What You’ll Learn at Ford Bronco Off-Roadeo

Off-roading may be a dream, even if you have a 4WD SUV, until you learn. Ford made it easy, so we took a lesson. This is what it's like - and what you'll learn.

The End Of The Day Is Good
The end of the day feels so good for all we learned and accomplished. Photo: Scotty Reiss

In addition to the fact that off-roading is really fun.

About a quarter of all 4WD off-road capable SUVs are bought by women. And yet, most don’t drive them off-road. But shouldn’t they? 

Women clearly like them and likely rely on their capability in the snow or for towing. They appreciate the higher ground clearance, traction on all the wheels in challenging weather and the confidence to get up a steep hill. 

And, women are spending more time hiking, camping and outdoors. The popularity of outdoor recreation, National Parks and other destinations has grown tremendously. An SUV like the Ford Bronco is the perfect way to see these places.

Related: Meet 40 of the Most Badass Women: Ladies-Only Ford Bronco Off-Roadeo 

Are You ‘Off-Road Curious?’

More and more SUV owners are ‘off-road curious;’ they own capable SUVs and want to learn how to use their machines, so they are signing up for classes and joining clubs. Jeep owners can sign up for Camp Jeep events held around the country; Land Rover owners can sign up at an experience center. And now in 4 locations — Las Vegas, Austin, New Hampshire and Utah— Bronco owners can take a full day class and experience the full range of Bronco’s capability at the Bronco Off-Roadeo (soon, anyone will be able to sign up for classes at the Off-Roadeo).

Three Of Our Trail Guides Sunshine, Jordan And Ace

Three of our trail guides Sunshine, Jordan and Ace. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Ford Bronco Off-Roadeo: School for New Bronco Owners 

When Ford brought the Bronco back to the market it was filled with the technology and mechanics that made it one of the most capable SUVs on the trail. Able to ford 3 feet of water, to crawl sheer rock faces and climb out of ditches and creeks, the Bronco was designed to be the SUV that professional off-road competitors would covet.

But, with its distinct look and promise of adventure, Bronco also widened the appeal of trail-ready SUVs. Ford sold more than 100,000 in 2022 and still has a months-long waiting list for some models. But to convert those new owners into passionate off roaders, some education was in order.

Attendance at an Off-Roadeo course is included with ownership of a new Bronco; owners and order-holders can sign up for the class for $35. Soon, Ford will open the Off-Roadeo experience to non-owners who can pay a fee for a half day of on-trail instruction in a Bronco. At the Off-Roadeo, drivers will learn how to use all the off-road functions in the Bronco, how to drive a trail, now to spot a driver and what gear to carry. And, attendees will drive one of Ford Off-Roadeo’s Bronco models; they don’t have to drive their own.

Our Classic ’71 Bronco Inspired the Purchase of a New Ford Bronco. I Couldn’t Be More In Love

Ford Bronco Off-Roadeo Turns New Owners In to 4-Wheeling Fans

With classes led by accomplished and well known off-road instructors, held in places known for great trails and a curriculum that develops 4-wheeling skills, the Off-Roadeo made its debut shortly after the Bronco started deliveries to customers. 

Of the four locations, I had the chance to spend a day at the Horseshoe Bay location just outside Austin, Texas. This is what I learned, and what attendees will find. 

Related: The Ford Bronco Everglades Will Add “Holy Cow” to Your Life

Bronco Off-Roadeo

Bronco Off-Roadeo. Photo: Ford

The Day Starts at Base Camp

As it should: we gathered at the Off-Roadeo Base Camp in Horseshoe Bay, outside of Austin. This modern-farmhouse-meets-conference-center is where instruction is given, breaks are taken and meals are shared. And for those who want to take a bit of Off-Roadeo home, there’s a merchandise shop offering the perfect t-shirt, sweatshirt or jacket). 

At Base Camp we registered, grabbed a coffee, filled our water bottles and met our trail mates. From there, we broke into groups to get our day started. 

Related: What Drives Her: Jolanta Coffey of Ford on Building the New Bronco Everglades

Making Intimidating Topics Feel Comfortable 

We gathered around a Bronco to talk about the mechanics and functions of the machine. Our guides Melissa and Jordan walked us through key terms:  

  • Approach angle — the distance between the front bumper and the ground, which can change as you climb a hill
  • Break-over angle — the ground clearance at the center of the vehicle
  • Departure angle — the distance between the rear bumper and the ground, which can change as you drive, and if the Bronco bounces, it can be even smaller 

“Don’t dent the pretty!” Melissa said as she explained why these angles can be important. And if a driver gets the break-over angle wrong, they can “turtle” the Bronco. Ouch.

We also learned about the Bronco’s mechanical features, including:  

  • Transfer case — the component that transfers power from the transmission to the wheels
  • Skid plates — the steel plates that protect the undercarriage from damage
  • Locking differentials — these send power to the wheels at the same rate
  • The Sta-bar, sometimes called the sway bar — the stabilizer bar that connects the car to the suspension to stabilize it on the road, preventing a swaying effect
  • The “hero bar,” a bar of buttons on some Bronco dashboards that allow instant access to these and other functions.
The First Demonstration Of The Day Driving Up A Huge Hill

The first demonstration of the day driving up a huge hill. Photo: Scotty Reiss

And Then, Out to the Course

Before hopping into our assigned Broncos, we walked over to the obstacle course. There, we gathered around the Bronco that would be our lead vehicle and driven by our guide, and learned how to set our seat and set the parking brake. 

Seems obvious, right? But no. Setting your seat for optimal vision and command of the pedals and wheels is critical. Turns out many of us have been doing it wrong all this time.

