier with AEV than anything else on the market.

In some cases, these guys can run anything they want on their own rigs, and choose to run very same AEV DualSport suspension system.  That right there tells ya something!

If you’ve never taken the time, please take a look at the history of AEV.  Look at how they’ve evolved from humble beginnings to what they are today.  Look at their continued close partnering and working relationship with, and vehicle engineering ties to Chrysler.  Look at the acquisition of suspension specialist Nth Degree Mobility.  Look at how they continue to evolve and their target audience.  Look at how AEV  positions and markets their products.   That’s it.  That’s what I want to do with my Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon. 



Categories: Jeep, Wheeling Education | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Hangin’ with MetalCloak at OK4WD

Lifting my 2012 JKUR has been the plan since before I took delivery.  The only question is which lift? After countless hours of research, conversations with many experts, and personally witnessing different JK specific suspension setups work on the trails, my choices are narrowed  down to AEV’s 3.5″ Dual Sport, or MetalCloak’s 3.5″ Gamer Changer Lite.  So, when I heard MetalCloak’s whirlwind, cross-country CTI Tour included a stop at OK4WD, the premier 4×4 and off-road specialty shop in my area, I knew I had to be there!











It was a Friday evening event, but still pulled a great crowd.  In typical fashion, OK4WD was a fantastic host.  Not only were the shop’s friendly and knowledgeable owner, the owner’s son and other Jeep experts on-hand, available for questions and happy to share their expert advice, but OK4WD provided plenty of hot dogs, soda and water for all who attended.  Plenty of OK4WD customers were also on hand, happy to discuss and show off their Jeeps.  If you’ve never been to OK4WD, or attended one of their events, you have to check it out!  The shop, the staff, and the quality of their work is impressive.  It’s a worthwhile trip from anywhere in the New York City, New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania areas.  They also sponsor some trail rides – so keep an eye out for those.  Anyway, I was there there when Matson pulled in, MetalCloak’s famous RubiCloak in tow, riding on the the Corner Travel Index (CTI) trailer, which is itself an ingenious creation. 

Three things brought people to this event:

1. A chance to meet Matson in person, and learn about MetalCloak’s products first hand.

Despite long hours of travel, little sleep and infamous NYC rush hour traffic, Matson, his wife, and their dogs, could not have been nicer.  They had plenty of catalogs and sticker for all, and likewise happily spent as much time as necessary answering any and all product related questions.


2. A chance to see RubiCloak, in person.

Built as MetalCloak’s showcase JK, and Matson’s personal ride, it features the full Game Changer Suspension complete with 6Pak shocks, Overline Fenders, Rocker Rails & Exo Skins, and the new JK Rear Bumper Tire Carrier.  (I don’t think many picked up on that bumper.)  RubiCloak was also running Falken’s impressive looking 37″ Wildpeak M/T tires, which aren’t even out yet.  To say this thing was drool-worthy and looked Bad-Ass doesn’t even begin to do it justice!  


3. A chance to put your own Jeep on the MetalCloak CTI trailer.

Ok, what’s CTI, and what’s the CTI trailer?  CTI, or Corner Travel Index, is an attempt at an industry standard method for measuring and comparing suspension travel.  Those in the off road scene focus on suspension articulation, or “flex”, like the muscle car scene focuses on horsepower.  Generally, the more the better.  The degree to which an aftermarket suspension can “flex” is often a key metric for purchase decisions.  Let’s face it, an aftermarket suspension lift is one of the more costly mods we wheelers make, and it’s a decision with a lot of knock-on effects, including a direct impact on both on-road and off-road performance.  So it’s one you want to get right the first time, but the choices can be dizzying.  Anything that can help you narrow down your choices by scientifically and objectively comparing products is a good thing.

While the dyno (dynamometer) is an industry standard, scientific and objective way to measure horsepower and torque, there’s really no equivalent for measuring suspension flex, or axle articulation.  Sure, Ramp Travel Index (RTI) score has been around for years, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would consider that scientific.  Different ramps use different angles, and results are subject to a wide variety of factors, including driver approach, and skill.  (My Early Bronco brethren get better results backing up the ramp.)   Plus, if you’re not careful, the RTI ramp can pretty easily get you into trouble.  (It’s not hard to flop onto your side.)  Finally, there are many who say RTI scores are meaningless, because the RTI ramp doesn’t simulate how your vehicle’s suspension actually cycles when out on the trails.

