Zen and the Art of Bumping it Up

There are exceptions to every rule, and that includes the rule general guideline to avoid using your gas pedal. As a part of your vehicle, your gas pedal is a tool in your toolbox that you can use surmount obstacles when forward progress is inhibited. It’s a tool that should be used a last resort, and it should be used in a cautious and calculated manner in order to avoid catastrophe – sort of like sliding a 4′ breaker bar onto the end of a 3/8″ ratchet to loosen a rusty bolt.

Consider the technical ascent on the trail before you. It’s steep, but you’ve determined that your vehicle has enough ground clearance to safely traverse the steps and dips. So you commence crawling up the incline with your engine at an idle, and halfway up the slope, you lose traction and your tires simply spin in one place.

When this happens, you do not want to spin your tires for longer than a few seconds. If the ground is soft or loose, you’re just going to sink into it, and make things even more difficult for yourself. However, before you put on the brakes, smoothly turn your steering wheel to either extreme. This often results in your front tires “getting a bite” and thereby allowing you to continue your ascent.

If you couldn’t find traction by turning your steering wheel, immediately stop. It’s time for Plan B. If your line is still perfectly clean, and you and your co-driver deem it safe, you can use your gas pedal to give a short burst of momentum to surmount the rut or the step that’s impeding your progress. This technique is commonly referred to as “bumping it up.”

It’s a calculated burst of the gas pedal, akin to using thrusters to dock a spacecraft.

No. This is bad. If you're spinning, turn your steering wheel back and forth. If you still can't find traction and you're not on your roof, stop immediately.

No. This is bad. If you’re spinning, turn your steering wheel back and forth. If you still can’t find traction and you’re not on your roof, stop immediately.

Back up your vehicle, slowly and carefully, but relax. You  don't have to go too far.

Back up your vehicle, slowly and carefully, but relax. You don’t have to go too far.

 

Stop at the apex of the terrain behind the hole that you're in. This apex is often created by tire spinning, and can be a very subtle variation in the terrain. Hold it right there!

Stop at the apex of the terrain behind the hole that you’re in. This apex is often created by tire spinning, and can be a very subtle variation in the terrain. Hold it right there!

Put your vehicle in a gear that offers just enough power to proceed. Right now, we want momentum, but we don't want to stall. Torque is bad here, and contributes to slip. Give it a short, calculated burst of gas, and voila! You're up the step!

Put your vehicle in a gear that offers just enough power to proceed. Right now, we want momentum, but we don’t want to stall. Torque is bad here, and contributes to slip. Give it a short, calculated burst of gas, and voila! You’re up the step!

Repeat this process as needed.

This isn’t a silver-bullet technique that allows you to make it every time. Sometimes the force of gravity against the lack of traction is just too great. My recommendation is to make three attempts, whilst making subtle corrections to your technique each time. If you haven’t succeeded after three attempts, either pull cable, or find another route.

Desperation, like your gas pedal, yields catastrophe. It’s a shot to your pride to not be able to make it up the route under your own power, but you’ll be thankful in the end because your rig won’t be broken or upside down. Know your limits, and keep your ego in check.

You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish behind the wheel with a little patience and finesse.