Jeep Rubicon Unlimited Build: Comfort, Traction, Suspension

Polishing a Rubi 6: Upgrading the Jeep Rubicon Unlimited

Jun. 10, 2009 By Jim Brightly
As long as the trail is negotiated slowly, the JK can tow the Rough Rider almost anywhere the JK could go, up to and including Northern California’s famed Rubicon Trail, for which the Jeep Rubicon is named.

As I’ve mentioned in each Polishing a Rubi segment, a jewel’s facet is one of its faces. Facet #6 of Polishing a Rubi covers one more face of the enhancements available for the Jeep Wrangler JK model. Right out of the box, the JK Rubicon—either two-door or four-door—is arguably the best all-around OEM Jeep ever offered to consumers. And as you can see in every off-road catalog, the available enhancements cover every aspect of possible improvements; some quite difficult for the home mechanic, while others are fairly simple.

I’ve been told that the last procedure of prepping a jewel for mounting is polishing. Once the jewel is found, it’s cut to maximize its beauty, polished, and then mounted. In the following article, the 2007 JK Rubicon Unlimited receives another “polishing.”

Author’s Note: Facet #6 is one of the easiest facets—mechanically speaking—I’ve written, as the Goodyear MT/R tires with Kevlar must be mounted and balanced by professionals.

If you enjoy Jeeping, chances are really good that you also enjoy camping. Many of us came to Jeeping from camping; while others discovered camping through off-roading. Either way, if you’re not using a motorhome or toy hauler as a base camp and exploring outward from there, you’re probably carrying your gear with you in the Jeep and sleeping in a tent or in the open under the stars.

Originally designed for the US Army, the pintle hook/lunar ring combination proved itself all over the world in the 1940s and is still being used—in somewhat larger sizes—in the Middle East today. It’s the only OEM hitch available on the Rough Rider.

There are also those of us who do both, and a minority who enjoy finding a trail untaken to explore. As we’re traveling the highways and byways of this great nation or continent, we’ll spot a dirt road wandering up and over a far hill. And like Daniel Boone, we want to know what’s over that distant hill, so we’ll turn off and follow the tire tracks.

If we’ve got our camping gear, food, and fluids with us (and hopefully a friend or two with a like mindset), we’ll continue following those tracks. Perhaps, if we’re really lucky, we can continue onward for a day or two until our Boone gene is satisfied. We may find a remote reservoir, a cool canyon, an abandoned ghost town, or a fantastic fishing hole. Who knows? And that’s the attraction of the trails yet untaken.

With this combination, a campsite can be set up quickly and almost anywhere. Here, we’ve wandered down next to the Colorado River for some quiet R&R by the river.

How many times have we tried being comfortable in a tent? Sleeping on the ground? Here’s the typical scenario: About an hour into REM sleep, you realize your air mattress is no longer an air mattress; it’s just a ground cloth now with no air in it. And what was a slight hump in the dirt at twilight is now a sharp-edged boulder digging into your right kidney. If you try to pump it back up, your 12-volt air pump will probably wake up all your campmates. If we’ve tent-camped, this has happened to us. Or the wind comes up in the middle of the night and the whining, snapping, and bangs from the tent will keep us awake. (Plus, if you’re traveling cross-country, it’s really hard to set up a tent in a Walmart parking lot!)

In fact, on a recent desert crossing camping trip during my teardrop trail testing (see The Mojave Road story here on ORC), several members of our group were in tents. As we sat around the cheery campfire, discussing the day’s events and previous trips, we enjoyed the sweet-scented desert breezes (and the fact that they kept the smoke out of our eyes); however, after everyone had zipped themselves into their sleeping bags and canvas condos, the winds came up with a vengeance. One three-room plastic palace was almost leveled from its force, the tent’s guy ropes were so tight you could almost play them like a banjo, and its occupants were forced to spend the night in their TJ’s reclining seats while the billowing tent kept shaking the Jeep.

Meanwhile, in the same campsite, my wife, our dogs, and I slept away the night without realizing the desert zephyrs had turned into zingers. Fortunately and unknowingly, I’d parked the Jeep and Rough Rider combo facing into the wind, so we didn’t even shake or shimmy during the night, and the Rubi acted like a windbreak so we didn’t hear the wind either.

After a day on the trail in the rainy piney woods just south of the Grand Canyon, both the Jeep and the Rough Rider were carrying hundreds of pounds of mud. But it was all on the outsides, nothing got in either the Jeep or the teardrop.

But what is a “Rough Rider”? It’s an off-road model teardrop trailer from Little Guy Worldwide, LLC, of North Canton, Ohio ( Its full name is Lil’ Rough Rider—as you can see in the photos—but I’ll just call it Rough Rider. An interesting bit of history: Three years ago I saw a Little Guy highway-model teardrop given away on “The Price Is Right,” and I thought a trailer that size with an off-road suspension/tire package would be ideal for Jeep touring, so I called the company with that suggestion. Two years later (last July) I picked up the test unit in Des Moines, Iowa, while we were touring the Midwest, and gave it a 2,500-mile road test.

