The blacktop is an ideal place to hone in on a particular set of driving skills. But eventually we all get that urge. The one that pushes us to go off-road, to explore something new, to experience all that Mother Nature can throw at us. Feel the dirt! Breathe the air! Maybe startle a few unsuspecting woodland creatures! There’s just one tiny, little, thing to keep in mind: There is no actual road.
True off-roading requires planning, strategy, and resourceful thinking. No off-roader can simply plow through any obstacle in their path. So, gather ‘round, greenhorns. We’ve got Dennis Wood of Teraflex and Ryan Osborne of TrailFX to share some strategy tips for newbie off-roaders.
Going off-road isn’t all about blasting over stumps—it’s a brain game, a puzzle. “Off-roading is not about how much power your rig makes through the obstacle, or how fast you can shoot over or around. That’s how you do long term, costly damage,” shares Osborne. The idea is to take your time with each hurdle, through a planned course of action. This is a basic tenet to safe wheeling that newbie off-roaders should take to heart.
“Generally, visualize the obstacle and create a plan in your head, remembering/knowing the considerations of your differential(s), transmission, or other things that could cause you to get hung. Keep the line that will keep your undercarriage clear from these obstructions. Know when it’s time to be slow-and-steady like the tortoise or skinny-pedal-down. These come with time and experience,” adds Osborne.
When first entering the off-road scene, many newcomers will hear about ‘airing down’ their tires. This plays a crucial role out there in the wild. “No matter the terrain–rock, mud, snow, dirt, sand, etc.—it’s important to lower your air pressure for greater contact ratio from your tire to the terrain. This will increase traction and make for a more pleasant ride,” says Osborne.
But remember, don’t air down unless you have a way of airing back up. Driving for too long on deflated tires can cause damage in the long-term. Many aftermarket companies offer air compressor kits, like this game-changing system from Up Down Air Systems which safely and easily adjusts the pressure of all four tires simultaneously.
Momentum, Not Speed
Listen up newbie off-roaders, because this one’s important. When in doubt, don’t throttle out. It’s best to work up to an obstacle with momentum, as opposed to tackling it head on with high-engine speed. Being heavy on the throttle is a great way to lose traction or even break parts when that traction is suddenly regained. Dennis Wood of Teraflex explains the concept: “You can take a Jeep® up to a curb and step on the gas. It’ll just stall on it. It takes a ton of throttle to finally climb up onto it. Or you can just back up four inches and roll into that curb. You can be moving at almost any speed. With just a little bit of momentum you’ll roll up onto that curb as if it’s nothing. That same thing applies off road.”
Once you move off the beaten path, everything changes. This is Mother Nature’s world, and she likes to throw out a lot of unexpected obstacles. With that in mind, scouting ahead is always a good idea when you are unfamiliar with the terrain. “There’s nothing wrong with getting out, checking it out, and living to wheel another day,” shares Wood.
Thoughtfully plan out your path and how to approach any potential obstacles. “If you’re the lead guy, it’s a whole different story than if you’re even the second guy in line. If I’m the second guy, I follow the lead guy’s line as tightly as I can,” says Woods. He also points out that you obviously only want to follow a lead path that’s successful. If the guy in front of you winds up in a sticky situation, you need to plan out a better line to approach.
Newbie Off-Roaders 101
The best strategy tip we can offer is to approach off-roading with caution. Sure, being a talented driver goes a long way, but getting ahead of oneself can be dangerous. Going alone, especially when first starting out, is really not an option. We all want to be good as soon as we get started, but technique takes practice. And practice means more time out on the trail—which isn’t such a bad thing, right?