New Equip­ment Test: Mat­tracks 4X4 ute tracks

Who hasn’t wanted to turn their fourby into an un­stop­pable tank? Matt Wood once again uses work as an ex­cuse to play out his child­hood fan­tasies dur­ing com­pany time

Earthmovers & Excavators - - Contents -

Play­ing with 4x4s can be an ex­pen­sive and po­ten­tially ob­ses­sive busi­ness: shop­ping for lift kits, diff locks, body lifts, big­ger wheels, bet­ter shocks and big­ger tyres … the list goes on. It’s all pretty much on the cards whether you use your 4x4 for work or for play.

One day you’re con­tem­plat­ing a winch, the next you’re try­ing to con­vince your­self that you also need some more bar work to go with it. And then you re­alise that all that bar work looks naked with­out ex­tra light­ing at­tached to it.

It can quickly be­come a dan­ger­ous and po­ten­tially wal­let-light­en­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

I re­cently re­sorted to bum­bling around on the in­ter­net in a fool­ish at­tempt to dis­tract my­self from buy­ing 4x4 stuff and came across Mat­tracks. These track units are made in the US and turn the av­er­age 4x4, UTV or even light truck into masters of mud, snow or sand.

If you were un­for­tu­nate enough to see the movie Fate of the Fu­ri­ous you may have no­ticed it fea­tured a Mat­tracks-equipped RAM pickup. This got me think­ing.

Townsville-based Fire Ex­press Aus­tralia is the Aus­tralian dis­trib­u­tor for Mat­tracks, so I de­cided to catch up with owner and di­rec­tor Mark Doo­ley.

Ba­si­cally I just wanted to see if they were as cool off-road as they looked. And, of course, to put them through their paces in some muck.

DITCH THE WHEELS

The Mat­tracks units es­sen­tially bolt on to a ve­hi­cle’s ex­ist­ing stud pat­tern. They can be re­moved at any time and wheels can be re­fit­ted rea­son­ably eas­ily. Some mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions are re­quired to ini­tially in­stall the tracks and then it’s up to you if you need to swap be­tween wheels and tracks.

These bolt-on mods don’t in­ter­fere with wheeled oper­a­tion if you whack your wheels and tyres back on.

Mat­tracks come in sizes to fit most pop­u­lar 4x4s as well as UTVs and even quad bikes. There are also non-driven vari­ants for ma­chin­ery as well as vari­ants to suit trucks with a GVM of up to 10.5 tonnes.

Of course, the main ad­van­tage of a tracked ve­hi­cle is low ground pres­sure, whether it be a trac­tor, a dozer or a skid steer. Mud, snow and sand all pose chal­lenges for wheeled ve­hi­cles even if they are 4x4s. Ba­si­cally tracks give the ve­hi­cle a big­ger yet lighter foot­print.

For ex­am­ple, the Land­cruiser you see here has a ground pres­sure of just 14kPa. To put that into per­spec­tive, while driv­ing this setup I pulled up in a dry creek bed, hopped out and sank up to my an­kles in sand. The ’Cruiser, how­ever, had barely bro­ken the sur­face.

Ac­cord­ing to Doo­ley, it was the af­ter­math of cy­clone Yasi in 2011 that sowed the seed of

The ’Cruiser just glides over the lumps and bumps that would usu­ally have wheels jud­der­ing in their wheel arches

lo­cal Mat­tracks dis­tri­bu­tion. Doo­ley noted that the emer­gency ser­vices had dif­fi­culty get­ting around in flooded and wa­ter­logged ar­eas.

Con­se­quently, he thought Mat­tracks may have po­ten­tial in the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

FIT­TING AND TURN­ING

Fir­ex­press is also the lo­cal dis­trib­u­tor of Fir­ex­press fire­fight­ing units. These units are com­pact, light­weight por­ta­ble fire­fight­ing units that can be ve­hi­cle mounted, mo­tor­cy­cle mounted or even back­pack mounted and fea­ture a pa­tented spray head.

But for me it’s all about the tracks. For the demo drive, Doo­ley fit­ted a set of these tracks to his son’s LC75 so we could test their met­tle. But be­fore we could go make some marks in the mud I got to have a look at the in­stal­la­tion and what it re­quires. In the case of the Land­cruiser you have to re­mem­ber to lock the hubs be­fore fit­ting the tracks. Fail­ure to do so will re­sult in swear­ing and a pos­si­ble facepalm as you’ll have to pull the front track units back off again to lock them.

Brack­ets are fit­ted to the ball joints on the front and the spring hang­ers on the rear to pre­vent the track units from ro­tat­ing on their hubs when off road. A rub­ber tor­sion block within the unit’s hous­ing also en­sures that the tracks tilt up­wards when con­fronted with an ob­sta­cle rather than try­ing to ro­tate down­wards on the hub.

There’s also an op­tional power as­sist func­tion that you’d be mad not to opt for. This re­quires a pres­sure sen­sor and quick-re­lease fit­tings to be mounted to the power steer­ing box.

This makes turn­ing a hell of a lot eas­ier as it raises the for­ward rollers as you turn the wheel, re­duc­ing drag and fric­tion on the tracks.

Mat­tracks use a steel frame while the rollers are mounted to com­pos­ite rods and, as you may have guessed, the tracks are rub­ber and are driven by a de­tach­able sprocket.

