So, I almost made it to Moab, Utah for the 48th Annual Easter Jeep Safari (EJS), aka Easter Jeep, Jeep Safari, and sometimes just Moab. This year EJS ran from April 12 – 20th, and just like attending King of the Hammers, running the Rubicon Trail and racing the Baja 1000, wheeling Moab should be on every wheeler’s Bucket List. …and if you’re gonna go, ‘might as well go for EJS!
What is EJS?
EJS is to off-roading what Daytona Bike Week is to the Harley Davidson and motorcycle crowd. The event was started in 1967 by the Moab Chamber of Commerce, and was run by the Chamber until the early 1980s at which point it was turned over to a local club of enthusiasts, the Rock Rock 4-Wheelers, who still host the event today. Don’t let the name fool you, EJS is open to all makes and models of 4x4s, not just those with a seven slot grill. Where SEMA is more of a industry and manufacturers trade show, EJS is more for the consumer, the end-user. It’s for you and me, our families and friends.
It’s equal parts:
- Manufacturer and vendor showcase, that brings out the “Who’s-Who” of the Off-Road World. EJS provides an opportunity for not only the aftermarket, but for the actual vehicle manufactures, like Jeep, to conduct customer research, get first hand feedback from real enthusiasts, and test out different ideas and modifications based on how consumers are really using their equipment. For example, some of interior refinements found on the 2014 JK are a direct result of feedback Jeep received during previous Easter Jeep Safari trips. Not only are these vendors and manufactures there, but Mopar Underground (the special, non-existent, black-ops division of Jeep Designers) builds a series of tricked out rigs specifically for this event. Finally, and to further give you an idea of just how important this event has become to the 4×4 and off-road scene, in recent years Jeep has unveiled new, off-road themed models at EJS as opposed to doing so at the LA, Detroit or New York Auto Shows. That should tell ya something.
- Vehicle showcase. You’re sure to see everything from the mild to the outrageous. If there’s anything your thinking of doing to your own rig, or anything you’re thinking of buying, you’ll see someone running it EJS. This makes it a great time to get the real low-down, check fit, form and function for yourself.
- World class wheeling. As cool as it is to meet the celebrities of the off-road World, ogle hot new parts and drool over super cool rigs, you’re in Moab to wheel. When it comes to the wheeling, Moab offers trails for all vehicle capability, and driver skill levels while letting you enjoy some of the most dramatic, and beautiful scenery this country has to offer. (While I haven’t yet made it to Moab, I have been through Utah before.) In an ongoing attempt to make your trip as pleasurable as possible, this year the Red Rock 4-Wheelers offered “First Timer’s” and “Sophomore” Trail Packages geared more towards letting you enjoy the spectacular scenery than letting novices bet their vehicles (and their pants) on outrageous obstacles.
- A chance to make new friends and create lifelong memories. Of course, and just like any other event of this scale, EJS offers great opportunities for good ‘ole fashioned people watching.
- A working model for the successful, win-win-win partnership, and symbiotic relationship that should exist between enthusiasts, conservationists and the local economy. With EJS, the Red Rock 4-Wheelers successfully partner with, and bring together, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC), the local Chamber of Commerce, local business, local residents and 4×4 & off-road enthusiasts from literally all over the United States of America – if not the World. Look at those states that offer very little, to no legal off highway or off-road vehicle access, and you should quickly realize what the Red Rock 4-Wheelers do is a major accomplishment.
Current Off-Road Market Trends
Well, even though I wasn’t there, the magic of technology, and some industry colleagues helped me stay close to the goings-on. Now, after an embarrassing amount of hours web-wheeling via other people’s pictures & videos, perusing other blogs, posts and magazine coverage, here are some trends I’ve noticed. While a part of me hates to say it, a lot of it has to do with practicality. (Have we crazy and outrageous off-roaders gotten practical about it?? Wait, is that bad??)
- Some things never change. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Quality performance parts from well known brands, and promising newcomers are always welcome. Things to increase engine power, improve vehicle reliability, increase driveline strength and ever more gearing options always excite this crowd. Likewise suspension and lift kit options, big tires, new tread designs and cool wheels are always crowd pleasers with this group. You’d think these areas of the market are already saturated, but innovation and ingenuity continue to persevere. It’s a beautiful thing to see!
