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, www.arbusa.com.
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), www.bilstein.com.
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, www.chassistech.com.
The Rod Hall signature series remote-reservoir shocks were designed using an '03 H2 as a test vehicle. The shock combines a patented Inertia Active System (IAS) with the benefits of a reservoir for increased oil capacity, delivering superior performance and cooler operation in demanding off-pavement conditions. The IAS is designed to balance between a firm and soft circuit for superior handling and comfortable ride quality. Features include a 5/8-inch Nitro Steel piston rod, 4mm IAS valve and zinc-plated, clear powdercoated finish. The remote reservoir uses a high-quality braided stainless steel line. It's available for Dodge/Chrysler, Ford, GM, Jeep, and a wide variety of non-domestic trucks and SUVs. Each shock is tuned for specific application and tested with a final dyno check before going into production. Information: Edelbrock, 310/781-2222, www.edelbrock.com.
The MX-6 adjustable reservoir shock is a high-pressure (300 psi) monotube gas shock in the Robby Gordon signature series line. Built using a 2-inch seamless steel shock body with epoxy paint finish, a 46mm single-piece banded piston, and a one-piece billet cap. Velocity-sensitive disc valving offers six ride control settings to tailor the ride to personal feel. A 10-inch anodized aluminum reservoir with 4,000psi Teflon-lined braided stainless steel hose is used to increase oil capacity by 60 percent. The shaft is made of gun-drilled, 14mm hardened steel. The shock fits GM K-trucks and Ford Super-Dutys, among other applications, with up to 12 inches of travel. Information: Explorer Pro Comp, 800/776-0767, www.explorerprocomp.com.
Sway-A-Way has introduced a new, innovative RaceRunner shock that provides complete 360-degree adjustable reservoir placement for easy and secure mounting. Available in high-performance 2-inch and 2 1/2-inch shocks, the billet-aluminum reservoir support "piggybacks" the shock reservoir in any position and provides double the flow rate into the reservoir compared to remote flex lines. RaceRunner shocks are fully rebuildable and revalvable, and can be used with or without coils. Ideal for sand buggies, prerunners, and off-road racing vehicles. Information: Sway-A-Way, 818/700-9712, www.swayaway.com.
The M-force monotube is available for the new Ford F-150 with 6-inch lift, among other applications. The M-force's monotube design offers split rebound and compression damping for each specific application. M-Force shocks are made using a high precision,2-inch seamless extruded tube body with 14mm case-hardened chromed rod. Information: Full Traction Suspension, 800/255-6464, www.full-traction.com.
KYB offers MonoMax Heavy Duty shocks, designed to maximize handling and control for SUV and light-truck applications. The MonoMax,which comes in red finish with a black boot, uses a high-pressure nitrogen gas-charged monotube construction with a floating second piston that separates gas and fluid, allowing cushioning that permits a very smooth transition between the response for comfort and control. It's available for stock or lifted trucks. Information: KYB, 630/620-5555, www.kyb.com.
Fox Racing makes a line of gas monotube and bypass shocks, including the 2.0 coilover air shock, manufactured using a smooth bore and seamless alloy steel body. The shock features a high-flow, large-bore damping piston and utilizes the highest quality valve shims available. Nitrogen gas is pressurized at 200 psi. Shafts are constructed of hard-chrome 1.25-inch steel. End caps and eyelets are billet aluminum, and bearings are made from Teflon-lined steel. It's available with or without a remote reservoir. These shocks must be run body-side up. They are customer rebuildable and revalvable. Information: Fox Racing Shox, 619/768-1800, www.foxracingshox.com.
Revtek's dual-shock system for Ford Super Duty trucks (shown) improves ride quality and allows for better stability in corners. Revtek shocks use a twin-tube cellular gas design with 10-stage velocity-sensitive valving, a 5/8-inch hardened double-chromed rod and a 1 3/8-inch-diameter piston. Shocks are valved specifically to the application for Ford, Dodge, Jeep, Nissan, and Toyota. Information: Revtek, 503/659-1650, www.revtek.com.
The Fabtech Dirt Logic line includes the 2.25-inch shock absorber, a take-apart monotube shock with steel body, and aluminum end caps. It's designed for lifted applications in the OE position, as well as for multiple shock applications, and is available with or without a reservoir. The Dirt Logic is designed to provide superior damping for highway and heavy off-road use. Other Dirt Logic shocks include the 2.5 coilover and massive Dirt Logic 4.0 for Ford Super Duty trucks. Information: Fabtech, 909/597-7800, www.fabtechmotorsports.com.
SX8000 twin-tube shock absorbers are intended for use on lifted fullsize trucks and SUVs. They're nitro-gas charged to limit fade. These shocks carry a limited lifetime warranty. Bushings are polyurethane. Information: Tuff Country Suspension, 801/280-2777, www.tuffcountry.com.
King supplies custom rockcrawler, prerunner, and racing shocks in diameters up to 4 inches. The King 3-inch Triple Stage Bypass with reservoir shown here is made of billet 6061 T-6 machined aluminum parts. Triple-stage bypass valving offers highly tunable options for smoothest ride. Components include a chrome-plated, 7/8-inch shaft, honed and polished bores, and Teflon-lined spherical bearings. Heat-treated stainless steel alloy valving is designed for extreme temperatures. Custom valved for each specific application, the shock is completely rebuildable and revalvable. Information: King Off-Road Racing Shocks, 714/530-8701, www.kingshocks.com.
