Friday, 18 March 2016

TWO STRANGE COUNTRIES. TWO NEW CHALLENGES

A new continent and an altogether new type of overland vehicle were placed on my plate early one morning in February. I was in Dubai, my first time touring any part of Asia, with a Toyota Land Cruiser six-wheel drive loaded with camping kit in the driveway, ready to go.

This delightful prospect had kept me awake for three months as the trip was proposed, organized and now imminent.


Shaun and Andronette Mayer, South African expats living in Dubai, approached me with the idea of driving across Oman. That idea alone was enough to get my wanderlust boiling over. It turned out that, for over a decade, the two of them had made overland touring in that part of the world a specialty. They had also been part of an editorial team that has produced a number of guidebooks for the area. So, my hosts were well qualified to show me how to take full advantage of Oman.

The brief to me was: “Get yourself here with a toothbrush and driving license. We will do the rest.”

This made me a bit nervous. Many years ago under similar guidance, I found myself alone next to a river with a vehicle, but no fuel, a Swiss-Army knife my only tool, and a night spent on the open dirt with no sleeping comforts of any kind. Not even a blanket. But that’s for another campfire. 

In contrast, Shaun and Andronete pulled out all the stops and showed Gwynn (my wife) and me an absolutely wonderful time in the desert.


But topping everything was the truck. I like Land Cruisers quite a lot. But this one was beyond expectations. At first, I was told my vehicle would be a Jeep Wrangler, and that was good for me. Any time in a Jeep is good. 

Then there was a change in plan, and I was told, “A Dubai company specializing in vehicle accessories and truck builds is loaning you one of their creations.”

This also added to my sleepless nights. Arabs like their 4x4s—a lot. In fact, a bit too much to be healthy really. Some of their outlandish creations are absurd. Me being a bit conservative in my vehicle tastes, I really didn’t want something I wouldn’t appreciate.

What I was eventually given curled my toes. A Toyota Land Cruiser 79-series pickup, fitted with the highly evolved Australian Multidrive 6x6 conversion. With a payload in excess of three tons, (not that I needed it) articulated rear axles, auto diff locks and twin fuel tanks, this was going to be amazing.

As I first clapped eyes on it, it dawned on me that this vehicle could be an even better overland vehicle platform than my beloved Cruiser Troopie.  But, how would it drive? That would be the deciding factor.

The route took us through a section of dunes inside the Al Marmoum Conservation Reserve in the UAE. Shaun wanted to show us Arabian Gazelle, Oryx and camels. But I was less interested in the wildlife because I wanted to find out how a 6x6 played in deep sand.

With this in mind, I decided to first drive at normal tire pressures, while Shaun dropped his heavily loaded Land Cruiser-76 pressures down to about 1-bar (±14,5 PSI).

Astonishingly, I kept up with him, although not with ease. As the day became hotter, I too had to accede: while the 6x6’s capabilities in sand were good, it was no magic carpet. Even with six of them, they will dig in when the sand gets soft enough.

But the big surprise was the truck’s agility. I expected it to feel heavy, cumbersome and a bit of a handful. Not a bit of it. It felt a bit heavier than my Troopie, but not to the point where is became difficult to control. It displayed a similar amount of over-steer and under-steer to what I was familiar with. By the end of the day, I was delighted with my truck.

The roads heading south through Oman towards the high plateau were a good test for its on-tar feel. And this is where I was amazed. It tracked as well as a stock Land Cruiser 79 with a high quality suspension upgrade. But its ride was even better. The tendency for a lightly loaded stock Cruiser-79 to kick a bit at the back had gone.

High in the Al Hajar mountains, I was introduced to the best overland mountain pass I have even driven. Ninety minutes spent climbing over 6000 feet of elevation, with switchback after switchback, all surrounded by towering cliffs. The 6x6 handled this challenge as easily as any 4x4 pickup. The brakes were excellent, better that my stock Troopy by a large margin (stock Troopy brakes with rear drums are lousy!)

Over the top and, to my absolute delight, the tortuous decent was loose gravel. Heaven! And this vehicle was easy to drive. With no overt under-steer, as I expected, a bit of over-steer can be induced— exactly what I am used to. Another two hours of straining against the seatbelts and I think I permanently creased my face with a smile all the way down that pass. I loved every inch of it.

The routes through Oman were brilliant. The truck marvelous. The scenic shots unsurpassed. The quality of the campsites terrible. Sadly. While the rubbish, litter and general mess around many of the campsites dented our impression of Oman, it did not spoil our enjoyment of the country to any significant degree. Surely litter and mess is an easy problem to solve. Trash cans, education and a bit of political will is all it takes.