- Overlanding is HUGE, and will continue to gain popularity. …and why not?!? It make sense, Overlanding or Expedition Travel, is easier to get into than some other forms of off-roading, and co-exists a bit better with everyday work and family life. Since the mods needed for overlanding aren’t as extreme as those needed for rock crawling or harder trail riding, overlanding is usually more budget family and vehicle friendly. (Though those rooftop tents, fancy coolers and in-vehicle espresso machines get real pricey, real quick.) Likewise, overlanding lends itself to more vehicle choices. While your Chevy Suburban, with as much sheetmetal as the broadside of barn, will never make a great tight-woods trail rig, it could very well be the base platform for the perfect overland / expedition vehicle for you and your family. Also, as more and more people get bored with pre-packaged, big box type trips for the masses, with less and less, almost artificial “adventure”, overlanding offers something a bit more unique and real. Who knows, it might just be the bridge between off-roading and mainstream America. It’s more practical for most people with an SUV. Hell, back in 1994, before I knew there was a term for it, I did some “Overlanding” in a stock Jeep Cherokee on a cross country trip. (That might make an excellent upcoming post. Has it really been 20 years?)
- Aluminum is the new steel. More and more, off-road armor, traditionally made of thick, 3/16 – ¼”, heavy steel, is being made of aluminum. I’m talking about parts like bumpers, skidplates, rock rails, suspension links and steering links. All which are expected to protect things like delicate sheet metal and driveline components while taking hard-core punishment in the form of being slammed into, or dragged against and along rocks, boulders, trees, stumps, etc. etc. But it makes sense. Added weight kills power, performance and mileage, while making parts wear out faster, or fail completely. Consider that a full-width, plate style front bumper for a Jeep JK or other midsized 4X4 made of traditional steel will add ~80 – 120lbs to your rig – and that’s without a winch. Add more common parts like a rear bumper / tire carrier, rock rails and skid plates, all made of steel, and a lean ‘n mean JK can tip the scales at close to, or over 6,000 lbs. Who wouldn’t want to reduce overall vehicle weight without sacrificing strength? Especially on a dual, or multipurpose rig that sees pavement more often than not? It’s practical, right? Interestingly enough, the newly unveiled 2015 F-150 will be rockin’ an all aluminum body, while GM also plans to increase the use of lighter weight aluminum in its pickups.
- LED lights and light bars are [still] all the rage. There’s no denying LEDs and LED light bars look great, are easy to install and throw ridiculously absurd amounts of light – without taxing your vehicles electrical system. What’s not to like? What more can I say?
- Black is not the only color. After years, and seemingly years of subdued styling with blacked-out grills, and headlights, and turn signals, and wheels, and lug nuts, and… you get the idea. Well, chrome and color maybe making a comeback in the off-road scene. (OK, this one’s admittedly a stretch. Maybe I’m just personally caught between still loving black wheels and starting to think they’re the off road version of tribal-arm-band tattoos from the 90s…and now a bit overdone?)
- Less is more. Ok, while the last one may have been a stretch, this one is definitely a trend. Maybe it’s a statement on an overall economy still struggling to recover, or maybe it’s inline with a trend towards practicality, but I see it with overall builds, and certainly in the suspension lift / design category. The vehicles gracing the covers and pages of the industry rags, the Internet sites, and even the Mopar Underground concepts just aren’t as outrageous as in years past. Compared to vehicles like the Immortal (with portal axles that cost as much as a baseline 2-door Wrangler), Blue Crush and Lower Forty, the 2014 Mopar Underground vehicles are markedly less radical.
Though maybe a disappointment to those who love the spare-no-expense, built-to-the-hilt custom one-offs, the good news for 2014 is that Mopar Underground / Jeep Performance showcased many production, or production prototype parts consumers can actually purchase from dealers. Things like Mopar / Jeep branded lift kits, in both 2” & 4” varieties, heavy duty axles (Dana 60’s), high line fenders to clear big tires, beadlock (or beadlock capable) wheels, special badging, color accents, and graphics. Click here to read a bit more about the concept vehicles and see what the gang from the popular 4×4 rags thought of each. Also markedly less common these days (dedicated mud trucks not withstanding) are super tall lifts. The taller the lift, the higher the center of gravity, and potentially the less stable the vehicle. Taller lifts also increase wind resistance which decreases aerodynamics and fuel mileage. And that’s to say nothing about fitting your lifted JK with big rubber into your home’s, or a public parking garage, which again, shouldn’t be totally discounted if you’re building a dual, or multipurpose rig.
Yup, 2 – 3 inches of lift and nice 37″ mud terrains would be perfect for my JKUR too…
In the end, Easter Jeep Safari just wasn’t in the cards for me this year, for a whole host of reasons. (Hey, I’m on the East Coast. It’s roughly 30 hours one way.) Hopefully though, this gives you an idea of what Easter Jeep Safari is all about, why it’s cool, makes you want to go too! I hope it also gives you some things to think about if you’re planning to modify your rig for better off road performance. Maybe next year. By then, the Rubicon should have a lift, wheel, tires, rear bumper…
Finally, and just to make sure I don’t leave you under-whelmed, check out the Road Warrior from Teraflex for something a bit more over the top:
Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart. Have Fun. Hope to see you on out on the trails.