Enter CTI and the CTI trailer, which you can conceptualize as four individually operated motorcycle jacks, one under each tire, that can twist and flex a vehicle all kinds of different ways.  Unlike RTI scores, CTI scores aren’t  impacted by driver ability. Many also agree the CTI device better simulates real-World suspension articulation.  Click here for a video explanation of the CTI score and comparison to an RTI ramp score.  While CTI scores are arguably much more meaningful than traditional RTI ramp scores, the CTI score is still not a perfect science.  CTI scores can be, and are, impacted by tire size, tire pressure (PSI), bump stop settings, and wheel offset, which effects track width.  All that said, CTI scores do offer a very interesting and potentially meaningful data point, so long as you know how to use the data and don’t get too hung up on just the numbers.  If you start comparing scores, consider more than just suspension setup!  If using CTI scores to compare different suspension lift options, the vehicles should be running the same wheels, tires, tire pressure and bump stop heights for a more scientific, apples-to-apples comparison.  Perhaps the real value in something like the CTI trailer isn’t just a number, but really finding the limitations of your suspension: what binds, where, at what point(s), and where are the contact / interference points as the suspension cycles and axles articulate?

Well, there were plenty on hand who just couldn’t wait to get their CTI scores, but between snapping picks and conversation, and much to my regret, I wasn’t one of them.  I should have put my JKUR, still on stock suspension, wheels and tires, up on the trailer.  I’m told it would have scored in the 540 range… Be sure to checkout the pics below!


But the Highlight of My Day…

Honestly, anytime I can get out to OK4WD is a pretty good day for me.  Meeting Matson in person was awesome.  But I also had a personal agenda.  As I said from the outset, my lift choices are narrowed down to two.  So seeing MetalCloak and AEV lifted JK’s take turns on the CTI trailer was fantastic, and something we East Coast folks likely won’t see again.  While RubiCloak’s performance was ree-GD-diculous, I have to say the AEV lifted JK with 35s on Pintlers did not disappoint.  (I’d like to see numbers for a JK with MetalCloak’s Game Changer Lite with 35s on Pintlers, and bump stopped for stock flares…)

But my ears really perked up when the owner of OK4WD told Matson his MetalCloak Game Changer equipped JK seemed to have more body roll than his similarly equipped AEV lifted vehicle.  That’s when it happened.  Matson suggested they go for a ride in RubiCloak, and somehow, I got the nod to go along.  Writing a fairly popular off-road blog has it’s privileges! 

Well, this wasn’t just any ride.  It was a ride to prove how well RubiCloak tracks, and how stable it is, and how little body roll is exhibited during high-speed, emergency lane change maneuvers, high-speed, hairpin turns, and apparently, upon landing.  Yeah, we caught some serious air.  First of all, Matson is one amazing driver!  That guy’s a mad man!  And I mean that in a good way!  Honestly, I couldn’t believe how well those 37″ Falken M/Ts held the road, and I really couldn’t believe how well RubiCloak handled everything.  Not only had I just seen it flex like mad, but we took numerous turns, all at breakneck speeds, that I’m sure would tax the abilities of most modern sports cars – and most drivers(Closed course, professional driver, no animals were harmed in testing, don’t try this at home kids….) That ride with Matson and the owner of OK4WD was far and away the highlight of my day!  It was one amazingly awesome, wild and completely impressive ride, that I’ll never forget!!

Yeah, MetalCloak’s Game Changer is still very high on my list…


RubiCloak with MetalCloak Game Changer & 6PAKs with 37s on Raceline wheels, Overline Fenders and bumpstops to the moon scoring a 980 on the CTI


AEV 3.5″ DS with 35s & AEV Pintlers (lots of backspacing) scoring a 700 on the CTI.


MetalCloak GC 3.5″ & 6PAKs with 37s on Racelines


AEV 3.5″ DS with 35s on Pintlers


AEV Lift, MetalCloak Arms – and 40s!