My verdict on the Multidrive 6x6 Land Cruiser is: In a dual-cab configuration with a quality camper canopy installed, it would be a truly amazing long distance overland truck. It has everything going for it.

This one had the 1HZ, 4,2 normally-aspirated straight-six diesel engine, the one loved by undeveloped countries because of its lack of any electronics. Even with the after-market turbo fitted, it’s still a bit underpowered. In Asia these Cruisers can also be delivered in 4-door dual cab form with the 4.0 V6 petrol, and in Australia with the 4,5 V8 diesel. Fuel consumption on this trip equaled that of Shaun’s laden Cruiser-76 station-wagon, averaging about 15 liters per 100 kilometers (±18mpg)

But the very best part of this rig is its ride on rutted tracks and washboards. The rear axle system means that when axle-2 rides up, it pushes axle-3 down.  And when axle-3 is pushed up, it pushes axle-2 down.

Driving over speed humps displays how this works. As the front wheels ride over the bump, the vehicle hops as normal, but the effect on the rear is odd to say the least. Almost nothing happens. Because of this suspension, the rear lift over the bump is divided by two. In the cab, the rear wheels lifting over an obstacle can hardly be felt. Off road, it feels strange and took a bit of getting used to. Once I got the measure of it, I was so impressed. The ride on tracks is amazing.

“Quite horrid corrugations,” Shaun said once. I looked at him with a blank stare. I honestly hadn’t even noticed them. Truly. But I leave this one for when I’ve experimented some more with this setup on corrugations. I find it all a bit to good to be true for now.

So, as I contemplate my next major vehicle build, (in Australia) I have to consider if this truck is the next step up the overland ladder. Could the Cruiser 6x6 be turned into the perfect overland truck? We’ll see want the future brings. As far as Oman is concerned, it could easily become a favorite. We loved every minute of it.

By Andrew St Pierre White.


Videos are linked here. From 4xOverland.com







Wednesday, 25 March 2015

New 4xOverland

Hi All


A short note to let you know that the all-new 4xOverland website is live.
Please go and take a look. I'm proud of what we have achieved.

Secondly, this blog will be closed, and this will be the last post.
The replacement will be blogged on the new website.

www.4xoverland.com.

Click the BLOG link on the top of the home-page.
My latest blog, can here found HERE.

I loom forward to hearing from you.

my best as always,

Andrew

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

All my TV shows, FREE for everyone.

It’s no secret that making great TV shows about overland exploring is why I was put on this Earth. Well, at least I think so.

This month I posted a video about a really great 4x4, that had lots of accessories attached to it. It was built as an example of what can be done by this company. But once the video was put up on YouTube, they weren’t happy. They felt it was a negative reflection on them that the vehicle was now so seriously overweight and that its C of G was so high, it was unpleasant and unsafe to drive.

From my point of view, there are two ways of looking at it.

Firstly, the vehicle is a showcase of what can be done. “Look at us. We can do a lot of really cool stuff.” In truth, the equipment was not designed all to be fitted to the same vehicle. There is no surprise that it’s so heavy. As a showcase, it looks stunning, but the beauty is skin deep.
The other way of looking at it is, if an experienced accessory maker does that for themselves, then why wouldn’t they do it for a customer? And they wouldn’t. They know that it is overweight. Hence their valid concern that it could be construed the wrong way.

This begs the question, should they have done it at all? Surely it would have been better to build the ‘perfect’ vehicle, and get everything right. In this example, they lost site of the package in an effort to show off its bits, and it sends mixed messages. It is actually an excellent example of how too much gear can ruin a vehicle. And this is the message I was trying to get across in the video.

I acquiesced and removed the video and replaced it with my comments about the vehicle’s weight issues removed. I did this because it was paid advertorial. I am ashamed to announce that it is the very first time in over 200 4x4 videos and TV shows that I have done this.

I commented about the weight because weight issues are important when designing an overland truck. And I wanted to share my experiences. Because that’s what I do. But in this case, I couldn’t.

My shows have to be financed. They are not overly expensive to produce because I do most of the work myself, but they are not cheap either, largely because of the distance required to shoot them.

Since I made my first series in 2005, motor and accessory manufacturers have sponsored my shows. But, as an unbreakable rule, I will not have my work ‘passed’ before it goes on air. As a result, I have struggled to find backers and been blacklisted my more than two motor manufacturers because they were truly put out by a negative comment. These include Land Rover the first Discovery-2 and its appalling traction-control that digs great holes in the ground to get grip. And the Ford Ranger V6 auto of 2006, which remains the worst 4x4 I’ve ever driven. These scars take a long time to heal, even though in both cases I have reviewed their later models without any significant criticism because they no longer deserved it.

