Live Life To The Fullest

The Faces of Jeep interview with Tyler Ruby, Brand Director at Black Forest Gear


FOJ-[Natasha]: “Why did you choose Jeep and how has it influenced your life?”

Tyler: “I probably can’t pinpoint when I became a Jeep enthusiast. It probably started before I was too young to remember with Hot Wheel cars. My friend in high school had a Suzuki Samarai and my brother-in-law had an Isuzu. In college, I went to Moab to go hiking and exploring and I remember drooling every time we passed a Jeep rental shop. I had gone to Moab with the intention to hike but my heart was set on going wheeling. It’s been almost 20 years now and I still remember wanting to get my friends to rent a Jeep and go wheeling. I wanted that so badly and was super disappointed and kept thinking about it during the hike and the entire trip. I can still feel those memories to this day.”

“Fast forward a number of years and a few industries (consulting, medical, internet marketing) later, I needed up in the automotive industry. I started with Jeep Brand as the launch manager and launched the Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Renegade. Both were fun to work on and hold a special place in my heart. As the Wrangler Brand Manager I had some of the most memorable experiences and met some of my best friends. I miss a lot of that job. It really tugged at my heart strings to leave the coolest job in the building.”

Wheeling a Jeep Renegade…

“As the Wrangler Brand Manager, I worked on future programs and the Easter Jeep Safari concepts. The Jeep Chief was my favorite and reminds me of my Southern California upbringing. The Jeep Chief concept was wildly well received and after attending multiple events where people would swarm the vehicle, I knew we had to create a production version of the concept. Once the production Wrangler was planned, I knew I had to have one. I wanted the build to be as true to form to the Jeep Chief concept as possible. Fun fact… the blue is very close to the color of my first Nissan pickup when I was 16. The Chief and reminds me of my childhood, going to the beach, hanging with my friends, and taking a drive just for fun. Here’s a fun look back at the Chief concept.”

“The details were so important to this build—the interior wood accents and Hawaiian stickers, the exterior silver accents to tie together the white and blue, etc. As for tires, there was no other option than the KO2. I love that tire and this is my daily driver, yes, 45minutes commute. The KO2 tire gives me the needed on-road manners and aggressive tread to do everything I need off-road. For the bumpers, suspension, roof rack and other components, we went all in with Teraflex—the quality is excellent, the design is straight forward and clean, and nicely compliments the vehicle. Everything just works and looks good together. It’s really an extension of my personality and makes the commute a lot more fun.”

FOJ-[Natasha]: “How long have you been wheeling?”

Tyler: “I’ve been wheeling since I was 9. I started on a Honda Odyssey – the precursor to the modern sand rail. It was rad, I would haul down the riverbed and jump the burms. When I turned 16, I bought a 1989 Nissan Hardbody pickup. I would find places to climb and explore. I remember driving through an overgrown field in Southern California by my house and telling my friend in the passenger seat… “Watch for rocks”… then, not even a minute later… BAM! I nailed a rock on my transmission. I looked over, then he paused and said “uh, rock?” We both laughed. I jumped that truck in the river bed too, and on the way to school on backroads. It was a blast. Wish I still had it.”

“I’ve wheeling almost every vehicle I have owned. After that Nissan pickup I bought a 1999 Dodge Durango. I found out within the first few weeks of owning it that the rock rails were more for appearance than function. I went wheeling and teetered on a dirt breakover. I didn’t realize then but when I got home I couldn’t open my driver door because the rail was smashed up past the door line. After the Durango I bought an Escalade. I was flipping cars for side money. The local Land Rover dealership went out of business and I had always wanted to drive the rock course they have on display out front. With the dealership now abandoned, I had to give it a try. Needless to say, the Escalade didn’t make it very far. I have enjoyed wheeling in every form but must say that hands down, Jeep Wrangler wins the cake.”

FOJ-[Natasha]: “Where all have you traveled and where is your favorite place to wheel?”

Tyler: “Boy that’s a tough question. It’s like choosing a favorite child. I have been wheeling in some incredible places. I’ve driven 300 miles in Baja with Rod Hall. That’s like having Mozart tune your piano. Wow! The stars have aligned on numerous occasions for me. I was able to drive Lion’s Back in 2016. I’m the only 4 door Wrangler to ever drive Lion’s Back–it’s been closed for many years. On that once-in-a-lifetime experience, Mark Allen, Design Chief for Jeep drove the only 2door Wrangler JK and Jim Repp drove the only WK Grand Cherokee to ever drive Lion’s Back. It was an incredible experience.”

