Mountain biking and owning a 4Runner. How do these go hand in hand? Well, it is quite simple for this reason: you need a reliable vehicle to get you to your favorite runs in the middle of nowhere. Whether you own a 2WD or 4WD, V6 or V8, many 4Runner owners use their vehicles for adventure and weekend hobbies, several of which ride mountain bikes.
However, even looking past the reliability of the 4Runner it is evident these vehicles are the ideal set up for every level of mountain biker. In this article, we will be diving into five reasons why you should own a 4Runner if you enjoy mountain biking:
When you think of Toyota, the first thing that comes to mind is reliability. Toyota has been rolling out reliable vehicles practically since the day the company produced their first car. Essentially, Toyota follows the saying, “don’t fix what isn’t broken” which, for example, is demonstrated in their engines.
The notorious 2UZ-FE V8 engine found in the 2003-2009 model 4Runners was also found in the early model Tundra, Sequoia, Land Cruiser, and even the GX/LX 470 from Lexus; many of which are still on the road to day.
The V6, on the other hand, was actually new for the 4Runner starting in 2003. However, to this day it is still used in vehicles alongside the 4Runner such as the Tacoma, Tundra, and FJ Cruiser and has been in production since 2002 (19 years!).
The biggest takeaway from this is that you cannot go wrong with either engine. From simple forest service roads to wheeling over big rocks and ruts, the engines found in the 4Runners cannot be beat and will very rarely let you down. In fact, it isn’t rare to see these trucks running upwards of 300k miles! All it takes is just regular maintenance and your Toyota will run forever.
For more info on the engines found in the 4th gen 4runner, make sure to check out this article:
As mentioned earlier, 4Runners are known for their reliability and how easy it is to make them more capable than they already are. However, let’s say you have no interest in modifying your 4Runner.
Most of the time you really won’t have any issues with off-roading; not because the roads you’re taking aren’t challenging, but because the 4Runner is literally known for being one of the best off-road vehicles ever made by Toyota. Even the 2WD 4Runners, though “less desirable” in today’s market, are still very capable vehicles and will likely get you to the trailhead without skipping a beat.
Yes, many trails are located off of flat gravel roads and any civic would be able to access them. However there are many trails that cannot be accessed unless you have a high clearance vehicle, and these trails are the ones that are actually better to ride if you’re serious about mountain biking.
The 4Runner offers a solid middle ground between a full-size pickup and a 2 door jeep when looking at the wheel base. Typically, shorter is better, but this doesn’t necessarily matter too much unless you’re doing some serious wheeling.
In the V6 4Runners, you have the ability to select between 2HI, 4HI, and 4Lo. They also feature a limited slip differential (LSD). Under normal, smooth road operation, the transfer case will operate on a 40/60 split; 40% power to the front and 60% power to the rear. However, when the computer senses the vehicle beginning to slip, approximately 10% more power will get sent to either the front or the rear to prevent the vehicle from losing traction.
In the V8 models, 4WD is engaged all the time and you can only switch into 4Lo. Similar to the V6, this system will also run a 40/60 split and feature an LSD. Just make sure you run your 4WD for about 10 miles every month to prevent your actuator from getting gummed up (V6 only). These systems tend to be on an “if you don’t use it, you lose it” basis, so just make sure you are keeping up with your monthly 10 miles.
Furthermore, 4Runners feature an independent front suspension (IFS) and a solid rear axle. The IFS allows for more articulation and flex allowing the tires to remain in contact with the ground better than a solid axle would. Some will make the argument in saying that you’re better off running a solid front axle because it’s harder to break things.
In most cases, the difference in durability is nearly negligible unless you’re planning on bashing your rig on rocks. However, most of us use our 4Runners as a means of daily transportation and weekend adventure. You can rest assured knowing that your Toyota was engineered to get you to the gnarliest mountain bike trails out there with ease.