Beneath the locking rear hatch, a large shelf makes an excellent galley. It’s easy to set up and quick to prep for travel. It has one light and two cabinet doors—the cabinet is accessible from both sides of the cabinet—and adding a light or two to the inside of the hatch would greatly supplement visibility.



Inside, the queen-sized mattress is segmented into three equal sections, which are all attached via the mattress cover. When it’s flat on the floor, it’s a mattress, but it can be configured into a “couch” with two segments for seating and one for a backrest. Chris and Desiree are enjoying a TV program while camped along the Colorado.
Compatible with DirecTV or Dish Network receivers (if you use either at home, you can use them with the VuQube as well), the VuQube automatic satellite TV antenna offers all the advantages of traditional dome-style antennas with the added flexibility of a portable satellite dish. It offers one-touch satellite acquisition, automatic satellite switching, measures just 16x17-1/2 inches high, and weighs just 15 pounds.
Weighing just under 100 lbs., the Onan HomeSite Power 2400 will give you 2,000 watts of power and over 12 hours of continuous operation from its 4-gallon fuel tank. It’s easy to mount on a camping trailer or carry with its full-perimeter safety frame. And it’s quiet; merely 68 dB(A) at 7 meters.

The Rough Rider comes in two sizes—5 Wide (5-foot-wide cabin) and 6 Wide—and I tested a 2009 Lil’ Rough Rider 5 Wide. The 5 Wide’s base price is $7,495 (price as tested was $7,775); while the 6 Wide’s MSRP is $7,995. Let me get the nuts-and-bolts stuff out of the way quickly: The Rough Rider has a 2-inch x 3-inch frame that is welded and powder coated. It has a full belly-pan of 11-gauge steel that protects everything including the axle with its rugged suspension (test unit was equipped with electric brakes). The Rough Rider, which is lower than the JK (71 inches at the vent), has 20 inches of ground clearance to the cabin and 13 inches to the axle (with standard 235/75R15 off-road tires) and, according to the factory, offers a minimum of 19 inches of water-fording capability (although I forded deeper water than that during my test without mishap). Obviously, with taller tires, the clearance goes up. Although the large aluminum straight-line fenders are clearly marked “Not a Step,” they are perfectly shaped for jerry-can carriers and will support the weight of five gallons of water or fuel (I asked!). (By the way, if you mount taller tires, you may have to modify the fenders somewhat to accommodate them.)

The Rough Rider’s locking double entry doors with slider window and screen provide safety and privacy. Since the screened window is in the lower half of the door, I discovered that you’ll need to protect the screens from any gear you carry inside on the 78x58-inch mattress. A rear locking hatch provides access to the galley, and a large roof vent ensures adequate ventilation. Its carpeted interior sides and floor make this teardrop camper trailer comfortable and the vinyl clad headliner is easy to keep clean. The cabin includes interior cabinets, radio, TV, and lights, along with a queen-size sleeping area. The Rough Rider also comes with a front mounted metal screen cargo area, which measures 60 inches by 16 inches, making it ideal for carrying all of that extra gear, a generator, a cooler and/or a couple of bicycles.

The most difficult part of the installation was finding a spot for the compressor. I mounted the air compressor upside down under the Bestop front bumper (at this point I want to thank “Grasshopper” at Precision 4X4 in Kingman, AZ, for all his assistance in this installation).

Weighing approximately 1,420 pounds (5 Wide) or 1,550 pounds (6-Wide), the Rough Rider’s overall length is just over 12 feet, including the tongue. Also mounted on the tongue are the onboard battery and case (for lights and emergency breakaway electric brakes) and the tilt-down, lockable tongue wheel. The Rough Rider comes from the factory equipped with a lunar ring hitch, which means you’ll have to purchase a pintle hook for your Jeep. Since I’ve towed an off-road tent trailer with a standard 2-inch ball coupler over the Rubicon Trail twice—once with a Scrambler—without mishap, I asked about ordering a Rough Rider with a 2-inch ball coupler, “Not available,” was my answer. (I was given the same answer when I asked about ordering the Rough Rider with different hubs.) The tires are mounted on 8-inch rims which have the same lug pattern as TJs—5 on 4.5—but I’m not sure of the off-set. On the Mojave Road, I sliced a tire’s sidewall and borrowed a TJ spare to get home. I’d strongly suggest that you match the lug pattern to your tow vehicle so that you’ll only need one spare (any good tire/wheel shop can order and install new hubs). Also, you’ll find below the galley hatch, a standard-sized tube receiver. I used a slip-in recovery hook during my test, but I noticed that 4WD Hardware offers a spare tire carrier that slips into a 2-inch square receiver, so you might consider one of these for a spare tire instead of changing to matching hubs.