“I love the Rubicon Trail and have driven that twice. The trail is relentless, breathtaking and awe-inspiring. The obstacles are challenging but the most trying part of the trail is that you just don’t get a break in between obstacles. It’s non-stop and a must do. I’ve spent many days wheeling in Moab and my favorite trails are Hell’s Revenge, Moab Rim, and Cliff Hanger. Moab is amazing with tons more to explore and the trails never get old. I can’t even guess the number of times I’ve run Hell’s Revenge.”

“Here’s a fun completion of Moab wheeling.”

“Here’s another…”

“I go wheeling a couple times a year with some close friends in the backwoods in Canada and love it. It’s really just a casual trail ride. That’s always a fun time.
Snow wheeling isn’t my first choice because traction is such an unknown and I don’t like sliding down hills. It’s a clencher! That said, I had a blast shredding the powder with Olympic Gold Medalist Torah Bright in Aspen during Xgames, with the doors off in the middle of winter. We were grinning from ear to ear and ripping through the powder. It was freezing out and we didn’t care.”

“Here’s a fun memory… I almost floated away crossing a river.”

“Stretching myself past my comfort zone is always a wild ride. The more I wheel, the less I have the element of surprise. I really enjoy the surprise aspect, the challenge, and the triumph over an obstacle. Larry McRae and Lance Clifford guided me over the entrance to Upper Heldorado in my JKU with a 2″ lift and 35″ tires. I give all the credit on that one to the spotter, not the driver. What makes wheeling the most fun is spending time with friends and family. My best memories are of the people more than the location. Do I have a favorite place to go wheeling? Nope. I have a lot of places I enjoy to go wheeling with people I enjoy spending time with.”

FOJ-[Natasha]: “What places would you recommend to others for a great wheeling experience?”

Tyler: “Don’t delay, go to Moab and sign up for the Jeep Jamboree Rubicon Trail. If you’ve gone wheeling a few times, you’re ready for both. Get there! Next on my list is Black Bear Pass and Imogene Pass in Colorado. I hear the scenery is stunning.”

FOJ-[Natasha]: “What are some of your biggest accomplishments both in wheeling and in business?”

Tyler: “My entire career I’ve found ways to do something unique. I really enjoy blazing new trails and finding ways to make things better. I live by the mantra “Work Hard, Play Hard.” I live life at full speed every day and I do my best to soak up the most I can out of every experience. Some fun and unique things about me… I summited Mt. Whitney–they highest mountain peak in the continental United States, I promoted a book to the best seller list on Amazon–beating out Bill Clinton’s book My Life and Dan Brown’s book Da Vinci Code, I won the Adobe Web Analytics competition in college, I have a blast wheeling at 2mph and equally enjoy driving fast on flat pavement (we can go into those details in person), I went skydiving, and have long wanted to attend race driver school. I’ll stop rambling. Needless to say, life is full of experiences and it’s up to us to go out and make them.”

“At Black Forest Gear, I continue my passion for wheeling and so far we’ve come out with a handful of great products. Our Throwback Soft Top replaces the bulky freedom panels and give people a convenient way to soak up open-air freedom on the go. Our fridge is nice and compact. Our cargo system keeps things organized. Next up is our Trail Oven to warm up burritos, tomales, and cookies on the trail–it’s manifold cooking at it’s finest. We have more products coming so stay tuned. The guys running Black Forest are authentic wheelers. We wheel as a hobby and it’s a blast to come out with new products for our wheeling friends. Check us out on Facebook, on Instagram, or at  See you out on the trail!”

“Webasto interview from SEMA.”

FOJ-[Natasha]: “Thank you Tyler for sharing your incredible jeep journey with us. It’s been fun and informative. Moab is on my jeep bucket list, after hearing your awesome story I look forward to experiencing it for myself one day. We wish you and Black Forest Gear all the best in the future.”

Photo from Tyler Ruby,Questions asked by FOJ-Natasha Kokkinis & Answers by Tyler Ruby

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