Back Story On The UTE!
Ute update - THE airFRAME™
One of the things that we have learned over the years building roof and bed racks is that if you think you have something designed to be stout enough to handle the off road environment, you should go over it again, add some welds, maybe a gusset or five, make the bolts bigger, and use nylon locking hardware.
You would be amazed how many times in testing a product we ripped things to shreds on what we thought was a mild trail. Broken parts. Fractured welds. Bolts sheared right in half. Access to the best design software on earth is no match for the Rocky Mountains at speed.
Trails show no mercy to your vehicle or the things you have mounted to them. Hit a dirt road with the wrong suspension and 40 Psi in your tires and not only will you jar your soul but you will also shake things loose on your vehicle that you wouldn’t imagine could come loose. All of this experience and knowledge has to come together for the Ute in a final design that can be shipped relatively flat, assembled by someone without a degree in structural engineering, and ready for an adventure before it’s time to readjust your clocks. This should be easy , right?
Design a system that can shows up at your door in some boxes, assembles into the sinister looking tray and canopy we’ve promised you, and survives every dirt road, mountain pass, sand dune, and river bed you can point your truck at. Oh yeah...we also must figure out how to make parts interchangeable between vehicle platforms to keep the production lead times down. So... how?
You abandon what you are used to and aluminum gives way to materials like stainless steel because it is stronger and more rigid. It’s less likely to scratch when you drag it through the bush. You bring in experts on structural steel and you listen to what they have to say. You research bushings, bearings, latches, and handles to find the right one for the job. You embrace stress analysis, metallurgy, and learn about new types of hardware that can handle the abuse a Ute will have to endure to wear the badge. You acknowledge that simply having an idea doesn’t necessarily mean you know the best way to build it.
The airFRAME™ is the first step in that direction. Adaptable to nearly any pickup truck on the market we’ve engineered and re-engineered the most rigid structure for a tray platform ever conceived that doesn’t forget that it is on a vehicle that will be twisting, turning, jumping, and climbing over mother earth and it will do that job while allowing fender adjustment for large tires and long travel suspension.
It integrates weather-resistant boxes and drawers adding storage in places that not only make sense but expand the amount of gear you can bring and how you organize it.
At the end of it all the Ute might be the hardest product we have ever designed. It’s definitely the biggest - but you know what they say? If you have to eat an elephant, then you do it one bite at a time.
The airFRAME™ was the first bite and we cannot wait to show you how It works.
Ute update - How do you know if you got it right?
I’ve just returned from my fourth trip with the prototype Ute. In seven days we covered a lot of ground exploring Wyoming taking in the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and so many things in between. Travelling, or more specifically driving, has never been something I thoroughly enjoy. Being trapped in a truck built for trails on countless miles of interstate is not my idea of a great time but windshield time does give you a chance to think.
I thought a lot about where we started in late 2018 compared to where we are today. When we first began this journey it was really out of necessity. I needed a roof rack, so I made one. I needed a bed rack so I built one of those as well. Banging down a trail in Utah with 40 PSI in my tires (I was lazy) I learned a valuable lesson about welded aluminum. My bed rack looked the part. My welds told an entirely different story. I had a lot to learn.
I ratchet strapped what was left of my bed rack to my Tacoma to finish my trip and chalked it up as a learning experience but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend the rest of the trip and the entire drive home thinking about what I had gotten wrong. I came to terms with the fact that I was not yet a great welder, or even a good one, but I couldn’t help but think there was more to it than that.
That bed rack failure might have been the best thing that ever happened to me from an engineering standpoint. Was it embarrassing? Sure. Does it stay with me now every time I sit down to start the design of a new product? You can bet your ass that it does.
When you get the opportunity to see the Ute in person and you are reading this blog you will see in real life what that experience did for me. Every piece of the Ute was overbuilt. The stress models for a product like this will only take you so far. It’s difficult to compensate for the additional cargo loads, the twisting and turning, and the vibrations encountered on the trails we love to explore. So how do you know that you’ve got it right? You try and destroy it. You load it with more gear than you need. You’ve got to knowingly exceed the weight specifications. You don’t go slow, you go fast. You don’t avoid obstacles, you seek them out. Basically you hammer the product as hard as you can for as long as you can and you try and break it. It might actually be my favorite part of my job now.
Every night you get your tools out and you check the hardware, inspect welds, and verify your torque specifications. You have to crawl over every inch of your creation and find weak spots. Did the hardware stay tight? How are the door seals? Latches good? What about the factory mounting locations? I’ve got a lot of miles on the Ute and there are no weak spots.
So yeah, I saw mountains, geysers, and a bear but I also saw the Ute do what it was made for.