Here’s how you’re supposed to set your seat: 

  • Adjust the seat height first for to get the best visibility; Jordan said your head should be pretty close to the ceiling or the seat should be at its maximum height
  • Pull your seat forward or push it back so that your right foot has full-press access to the pedals
  • Cross your wrists on the steering wheel and relax them slightly so your elbows are at a slight angle; move the steering wheel if you need to
  • Adjust the seat back so your shoulders are resting against it and your head is cradled by the headrest
  • Adjust your mirrors

And then, we learned to set the parking brake, which is important on unstable surfaces; you don’t want the Bronco to lurch forward or roll back when parking it: 

  • When pulling into the spot you want, apply the foot brake to hold the position
  • Put the gear selector into neutral
  • Pull the parking brake on
  • Shift to park

Then, it was time to drive.

The Articulation Course Teaches Drivers What It Feels Like When The Bronco Is Doing Its Job

The articulation course teaches drivers what it feels like when the Bronco is doing its job. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Learning Starts on the Obstacle Course

If you’ve been to one of Ford’s Bronco pop-ups or Camp Jeep at an auto show, you know the routine: You hop in the SUV to climb a hill, articulate over a rough course of ditches, drive over rocks or logs and possibly traverse a pit of water. These obstacles are designed to illustrate what the SUV is capable of.

But usually, you’re in the passenger seat, not the driver’s seat. Here, attendees are at the wheel.

Our first obstacle was at the foot of a very tall hill. Jordan asked for a volunteer and a lovely woman raised her hand; she hopped into the driver’s seat and within a few minutes, climed and crested the hill — her first time driving off-road. 

Then, we walked over to the water fording demonstration and another attendee got into the Bronco and drove through the water. Then, the articulation pit, the rock road and a tight track between two rocks to illustrate how to execute a tight turning radius. 

Over the course of the day, we would find ourselves driving through water, climbing a rock face and driving 30 MPH through tight turns and around corners. We also learned how to optimally drive a trail, how to spot other drivers, what gear to carry and how to use gear such as recovery hooks and straps. 

Another Rockface We Would Drive Up

Another rock face we drove up. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Drivers, Start Your Engines

Then it was time to get into our Broncos and hit the trail. Following a lead/follow procedure, as in the guide drive the lead car and we all follow, we were instructed to keep the Broncos ahead of us and behind us in view so that no one gets lost. Walkie-talkie radios in the cupholders kept us in communication with each other.

And then we were off. We were told to put the bronco in 4 high, tap the sta-bar button and then to follow Jordan up the first trail. After climbing a rocky hillside and making a few tight turns, Jordan came on the radio to tell us to tap the rear locking differential so we’d have maximum traction for the next stretch. We wove our way up a high hill to a harrowing blind crest. From there, we caravanned through tight turns and finally, had angled the Bronco up a rise. A muddy hill posed a challenge, but putting the Bronco into neutral and shifting to 4L gave us the power we needed. After an hour and a half, we found ourselves back at base camp, thrilled by what we had accomplished, exhausted from the busy morning and ready for lunch. 

“If you think that was fun, wait until after lunch!” one of the guides told me. Oh. 

We All Drove Up And Over That Rock Face

We all- every one of us- drove up and over that rock face. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Morning was Just a Taste of Things to Come

After lunch we gathered for a group photo and headed back out to tackle a longer and more challenging trail, one with rocks and taller hills. We headed up a steeper hill and out on to a rocky trail, climbed a fairly steep rock ledge and climbed straight down a hill, through a creek and back up the muddy opposite slope. Eventually we found ourselves ourselves back on pavement, having taken the short route to a hilltop event pavilion with a 100-mile view of the valley below and the hills in the distance. There, we took a break and took in the view before the rest of the afternoon’s activities: Rally cross and gear talk.

Rally Cross? Yup! Maybe the Most Fun Part of the Day

We made our way back down the hill and to a low, flat part of the ranch where the Off-Roadeo team built a slalom style rally course— a dirt track of short straightaways and hairpin turns designed to illustrate how Bronco is capable of taking tight turns at a fairly decent speed—we were only allowed to drive up to 25MPH but that was plenty. This might be the most fun, certainly adrenaline-inducing. Pushing the Bronco through the dirt and feeling it pull into and out of each curve, then stepping on the accelerator for speed down the straightway and braking hard for the next curve is a blast. 

Our Guide Jordan Discussing The Difference Between Shackles And Recovery Straps

Our guide Jordan discussing the difference between shackles and recovery straps. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Don’t Get Stuck: Be Prepared

From there we found a few more trails and a bit more water before stopping under a patch of shade trees to talk about gear: Emergency kits and recovery gear. 

Jordan demonstrated some key recovery tools: traction boards, metal shackles and woven straps. Traction boards are long, textured boards that can provide traction under the wheels when stuck in sand or mud. Recovery shackles and straps are designed to attach to the Bronco’s recovery hooks to help pull a vehicle out of a situation it can’t get out of on its own. Shackles are metal rings that attach to a winch hook, while woven straps are more versatile and just as strong. Jordan prefers them because they are just as strong as the shackles, but won’t do (as much) damage if they break. 

Then, we talked about what off-roaders should carry on the trail: water of course, blankets, extra snacks, a change of clothes. Sometimes, off-roaders get stuck on the other side of a swollen creek or need a tow and may have to camp out until they can move again. It happens. Best be prepared, just in case.

Soon, the trail took us back to base camp and the end of our day: Big smiles, high fives and a cookout, all of it a reward for a day of good learning and accomplishments. 

Disclosure: I was Ford’s guest at Bronco Off-Roadeo, but all opinions are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss