What do you think of when you hear “The Perfect Ride” ?
Comfortable? Fast? Low? Tall? Soft? Stiff? Safe? Edgy? Unique? Durable? Inspiring? Adaptable? …
The answers are as varied as the number of drivers on this planet. Your experience of your car / truck / SUV / RV / motorcycle depends upon how the suspension is built. What were the designers thinking? Did they give you the best they could, or just enough? Did you really get what you paid for, perhaps a bit less or (gasp!) more than you thought possible? And would you even know the difference?
What does a car or vehicle suspension actually do?
Let’s keep the concepts simple and only add as much complexity as required.
A suspension is the collection of assemblies that “suspends” us over the road. Think of a ‘suspension’ bridge (Indiana Jones movies always have at least one it seems!), a high-wire tight-rope walker , or any movie where a powerful person rides in a mobile throne. They’re being transported in luxury on the backs / knees of their suffering servants. Whatever the road quality is, those poor underlings (the suspension) get to bear the brunt so the occupant (driver and passengers, if any) has a plush journey. If the ride got too rough for that ruler, the servants pay the price! Whack!
If instead of a person you put in mechanical linkages plus a tire and a wheel, you have a modern suspension. When all the pieces are working together well, this is what transports us in security / enjoyment to our destination. But not every suspension is created equal. While a coiled metal spring may behave the same no matter where in the world it’s made, some pieces such as shock absorber, bump stops, and the suspension geometry itself can have all kinds of hidden features that the end user knows nothing about. Yet ignorance is not bliss (as my 5th grade teacher Miss Logan used to remind us). Unfortunately you can’t usually interview the suspension ahead of time to know whether it’s what you’ll want long-term. On a short test drive a ‘sporty’ suspension may be fun but it could get uncomfortable or even be unsafe with lots of real-world use. A very soft suspension might initially feel plush but if you need to have confidence in an emergency manuever, that softness might turn into a disconnect between you/the vehicle and the road.
Generally speaking, the most critical components of a suspension is the shock absorber, which we’ll be discussing at length in future articles. In terms of giving you The Perfect Ride, it is certainly the essential ingredient. This is where Truth trumps Branding, although branding/marketing hype often get the advantage out of the gate. But many people understand that getting the wrong shocks will have a cost. So how do you pick the right ones? That’s a big part of this blog, and for each vehicle we discuss, we’ll go into this.
By the way, in case you didn’t know, the road doesn’t care what color your car (or shocks) are, whose name is on the side of the car (or shocks). If they’re tuned properly for your needs, you’ll find a solid, inspiring response. If not, or if the shocks are sub-par, you will have a mild or serious amount of frustration over your vehicle’s behaviors. Sometimes simply paying more is not the answer. You really need Suspension Truth to inform yourself and know what you’re getting, before you buy – or how to improve and optimize your car after it’s already yours.
How do you know when your suspension is bad?
“The suspension bottoms out.”
“Rides too rough except on smooth roads.”
“Bounces too many times after bumps.”
“Harsh impacts car the whole car.”
“I feel like I’m going to fly off the road!”
This is common to hear on a street car that’s gone far past being perfect, into uncomfortable, unsafe or dangerous. For racers I’ve worked with, these complaints can apply but often someone will have already tried various suspensions before finding us at Fat Cat Motorsports. Then, the typical complaints are “the car is too stiff, tires slide very easily.” If a racer has inconsistent grip, they can’t drive the car with confidence lap after lap. If the shock absorber isn’t damping properly or is effectively too small for the application, you feel a ‘lag’ between when the tire rolls over a bump or dip and when the suspension actually has that under control. There are technical terms to help describe all these behaviors, but fundamentally they all relate to the suspension not being in harmony.
Essentially, if your suspension doesn’t make you feel at home behind the wheel, it’s not perfect for you. I’ll get more into choosing the right components in the next posts, plus share some of the history for Fat Cat Motorsports, how the name evolved and why I’m so crazy passionate about ride, handling and making real Suspension Magic.
If you’d like to talk with us to determine what components will optimize and enhance your vehicle(s) suspension, you can get a hold of us through the FCM Contact Us page. You can also follow recent events on our Fat Cat Facebook page.