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Shocks For The Rocks-And Dirt, Sand, And Asphalt, Too - Jeep Wrangler JK Bilstein Shock Upgrade

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on July 1, 2010
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Photographers: Courtesy of the ManufacturerKen Brubaker

Bilstein has just released a new line of direct replacement remote-reservoir shocks, with one of the very first applications being that of the Wrangler JK. We recently dropped Project 'Con Artist off at Bilstein's West Coast headquarters in Poway, California, where a new set of 5160s was installed and the final JK valving was confirmed.

These new shocks, based on the popular 5100-series, expand that shocks' appeal by adding a remote reservoir. The 5160 features the 5100's monotube, pressurized gas design, but adds much more finely tuned valving and increased shaft travel.

Digressive valving provides full damping capability instantly and works with the reservoir's greater oil capacity and large gas chamber, allowing it to respond immediately to terrain changes. Another benefit of the reservoir is improved high-speed control, and because the floating dividing piston has been moved to the reservoir and the bodies have been shortened, the shaft has a longer range of travel. On Jeep applications, this equals improved uptravel, something that would make a lot of sense for a Jeep with a high-fender kit. Truck applications are set up for greater extended length for more droop. Having a reservoir also means increased oil capacity for increased heat dissipation and greater damping sensitivity.

Another interesting component of the 5160 is the swivel hose line that connects the reservoir to the body. This makes for a cleaner, more compact installation.

Bilstein offers these optional billet reservoir clamps for any 5160 shock.

Unlike many aftermarket shocks, which require you to figure out how to mount the reservoir, Bilstein has done the guesswork for you. Each 5160 comes complete with a kit and instructions on how to mount the reservoirs for each application. This aspect of the 5160 makes it a direct replacement part that requires no cutting, welding, or fabrication to make it fit. A billet clamp is optional for those who want to dress up the shocks a bit.

Other important features of the 5160 are the 46mm piston and a super-strong, case-hardened, hard chromed and polished 14mm shaft. All bushings and hardware are OEM-quality for long life. Bilstein's Triple-C Technology is used in the finish for long-lasting good looks and extreme weather durability. Best of all, these impressive shocks are going to retail for under $200 apiece.

How It Works
When Bilstein asked if we would be interested in replacing our 5100s on Project 'Con Artist with a new reservoir shock that they had been developing, we said sure. We figured that the new shock would be a 5100 with improved oil capacity and nothing more. Boy, were we wrong.

From the instant that we pulled out of the driveway, we noticed an immediate improvement in ride quality. Over the first cross ditch, onto the freeway, and over the first dirt berm, we continued to be impressed. The 5100s are already a great shock, and we couldn't believe how the 5160s could make such a drastic improvement.

With 5100s, the 'Con has always had a good ride. But just to make sure we weren't biased, we gave rides to several of our co-workers and friends in the know, and they all came away with the same impression: awesome shock. The improvement is there and it is real.

To really put these shocks through their paces, we drove Project 'Con Artist on a 1,600-mile round trip to Moab for Easter Jeep Safari. We were able to get ride impressions in every terrain there is-from the street to the dirt.

The 5160s make square-edged bumps feel rounded and they float over broken pavement and potholes. On the trail, the shocks improve ride and control on fast fire roads, but flex the way you need them to on extreme trails. Even running 37-inch tires, the shocks control the unsprung weight well, not allowing the axle to control the chassis and soak up hard hits that would have us cringing in other rigs, thanks to spot-on valving and increased uptravel. The plush ride doesn't feel wallowy, and control is maintained with no lack of confidence at 80 mph on the freeway.

It is amazing what a good shock is capable of, and we think Bilstein is going to sell a ton of these things. While it is our job to put our experiences into words, this is a product that you just have to experience to really believe.

Here is how the 5160 mounts on the front of the JK. The shaft bumpstops won't be part of the 5160 package. These were added to our shocks because we were running without bumpstops at the time of installation.

Initial Applications
Bilstein will launch the 5160 with a handful of targeted applications, with more to follow. The following applications are available at launch:

Year Vehicle Lift (in.)
'07 - present Jeep Wrangler JK 0 - 3"
'07 - present Jeep Wrangler JK 3.5 - 5
'97 - '06 Jeep Wrangler TJ 2" - 3"
'97 - '06 Jeep Wrangler TJ 4" - 6"
'84 - '01 Jeep Cherokee XJ 3" - 4"
'84 - '01 Jeep Cherokee XJ 4.5 - 6"
'94 - present Dodge Ram HD 0 - 3"
'05 - present Ford Super Duty 0 - 2.5"
'05 - present Ford Super Duty 4"
'05 - present Ford Super Duty 6"
'99 - '04 Ford Super Duty 0 - 2.5"
'99 - '04 Ford Super Duty 3 - 6"
PhotosView Slideshow

Bilstein is also planning Toyota rear shock applications for Tacoma, Tundra, and 4Runner.

In addition to the application-specific part numbers, Bilstein will also offer versions of the 5160, called the 5165, for generic applications that will offer short bodies for optimizing travel lengths.


Poway, CA 92064

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