While sitting round the fire one Saturday evening with two mates that I know from varsity days, it came to light that although both are outdoorsy type of guys, neither one has ever done any 4x4 driving. So, when Suzuki offered us a chance to test their training facilities at Bass Lake near Henley-on-Klip, I thought it would be a great idea to get my mates on board.
We arrived just after 8am on a cloudy autumn day at Bass Lake, which is on the R59 between Johannesburg and Vereeniging. It had been raining the night before and I was eager to jump onto the wet track. We were met by owner Alan Pepper, who would also be our 4x4 instructor for the day. Training started with a brief discussion about the ins and outs of a 4x4 vehicle, from tyre pressures to selecting the correct gear, and even some fuel-economy tips for driving in the bush.
After the briefing, Ricus, Christo and I each jumped into a Jimny, and Alan took the lead in a Grand Vitara. The mud got to us quickly, and our first task (just 10 minutes into the trail) was a snatch recovery of the Grand Vitara. The Jimny did not stand back at all, but yanked the Vitara out with confidence.
Next up was a deep axle twister, and Christo and Ricus were already looking a bit worried. Alan explained to us how to choose our line over the obstacle by trying to imagine that the wheels were on a fixed pipe, and then keeping that pipe as level as possible as we rolled over the obstacle.
The gents were becoming more comfortable with the ability of the vehicles. Christo was still a bit unsure, but willing. After a couple of steep climbs and shaky descents, confidence was building... until we came to a bit of a step at an awkward angle. Alan asked the unsuspecting Christo if he would be kind enough to bring the Grand Vitara along, and continued guiding him down the step. When the right front wheel crept off the ground, Christo was still oblivious to the fact that he was sitting on a large see-saw. The Grand Vitara tipped very gently, but Christo hadn’t expected that at all, and a shriek (followed by language a pirate would be proud of) erupted from the Grand Vitara. I thought he might bend the Vitara’s steering wheel with his vice-like grip. Ricus was next, but having noted that the Vitara did not tip over, he managed to keep his composure.
After about eight such obstacles, Alan decided it was time to cut the apron strings and let us figure out the next few on our own. And I have to say that Christo and Ricus were getting it spot on!
We had one last toughie to take on - once again, a step down at an angle. This time it was Ricus’s turn to be our clown. As the Jimny tipped and the rear wheel came off the deck, Alan demonstrated to us just how stable the Jimny still was by giving it a good rock up and down – which Ricus hadn’t expected, and again the trail echoed as he shrieked like a teenage girl.
Suzuki’s 4x4-course teaches you the basics of picking lines, walking your obstacle and the need to listen to your guide. It won’t make you a professional, but it will help you not to sound like a complete idiot next time you are sitting around a fire with your mates.