Next to wheels and tires, suspension kits are the most common modifications we make in our quest for a more perfect trail vehicle. These modifications can be as simple as adding beefier shocks or a leaf spring, or as complicated as a full-blown lift kit with new springs, shocks, steering stabilizers, drop pitman arm, brake line extensions, and body lifts-and everything in between. That doesn't even take into account the many different manufacturers that offer variations on the above.
Understandably, selecting the right suspension for your Jeep can be a daunting task. In recent years, we've seen more than a few Softride suspensions gracing Jeep CJs and YJs. We've also talked to owners of these rigs and noted their almost unanimous praise for these trademarked Skyjacker systems. What folks seem to appreciate most are the Softride's easy-going trail manners (when compared to traditionally stiffer aftermarket systems) combined with its excellent highway characteristics.
To better understand the Softride's attributes, one need only look at the system's components and the manufacturing processes.
The springs, which are the heart of the Softride system, are constructed of progressive multileaf packs, allowing the gross vehicle weight rating and carrying capacity to meet or exceed that of the original suspension. All springs are made of SAE 5160 American steel and custom-matched for a level and balanced lift. The individual leaves are tapered for additional flex on the leaf ends and to allow better load distribution than square-cut stock springs and reduced leaf friction. This design provides for a reduced spring rate and improved suspension travel. In addition, Skyjacker incorporates Teflon wear pads between its springs to further reduce spring friction.
Another design feature of Softride springs is their unique spring bolt clips. Cinch-style clips are found in most spring designs. They're cinched tightly around the springs and are used to prevent the longer leaves from fanning out. Skyjacker, however, uses a bolt-style clip riveted to the spring leaf. The sides of the clip run perpendicular to the springs and are secured with a bolt that goes over the spring pack, leaving 1/8 to 3/8 inch between the bolt and spring. This setup prevents leaf fanning, but doesn't cause the friction associated with cinch clips.
Skyjacker also incorporates shot-peening into its spring manufacturing process. Essentially, in shot-peening the springs are bombarded with small steel pellets. This process establishes residual compressive stresses on the springs by pushing the spring leaf surface material together. The result is increased fatigue life, which is essential in strengthening the tapered-leaf design and allows the use of thinner, more pliable steel for the desired gross vehicle weight.
Finally, Skyjacker presets its spring packs in the direction of loading to achieve a permanent set, effectively giving the springs a memory and further reducing fatigue in the steel. When combined with shot-peening, the result is a spring pack with greater durability than what is possible with presetting or shot-peening alone and greatly reduces the chance of spring sag.
Of course, no suspension system is complete without an upgraded wheel and tire package. In selecting our tire size, we understood that this completed project would be an everyday driver that would see weekend off-road use. To that end, we chose not to go with large 32-plus-inch tires for highway handling and performance reasons. Also, our 2-inch Softride suspension dictated tires no greater than 33 inches, without fender interference or some modifications. We knew from experience that 31x10.50s used in conjunction with a premium suspension system would be more than adequate for most trail-riding needs without compromising everyday highway driving.
Our choice, therefore, was a set of 31x10.50 BFGoodrich Radial All-Terrain T/As. That model features a dual-compound tread, which provides hard tread rubber for longer life, off-highway durability, and a cooler running undertread for reduced heat buildup. The high-void all-terrain tread boasts interlocking elements, which stabilize the center tread during braking and acceleration, and specially designed tread pitch, which reduces highway noise.
We went to American Racing Equipment for a set of durable, practical, and stylish wheels. After perusing ARE's extensive catalog, we were attracted to the Outlaw II one-piece alloy wheels. Not too plain and not too garish, the Outlaw IIs offer a rugged design that looks right at home on the street or trail. They're made of cast-A356 alloy, and are heat-treated for strength and CNC-machined. The wheels are electrostatically clearcoated and baked for 2.5 hours to provide a durable, long-lasting protective finish.
For the novice trail builder, installing a new suspension system can seem a daunting task, but in actuality, most beginners can do the job in a weekend or less. The Skyjacker installation was performed on the ongoing Ridge Runner CJ-7 project, which at this point consists of the frame and running gear. This better allows us to show you the process, even though you'll be likely doing the work on a completed vehicle.
The 2-inch Skyjacker Softride suspension system included matched and labeled front and rear springs, Hydro front and rear shocks, new U-bolts and hardware, red polyurethane bushings, a steering stabilizer kit, and a brake line extension kit.