Removing the "Wander" from Wanderlust - RV Enthusiast Magazine

Removing the “Wander” from Wanderlust

by | Apr 7, 2023 | Suspension, Trailer/fifth wheel towing

MORryde’s Jack Enfield and Roadmaster’s David Robinson weigh in with a few ideas for improving the handling, ride quality and durability of motorhome and trailer suspension systems.

Traveling by RV represents, in many ways, the pinnacle of freedom. Whether you’re heading out for just a long weekend or a months-long adventure, it’s tough to minimize having the ability to just pick up your “home” and head off to virtually anywhere the road can take you.

Well, until something breaks. Rather than become frustrated at the mostly unavoidable result of a machine succumbing to inevitable wear-and-tear, however, RVers might well look upon their RV as something that can not only be personalized but improved upon. Unless you’ve got deep pockets, most RVs are a compromise between what it could be and what it is — and we’re not just speaking about the difference between, say, a nice linoleum floor covering and heated ceramic tiles. RV engineers, designers and product managers are constantly working to create the best vehicle they can — albeit within price point constraints. Ironically, though, the difference between a “good” and “better” product is sometimes just a few dollars, a situation that oftentimes leaves owners scratching their heads.

Consider, as a prime example, contemporary RV suspensions. That may in fact qualify as an oxymoron when you realize that the typical leaf-spring trailer suspension has been with us since the days of the horse and buggy, and even some motorhome suspensions are a bit long in the tooth. The fact that such designs are still used today demonstrates their capacity for endurance, if not comfort; fortunately, either can be dramatically improved without breaking the bank.

man gripping RV steering wheel in exaggerated manner
If you tend to need a “death grip” on the steering wheel to maintain control of your motorhome, a number of companies offer parts to help smooth out the road and dramatically improve handling and ride quality. Photo courtesy Roadmaster
replacement RV suspension brackets and hardware
While companies such as Lippert offer replacement parts for stock RV suspensions, choose wisely. This “attaching parts suspension kit” will restore the factory ride when compromised due to worn components for someone on a tight budget, but won’t improve its rough characteristics.
Obviously, even a “back to the basics” approach can yield dividends for someone short of funds. Go to, say, Lippert’s online store (store.lci1.com) and you’ll find dozens of replacement parts for componentry that can wear out and worsen ride quality, from replacing the stock equalizer to simple mounting hardware. Some, like leaf springs, can and should be replaced if corrosion or metal fatigue is evident. While often overlooked during annual inspection and maintenance, leaf springs should be replaced if they suffer from more than surface rust, cracks are appearing (most frequently, near the mounting bolts) or light can be seen between the leaves in the spring pack (a sign of spring fatigue).

All things being equal, however, replacing worn components simply means that you will be restoring the stock ride. And as David Robinson, vice president of Roadmaster Inc. (roadmasterinc.com), pointed out, “there’s a reason why people don’t ride in trailers while traveling.” Again, however, improving upon your RV’s baseline suspension need not be prohibitively expensive (unless you truly want the best ride imaginable). Yes, systems exist that can seemingly turn rough roads into smooth glass, but as we learned when asking Robinson and MORryde’s (morryde.com) Sales and Marketing Manager Jack Enfield, certain components offer improvements seemingly well beyond their cost.

table showing potential causes of RV handling issues
The folks at Roadmaster put together this handy chart to help motorhome owners identify the potential handling problem they may encounter — and the type of suspension product best suited to neutralize it.
RV rear anti-sway bar kit
The biggest single enhancement you can make to a motorhome suspension, said Roadmaster’s David Robinson, is to add a rear anti-sway bar. Replacing the stock sway bars for bigger-diameter aftermarket components will also yield significant improvement.

Motorhome Upgrades
Asked to select one product that would reap the biggest benefits for motorhome owners, Robinson was to the point: a rear anti-sway bar.

“I could say ‘sway bars’ in general because Roadmaster makes them for both the front and rear, but if someone said, ‘Look, I don’t want to spend money to put product on both the front and the rear; which one delivers the most bang for the buck?,’ the rear sway bar is going give the most handling improvement of everything,” he said.

A problem prevalent in the industry, he noted, is what he calls the ‘big rig myth’ — because it’s a large motorhome, owners should expect it to handle poorly.

