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2005 Off Road Shock Absorber Buyer's Guide

Arb Accessories
John Stewart | Writer
Posted June 1, 2005

Shocks For All Reasons

When it comes to making a suspension work, shock absorbers become key components. And shocks, like tires, bring with them inherent compromises.

Setting up a shock for go-fast applications is one thing, but getting a decent ride in the process is another. Bolting on a long-travel shock that flexes easily is entirely possible, but often at the expense of keeping control in a corner.

Building the "perfect shock" is a challenge advanced recently through off-road racing, rockcrawling, motorcycle racing, and even mountain bike enthusiasts. The new shock technology has progressed beyond the simple hydraulic and/or gas dampers, and into the world of very long-stroke shocks with very sophisticated damping options. As a result, there are now shocks that will never fade in extreme use, shocks that can be rebuilt continuously, and shocks that ride well and perform well at higher speeds over rough terrain. How much you may need those qualities will depend on your vehicle, its suspension, and what you plan to do. As performance increases, price becomes a factor.

Not everything about shock selection is mysterious. Replacing worn shocks for your everyday vehicle with better ones is a simple proposition. Knowing exactly when is the trick. Over time, you'll notice more front-end dive under braking. You may experience frequent bottoming, a harsher ride, and less adhesion on broken surfaces. Braking and cornering are revealing-your truck may wallow, or corkscrew corner to corner. Irregular tire wear can be a sign of poor shock performance. In such cases, replacing the often-marginal OE shocks with better ones will make a noticeable difference.

Finding inexpensive replacements for a simple suspension may be routine. For performance applications, and for controlling taller, heavier, and more powerful street-driven 4x4s, shock choice is much more critical. For a lifted vehicle, shocks should be application-specific. Most suspension manufacturers offer shocks with their lift kits, and most of the time, those shocks will be well matched. However, suspension manufacturers may not want to add large dollars to the price of their kit, so they may ignore some of the newest, most sophisticated options. When performance is the priority, and money no object, it becomes possible to do better.

Many manufacturers offer shocks with similar designs, with small differences. As a general rule, look for quality materials, and consistent basic construction, including welds, shaft design, and internal and external finishes. In some cases, price will be the differentiating factor.

ARB offers the Old Man Emu shock line, including the Nitro Charger. Based on a twin-tube, low-pressure gas design, the Nitrocharger uses a 35mm Teflon-banded rebound piston on an 18mm, chromed shaft to deliver outstanding valve control, resulting in better ride and handling. Multi-stage valving is designed to eliminate oil starvation at high speed and greatly reduce heat and pressure buildup for a wider range of performance. Information: ARB, 800/761-8196,

The Black Hawk 9300 series is a gas-charged monotube shock with multistage bypass valving. Designed primarily for competition, the Black Hawk 9300 can be ordered in extended lengths of up to 46.75 inches to accommodate up to18 inches of travel. Extruded 6061 aluminum is used for the body, providing better cooling efficiency than steel, with no distortion from welding. A large, 4.5x12-inch remote reservoir and anti-cavitation valve reduces required gas pressure, permitting easy piston movement at low speeds with high degrees of damping control. Easily adjustable with rebound and bump bypass adjusters. The Blackhawk offers nine user-adjustable settings from soft to firm. Information: Bilstein, 800/745-4636 (East), 800/537-1085 (West),

Chassis Tech carries shocks for Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Nissan, and Toyota, among trucks, lifted or lowered, plus shock hoop kits. When shopping, specify extended and collapsed length and mounting options. Chrome or black finish is available. Information: Chassis Tech, 888/761-0252,

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