AEV lift with MetalCloak Arms – the Best of All Worlds? (…and 40s…)


It’s not the suspension limiting travel…


This is not a MetalCloak or an AEV suspension, and that joint is binding in the mount.




Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart.  Have Fun.  Hope to see you on out on the trails.

Copyright The Off Road Reference 2014

Categories: Events, Jeep | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

AEV’s Secret Sauce Revealed?

aev-header-logoHere’s a question common to the Jeep World, “Who makes the best on-road handling JK suspension lift?”  It almost doesn’t matter who you ask, AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) consistently tops the list.  Top selling points include drive-ability and ease of handling, even during hard braking (anti-dive, or no front end diving), and emergency maneuvers (minimal body roll.)  I know shops that can’t sell AEV products, (AEV only allows so many authorized dealers in a certain mile radius), that still recommend AEV suspension lifts to customers building multipurpose, or daily driver type rigs.  That’s saying something!  And have you seen their high-speed road course video??

But what’s AEV’s secret? Is it their “frequency tuned” coil springs? The Drop down brackets, which maintain all important factory driveshaft and caster angles? The “JK tuned” Bilstein shocks?  It’s like the formula for Coca-Cola, or the recipe for Hunt’s beans.  Only a select few know, and you used to have to buy the whole kit to find out.  When it comes to major suspension components (ok, the springs and brackets), AEV traditionally hasn’t offered them a la carte.

AEV is one of those companies some people love, and some people love to hate.  Though you have to admire the company’s history and rise.  It’s a classic, true American success story.  (Now let’s just hope they stay true to their roots.) Anyway, I rode shotgun in a 2012 Arctic edition JK Unlimited, with a 4.5″ AEV Dual Sport Lift, and 37″ Iroks for a full day of trail riding and rock crawling at Rausch Creek Off Road Park, and that Jeep went everywhere the owner pointed.  We wheeled extreme terrain.  I can tell you first hand, that Jeep kicked ass.  I was also at OK Auto & 4WD when Metalcloak rolled-in on it’s cross country CTI tour, and I saw a beautiful 2014 JK Unlimited, with 3.5″ AEV Dual Sport lift, and 35″ BFG KM2s score a 700 on the CTI.  AEV lifts can flex.  AEV lifts can wheel.  Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. (Just to be clear, I’m not saying AEV offers the best suspension for hard core off-road use.  Nor am I saying that AEV offers the best bang for the buck – but again, they can absolutely wheel.)

That said, the Achilles’ heel of AEV suspension systems is that even their high-end systems lack upgraded control arms.  AEV re-uses the factory control arms, which isn’t a great long-term solution.  The fact of the matter is, if you wheel long enough, you will find the limits of the factory control arms. Wheel hard enough, and you’ll find those limits sooner rather than later.  Aside from their lack of strength, factory control arms don’t allow for any adjustment, so you can’t regain that little bit of wheelbase lost to the the lift.  Nor can you fine tune your caster and/or driveshaft angles beyond what drop brackets provide.

But has AEV just let part of the cat out of the bag?

Thumbing through my latest Quadratec catalog, I noticed, for the first time, AEV’s “Geometry Correction Front Control Arm Brackets” available a la carte, for around $100 a pair.  This is potentially big news.  Rubicon Express and Rancho, other major players in the Jeep suspension business, offer similar brackets, for around the same price point.  All tout similar “daily driver” friendly benefits, like anti-dive and improved operating angles, control arm angles, caster and driveshaft angles, for better overall handling and drive-ability.


So, you can now combine [ed: a potentially major] part of AEV’s secret to such fantastic on-road ride quality, with your favorite aftermarket, adjustable control arms – and there are plenty to choose from.  It’s a high-class problem to have and potentially, the best of both worlds.  

So again, it begs the question, what’s AEV’s secret sauce when it comes to on-road handling?  Is it the springs? Or is it the drop down brackets??

Personally, I suspect the brackets have lot to do with it, and their priced reasonably enough that if you’re not happy with the on-road performance of your brand X aftermarket list, you can give ’em  try.

Categories: Jeep | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Makes a Jeep, a “Jeep”? Top Down! Doors Off! 4×4!