As a result, it has become more and more difficult to get sponsorship. This is despite my audience growing like never before, due largely to my YouTube channel. In July this year, it was averaging 1,2 million views a year. Not high in a global sense, but exceptional when it comes to niche interest videos. Today, the average exceeds 2,1 million views a year – that’s 6000 a day. The growth is phenomenal. This is part because I’m now attached to a top multi-channel network to promote the shows, and the regular stream of videos I’ve been creating.

This growth begs a question. If I uploaded all my shows (an additional 76 full-length episodes), not currently on YouTube, what would happen? YouTube ad revenue is so small that it doesn’t really count. It would just about pay to insure my 4x4. But there are two other significant outcomes that may results.

The channel gets so big that manufacturers come to me and ask me (not visa-versa) to use their vehicles. And then I can set the terms. The secondly is Patreon.

Crowd funding is now commonplace and known as much for its failures as its spectacular successes. Patreon is a crowd funding system that will permit me to release all my previous work for all to see – for free – and leverage a small amount from the most eager viewers. This will enable me to produce more, better, and more exciting videos.

We released our Patreon campaign last Monday at 5pm. By 6pm the nest day we had achieved our first modest goal of $100 per video. This means that another 26 shows will be released on YouTube over the next six or so months. The amazing thing is, this cost so far is being shared by only 29 people as many have chosen to pay way more than $1 for a video. They are evidence of the magic of this system in that they have decided the value of the content for themselves. Also, the beauty is that even those who don’t want to pony up anything, still get to see the shows.

Our next goal is $500 dollars. Then it goes from $1000 and the way up to $12000. To find out what is promised when that milestone is reached, you will have to click here.

So, if you enjoy the 4x4 shows I produce, please get involved, even in the smallest way. Every contribution, no matter how small, makes a world of difference.

Or watch the video to find out more:



Wednesday, 20 August 2014

I'm ditching my hi-lift for a better idea

Hi-lift jack versus air-jack.

During shooting of 4WD-season-4 I visited my old pal John Rich at Stoney Ridge to drive the new Isuzu and to get it stuck. This was successful, although I have to admit, the Isuzu put up a struggle. In John’s riverbed, finally we managed to bog it down to the belly. The plan was to demonstrate the use of an air-jack. Takla makes the best one I’ve seen, and they asked me to “Give it a meaningful test”. So I decided that I should give it the ultimate test – to see if it could, practically speaking, replace the Hi-lift jack.


 Why replace the hi-lift?
The hi-lift can be a nasty thing. It’s heavy. Weight is one thing that all overlanders have to (or should) worry about. So often the hi-lift is attached to the vehicle in inappropriate places: the roof rack is high up and bad for C of G. On the bull-bar is extremely dangerous. On the tailgate standing up is probably the best. Another alternative is to dismantle it and have the mechanism in the vehicle with just the shaft on the roof-rack. This is probably the best, as the mechanism doesn’t get dirty and much of the weight is lower down.
In use it’s dangerous, and even experienced users handle it with great respect. It can kick up, and smash teeth and faces. It can jamb at the most inopportune moment, only then to kick up. Once up, the vehicle is extremely unstable. A single person using it to get a vehicle free must be oh so very careful that the vehicle doesn’t fall at the wrong moment. However, it can get a vehicle out of a very gooey mess, very effectively and is a lifesaver. When nothing else works, call on the hi-lift. It is just the job.
So the question is, can an air-jack be called upon in equally difficult situations? This was my quest, to see if it could.
On the surface, and air jack does not need a jacking plate and even in the softest ground does not sink in at all. So I don’t need to carry a heavy and bulky jacking plate. It can drop to approximately the height of a hi-lift, albeit with a larger surface area. So more preparation is required of the ground with an air-jack. But, add a jacking plate, and the two are about equal.
The Isuzu had sunk up to its belly, so there was a vacuum formed underneath. In this situation, a winch would have to work very hard indeed, where a lift would be required. It seemed an adequate test. John has been using an air jack in preference to a hi-lift for years, and he is one of the few people I know who recovers a vehicle almost on a daily basis, running advance recovery courses as he does. And he ditched his hi-lift some time ago.
The recovery was not only a success but proved to me that an air-jack is like a hi-lift in that it needs knowhow and experience to get the most out of it. But it is safer (can’t kick anyone and has a safety valve), more stable, is as easy to make fine adjustments (the Takla version is, with its valve system) and better at lifting a vehicle. Yes, better.
Better
It’s better because one does not need to make any modifications to the vehicle to use an air-jack on the front, sides or back. With a hi-lift, the vehicle has to be modified with bumpers or rock-sliders, both very heavy items. It needs far less physical effort to use. And it can easily and more safely be used by a single operator.
On the downside
An air-jack cannot be used as an emergency winch. But, actually, neither can a hi-lift. It can in theory, but not in practice. It requires rope with zero stretch to winch a vehicle at about twenty-feet-per-day. The procedure is painfully slow, in short steps, almost all of which is used to take up slack and stretch. And who carries that much plasma rope in their kit, who doesn’t already have a winch?
The air-jack is easier to stow, and can be strapped to a spare wheel on the rack on the back. It’s lighter and is not prone to sticking. It can be damaged by rolling over onto a spike, but the good ones come with a repair kit.
All in all, looking at this closely and with the experience at John’s, I have concluded that there is only one significant (if you can call it that) advantage the hi-lift has over the air jack, and that is that it doesn’t look as macho. And I propose that it is for this reason why most overlanders will not swap their hi-lifts for this ugly, oversized air-spring.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Why is there so much crap on TV?

