If you’re an avid off-roader, you’ll be aware of the joy and happiness that one can get from climbing and crawling over mountains. But have you ever wondered how fast these rock crawlers can actually go?
Although rock crawlers can reach top speeds of anywhere between 60 – 100 mph or even more, they are not optimized for speed, but instead optimized for maximum torque to weight ratio that allows for climbing and crawling over rocks and mountains.
Similar to ATVs, the top speed of rock crawlers depend on what is under the hood and where they’re being used. Rock crawlers that compete in rallies’ top speeds can easily reach over 100mph, while the true fun of rock crawlers will see vehicles that can barely reach 60mph.
A rock crawler is categorized not by its ability to go fast or slide around a corner, instead they are machines focused entirely on strength. How much power can go down to the wheels without it being lost somewhere along the way? For this, we need to break it down another level to where you get roadworthy rock crawlers and those meant specifically for the task.
It’s easy to see how they differ, a rock crawler made from an old off-road vehicle will look similar to its normal counterparts whereas purpose-built rock crawlers can easily be recognized by their small bodies, large wheels, and complicated suspension systems. In the US it has become popular to use Jeeps and Hummers as weekend getaway cars that can be used on and off the road.
The average and above-average rock crawler
There are vehicles that come standard from the factory that can be used as rock crawlers. These would be Nissan Patrols, Mercedes Benz G wagons, Jeeps, and even a few Land Rovers. However, these can be used for basic rock crawling only. At stock build levels, these vehicles will have limited options and can be affected negatively with too much of an incline or faced with massive boulders.
Enthusiasts will regularly enhance these stock vehicles with lifted suspension, power kits, and larger, stronger tires. These add-ons and modifications make the 4x4s perfect for overcoming the rocks and boulders where they will be driven. However, they can have a few negative effects, mainly affecting the speeds at which they can travel.
With power delivery becoming more effective, the speeds can easily be increased and vehicles like the G-Wagon are powerhouses that have the ability to go well over 100mph. However, because these vehicles are top-heavy, having lifted suspensions, and different controls, traveling at these speeds would be a mistake and dangerous.
More affordable rock crawling options can’t reach these speeds and unlike more expensive versions, won’t have the built-in control systems to handle these top speeds. There is one other class of rock crawlers that use larger engines (up to V12) and are entirely custom built.
The custom-built rock monsters
When you mention rock crawlers to most people the first thing they will think of is these vehicles. Fitted with large tires and even stronger engines they can be seen as roll cages with lifted suspensions and supercharged engines. The use of these vehicles can be for rock-crawling fun or to participate in competitions, where a circuit is set up and they compete for the fastest time to complete each circuit.
These circuits will include deep sand areas that require rally driving skills along with large uphill mountain sections that will see the vehicles jump into the air. Rock crawlers in these races are built not for top speeds, but having acceleration as their top function instead. Going from 0 to 60 in as fast time as possible, unfortunately, with each of these, they have their own metrics.
A V12 engine in one may get it up to 100mph while a V8 that has been supercharged in another may see it beat that speed. However, they are made for more than just racing. These vehicles have the ability to do something that few others can, namely going up vertical surfaces that let them do impressive and sometimes insane jumps over small mounds of dirt.
However, this still leaves the question of what rock crawlers are used for, seeing as they are a popular type of vehicle that will take you across the world, as long as there aren’t any roads for them to cross.
What to do with a rock crawler
Rock crawlers, either custom-built ones or just factory vehicles that have been improved are made to do one thing. Create a road where there is none and where there really won’t ever be one, these vehicles are capable of going over and through roads that few other vehicles will ever be able to.
Stretched into the thinnest version of them, even quad bikes, dune buggies, and motorbikes can be seen as rock crawlers. However, they’re not nearly as fun as seeing the Land Rover that your dad used to pick you up only a few days ago crawling up a boulder seven times its size.
Because that’s what rock crawlers are made for, they crawl, claw and climb onto mountains, filled with rocks and mud. There are thousands of trails across the country where you can go and watch and enjoy these vehicles doing things that are seemingly impossible. The scary part of these vehicles moving across these obstacles is the way they can be distorted or changed.
Rock crawlers move across boulders, mountains, and rocks using more than their suspension though. This is where the power of their engines are used, with strong and slow movements of their wheels, getting them over the obstacle that is in the way. By using their immense power, they can easily, almost literally, claw their way up a mountain.
The strength of the engines is used to keep the wheels turning despite going up a boulder that is almost entirely vertical, using the strength sparingly it lets vehicles that weigh several tons can go almost anywhere. This includes small trees, over shrubberies, and down the other side of whatever boulder they are busy climbing.
When looking at rock crawlers, it is important to remember not to look at top speed, but instead look at how large the wheels are, the kind of suspension the vehicle has and how much power is going down to the wheels. A good rock crawler will be well-balanced in all of these respects, with a small and strong engine that is combined with a suspension that can easily stretch, flex, and twist in all the right ways.
So as mentioned before, although rock crawlers can reach top speeds of anywhere between 60 – 100 mph or even more, they are not optimized for speed, but instead optimized for maximum torque to weight ratio that allows for climbing and crawling over rocks and mountains.