The J10 pickup certainly has a following.  The first gen XJ Cherokees (84 – 96) are very capable off-road and enjoy strong aftermarket support.  But the fact of the matter is, say “Jeep”, and most people immediately think of something like a CJ or Wrangler. That’s what I’m talking about here.

So, what exactly, makes a Jeep a “Jeep”? (and please don’t say it’s the “trail rated” badging!!)

Is it the fold-down windshield? (18 bolts, seriously??! Still a win for those ambitious enough, and someday I’m sure I’ll fold mine down.  If nothing else, just to say I’ve done it.)

The solid FRONT and rear axles? (Certainly BIG WINS for those of us who take our Jeeps off-road!)

Body on frame construction? (Another BIG WIN in terms of strength, dependability and ease of making mods, like adding a suspension or body lift.)

The two-speed, MANUALLY operated transfer case? (Yet another BIG WIN for the true enthusiast.)

The relatively small size? (OK, you have to admit the Jeep JK Unlimited has certainly grown-up from its humble Bantam, Willy’s and Ford GP beginnings, but it is still relatively small. That small size allows it to still fit on trails that would be eating full-size sheet metal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Definitely another BIG WIN!) 

Is it the round headlights? (Jeep YJ fans everywhere will disagree, but round headlights just look right…)

The seven slot grill? (Conventional thinking is that the 7 slots represent the fact that Jeep has successfully conquered terrain on all seven continents.  But they didn’t always have the now famous 7 slot grill.  The WWII era GP flat hood and 9 slot grill – yes, nine – were Ford designs, adopted by both Bantam and Willys during production.)

I sure hope those Jeep Designers & Engineers are paying attention to the list above!

While all of the above are very important, and even considered ‘must-have’s’ by purists, are these the things that actually make a Jeep, a Jeep? No, it can’t just be those things, nor any one of them individually.


Here’s a hint…

 If you haven’t taken the doors off yet, you’re missing out on something big!!


Ask the mainstream masses, and I bet ‘Top Down, Doors Off, 4×4’ sums it up quite nicely.  Quintessential Jeep. Top down, doors off, cruising on the beach, out on the trails, or even just rolling down the boulevard. 

Sure, there are plenty of convertibles out there, but without 4-wheel drive, you won’t see them getting far on the beach or down the trails, and I haven’t seen too many with the doors off…  That’s definitely a 4×4 thing!  And sure, with the right tools, some mechanical know-how, and a little moxy, you can take the doors off just about anything on the road, and I have some wheeling buddies who do it all the time on their Fords, Chevies and Toyotas.

The Early Bronco, First Gen Chevy Blazer, International Scout, First Gen Toyota 4Runner and early Toyota FJ Cruiser all offered similar open air freedom and 4×4 capability.  In fact, that top down, doors off, open air freedom – plus 4×4 capability – are what makes them so cool, collectable, and pricey today.  Unfortunately, Toyota blew it with the 2007 FJ redo, which should have had flat fenders, a removable top & removable doors, and all the rest, but the Jeep Wrangler, have gone the way of the Dinosaur.

No other 4×4 on the road today was designed and built from the factory to make it easy for the owner to drop the top, take the doors off and fold down the windshield.  And nothing else out there coming off the assembly line today gives you the same capability, or feeling!! 

Unscrew a few bolts, pull a couple of quick-disconnects for the wiring, unhook the limiting straps, and viola… 

I don’t care who ya are, you gotta admit, that’s cool, and very likely a big reason why Jeep can’t build ‘em fast enough.  Again for 2014, Jeep is selling every single Wrangler it builds.  So, hat’s off to you Jeep! Err, Make that top down, door off, 4×4, to you!


So, that’s my take.  What do you think makes a Jeep, a “Jeep”?


Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart.  Have Fun.  Hope to see you on out on the trails.

Copyright The Off Road Reference 2014

Categories: Jeep | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The 16th Annual Mid-Atlantic Early Bronco Roundup – Just Livin’ the Dream!


This was my 4th MEB Roundup, and the best one yet!  Hopefully this hits home if you were there, or if you’ve attended anything similar.  The real challenge is connecting with my readers who’ve never done anything like this. My goal is to give you a taste and wet the appetite.  I want to create some excitement. I want to make YOU want to get involved and check it out!