MORryde’s RS suspension system on frame
This close-up of MORryde’s RS suspension system shows its unique spring carrier assembly that incorporates a double rubber sheer spring that, said Jack Enfield, provides up to 4 inches of suspension travel. And by “working in shear,” the rubber doesn’t stiffen up due to increased load.
“That’s simply not true,” he said. “With various products, we can make that RV handle a lot like the family car — and the No. One solution is a sway bar. The biggest complaint we hear is owners being exhausted because they have to manage the steering wheel all the time. If there are grooves in the road, the tires will want to follow them. If a big semi tractor-trailer blows by in the opposite direction, the wind wants to push the motorhome to the side of the road. So, they end up with a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel and believe all those problems have to do with steering.”

As Robinson explained, quite often in situations like that an owner will opt to add a steering stabilizer — but while it will help to correct those problems, it won’t eliminate them.

“Most Class A motorhomes — except for higher-end coaches with air bags — rely on a leaf-spring suspension,” he said. “It’s really about the only component connecting the body to the chassis of the RV. And you have these outside forces working against the RV. Whatever road fluctuations the tires are hitting are moving the chassis under the RV, while this huge wind sail — there’s a tremendous amount of surface area to a Class A coach — is moving it independently of the chassis. So the driver, positioned well above the chassis, feels the wind push the motorhome one way or another — called body roll, or sway — and he reacts to it, instinctively steering in the opposite direction. He’s reacting to what he’s feeling. But it’s the upper part of the RV that’s affected the most; in fact, the chassis may not have even moved away from a straight line yet.”

Sway bars, he said, add a lot more stiffness between the chassis and RV “house” so they are more in synch with one another. “The driver isn’t counter-steering all of the time — the only time they need to make a steering adjustment is when the actual chassis moves the RV left or right.”

The size of the sway bar, Robinson added, is critically important.

“A typical motorhome sway bar is 1 1/8 inches to 1 1/4 inches in diameter,” he said. “Our sway bars are, at minimum, 1 3/8 inches, while most are 1 ½ inches to 1 5/8 inches in diameter — and on larger chassis we may go up to as much as 2 inches to 2 1/4 inches.

“That may not sound like a huge difference, but each 1/8-inch increase in diameter increases roll resistance — the sway control — by 30%. In most cases, our sway bars are 3/8-inch larger diameter than the OEM bar, so they provide more than a 100% increase in roll resistance (compared to the stock part). So, a sway bar will ‘fix’ the roll problem.”

As for the use of a steering stabilizer?

“One thing a steering stabilizer can do that no amount of sway control can accomplish is protect against blowouts,” Robinson said. “If a driver experiences a catastrophic front tire blowout, when the wheel hits that asphalt and digs in, it’s like throwing an anchor out on that side of the RV. The motorhome immediately tracks to that side — and that is a very dangerous thing. Products like our Reflex steering stabilizer absorb that immediate impact, so the steering wheel isn’t ripped out of the hands of the driver.”

MORryde’s RS system components
MORryde’s RS system is available with the replacement hangers for each side or as a complete kit (known as the RSX suspension system) that includes a sway bar and Bilstein shocks.
For his part, Enfield said MORryde motorized suspension products tend to focus on improving Class C motorhome performance. And, as with certain of the company’s trailer products, they incorporate rubber to cushion and absorb shock while adding increased suspension travel to help the RV “walk over” the bumps and protect the motorhome from rough roads.

Designed to work in conjunction with a motorhome’s existing leaf spring suspension, the MORryde RS (for “rubber shackle”) suspension system replaces the stock leaf spring hanger (accomplished with either a grinder or torch) with a new MORryde-designed hanger. The second part of the suspension system is a unique spring carrier assembly that incorporates a double rubber sheer spring that provides up to four inches of suspension travel.

“It’s a double rubber shear spring that moves vertically, up and down, and works ‘in shear,’ which means the rubber doesn’t get stiffer with the more load you apply to it. What will happen is when the tires encounter a bump and go up, the vehicle leaf spring deflects that movement somewhat — then the rubber shear spring allows it to deflect even more.”

The RS suspension system — MORryde calls it an “airless” system because it provides for a smoother ride without the need for air bags — also provides different mounting options that allow the operator to choose between lower and higher riding heights. And, depending on the amount of added control an owner wants, the RS system can be acquired by itself or as part of MORryde’s RSX suspension system, which includes a heavy-duty sway bar and Bilstein shock absorbers. It’s available for an array of Class C coaches, with fitment also available for certain Class A motorhomes and even larger pickup trucks. A slightly different system, designed to perform in much the same way, is available for Ford Transit-based motorhomes (BRSC suspension system).

