Which suspension system to buy and how to dial it in once it’s installed!
So, you’ve gone out and bought the most exciting UTV you could find, and to complement it, you, of course, subscribed to UTV Off-Road Magazine to help you spend your hard earned money, right? Well, one of the best ways to increase the stability, performance, and comfort of your UTV is having a properly set up suspension for your needs. And, there’s really 3 different ways to go when setting up your UTV’s suspension:
1) Stock A-arms & Shocks
2) Stock A-Arms & Aftermarket Shocks
3) Long-Travel A-Arms & Aftermarket Shocks
So, let’s discuss all these options, the pros and cons, and we’ll tell you how to get the best out of your setup.
Stock A-Arms & Shocks
This by far is the most common setup, but unfortunately the worst performing option, as well. But, if a set of aftermarket shocks or mid/long travel suspension system isn’t within reach right now, let’s talk about getting the best performance you can from your stock setup. For most of the stock UTVs, the front and rear shocks only come with a 5-way preload adjustment. There are only a few upgraded models now that come with fully adjustable shocks. So, how do you get the best ride, you ask, from your UTV with stock shocks and A-arms? Well, given the simplicity of the stock setups, all you can do is adjust the ride height and the resulting rebound change associated with it.
Essentially, with a linear rate spring such as those on stock UTVs, you can raise the ride height of your UTV by adjusting the preload adjusters front and rear. With linear rate springs, preloading the spring doesn’t change the ride quality, just the height of the vehicle. In addition, the force of rebound increases by the amount of preload you added. For example, let’s say you preload your shocks 1” and your spring rate is 250 lbs. Then, you hit a bump and compress the shock 3”. Because you’ve preloaded the spring, you have a resulting upward force of 1000 lbs instead of 750 lbs if you had zero spring preload.
So, how does this affect performance, you ask? Well, let’s say you haul a lot of gear, kids, or stuff around the farm; you’ll want to increase the preload on your rear shocks to raise the ride height to prevent bottoming. In the front, though, if you want maximum steering control and the least chance of lifting the front end going uphill, keep the preload as close to zero as possible. Why, you ask? Well, remember the example above about preloading a linear rate spring? Well, not only will raising the height of the front end shift even more weight rearward, the upward force during rebound is increased, as well. Too much rebound, and all of a sudden you’re driving uphill, hit a small log, compress the suspension, and the resulting upward force is more than the weight of the vehicle and the front end lifts off the ground, flipping you over backwards. Obviously, that’s the extreme case, but here are a couple of pointers:
• Increasing preload = higher ride height
• Increasing preload = increases rebound forces
So, depending on the type of riding you do and the weight you typically carry, play with your stock shocks to get it just right. Nothing, especially stock shocks, are going to work in all conditions, but at least you can get them to ride better.
Stock A-Arms & Aftermarket Shocks
This is usually the first step people take when upgrading their stock suspension. And, the benefits over stock can be dramatic if set up properly. We’ve been running Walker Evans on our project trail RZR for quite some time, and we’d never go back to running stock shocks again. We’ve been running the AFCO MT1’s and MT2’s on our project race RZR, and the difference is even more dramatic when really pushing the UTVs. We have Works Performance Shocks on our project Ranger XP, and Radflo shocks on our project Rhino. Needless to say, even though we’re in the business, running aftermarket shocks is something we highly recommend.
So, how do you get the maximum performance out of them? Well, it all depends on the adjustability of the aftermarket shocks. But, here are some simple things you can do in no particular order:
– Increase spring rate
– Increase preload on same spring
– Increase compression dampening
Too much body roll?
– Increase preload on spring
– Increase spring rate
– Install aftermarket swaybar(s)
Rear end kicking up higher than the front over bumps or jumps?
– Increase rear shock’s rebound dampening
– Reduce rear shock preload
– Decrease rear spring rate
– Decrease front shock’s rebound dampening
– Increase front shock’s compression dampening
– Increase preload on front shocks
– Increase spring rate on front shocks
Front end pushing through corners?
– Reduce front shock’s preload
– Reduce front shock’s compression dampening
– Reduce front shock’s spring rate
– Raise air pressure in rear tires
– Stiffen rear
– Make sure your swaybars are in working order
Each aftermarket shock company offers different levels of shock adjustability, so this is why we’ve included all possibilities above to what you can do to fix certain conditions. Taking the time to dial in your aftermarket shocks is probably more valuable than adding power to your motor, because the better you keep the tires on the ground, the more traction and forward momentum you’re going to have. I can’t stress enough how important this is.
And, the last thing to touch on with stock A-arms and aftermarket shocks, you can keep the vehicle’s stock width, which for some folks’ riding areas is very important.
Long-Travel A-Arms & Aftermarket Shocks
If you’re looking for the ultimate suspension setup for ride quality, smoothness, jumping, racing, rock crawling, etc, this is by far the best way to go. It’s also, obviously, the most expensive…imagine that. But, if you’re on the fence on whether to buy one or not, I’d highly recommend it. By adding up to 16.5” of wheel travel and 8” per side to your UTV, you’ll be able to hit bumps much faster, and the ride is
drastically smoother than stock. But, like most things, if you want the best ride possible, spend some time with the above items and you’ll find the ride to be even better than right out of the box. It’s hard for any long travel and/or shock company to make it perfect for your riding style, so take the time to get it right after you install it. You’ll be glad you did. In the couple of races I’ve been in, it’s amazing to me that a properly dialed in sto
ck A-arm AFCO equipped RZR has placed 6th and 1st out of as many as 42 UTVs, mostly with long travel. This just goes to show me that their suspensions are not properly dialed in for what they’re doing. Getting this one piece right is crucial.
So, hopefully this article has helped you on your quest for milking as much performance and ride quality out of your suspension setup as you can. It’s really easy to do these things, and the one key factor in all of this is to keep your testing accurate. If you’re testing with two people and then one person all on different trails, this is going to make it impossible for you to get it dialed in. Instead, pick a couple-mile trail that mimics the type of riding you do most, load your UTV with the normal gear and passenger weight you have, and go test the same section of trail at the same speeds and circumstances. Try to keep all testing as similar as possible with your only adjustments made to your shocks. And, after a good day of testing, you should have a much better riding vehicle.