In a couple of words, the Mid-Atlantic Early Bronco Roundup was 100% pure adrenaline pumping adventure from beginning to end. It was thrilling, entertaining, downright scary at times, part learning experience, part “marriage builder”, and maybe even a little bit relaxing.

OK, so what exactly is it?

The Mid-Atlantic Early Bronco Roundup is a first-rate, family friendly, volunteer event celebrating the Ford Bronco.  One of the best, most capable 4×4’s ever made.  As the name implies, the MEB Roundup is typically dominated by 1966 – 1977 (Early or Classic) Broncos, though this year brought a good number of Big (1978 – 79), and OJ style (1980 – 1996) Broncos, which were great to see.  And, YES, your friends driving brand X are also welcome.

For 2014 the venue was changed from a private location in Virginia to Rausch Creek Off-Road Park for wheeling, and Twin Grove RV Resort & Cottages for base camp and all other events.  In typical fashion, the Roundup featured:

  • The obligatory bag of “freebies”, “steekers” and a very useful member gift.

  • Dinner Friday & Saturday nights.

  • The Group Photo.

  • Three days of trail rides at Rausch Creek Off-Road Park, a street cruise and the Show-n-Shine.

  • A Chinese auction style raffle with $$$$ in prizes.

  • Fun kids’ activities.

  • Heroes and Celebrities of the Bronco World. The Roundup always brings out top Bronco vendors, like James Duff Inc., from Tennessee, Bailie Bilt from Oklahoma, and sometimes Wild Horses 4×4 all the way from California. They showcase products, show off amazing rigs, wheel the trails, provide parts for the raffle, and just hang out with the crowd. Get your orders in early enough, and you’re usually treated with free delivery, which is always appreciated!!

  • A Rock Crawling Competition on the “RCRocs” course instead of the traditional ramp challenge, slow race, and blindfolded driver competitions.  Little orange cones. Scoring. Judges. Rollovers. Just like the pro’s…

  • Finally, the MEB Roundup always brings out great people.  It’s a chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Whether it’s on the trails, the street cruise, back at camp, or even in the parking lot, there are always people to help, and no one gets left behind.

So, how’d we do? In a word, GREAT!

Those who know me may agree I have a tendency to go overboard. (“When was the last time I over-did anything, Russ?!?”) So, while I could have been ALL BRONCOS and OFF-ROAD, ALL WEEKEND, I balanced my addiction with the wants of the family. It was a small price to pay for having them along, and since the event fell on our wedding anniversary, a little balance seemed only fair. Isn’t my wife the BEST!!

Compromise meant easier trails and shorter trail days than I would have otherwise chosen, but it allowed my family to enjoy the pools and refresh a bit before evening events, which they greatly appreciated.  It also meant a comfy, air-conditioned room at the Pine Grove Hampton Inn instead of a tent at the campground, and it meant exploring the local fare to appease my picky eaters. (Payback for my own high-maintenance, non-condiment eating habits I’m sure…)

IMG_1995On the trails we ran mostly green (easy) and blue (intermediate) trails with lots of off-camber shoots, rocks, ruts, some steep hills, and a few black obstacles (very difficult) to keep the pucker factor high.    We also played on the comp course where even without “stickies,” we experienced unbelievable traction on the “srpaycrete.”  Now I know how Spider-Man feels!DSC_0413As usual, there were a few screams from my passengers.  “We are NOT going to roll!” became my mantra until they settled-in (So much for faith in my driving abilities! “I’m an excellent driver. Dad let’s me drive slow in the driveway.”) IMG_3626

All of my pre-trip Bronco prep (The 6 P’s), and the upgrades I’ve made paid off. Whether we were finessing the trails, or runnin’ flat-out on the backroads, Ole 351 Stroker did great.  A gear reduction box would have helped on certain sections of the trail, like Rock Creek, and bigger tires always seem like a good idea.  As long as I did my part it was pretty much a point and shoot affair.  351 Stroker flat-out worked!  I do have some new, minor character marks to show for the trip, but just like my others, they are personal reminders of where I was, who I was with, and the great times we were having.  I’m not sure that’s something you fix.

