Chucking Control

comfort-ride-lead

Photo Credit: Bob Livingston

by Bob Livingston
July 1, 2016
Filed under Products, Reviews

 

Comfort Ride Hitch uses proprietary air cells to soften the ride when towing a fifth-wheel trailer

 

Fifth-wheel hitches have evolved over the years to make the process of connecting the trailer to the truck easier and more efficient. Robust weight ratings have been applied to many of these hitches, and most articulate to make hitching on uneven surfaces less complicated. From here, additional features like air bags have been incorporated that aim to smooth out the bumps on roads and create a better ride — and take out some of the fifth-wheel jouncing that can lead to premature wear and tear.

Comfort Ride Hitch, a small company based in the Midwest, has been working with air-bag-equipped hitches for 20 years. Seven years ago, the company discovered an alternative that improves the ride substantially. The Comfort Ride hitch now uses proprietary air cells that add durability and longevity, while eliminating much of the unwelcome chucking and bounciness experienced by fifth-wheel owners.

The key is the air cells. These round, 5-inch-tall cells are made of solid polymer with millions of microscopic holes inside that absorb energy. Air bags have a good track record in various automotive segments, including their use in fifth-wheel hitches, but air cells are maintenance-free, require no air compressor and can never leak or blow out. They only discolor, turning yellow, after being exposed to sunlight for a while, but there’s no degradation in function.

Since traditional air bags displace energy, they also tend to react to bumps and irregularities in the road more slowly, which can actually lead to a rougher ride when the bumps are back-to-back. Since the air cells are constantly working to neutralize road bumps (including the infamous concrete highway-expansion joints), the ride can be much smoother.

[1]

Removal of the saddle lightened the load so the hitch was easier to lift into the truck for mounting. The first hitch was powder-coated, which gave way to zinc-plating in subsequent models. The result was a smoother action for the mechanism.

[2]

Height adjustments are made by moving the hinged plate to various holes in the main structure. The saddle height can be adjusted from 12 to 20 inches. It takes two people to complete this process.

[3]

As part of the height-adjustment procedure, the bars below the air cells can be configured to level out the hinged plate. Two bars are available, but none were used to set the height to the lowest point.

[4]

We used one of the bars to hold the hinged plate up while making the adjustments and removing one of the air cells.

[5]

The air cells must be compressed from 1 to 2½ inches to ensure that the hitch will absorb the maximum road shock. A tape measure is used to determine the amount of compression after retracting the landing jacks and placing the total hitch weight on the saddle.

[6]

The lever to open and close the jaws is made of two pieces and is connected by a spring.

[7]

After inserting the end loop of the spring in the hole, the wire is bent closed using a Vice-Grip Pliers.

[8]

While the handle is not the most attractive arrangement, it works exceptionally well, especially when reaching over the wheel well on a dually truck.

[9]

When the lever handle is pulled back, the pin releases the mechanism and auto-locks when the jaws are secure around the kingpin. The jaws can be locked open, but the pin must be released before hitching the fifth-wheel. It may be necessary to nudge the lever forward against the hitch frame to ensure the jaws are properly locked.

[10]

Comfort Ride Hitch offers a wedge for those using the Sidewinder kingpin box. The wedge is sized perfectly to slip into the saddle without binding.


The Comfort Ride hitch is not a design clone of most of the hitches on the market. It looks different, almost bulky, and it’s made from high-strength A36 steel, which contributes greatly to the 180-pound total weight. Earlier models were powder-coated, but the company has settled on zinc-plating with a second coat of yellow chromite, followed by a clear sealer, for a number of reasons, including the fact that the lack of powder-coating keeps all the parts moving freely, without the potential restriction caused by the thick layer of paint.

We first installed the earlier powder-coated Model 245 hitch but swapped it out with the newer version after a few trips. Installation is very straightforward, and if your Ford or Ram truck is fitted with the in-bed puck system, it’s just a matter of ordering the right hardware and pinning the hitch in place. The truck we used had the standard fifth-wheel rails, and the Comfort Ride hitch was easily positioned and pinned in place without additional hardware. The company can also adapt its hitch to the B&W flush-mount system.