Travel Trailer & Fifth Wheel Upgrades
Remember earlier when we alluded to certain upgrades being well worth their small cost? One we had specifically in mind is the use of a heavy-duty shackle kit to tie together the leaf-spring suspension with equalizers on most travel trailers and fifth wheels.

“The standard in the industry is to use ¼-inch-thick brackets along with plastic bushings wherever there’s a spring ‘eye’,” explained Enfield. “What happens over time is that bushing wears away, which then causes the steel bolt to rub on the shackle bracket. This can progress to the point where the bracket elongates and finally snaps — leaving the customer on the side of the road.”

This is a simple fix. MORryde has engineered a heavy-duty shackle bracket kit replacement kit that upgrades every part: the bracket thickness is doubled, to ½-inch; the plastic bushings are swapped out for bronze units; and the standard bolts are replaced with greaseable “wet” bolts. (Similar kits also are available from Lippert, Dexter Axle and others.)

MORyde heavy duty shackle kit components
MORryde’s heavy-duty shackle kit, which includes 1/2-inch-thick shackles, bronze inserts and wet bolts.
“So, for not a lot of money, you can greatly increase the durability of those parts,” said Enfield, noting that the installation can easily be done by a person with average mechanical skills. “You just have to get the load off the suspension,” he added.

“We did a simulated 100,000-mile durability test of our kit, without lubricating it,” said Enfield. “The bronze bushing wore because it had no lubrication, but the ½-inch bracket did not wallow out (become misshapen due to friction). So while all the parts, properly maintained, work to further increase durability, the real lynchpin is the ½-inch bracket.”

Given that the retail cost of a dual-axle kit is only around $100 or so, and the propensity for the shackles to wear, it begs the question: why aren’t RV manufacturers upgrading the shackles at the factory?

“We are seeing more manufacturers go to it,” said Enfield. “Years back, Keystone was one of the first with its Montana (fifth wheel). Today, Grand Design and Jayco use it. When Alliance RV launched, its company executives did a lot of research with consumers and focus groups and found that there was a lot of concern about the RV foundation, so they went with our series 3000 equalizer and heady-duty shackle kit. So, there is a growing awareness — and manufacturers are responding to it.” In fact, Grand Design announced in late January it would go so far as to offer MORryde’s IS Independent Suspension system as an option on new Solitude and S-Class fifth wheels (a complete installation of the system, installed by Henderson’s Line-Up Brake & RV on a Solitude ST310GK fifth wheel, can be found elsewhere in this issue).

heavy duty and stock leaf spring shackles comparison
One big problem with RV leaf spring suspensions is the use of ¼-inch-thick shackles, which can over time elongate and break (on right). Better, heavy-duty alternatives exist.
Upgrading the stock equalizer also is high on Enfield’s “to do” list.

“Typically, leaf springs have about 2 inches of travel, from unloaded to maximum travel,” he said. “To protect the foundation and everything inside, you want to improve the travel of the suspension system — but the traditional equalizer is just a steel rocker; it doesn’t provide additional vertical travel. What an RV owner can do, though, is replace that stock part with an upgraded rubber equalizer.”

As Enfield related, equalizers the likes of MORryde’s CRE3000 and ALLTREK 4000 (as well as similar products from Dexter Axle and Lippert) combine rubber isolators with increased travel to help cushion the RV from road shocks.

“When the wheels go over a bump, you want them to have some ‘give,’” he said. “Otherwise, all that shock is transferred to the frame, side and everything inside the trailer. The replacement equalizer, he added, serves two purposes: by utilizing rubber as a cushion and increasing travel, it improves the RV’s structural strength and, by absorbing harsh inputs from rough roads, improves performance. The main difference between MORryde’s equalizers, he added, is travel: the CRE3000 provides for 3 inches of additional suspension movement, while the ALLTREK 4000 allows for 4 inches.

stock suspension equalizer
upgraded MORyde suspension equalizer
A Speed Square was positioned against the lip of the bed, which held the larger carpenter’s square in place to draw a longer line up the center of the bed. A fiberglass straight edge was used to continue the center line in the bed moving toward the cab.
Meanwhile, Roadmaster’s Robinson is again concise when talk turns to the best single upgrade an RV owner could make to his or her travel trailer or fifth wheel.

“How many cars are built today without shock absorbers?’” he asked hypothetically. “The answer is ‘none’ — because no one would buy them without shocks. It’s just terribly uncomfortable to ride in a vehicle without them.