The haul road out featured a stop at OK 4WD & Tire, where we talked shop and caught up on the latest 4×4 products.  The trip home featured a stop at Cabela’s, where we may have picked up more “essentials.” If you’re at all into the off-road scene, or the great out of doors, both venues are highly recommended and worthy of a stop.

IMG_1884  IMG_2049

 My Conversation with a Legend

Coming off the trails a bit early wasn’t so bad after all.  It gave me the rare opportunity to spend a few minutes with Mr. James Duff himself. We talked about his 3 ½ years racing the Mexican Baja 1000 alongside other greats like Bill Stroppe, Mickey Thompson, Parnelli Jones, James Garner, Rick Mears, Walker Evans, Ivan Stewart, and Rod Hall.  Kicked back in his chair, feet up, relaxed and soft-spoken, this tough as nails racer recounted a few stories from back in the day, and just maybe gave up an old racing secret or two.  Now I just gotta make it into the Baja 1000…!!  GRIM Racing 2015???..

We talked about James Duff and company TV appearances with Stacey David on Gearz and TrucksTV, and all the Duff goodness on projects like Crazy Horse (a major inspiration for my own build), and the Ted Nugent Bronco.


We also talked about the awesome “Duff Tuff” rigs, like HiHo, Loco and his infamous Pony Express, which I had the pleasure of seeing in person at a previous Roundup.  With a glint in his eyes and the crack of a smile, he told me how he still takes The Pony Express into town on occasion, and how he just might be guilty of lightin’ up the tires, kickin’ the back-end around – and still gettin’ yelled at by the Mrs!  In his own words, “Hey, it just turns you into a kid!!” Yeah, GOBBS of horsepower will do that to a man.

100_3405 100_3408 100_3412IMG_1901

Around 1967 this racer turned family-four-wheeler created a full-time business out of making high-quality, race-ready parts for friends and enthusiasts around the country, and the rest is history.  Some years ago Jim handed over the reins to his daughter Suzie, who now runs the company.  Not only is she one of the most down to earth, friendliest people you’ll meet, but don’t let her combination of West-Coast-Cool-meets-Sweet-Southern-Charm fool ya, she’s one to watch on the trails! Check em out here: James Duff Inc. 

All In All

An adventurous weekend doesn’t get much better.  Great times in the great outdoors with family and friends, doing amazing things, and creating memories to last a lifetime.  This is exactly what I envisioned when I bought my ’72 Bronco!!  Our cabin is already booked for next year!

If you’re into the Ford Bronco at all – or even just thinkin’ about gettin into the Bronco – then the Mid-Atlantic Early Bronco Roundup is a MUST ATTEND event!  

Sincere thanks to all of the MEB Roundup volunteers and vendors for such a great event!

Please check out the rest of my gallery here.

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Considering your own adventure to this Central PA region, located along Interstate 81, between Routes I-80 & I-78?  Read on…

About Rausch Creek Off-Road Park (aka RC, or just Rausch)

Rausch Creek Off-Road Park is nestled in the woods of Central Pennsylvania in an area predominantly known for coal mining. It is minutes from exits 104 and 107 on Interstate 81. (Take exit 104 to fuel up, grab some food & drink for the trail, and hit the facilities before getting to the park.)  Spread across four different sections, Rausch Creek provides members 3,000 acres of land ripe for wheeling, and with its well marked trails, this 2010 Four Wheeler Ultimate Adventure destination is like a ski resort for your 4×4. It offers terrain for everyone: the novice, the intermediate, the expert – and the insane.

There are wide logging roads perfect for stockers, full-size rigs, and even military 5-tons. There are the tight woods trails better suited to Jeeps, Broncos and buggies – though that won’t stop some full-sizers from trying.  There is a competition area, consisting of both natural and man-made spraycrete.IMG_3613Finally, there are special-use-only, high-speed sections reserved for ‘King of the Hammers’ qualifying races and Ford Raptor events.  One of the park’s main natural features is an 1,800 foot glacial deposit known as “Rock Creek,” that’s a challenge just to cross.

 DSC_0532 DSC_0531 

Most of the trails meander through the woods under a canopy of trees, keeping you in the shade on hot summer days.  Just watch out as some of the trees jump out at ya.