Getting the hitch up into the bed will take some work because of the weight, and it’s best to use a forklift or a couple of competitive weightlifters. The saddle can be removed to lighten the load, but you’re still hefting quite a bit of weight. Once the heavy lifting was over, the hitch was pinned in place within a few minutes.

Since we were also using a Sidewinder kingpin box, the hitch height needed to be adjusted to a lower point. It comes from the factory set at 16 inches high, which is the most common height. To make the adjustments, we needed to lower the hinged plate to the bottom holes, getting the most reduction in height. This process is fairly easy, as long as you have a helper. It can be done with common hand tools, but we elected to use a cordless impact driver for most of the nuts and bolts.

The hitch is adjustable in 1½-inch increments, and the height can be set between 12 and 20 inches. To get the reduction we needed, the bar that’s mounted below the air cells was removed completely and the cells placed on the bottom plate. This bar can be configured to accommodate height adjustments, and there’s an additional bar available for other configurations. This process is very simple and took only a few minutes.

When all five air cells are in position, the hitch is rated at 24,000 pounds with a 5,000-pound pin-weight capacity. The number of cells needed is determined after hitching up for the first time, which will impact hitch height. We started with three cells after validating that compression (with the hitch weight on the truck) was within the 1- to 2½-inch specifications. But after the initial test drive, we discovered that four air cells did a better job of squelching chucking.

Once the height and compression are set, it never needs to be changed unless a new trailer is being towed. There is no shelf life for the air cells, and they carry a lifetime guarantee. This is in contrast to air bags, which are susceptible to dry rot after five to seven years.

Hitching and unhitching are what makes or breaks any trailering product, and the Comfort Ride hitch is about as easy — and simple — as it gets. An extra-long handle operates the 1-inch jaws that wrap the kingpin with very tight fit tolerances. This handle is kind of funky and probably doesn’t represent the high quality of the hitch as well as it should. But looks are deceiving because it works well — and makes it easy to reach from the side of the bed, especially if the truck is a dually.

Pulling back on the handle releases a pin, which re-engages through the adjacent collar when the jaws are securely wrapped around the kingpin. At this point the jaws will be completely closed and the handle locked in place. The mechanism has an auto-lock feature as the kingpin is driven into the saddle, but the user might have to push the handle back a smidge to verify a complete lock, even though travel is assisted by a spring. We found this to be a nonissue.

The four-way-articulating saddle makes hitching a breeze, and combined with an ultra-smooth mechanism and an antifriction pad that’s already attached, the process takes only one attempt — provided the kingpin is lined up properly and the flat surface of the kingpin box is only ¼ inch from the saddle. We were surprised by how easily the wedge on the Sidewinder fit into the slot of the saddle. The company can provide a custom-cut wedge for Sidewinder users. Once hitched, the breakaway cable can be connected to the carabiner on the end of the handle.

Disconnecting the trailer is just as easy, after removing the weight off the hitch saddle and leaving a small gap. It’s best to put the transmission in Neutral and then Park to remove any pressure on the jaws before pulling the handle to disengage the pin and moving the arm forward. The trailer’s wheels should be chocked first.

We tested the Comfort Ride hitch over 1,000 miles of California highways, which are notorious for potholes and expansion joints. Virtually all chucking was gone, except on extremely bad sections of highway, and then chucking was less noticeable than with a standard-type hitch. Overall, the ride was as smooth as it could get in a dually truck. There was no noise from the pin in the coupler, and we experienced no creaking or groaning.

Three models are available, but the 245 is the most versatile, because by removing air cells, it can be adjusted to handle trailers that weigh as little as 10,000 pounds. The hitch sells for $1,999, with free shipping to residents of the Lower 48 states.

Conventional wisdom says that it’s hard to invent a better mousetrap. Comfort Ride Hitch’s innovative design might just be one exception.

Comfort Ride Hitch | 844-873-5010 | www.comfortridehitch.com


 

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