Can you legally drive them on the road? It seems like that’s de­pen­dent on your state or ter­ri­tory. Vic­to­ria’s Coun­try Fire Au­thor­ity has a Mat­track­se­quipped LC79 com­plete with Fir­ex­press fire­fight­ing unit based at Mount Buller that is road reg­is­tered within the re­sort area How­ever, up in Queens­land, Mark will hap­pily trun­dle into town in the tracked ’Cruiser.

The down­side is that you have to take it easy as the tracks can get quite hot, Doo­ley says: “Sixty k’s an hour is okay. You can do 80 but only for a 5km stint or so.”

How­ever, as I was to find out, the ride is also pretty un­for­giv­ing on hard road sur­faces.

Main­te­nance-wise, the tracks need weekly greas­ing in full-time work­ing roles. There are 18 grease nip­ples on each unit.

Doo­ley demos the track unit in­stal­la­tion, say­ing that a flexi head on the rattle gun is a big help when it comes to do­ing up the wheel … er … track nuts due to clear­ance is­sues.

With the right setup, in­stal­la­tion isn’t too big a job, though the track units them­selves are quite heavy. Doo­ley ma­noeu­vres the units into place us­ing a wheeled me­chanic’s creeper.

PUT TO THE TEST

Then it’s time to fire up the old 1HZ-pow­ered ’Cruiser and go for a blast. This old girl is typ­i­cal of what you’d find in the back blocks. A 50mm sus­pen­sion lifts be­comes a sub­stan­tial 200mm lift with the tracks fit­ted. There’s an ARB com­pres­sor on board with ARB diff-locks front and rear. The old NA diesel 6 has had an af­ter­mar­ket turbo and in­ter­cooler fit­ted along with a suit­ably chunky ex­haust.

The ’Cruiser sounds the part as we idle out of the shed, a sub­dued turbo whis­tle builds in in­ten­sity as we pick up speed on the grass.

While the ride may be pretty harsh on the road, out in the pad­dock it’s as smooth as. The ’Cruiser just glides over the lumps and bumps that would usu­ally have wheels jud­der­ing.

I’m grin­ning like a fool while at the wheel. The Mat­tracks give the Land­cruiser a tough, mil­i­tary look, and it feels as sta­ble as a rock.

On drop­ping down into the slushy creek bed I give it the mes­sage with the right pedal and I’m re­warded with a spray of mud. The truck just rum­bles over the top of slush rather than sink­ing into it, hurling a cou­ple of very sat­is­fy­ing muddy rooster tails into the air be­hind me.

If the ’Cruiser was fit­ted with wheels, I’m sure it would’ve still made it through most places we took it. How­ever, it wouldn’t have done it any­where near as quickly or eas­ily.

The only ob­sta­cles that re­ally pose any chal­lenge to the Mat­tracks are rocks. The tracks tend to butt up against a boul­der rather than roll over the top of it like an off-road tyre run­ning low air pres­sures would.

Clearly these tracks are most pop­u­lar in snow ap­pli­ca­tions, and rightly so. The Aus­tralian Antarc­tic Divi­sion uses them, as well as alpine fire and emer­gency ser­vices.

While that’s clearly a niche mar­ket, they’ve also found favour up in the trop­ics. A cou­ple of North Queens­land sta­tions are now us­ing Mat­tracks-equipped Land­cruis­ers to get around dur­ing the wet sea­son when they’d usu­ally be iso­lated by wa­ter and mud.

END­LESS POS­SI­BIL­I­TIES

Dur­ing my drive we clam­bered down soft sandy creek beds and river trib­u­taries as well as wal­low­ing in a bit of mud. With diff-locks only needed on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions, the ’Cruiser was ef­fort­less off-road. The track units just plant the truck solidly on the ground.

A Mat­tracks-fit­ted Land­cruiser was re­cently tested for lat­eral sta­bil­ity in Vic­to­ria and it reached a cross-slope an­gle of 50 de­grees be­fore threat­en­ing to tip.

While clam­ber­ing through the bush, this was very ap­par­ent. It’s a very sta­ble and con­fi­dent way to carve through the scrub.

They aren’t cheap, how­ever. De­pend­ing on the US dol­lar ex­change rate you’d be look­ing at about $55,000 to out­fit a Land­cruiser like the one on these pages.

I feel like I should be point­ing out the prac­ti­cal and com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions of Mat­tracks, but I keep com­ing back to the fact that they are awe­some fun and there’s nowhere you can’t go. You can’t put a price on that.

1. Aside from be­ing ex­ceed­ingly cool, the Mat­tracks at­tach­ments make the Toy­ota very sta­ble off-road

2. The track units are pretty hefty yet the wheels can be re­fit­ted eas­ily in a work­shop 3. The hy­draulic fit­tings are for the power as­sist steer­ing units. This op­tional sys­tem tilts the front track rollers when turn­ing in or­der to re­duce drag, which re­duces ef­fort on the driver’s part when chang­ing di­rec­tion

4. You do, how­ever, have to re­mem­ber to lock the front hubs be­fore fit­ting the tracks! 5. Brack­ets mounted to the front end and rear spring hang­ers stop the track units ro­tat­ing on the hubs 2 4

3

5

6. They may not be cheap but they’re bloody ef­fec­tive! 7. Mat­tracks are also avail­able for UTVs and quad bikes. This ex­am­ple is also fit­ted with a por­ta­ble fire­fight­ing unit from Fir­ex­press 6

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