Gabriel's line of truck shocks includes the Max Control monotube, designed to provide the ride and control of a sports car for sport-utility vehicles. It uses a high-pressure gas design with floating piston technology to allow the shock to react faster than any other shock on the market, resulting in superior handling and performance. Information: Gabriel, 800/999-3903, www.gabriel.com.
Superlift's Super Ride Select Series shock absorber is constructed using a seamless extruded steel body, and employs high-pressure gas with a machined floating piston to eliminate oil foaming and damping fade. The shaft is induction-hardened steel, precision-ground and hard-chromed for durability. It's available with a brushed silver exterior, with premium rubber bushings, a black dust boot, and it's backed by Superlift's limited lifetime warranty. Information: Superlift Suspension Systems, 800/551-4955, www.superlift.com.
Rancho's RS 9000X Pro Series premium shock combines nine-position damping-adjustment technology with an advanced remote reservoir ideally suited to hard off-road driving. It's compatible with Rancho's RS 9000RCX dual-action remote system, which provides easy on-the-fly adjustability of compression and rebound damping. RS 9000X shocks can be mounted in any position, and available for most popular applications and in several extended-length designs. Information: Rancho, 734/243-8000, www.gorancho.com.
Rough Country's RCX 5100 series nickel-plated chrome monotube shock absorber features application-tuned valving and high-pressure nitrogen gas with floating piston technology. The nitrogen gas is separated from the superior-grade hydraulic shock fluid by a specially designed floating piston. This design maintains constant pressure against the hydraulic fluid, absolutely eliminating fluid aeration with the results being better response and less potential for lag and fade. Unique designs for each application help to optimize ride quality and performance characteristics. The self-adjusting working piston, with spring-steel valving discs, precisely regulates oil flow for optimum compression and rebound control. There are no check valves or springs to wear out. The RCX uses a strong, induction-hardened 14mm chrome steel piston rod with self-lubricating rod guide and end seal. Information: Rough Country, 800/222-7023, www.roughcountry.com.
RE has monotube shocks with available remote reservoir for the Jeep CJ, TJ, YJ, ZJ, and Fords. They're designed specifically for each application to deliver maximum control, while not compromising ride comfort for extended trips over the roughest terrain. The shocks use a 46mm sintered metal velocity-sensitive piston for more consistent performance. Nitro steel piston rods do not chip or peel. They use a Vinton seal and low-friction piston-rod bearing for long life, and are fully serviceable and tunable. Shocks come with a powdercoated finish, polyurethane bushings, and robotic welds for greater consistency. They're made in the USA to boot. Information: Rubicon Express, 877/367-7824, www.rubiconexpress.com.
The Trail Master SSV (Speed Smart Valving) shock offers speed-sensitive valving for a softer ride on-road, and more control when the going gets rough. The SSV uses a twin-tube design with double-welded mounting eyes and stems. Shock diameter is 2 3/8 inches. A heavy-duty 14mm carbon steel piston rod is protected by a black urethane boot. It's available in applications for stock-height or lifted trucks, and the shocks are valved specifically for the application. Information: Trail Master, www.trailmastersuspension.com.
The new Platinum Series monotube gas shocks are designed to take extreme off-pavement performance to the highest levels. The shock uses a 2-inch steel cylinder bore honed to plus-or-minus 0.001 inch. The shaft is 7/8-inch, micro-polished steel and has heat-treated stainless steel valving for high temperature and high-pressure operation. The piston is made from 7075 alloy with a high-temperature wiper seal. It's available up to 50 inches in length for long-travel applications, with or without external reservoir, and in dual bypass configurations. Information: Skyjacker, 318/388-0816, www.skyjacker.com.
Walker Evans makes high-performance shocks for rockcrawlers, trucks, snowmobiles, SUVs, and sand cars. The 500 series of truck shocks features a 5/8-inch shaft, aluminum body, and are available with or without a remote reservoir in lengths up to 35.5 inches when extended, to fit suspensions with up to 14 inches of travel. Many options are available, depending on the application. Information: Walker Evans Racing, 888/933-7223, www.walkerevansracing.com.
The James Duff 8120 shock is designed for long-travel, high-articulation suspensions. The shock is available for fitments up to 15 inches of travel, but at a lower cost than most racing shocks. The twin-tube shock has double-welded ends, a hardened-chromed piston rod, and a corrosion-resistant baked white finish. It uses a narrower eye loop and an extremely flexible rubber bushing that will twist in all directions, so the shock resists binding. It's available for early Broncos, among other Ford applications. Information: James Duff, 360/683-2160, www.jamesduff.com.
Tokico originally developed the twin-tube, low-pressure gas design beginning in the mid-'70s. The new Tokico Trek Master R/T shock uses sophisticated oil-flow management to provide improved ride quality, better braking, better cornering, and minimal pitch and dive. The Trek Master uses a multistage variable aperture piston and sandwich valve system, with a new base valve design that provides a four-stage, dual blow-off compression cycle. The valving is combined with a low mechanical-drag rod guide and piston seal design for as much as 65-percent less mechanical drag than other shocks. Information: Tokico, 310/898-3080, www.tokicogasshocks.com.