In terms of amenities, Rausch has a number, offering primitive camping, a small selection of commonly used (or broken) accessories and parts, (like u-joints, drive shafts, recovery straps and vehicle tie-downs), vending machines for an ice cold drink or a snack after a long day on the trails, free air for filling up your tires, a welder to help with trail repairs, and a relatively new pavilion for hosting group events.

Not only is Rausch Creek Off-Road Park THE Premier off-road destination for those in the Mid-Atlantic / Northeast, but it’s also a positive influence on, and boon to the local economy.

About Twin Grove Resort and Cottages.

While I’m no Joe Teti or Matt Graham (from Dual Survival), over the past 20 yeas I’ve camped in Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, including a few nights at Phantom Ranch, and the Havasupai Indian Reservation, both at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Suffice it to say I’m no stranger to camping.  Having now been there twice (I went last year for Trailfest 2013), I can say Twin Grove Resort and Cottages is easily the nicest camp ground I’ve ever visited.

The staff is welcoming, friendly and accommodating.  Everything is clean and well maintained, including the pool, bathrooms & showers, cabins and the overall grounds .  Beyond the usual tent sites, RV hookups and cabins / cottages, there are amenities above and beyond the average camp ground: two pools with water slides, a well stocked general store for all of your camping, hygiene and gift needs, a restaurant, a bar complete with TV to catch you up when you start to feel like you’ve been off the grid too long,  an ice cream parlor, kids rides, mini golf, multiple covered pavilion / picnic areas for large group events, and probably a few more things I’m forgetting.

Whether you’re in the area for an off road event or hitting the local attractions, (like Hershey Park, Knoebels, Cabela’s), or just camping for the weekend, Twin Grove Resort and Cottages is a great place to stay.

Hotel Choices: The Hampton Inn & Comfort Inn at Pine Grove. Exit 100 on Interstate 81.

IMG_1925I like camping. I really do. I’ve already spent 4 nights in a tent this year, and I know we’ll go as a family for at least a couple more.  That said, camping is its own activity for us. After a full, long day on the trails, I’m looking for a nice shower, some crankin’ A/C, room to spread out, and a comfortable bed.  If you’re not lucky enough to snag one of the cabins or cottages at Twin Grove, or if you’re not pulling your deluxe camper, that means a hotel.

I stayed at the Comfort Inn for Trailfest 2013 last August, so this time we tried the Hampton Inn.  Both are immediately off Interstate 81 at ext 100, with dining, fuel and grocery / convenience type shopping (Dollar General) across the street.  Both are equal distance from Rausch Creek and Twin Grove, and you get from the hotel to either without even hitting the Interstate. Both are extremely wheeler friendly and welcoming, offering trailer parking and ‘Rausch Creek’ rates. Both have what I’ve found to be a courteous, helpful staff, and both offer free breakfast.

At around $60 – 70 per night with the Rausch discount, the Comfort Inn is certainly more economical, and shares a parking lot with McDonald’s, which is nice if you’ve got a thing for McGriddles and good coffee in the morning.  I found it perfectly adequate when I stayed for Trailfrest. It’s a good option for those on a tight budget or just looking for a basic hotel room.

While double the price even with the Rausch discount, the Hampton Inn is definitely newer, much nicer and offers the better breakfast. It’s easily my pick, and worth the extra ducats, especially when bringing the wife and kids along.

The Town of Pine Grove

Instead of bypassing town, “just to save 10 minutes of driving,” we traveled Suedberg Rd (rt 443) from the hotel to Rausch Creek, which took us right through the quaint little town of Pine Grove, PA.  Don’t blink.  We were in town for an off-road trip, so I paid attention to things like the coin operated car wash, the auto parts stores (B&S Auto Parts, Napa, Advance, Autozone) and the local junkyards, but I did notice restaurants, a movie theater, a number of package stores, a bar or two, and the usual convenience stops, like 7-Eleven and a Turkey Hill.  One stop I definitely recommend is Buddy’s Family Restaurant.  IMG_1920It’s got character, charm, a friendly staff and some great fried chicken in the basketI even found a florist (Carol’s) in town open at 8am, with a fresh bouquet of roses.  Hey, it was our Anniversary after all!