“One ‘benefit’ that the RV industry enjoys is that no one really rides in a travel trailer or fifth wheel,” he told RV Enthusiast. “So, while experience has taught them the need to maybe wrap a bungee cord around the TV and make sure everything is off the countertops, they don’t realize how much abuse their trailer endures. It’s like a buckboard going down the road, but because they are towing it rather than riding in it, they don’t know just how rough the ride is.”

In fact, Robinson added, Roadmaster actually put sensors in travel trailers and fifth wheels and took them on a road course to measure the road’s impact on the RV.

“In terms of a Richter scale, the average impact was the equivalent of about a 3.2 earthquake going on inside the RV,” he said, “and that’s the average. Hit a pothole or speed bump, and it spikes.”

Roadmaster’s Comfort Ride Shock system components
Roadmaster’s Comfort Ride Shock system includes all the components necessary for a dual-axle installation (triple-axle kits also are available), including new shocks and patented mounts that provide a 15-degree angled installation to maximize the system’s performance in alleviating sway and road oscillations.
When an RV is new, he added, this isn’t of as much concern; the roof seals, for instance, are still soft and pliable. Fast forward a few years as exterior seals dry out and that constant twisting and flexing not only damages the RV but also breaks down the seals, loosens fasteners and allows for water incursion.

To counteract those forces, Roadmaster developed its Comfort Ride system, which can incorporate just its shock absorbers or in conjunction with “slipper” springs — essentially, leaf springs with one end curved (instead of a closed “eye”) to allow it to ride on a roller assembly within the Comfort Ride spring box. The complete package of shocks and springs (evaluated in the July 2021 issue of RV Enthusiast, see “The Bucking Stops Here”) provides impressive gains in control, but can also be budgeted for separately. As Roadmaster notes on its website, however, “Ride quality is significantly improved when both the slipper spring system and the shock absorbers are used in tandem.”

Roadmaster’s standard shock kit, meanwhile, is for a tandem-axle trailer, including everything needed to add four shocks, and is available for 2 3/8-, 3-, and 3 ½-inch diameter axles. (Here’s a tip: If the axle is missing an identification tag with axle capacity and diameter, an owner can either contact the RV manufacturer to decode the RV vehicle identification number to determine axle diameter/capacity, or just measure them. A 2 3/8-inch-diameter axle has a circumference of approximately 7 ½ inches; the circumference of a 3-inch or 3 ½-inch axle is about 9 ½ inches and 11 inches, respectively.)

Roadmaster Comfort Ride Slipper Spring System components
Roadmaster’s Comfort Ride shocks are available separately, but the company recommends installing them in conjunction with its slipper spring system for significantly improved ride quality.
A key component of the Roadmaster kit, said Robinson, is its mounting bracketry.

“It’s not as if we invented shocks,” he said. “It’s just that we figured out and patented a way to install them. One reason why trailers don’t have shocks is a lack of room to mount them. We developed adjustable mounting brackets that install vertically at a 15-degree angle. This also helps absorb sway. Bigger travel trailers and fifth wheels have a really high center of gravity, so just like a big Class A motorhome they want to sway back and forth.”

By themselves, Robinson said the installation of shock absorbers reduces forces exerted on an RV by about 80%.

“Just like as when used on a car, the shocks are absorbing all that energy before it hits the frame of the trailer,” he added. “And, the RV isn’t telegraphing as many forces to the tow vehicle. It’s really amazing how much better a trailer tows after the addition of shocks.”

Complete Comfort Ride system installed onto trailer
This shows the complete Comfort Ride system installed on a trailer, highlighting the angled mounting positions for the shocks.
Obviously these are by no means the only upgrades a motorhome or trailer owner can effect to improve the handling, ride quality and durability of their RV’s suspension. For example, on the aftermarket side, MORryde also offers the aforementioned IS system and its X-Factor crossmember designed to provide lateral support and reduce strain on the frame (“by about 90%,” Enfield said). Roadmaster’s suspension product line includes sway bars, Reflex and Exact Center steering stabilizers, Davis TruTrac bars and its Comfort Ride shock absorber and Slipper Springs systems. A few other available upgrades — as well as products as diverse as SuperSprings International’s SumoSprings and LiquidSpring’s Smart Suspension System — are highlighted on the following pages.

Like RVs, there’s a suspension solution for every budget.