Since being in the UK, I’ve had the opportunity to see how the TV commissioning game works. And it’s not a pretty sight. During this time I have come to understand (I think) why the standard of TV, in particular non-fiction programming, is so poor.

The way to get a new author’s novel past the front desk and into the hands of someone who might recognize it as a possible best-seller is the same as it is with TV shows. It is not an urban legend that Harry Potter author JK Rowling plied publisher after publisher to get seen, being handed rejection after rejection. It was because the system did not allow great ideas to filter up to top management because those on the front line were the lowly privates, not the officers. I imagine thousands of great works never published because of this inept system. Because new authors can now easily self-publish, it has changed the way publishers find new authors. They look for the best sellers, monitor trends, and then when the time is right, offer the biggest authors publishing contacts. They take the risk out of publishing new authors because their ‘new’ author is already selling. In some cases they make the authors world famous, and in others, kill their work by unfair contracts. But the authors who get no such offers, they can still publish their work and attract followers, and make a good living out of writing.

The TV commissioning system is very similar.

I have a new idea. It’s called The Vanishing Act. I think it’s the best TV idea I’ve ever had. With some research amongst my peers, it’s been met with universal excitement. Not expensive to produce, it has huge series potential, and will appeal to a wide, middle-class audience and has extraordinary visual appeal. It ticks all the important boxes, so a network should get excited too. Not likely. The trouble is, it doesn’t appeal to most twenty-something girls, And that is who has to approve the idea for it to be taken any further. Without getting past them, it’s a non-starter.

On the front line of most new program commissioning systems are twenty-something girls. What appeals to twenty-something girls? Not a trans-Africa expedition, or a trek across the Simpson Desert. And not The Vanishing Act. If by chance it does get a second look, then a team of slightly older, but not much more sensible young people get to give it the thumbs-up or down.

The result of this system are programs with gutter trash themes of domestic violence and illicit sex, incest, bank repossession teams, clearing out storage containers (which I should add, is scripted with actors), makeup, cool sweaty men driving cranes and shouting Yee-haa when they successfully move a log, teenage pregnancy and so on. Despite the claims made on the commissioning pages of networks like Sky and Ch4, the system fails to produce quality shows that fill the wide needs of a wide audience. Instead it fills the needs of the lowest common denominator of intelligence in the viewing public. Intelligent people have to hope for something they like on BBC-4, or go to bed and read a book.

The end is in sight for regular, terrestrial TV.

It’s again the Internet we have to thank. I’m cancelling my Sky subscription when the one-year contact ends, because everything I want to watch is free-to-air. I look out for BBC documentaries, which are of a very high standard. They rejected The Vanishing Act too, but for a reasonable reason. They liked the idea but felt it was too close to something they have in the pipeline. I must accept this at face value. But Channel-4’s response was typical of the system. They said it was too “Straight’ and that they wanted more ideas like “The Undateables”, a series dedicated to unfortunate people who are so ugly or deformed that nobody could ever possibly want to date them.

To get on the first ladder to a commission, the idea must firstly have a title that resembles a Hollywood movie, it must feature a TV or Hollywood Star and ideally needs to have some degenerative disease as a theme.

The solution.

Stop paying monthly bills for TV you don’t watch and instead back independent film producers making things you want to watch. Back crowd-funding projects like those that appear on Kickstarter. Subscribe to websites with shows you like such as 4xoverland.com.

Andrew


picture: scene from The Vanishing Act.