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A Skeptical Auto Journalist Learns To Love Off-Roading

“I’ll try not to kill ya,” says Dane Garvik, driver of the 2017 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Sport we’re about to take straight down into a mudhole in a forest outside Road Atlanta.

A quick peek reveals we really ought to attach a bungie cord to the vehicle, but Garvik, marketing maven from FOX Shocks, appears to have done this a couple of times before (actually dozens) so the plunge is a rockin’ pleasure, not unlike a roller coaster, except we’re only doing 15 MPH.

I can hear a mess of gravel during this maiden run banging the skid plates, too, here and there. The sound is satisfying.

“You can tell we’re experiencing tons of body roll,” says Garvik.

“YES. IT. IS. APPARENT.” the rest of us manage to say while being bashed left, right, up, and down.

Ride over, all that was left to say was “Let’s go again! Let’s go!”

Being from the city and having almost no experience with off-roading save the odd press event from Volvo or Land Rover through the years, I could nonetheless tell as each successive Jeep was taken through the woods how much more balanced and pleasurable the rides were, rather than the sweet violence of the first ride which, while a thrill, would probably wear you out pretty quickly.

The invite itself had been a no-brainer: “Using the FOX Proving Grounds next to our tech center outside Road Atlanta,” it read, “We’ll have four vehicles for you to experience, from stock all the way up to our Factory Race Series suspension and a Digital concept.”

A ticket was bought, a bag and guitar were packed and before long, I was mingling with these down-to-earth dudes and bros who had prepared a severe off-road course and Jeeps for me to get banged around over the river and through the woods in aid of demonstrating their high-end, hand-built shock absorbers.

But, of course, it was pure education, too, part of what makes this job continually exciting. I used to think off-roading was a questionable use of time, gas and energy. I’d sooner take photos in the forest than drive through one. This event changed my mind. I just hadn’t done it properly before.

Comparison rides were delivered in four Jeeps, each outfitted with a more detailed arsenal of equipment designed to maximize the fun factor of off-roading, 2021. Without sounding too much like an ad for Fox, here’s what was on the menu, and what it would cost you to do similar. (You don’t need to have a Jeep – you can do it with whatever rugged machine you own.)

·      Vehicle One2017 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Sport (100% stock)

·      Vehicle Two2017 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Sport with FOX Performance 2.0 Series Shocks ($169 x 4 shocks + stabilizer $169 = $845), JKS 2.5” Suspension Lift and 33” BFG KO2 tires on 17” Method wheels

·       Vehicle Three2020 RMT Overland Jeep Wrangler JL with  FOX Performance Elite 2.5 Series Shocks ($1,399 – front/$1,349 – rear + stabilizer $289 = $3,037), JKS 3.5” JKS Suspension Lift, 35” BFG KO2 tires on 17” Method wheels

·      Vehicle Four – 2021 Jeep Gladiator JL with FOX Factory Race Series 3.0 Shocks ($2,949 – front/$2,649 – rear + stabilizer $439 = $6,037), JKS 3.5” Suspension Lift and 37” BFG KM3 tires on 17” Method wheels

With each successive Jeep, over the same bumpy course, our ride got smoother and smoother, although “smooth” in this case is relative.

It was more than just a spin around the forest, though – it got us all back in touch with the ground. Mud. The green leaves on the trees. The air. The things that matter, in other words. After a year of a world gone topsy-turvy, this was a welcome outing indeed.

A guy named Bob Fox started the company by designing and manufacturing motocross shocks in the early 1970s – a different world, and when gas was 59 cents a gallon.

He then expanded into Superbike racing, Indy 500, snow, desert racing, ATV, truck, Jeep, mountain bike and UTV. The company Fox built went public on the NASDAQ exchange in August 2013, and Braselton became the new FOX headquarters in late 2018.

Will off-road vehicles singularly blacken the sky? No. Frivolous? Absolutely. But this’ll still be fun when we’ve all gone electric. And fun is important, after all. Ask anyone who was alive in 2020.

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