LiquidSpring ‘Smart Suspension’

X-ray view of suspension system on RV chassis
Unlike the other components highlighted here — which are designed to enhance a stock suspension — LiquidSpring designed a computer-controlled compressible-liquid “smart” suspension system that is installed in place of the chassis’ stock suspension system. Available as a factory-installed option on certain models from Tiffin, Fleetwood RV, Holiday Rambler, Nexus RV and Phoenix Cruiser, it also can be installed on certain existing motorhomes through the company’s network of preferred installers or at the company’s facility in Lafayette, Indiana.

The “liquid” in the LiquidSpring (liquidspring.com) system is silicone-based and compressible under high pressure. Struts (a piston in a cylinder) replace the steel leaf springs. Instead of leaf springs flexing and loading under varying road conditions, the silicone-based liquid is compressed at a variable rate determined by an onboard computer that analyzes suspension movement in milliseconds and changes pressures (2,200 to 4,000 psi) in the struts as road conditions vary. The liquid serves as load support as well as shock absorbing; hence the variability the system provides is a radical transformation of the stock suspension system.

Each wheel strut is connected by a high-pressure hose to a volume, and the pressure in that volume is controlled via another high-pressure hose to the control module. The 12-volt-DC-powered module includes a high-pressure pump, computer-controlled valves and a reservoir for the compressible liquid. Pressure in each strut is controlled individually and instantaneously by the module based on data from height sensors at each wheel and a steering sensor. It adds up to an all-wheel variable/adaptive suspension.

Granted, this is neither a quick nor inexpensive transformation — but it is perhaps the best motorhome suspension available.

Steering Stabilizer

While steering stabilizers can, indeed, help correct a motorhome’s detrimental handling characteristics, where they really shine is in extreme circumstances — say, when one wheel drops off the pavement or if an operator experiences a blowout. A steering stabilizer like the Safe-T-Plus (safe-t-plus.com/) or Roadmaster Reflex (roadmasterinc.com), help solve steering issues by applying increasing force as the steering center link goes off center (either by the driver’s steering input or due to unexpected conditions), encouraging the steering wheel to always return to center. These stabilizers can be installed in an hour or less with common hand tools and yield a tangible difference in steering control.
large steering stabilizer spring and shock assembly

Rear Trac Bar

blue rear trac bar kit components

For as long as cars have been in existence, controlling axle side-to-side (lateral) movement has been an essential step in chassis tuning. Cars and trucks with leaf spring suspensions generally don’t require a rear trac bar, because the leaf spring packs bolted to either end of the rear axle prevent it from walking. However, large Class A and C motorhomes, with their substantial weight and high center of gravity, can still suffer from rear axle lateral movement, which contributes to that uneasy tail happy feeling.

A rear trac bar is one of the better things you can add to a Class A or Class C motorhome suspension — particularly those with a lot of rear overhang. The bar bolts to the rear axle at one end (the mounting point depends on the application) and to the frame at the other along the same plane, preventing the axle from moving from side-to-side. With the rear axle rigidly located, steering input is dramatically improved. SuperSteer Parts (supersteerparts.com) and Ultra RV Products (ultrarvproducts.com/) both offer kits for a wide range of GM and Ford gas-powered motorhome chassis.

SumoSprings

a blue SumoSpring on RV
One of the most technologically advanced products on the market, SumoSprings uses a closed-cell urethane — injecting nitrogen bubbles into the urethane. Its proprietary design allows for the adjustment of the diameter and density of the air bubbles, effectively allowing the company to create products capable of different support capacities. It also features a parabolic spring curve, a fancy term for describing a progressive spring rate: as the suspension travels and there’s more movement, the SumoSpring gets stronger. It essentially functions much like an airbag system without requiring a compressor and can’t leak, making it zero-maintenance.

SumoSprings (superspringsinternational.com/sumosprings/) are available in two densities for towable applications: “Blue” SumoSprings are designed for trailers with gross axle weight ratings (GAWR) of 3,000 to 5,000 pounds, while “Black” springs are for GAWRs of 5,000 to 8,000 pounds (superspringsinternational.com/trailer-sumosprings/). There also are applications for motorhomes and tow vehicles — SumoSprings are, in fact, standard equipment on units from a number of RV manufacturers including Winnebago, Tiffin, Coachmen, Thor Motor Coach, PleasureWay, Roadtrek and Brinkley RV. Aftermarket kits are relatively inexpensive, available for over-axle and under-axle leaf-spring configurations and can be installed in about 30 minutes.

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