Industry insiders have been whispering that air-spring suspension systems are the wave of the future for automotive applications. Well, the future is now, as far as the folks at Off Road Only (ORO) in Prior Lake, Minnesota, are concerned. They've proven it by unveiling their new bolt-in 4-inch and 6-inch AiRock Air Spring Suspension System for '97-'03 Jeep TJ Wranglers.
The crew at ORO is composed of a group of folks who are into integrating high-tech backgrounds and cutting-edge componentry into four-wheeling. They all abandoned jobs in the high-tech sector so they could pursue their passion of creating products that would effectively help 'wheelers and their vehicles perform better. Their product line is growing rapidly, and currently includes the X-Line of high-performance rope winch line and tow straps (made to withstand severe heat to 400 degrees F), the X-Track tie-down system (made from aircraft-quality aluminum) and the nifty little Light Blades (18 LEDs in a sealed anodized aluminum housing) that we'll test in a future issue of Four Wheeler.
So why would you want an air-spring suspension under your TJ? Well, the benefits to such a system are numerous, whether you use your Jeep as a hard-core canyon climber or a simple daily driver/trail toy. First off, the AiRock system allows for adjustable height, and this allows for an on-demand increase in ground clearance. Or you can lower the Jeep for easier entry and exit. The 4-inch kit allows up to 8 inches of height adjustability, while the 6-inch kit allows for up to 10 inches of adjustability. The AiRock kit will also allow for adjustable attitude. This is the ability to force articulation so the operator can maintain control of the Jeep and/or force a tire to the ground for traction. For instance, this function allows the operator to adjust the roll of the Jeep to keep the body as level as possible while traveling in an off-camber situation. Thus it allows the operator to effectively move the center of gravity of the vehicle. The operator can also increase the pressure in one or more air springs to force a tire to contact the ground for enhanced traction. In addition, ORO notes that both the 4-inch and 6-inch AiRock systems provide an RTI of more than 1000 on a 20-degree ramp. They offer a great ride and properly designed air springs allow for full travel of the suspension from normal ride height without adjusting the pressures.
The AiRock Air Spring System as supplied by ORO contains front and rear air springs with TJ mounts, front and rear Bilstein shocks that are custom-valved for the air-spring rates and are equipped with rubber snubbers to prevent shock damage at full compression, an AiRock air manifold, an In-Cab Control (ICC) with digital display, an air-line kit, a wiring harness kit and a kit of miscellaneous installation hardware. Optional accessories from ORO include a light-duty air compressor, a three-gallon air tank, a filter regulator assembly, a sending unit for displaying tank pressure on the digital display and a bracket to mount the ICC control.
Required items for the AiRock system include an on-board air compressor and air tank system, air filter/regulator set to 100 psi, an adjustable front track bar, a rear track-bar relocation bracket, adjustable upper or lower rear control arms to adjust pinion angle, a slip-yoke eliminator kit and a CV rear driveshaft. For the 6-inch kit, ORO recommends a longer control-arm system and components to correct the steering geometry. As you may be aware, most aftermarket 4- and 6-inch suspension systems include the suspension components recommended by ORO to complete the installation and guarantee full articulation.
The friendly crew at ORO walked us through the basic installation of the AiRock kit components. As you'll see, the installation is quite straightforward.
Assessing the AiRock
During an off-highway test, we found that the 4-inch AiRock-equipped Jeep articulated well throughout the entire range of the suspension travel, and it needed very little air-spring adjustment to navigate most obstacles. Nonetheless, the luxury of having increased ground clearance at the touch of a button was most welcome when encountering large rocks in the center of the trail. The most impressive test of the system's capabilities was on a steep off-camber sidehill that generated a bit of pucker factor as the TJ tilted significantly to the driver's side. To counter this, we simply increased the pressure in the driver-side bags and decreased the pressure in the passenger-side bags to considerably level the vehicle. Voila! Pucker factor gone.
You may be wondering how many more degrees of off-camber terrain this will allow you to traverse without flopping over, as compared to a coil-sprung vehicle, and we wondered the same thing. As you can imagine, the engineers at Off Road Only are hesitant to try to quantify this because terrain varies, every vehicle is equipped differently and driving styles vary by operator. You can see by the accompanying photos, though, that the difference between the AiRock-equipped vehicle and the non-AiRock-equipped vehicle is very impressive. It didn't take long to learn the ropes of manipulating the bags to force articulation, and the auxiliary air tank and center-mounted ICC allowed us to fill all four bags at one time without depleting the air supply.
What about on-road? Hey, if you're like us, you have to drive your Jeep daily and you don't want it to be a handful. We drove the 4-inch AiRock-equipped TJ, with antiroll bars attached (of course), at highway speeds, and felt that the vehicle's dynamics were much improved over those of a comparably lifted vehicle. It didn't exhibit body roll like we expected, and we felt that the air springs absorbed road bumps much better than coil springs to provide an amazingly smooth ride. All in all, its manners were quite pleasing, and though we looked, we could find no evil traits to gripe about.