East Vs. West Vs. South
The best off-road suspension for the terrain you drive on is probably not what’s currently under your 4x4, but it very easily could be. A whole custom-suspension industry has sprouted and flourished over the last decade or so. I love progression in suspension technology. I grew up ogling custom-fabricated desert race trucks and still gawk at and drool over every TIG weld and precision fabricated part on today’s racers. Most of it is totally out of my league (and budget) but I still like to see if I can use some of the ideas in my own garage fabrication adventures. The good news is that there probably isn’t another automotive suspension industry that is currently seeing more unbridled advancements than the off-road industry. Coilover shocks were once race-only items and almost unheard of on enthusiast 4x4s. Externally adjustable bypass shocks were pure unobtanium. Today, thanks to the influx of relatively affordable modern CNC machine tools into the open market, you can find these advanced shocks on everything from bolt-on suspension lift kits to OE vehicles. Hand-built, custom-fabricated suspensions are more common and easier to assemble than ever, thanks in part to the aftermarket, which has embraced the idea by offering all sorts of different steel tabs, link kits, and other suspension-builder parts. Many of the bolt-on suspension kits available today are more advanced than what off-road racers were hand-fabricating only two decades ago. But who builds the best off-road suspensions? Are they in the east, the south, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, or the southwest? All of these areas require something a little different, and that’s what makes suspension progression in our industry so interesting. What works in one geographic location, may not work in another.
The best, most well-tuned suspension is the one that lets you maintain control at the fastest speed over a given terrain without blowing out your kidneys.
However, in my opinion, the best, most well-tuned suspension is the one that lets you maintain control at the fastest speed over a given terrain without blowing out your kidneys. The fact of the matter is that the fastest off-road vehicle builders, tuners, and drivers are in the wide-open southwest, where speeds can get into the triple digits. If you have seen a modern Trophy Truck blast over a set of two-foot whoops at 100-plus MPH I think you would agree. Many of these two-wheel-drive trucks are so well-tuned that I have personally witnessed them blast through moderately difficult technical terrain that would stop most 4x4s, although it is a completely different driving style. That’s not to say that I think the high-dollar, low-slung, southern rockbouncers don’t know how to set up a suspension system, far from it. But I do think they are a long way off from the technical shock-tuning know-how and suspension geometry gurus found out west. Regardless, with all the aftermarket support available today, it’s easier and less expensive than ever to build a custom suspension under your 4x4 to make it ride and perform better than stock. That is, as long as you have plenty of knowledge and experience available to you in your neck of the woods.