Finally, even though Pine Grove is only ~2.5 hours from Manhattan, the area has more of a Midwest, than a Northeast feel so keep that in mind when you stop at Subway to get lunch for the trails.  Get there before the crowd, or you’ll definitely be pacing.  The staff at the Park, the Hotels and the Campground were obviously extremely welcoming and very happy to have our crowd.

Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart.  Have Fun.  Hope to see you on out on the trails.

Copyright The Off Road Reference 2014

Categories: Bronco, Events | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Getting’ Ready for a Big Event. Part labor of love. Part pain in the ass. Usually stressful. Pretty much always a mad scramble to the end…

Whether you wheel your daily driver every weekend or bust out the trail machine a few times a year, it’s a good idea to give your rig the once over before you hit the trails, especially if it’s been a while since your last trip off-road. It’s one thing to breakdown on the road to work. Just call the boss-man, then your buddy or the tow truck, and sit tight. It’s another thing completely to break down in the woods.

As with just about everything else in life, the ‘6Ps’ (Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) apply to your off-road trip.  No, you can’t prevent everything. Yes, things break. Sure, those moments sometimes become great learning or bonding experiences. (They’re pretty much always become reasons to break your buddy’s balls.) But do what you can in advance to prevent any issues on the trail.

So, with that in mind, I spent the last few weeks getting ready for the annual Mid-Atlantic Early Bronco Roundup. Since it’d been a while since I had the Bronco on the trails, since I hadn’t driven it much on the road and since I’m a gluten for punishment, I gave her more love than usual.  But probably just like most of you who are balancing all kinds of competing priorities, and while I did much better than years past, I still left a bit too much to the end.

I changed the starter since the last one almost left me stranded in “The Quarry” at Rausch Creek. Big Thanks to those two guys in Jeep TJ Rubicons who wheeled with me the Sunday after Trailfest and helped get me back to the parking lot! Man, I didn’t realize how bad my old starter was until I cranked her over with the new one. Being such a relatively cheap part, and so easy to install, I shoulda changed it long ago. (hint, hint for anyone with older rigs, or a”new” used rig…  And the same could be said for the alternator.)

I changed the transmission cooler lines, just because I didn’t like the looks of the old ones…

I changed the oil in the engine and transfer case. I checked the oil in the diffs, the fluid in the trans, and the coolant levels.

I checked a bunch of fasteners, like those on key steering and suspension components. I checked the lug nuts.  I broke out the torque wrench and brought the intake manifold bolts back to spec, because a couple of those GD things always seem to be a bit loose…

I charged the battery.

I checked the tires, and rolled out the “trail spare”…  (It’s round, once had tread and still holds air, for a little while anyway.  I can get away with this because I’m wheeling with a hundred or more other Bronco guys, and I’m trailering.  I’ll get back to the parking lot just fine if need be.)

There were last minute projects to finish (or start), like changing the sending unit in the gas tank. (The new one only sat in the garage for months…)

Then there were a few last minute surprises. I mean, the fact that the driver’s door handles didn’t work couldn’t really be counted as a cool “security feature.” Given the lift and tires, I’m not goin’ Dukes of Hazard style through the window… “YEE HAW”!

I even cleaned off the undercarriage (HEY NOW), cleaned out the inside, and washed and waxed her.  Hell, I even bought an air freshener for the wife and kids…

Then I gathered up and loaded my recovery gear, trail tools and extra fluids.  Yep, it came down to the wire, but she’s ready.  I got-r-done!

Tomorrow we are loading up the trailer and pulling out.  Which reminds me, I’ll have to double check my straps holding my rig to the trailer.


The point is, A LOT goes into properly getting ready for a trail ride.  Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes you’ll have less prep time than others, but whether you do it yourself, or pay a mechanic to do it for you, do what you can to ensure your rig is ready for the trail before you hit the dirt or head out for that big trip.  It’ll make it a better and possibly less costly experience for you, and for everyone else in your group. 


Now, I should probably pack some clothes, and camera gear, and some snacks, and a few beers for back at the hotel…


Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart.  Have Fun.  Hope to see you on out on the trails.

Categories: Events, Wheeling Education | Tags: , , | 1 Comment