Now that you have a vehicle that is both reliable and capable, you’re going to need somewhere to put your bike. Obviously, the 4Runner does not have a bed, but it does have a significant amount of cargo area after folding the rear seats down. You might figure there is no way a bike will fit back there, but I can assure you at LEAST one will.
I am a pretty tall guy, 6’5” to be exact. While being tall has its advantages, a consequence I face is everything has to be bigger than what the average person uses, which of course includes bikes. Believe it or not, I have been able to fit an XL bike in the back of my 4Runner with no struggle. It would help to have another person with you, but if you are strong enough you can definitely do it on your own.
I suggest loading the front of the bike in first and then turning your handlebars so that they are parallel to the ground, or so that the front tire is perpendicular to the ground. Then, open one of the rear doors and pull the bike the rest of the way until it is in the trunk far enough. This should make the loading process much easier.
As far as unloading goes, one person should be able to handle this. Just pull your bike out of the back and you’ll be good to go. Now, a lot of times I’ll come back from riding and my bike will be a mess. Maybe you don’t care about your interior, but if you’re like me, keeping the interior clean is very important. I typically put down some old towels and bring an extra one or two to wipe down the bike’s frame and tires.
If you happen to have some extra carpet laying around, you can cut a piece out to fit in the back of your 4Runner when you have your bike loaded. This way you can just slide it out when you’re done, vacuum up any dirt, and call it a day.
Maybe loading your bike inside your 4Runner isn’t a viable option and you would much rather carry it on the exterior of the vehicle. Luckily, many 4Runners come with a receiver hitch where you can slide in a bike rack to carry your mountain bike(s).
Another less desirable, but fair option, is to utilize your roof rack. While the stock roof rack itself can’t carry a mountain bike, you can buy different attachments to make it work. Most of the time, however, this requires you to take off your bike’s front tire. While this is relatively easy depending on the bike you have, shorter people may struggle actually getting the bike on the roof.
Securing your bike to the roof rack might be a better option if your receiver hitch is already occupied, but in my opinion, mounting my bike to the roof rack would be a last resort. Besides, if your $2-4,000 bike is strapped to your roof while you’re doing 75mph on the interstate, how confident are you really going to be in your bike not showing up in your rearview mirror?
Ease of Modification
It is no mystery how 4Runner owners have been able to modify their rigs. Between endless forums, YouTube videos, Facebook groups, and other sources, there is plenty of information out there on how to “build” your 4Runner to make it more off-road capable than it already is.
On top of this, there are several companies that offer the parts to accomplish this type of work. Whether it be lifting your 4Runner, putting bigger tires on, adding lights, roof racks, etc., anything can be done to make these vehicles more capable than they are from the factory.
When trying to reach mountain biking trails your stock 4Runner just might not cut it, especially if it is 2WD. The simplest modifications you can do are adding some bigger, more aggressive tires and a 2-3” lift. An all-terrain (A/T) or mud-terrain (M/T) tire will grab the mountainous terrain better while your lift will give you the extra clearance you need to get over obstacles that your stock 4Runner could not.
Now, does this mean that if you mountain bike you absolutely need to modify your 4Runner? No! This is all dependent on where you ride, so it is really up to you to decide what modifications work best for your application.
Hopefully by now you realize that 4Runners truly are the best vehicles to own not just for mountain biking, but for any weekend hobby. In this article, we discussed engine reliability, off-road capability, interior and exterior space, modifying your 4Runner, and how this all relates to mountain biking.
Truth be told, I don’t know what else you can read that will otherwise convince you that these vehicles are the best in the business. If you’re an avid mountain biker and seek adventure like myself, look no further than the 4Runner.
Kenny started off his mechanic experience with his 2007 4WD 4Runner. He has now become the “car guy” amongst his friends. Whenever his buddies need help with something, they call him. Whether it be for his tools, knowledge, or guidance, he’s typically able to help in some way, shape, or form. Read more about Kenny: