Four wheeling offers a wide assortment of terrain to test and hone our skills. Some is really easy; other areas are quite challenging. One surface that often gives newer drivers trouble is what I call cobblestone.
Cobblestone trails are like gravel roads, with one distinct difference. That difference can have a huge impact on your 4WD experience if you’re not paying attention.
Cobblestone are small rocks that are loose or embedded in the trail, giving it that telltale feel. Those harmless-looking rocks can do nasty damage to tires if you hit them wrong. So it’s critical to drive on cobblestone trails properly.
Many drivers follow the maxim, drive as slowly as possible but as fast as necessary. That’s great advice, but often newer drivers carry it to extremes and get too concerned about every rock they see. Fact is, you can drive at higher speeds (15 to 20 mph) over most gravel and cobblestone-type roads. Just watch for the cobblestones, and respond accordingly.
The image] shows an example of a cobblestone-type trail. You’ll note that the highlighted rock isn’t jagged or pointed but it can be deadly. What makes them hazardous to your tires is that they are embedded. Unlike gravel, which is loose and gets kicked away, some cobblestone stays put.
If you hit one while going more than 10 mph, with tires aired down to dirt and rock range (15 “ 18 psi), you can cut the tires badly. On top of that, you usually cut the back tire before you can stop.
What happened? The sudden impact pinches the sidewall between the rim and the rock. One solution, then, is to steer around these rocks.
If you can’t drive around the rock, slow down to less than 10 mph, drive over the rock, and regain your speed. They generally don’t stand up too high, so you can drive over them even in 4 high. The slower speed allows your tire time to flex properly. In this picture, you could steer slightly to the right and easily miss that rock. The safest thing is nice and slow.
But remember: you don’t have to be overly cautious on gravel and cobblestone-type trails. You just need pay attention to spot cobblestones so you can react accordingly.
Driving uphill on cobblestone
Driving uphill on cobblestone (and, for that matter, gravel) presents its own challenges. Use these tips to climb that hill smoothly.
1. A good, steady throttle is most effective. You’re going up against gravity. If you ease up and lose momentum, then throttle up again, you’ll spin and kick up stones.
2. Double or triple the interval between you and the other vehicle. If the vehicle ahead starts spinning and throwing rocks, your windshield could get damaged severely. (Of course, if you’re towing, you don’t have a choice.) Always keep ample distance between vehicles.
Nearly every trail we four wheelers use offers some hazards. Part of the fun of four wheeling is overcoming those challenges. While cobblestones shouldn’t be ignored, don’t let them control your experience. With practice you just automatically avoid the tire eating cobblestone when possible or slow down and ease over them, thereby allowing you to drive more confidently on those trails.