The Rubicon Trail: The Mecca of the off-road scene

The most severe off-road route section in the world

The Rubicon Trail in the US State of California is famous for off-road freaks in the same way as the Nuerburgring North is for sports car drivers. The little-travelled road served in the 19th century as a post road for horse-drawn stagecoaches between Lake Tahoe and the small Californian town of Georgetown. In the 1950s the trail was discovered by the off-road scene. Since then, the Rubicon Trail has been considered the most severe off-road route section worldwide – and is a Mecca for 4×4 drivers.

Nico Garcia Vogel from our partner 4×4 Proyect in Spain has mastered the Rubicon Trail. “The Rubicon Trail is really spectacular, but not for beginners. This is because the ground is laden with stones and rocks which are larger than the vehicles themselves. Breakdowns and ripped off axles, Cardan shafts, dented doors etc. are just everyday occurrences”, relates Nico. It is not without reason that an old Rubicon rule states: Never travel alone. Because whoever travels with another can hold out hope for help.

The demands which are placed on persons and equipment are therefore enormous. Nico: “The entire vehicle is extremely stressed, above all the running gear and drive train. Even with extreme conversions, you can scarcely manage to keep all the wheels on the ground at the same time.” Normal off-road vehicles do not have any chance of surviving the rocky passages undamaged.

Those intrepid spirits, who wish to conquer the Rubicon Trail, arrive with optimized 4×4 equipment. They manoeuvre, as if in slow-motion, inch by inch around the gigantic rocks and deep gouges. “The Rubicon Trail is ‘only’ 30 to 40 km long; however it cannot be mastered in less than two days.  There is no exit anywhere until the end. Whoever begins must see it through”, smiles Nico.

As he did. Nico’s Jeep Wrangler TJ is one of numerous hardcore conversions on the trail in this case. “My jeep is not an extreme rock climbing vehicle, rather a good all-rounder with a comparatively manageable spring travel of 30 centimetres”, according to Nico. As so often, the running gear plays a decisive role here. As is usual for off-road vehicles, which are optimized by 4×4 Proyect, the selection fell to BILSTEIN. Nico is convinced: “A good shock absorber makes all the difference”.

A difference which cannot be automatically identified from the outside of the vehicle, as Nico reports: “The vehicles of the Americans are often extremely modified. So much so that an elderly lady asked me what I was doing on the Rubicon Trail with an unmodified jeep”, Nico laughs.

“I did not bring the vehicle here on a trailer like a toy. It was the sole vehicle which I used to travel 4000 kilometres across the USA. And I needed it for onward travel, because one week later it was shipped back to Europe in a container. A breakdown would therefore not have been an option”.

Nico knows that a good co-pilot is essential: “What is below the vehicle, such as stones which can cause damage, cannot be seen by the driver. The co-pilot must therefore get out continuously and guide and direct the driver. The driver, on the other hand, must sometimes blindly trust the co-pilot and that is the most difficult part.

How well Nico’s set-up functioned is indicated by the following: While other off roaders could not survive the Rubicon Trail drive without their vehicle being damaged, Nico’s Jeep Wrangler conquered the legendary route almost unscathed. Only a small scratch on the bumper gave any sign of 3 days of hardcore off-road use on the Rubicon Trail.

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