For over 60 years, Rokon has eschewed radical redesign in favor of careful evolution, constantly refining its two-wheel-drive Trail-Breaker. The result is a legend, a machine renowned for its sure-footed simplicity, embraced by enthusiasts, municipalities, and militaries. The tough-as-nails machine has endured by adhering to the core concepts that made inventor Charles Fehn’s design stand out in places otherwise inhospitable to wheeled travel.
Tom Blais, president of Rokon International, says there were only two real criticisms of the original Trail-Breaker: noise and comfort. The company addressed the first with the Ranger, using a four-stroke, 5.5-horsepower Honda engine, in 1994. Modern Trail-Breakers utilize a more powerful 7-horsepower Kohler engine, and they handle the second complaint with clever front suspension that works in conjunction with the front-drive system.
The first Trail-Breakers were built by Neathercutt Industries in Sylmar, California, but production expanded in 1963 after manufacturing moved to Wilmington, Vermont. The factory would move a few more times over the decades before settling in Rochester, New Hampshire.
The Kohler engine in modern Trail-Breakers is a horizontal-shaft industrial power unit with both an electric and a pull starter.
“We’ve sacrificed speed for torque so that we offer more load capacity,” Blais says. “We can carry up to 600 pounds on the frame and tow up to 3,000 pounds on wheels, or dead-drag 800 pounds on level ground.”
There are now five models, from the entry-level Scout to the survivalist-oriented Rokon for Preppers. Designed in conjunction with Dave Canterbury, author of Bushcraft 101, it features an onboard bike maintenance kit and survival supplies, including cookware, as well as nondirectional tires to discourage tracking.
Rokon offers power takeoff and three-point hitch options, as well as generator, plow, and spreader attachments. The hollow wheels can each carry an extra 2.5 gallons of either fuel or water, potentially extending the standard tank’s range of 200 miles to 600.
Blais admits that the company’s business model isn’t the most profitable.
“Today’s four-wheeler companies really price the vehicles in a way that the dealers don’t make as much money on the selling of the vehicle, they make more money on the repairing of the vehicle,” he says. “We’re the opposite of that. We know that our buyers don’t need us for, typically, five to seven years.”
Local governments use Rokons for bike-trail maintenance or mosquito control. Farmers use them for row-crop inspection or to access remote fields. Search-and-rescue teams field Trail-Breakers to quickly reach lost or wounded hikers, and militaries turn to them for equipment relocation and reconnaissance.
They’ve been ridden to the snow line in the Chilean Andes and across the nearly impassable Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia.
“It’s freedom of movement. Freedom to explore. If you live in interesting country, the ability to move around and explore is intoxicating.”