Upgrading our SMB Suspension with Agile Off Road
On a recent trip in our personal Sportsmobile we were delighted to be able to test out our new Agile Off Road Ride Improvement Package that we had installed a few months ago. We needed a good off road trip to test them fully and we finally had a great four days in Southern Utah that we could get some miles in. It also served as a great itinerary planning trip for future Tonto Trails clients. This is a write up of the performance of our newest installment to “wrenching” on the Sportsmobile.
It is important to note that we are are VERY familiar with handling characteristics of our van as well as with many other types of Overland vehicles. Since 2003 we have used our Sportsmobile as an escape vehicle to leave our lives and jobs in the Northeast U.S. and look for a different lifestyle. We lived and travelled in our van for 1.5yrs which included extensive exploring in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. And we settled in the beach town of Sayulita, Mexico for 5yrs and used our van for more exploring around the mountains of Mexico. Not to mention all the new areas in the Four Corners that we enjoy exploring as much as we can! (If you would like to read more about some of our early adventures link here.)
We were previously using Rancho 9000XL shocks, with adjustable dampening. And we have our airing-down/shock adjusting routine finely tuned – Julie working the right side of the van, John the left. With the shocks adjusted to the firmest setting, on-road manners were good, and adjusting them for off-road gave good results too.
We drive our van cautiously and carefully – always aware of it’s limitations – after all, it has served as home for long periods of time. That doesn’t mean we won’t take it through a rock-crawler section (Maze district of Canyonlands?), but line selection is considered and avoiding damage is always priority one. With that cautious attitude we never minded slowing down for bumps in the trail – in the end it was just a limitation of the vehicle and we were more appreciative of what the van could do than what it couldn’t do quickly. The only times we would really cringe was when an unseen bump lay in the trail or an unidentified “tope” crept up on us. Then the front end would bottom out – hard. My bad judgement, right?
Our goals for the Agile Off Road Ride Improvement Package (RIP) were to raise the front end a couple of inches to match the raised rear (added 3 leafs to compensate for carrying a dirtbike), try out the custom valved Fox Shocks, and to give the van a little more room for error when finding one of those stealthy bumps. After the installation, we could tell right away that the front end was raised and more closely matched the rear. The short trips around town didn’t reveal much difference in handling though.
Finally, last weekend, we got the chance to head into southern Utah for some backcountry exploring, also known as itinerary research for upcoming clients. This meant 2hrs of road driving followed by many hours of off-pavement in unknown terrain. Driving at highway speeds on 2-lane winding Colorado mountain roads felt very comfortable – we noticed a subtle increase of confidence in the turns – cool. But we were wondering if, with no rebound adjustment, the new Fox Shocks might feel too firm off-pavement.
We left the pavement for what turned out to be a150mi tour through the areas west of Canyonlands. We aired down the tires as usual (65psi down to about 40psi) and got on our way. The first impression we had was that the van was riding as smoothly as if we had made a shock adjustment. The shocks were allowing just the right amount of body movement to keep the bumps and rock gardens from being jarring. Again, a subtle, but noticeable improvement.
As the miles rolled away over the next 3 days of exploring, we began to notice that the progressive front springs were sucking up the bigger hits on the trail much better than the original Quigley specified springs. This began to translate into increased confidence; instead of slowing down abruptly for every unidentifiable bump/rock in the road, we started carrying more speed, cautiously. The spring/Fox Shock combo was sucking up much more trail chatter than the stock set-up. We began to test the suspension response by aiming for and rolling through and over holes and rocks intentionally. Our confidence in the suspension continued to increase!
As we rolled back into Durango and neared home, John chose to dart-board the right tires into a couple of recessed manhole covers that everybody in town swerves to avoid. Wow, what a difference! The 2003 Sportsmobile/Quigley rolled over them with barely a steering wheel deflection. We both agreed that the van took the hit much better than our brand new, spiffy suspensioned sports wagon!
In the years we’ve owned and driven and lived in our van, the RIP package made more difference in handling than any other change we’ve made. With a stable of finely equipped Overland Vehicles to compare to, we enjoy driving our Sportsmobile very much, and now I enjoy it even more!
John and Julie Hartley
Owners – Tonto Trails