While you’re out on the trail, enjoying the wildlife, the weather, and the wide-open spaces, you may want to enjoy NASCAR, the Sunday football game or keep an eye on the weather forecasts. That means you’ll need to include a Little Guy optional VuQube satellite antenna and an AC electric generator in your camping gear (see full explanations with the photos). For more information and pricing on the various VuQube models, see or call 800-982-9920. The Cummins Onan HomeSite Power generators are a new line of portable generators designed to meet the short-term power needs of homeowners and campers. For prices and dealer locations, visit

I mounted the controller under the hood—for easy troubleshooting—on the air filter’s air box. It barely cleared the hood when it was closed. The controller is connected to the compressor with electrical wiring and air lines; it is also connected to the shocks via air lines.



The front shocks and the rear shocks are connected to the controller with air lines via a front and rear T-junction. The shocks’ valving is adjustable by axle, not as individuals. Each shock’s valve is held in position by air pressure; the amount of pressure determines the setting.

In Polishing A Rubi #4, I installed a Rancho 4-inch lift kit (with RS9000 adjustable shocks) and Bridgestone tires on the 2007 Jeep JK Rubicon Unlimited. In this segment, I’m adding Rancho’s optional wireless remote control for the RS9000 shocks. Although adding this kit is not difficult—the hardest part is trying to find a location to mount the air pump—it is technical. The kit includes the handheld wireless remote, 12V controller, 12V air pump, five air valves (for the shocks—one complete extra assembly in case you need it), way more than enough air line, and a handful of tie wraps.

Rancho’s handheld wireless remote tells the controller what setting to use via RF. It has four pre-programmed settings: Highway, Sport, Work/Tow/Haul, and Off Road. A fifth position, myRIDE, allows you to set the shocks to your personal preference. I mounted to the dash with a small section of Velcro.

Rancho’s instruction sheet is as complete as anyone would ever need, and I have just two additional suggestions. One, in addition to the O-ring and gasket that comes with each valve assembly you may need silicone—either spray or gel—as I did, to fill in the imperfections that might be found in the machined face of the shock. When it comes to wiring the controller, Rancho says to connect it directly to the battery’s posts; I suggest wiring it through the ignition so that it comes hot only when the key is on. Why? Because the controller is constantly monitoring the air pressure in the lines and will pump it up if needed, including in the garage or when the Jeep is parked.

Here’s a comparison between the Jeep Rubicon OEM BF Goodrich tires and the new Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar tires. As you can see, the 34-inch 305/70R17 MT/R tires are 2 inches taller and slightly wider than the OEM BFG 32-inch tires. Also, the MT/Rs must be mounted with the outside sidewall facing outward. They’re multi-directional, but must be mounted correctly to get the full advantage of the tread design.

Wanting to drive the JK on more technical trails, I decided I needed more aggressive and taller tires than the Bridgestones or the original OEM tires, and Goodyear introduced the new MT/R with Kevlar. Since my 1982 CJ7 had been equipped with 12.50x15 original MT/R tires for over eight years without the spare ever touching the ground, I felt the new MT/R with Kevlar would be an even better choice for the Arizona desert (where I live) than the originals; able to shrug off cactus spines with ease, provide added traction over the varied types of terrain, and fill the fender wells better (plus, they simply look good!).

Since the Jeep’s OEM wheels' off-set is completely inward, the adjustable bump stop for the steering must be reset about a 1/4 inch. Jeep welds the set nut to the bolt, so I used a pair of washers. Aftermarket wheels with a different off-set might eliminate this step.

The new Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar became available in March in 30 sizes, including a 42-inch-tall version aimed at the most hard-core rock hounds. Goodyear leaves pricing to its retailers but standard-application tires are expected to cost from $170 to $380 and enthusiast-application tires should run from $300 to $550 per tire.

With the rear fully compressed and the front fully extended, no body, frame or suspension contact happened. With soft shocks, even this rough trail was a comfortable ride. I even left the tire pressures at highway psi to ascertain the tires’ traction when full of air. It was as good or better than any I’ve ever tested in 40 years of off-roading.

As far as I can tell, presently, the 2007 Jeep JK Rubicon Unlimited is complete. It now has what very well might be the ultimate in all-around on- and off-highway tires, its really cool adjustable shocks can be controlled from inside the Jeep while traveling, and I’m looking forward to some day when I can tow the Rough Rider over the Rubicon Trail with my Rubicon.

Doesn’t matter whether it’s a sunrise or a sunset, the JK Rubicon and Rough Rider teardrop make a beautiful combination—the ultimate in off-road camping and/or touring. The pair are now ready for the Rubicon! Newsletter
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